Empathy: What Separates Us From The Lizard People

Content warning: this blog contains discussion about PTSD, traumatic situations (particularly sexual assault and rape) and Piers Morgan. If any of these subjects are distressing to you, please proceed with caution. 

I read today about Piers Morgan’s Twitter exchange with Lady Gag about her PTSD. It was awful. To sum it up for you, Lady Gaga has recently spoken out about being raped when she was younger, and that she suffers from PTSD. Morgan has said that he’s sick of people saying they have PTSD, as he comes from military family, and it’s people who’ve been to war who get PTSD. Gaga rather graciously said she’d be happy to speak to him about it, and he continued to mock her. It was only when she said she’d happily give her interview to someone else that he backed down. He does, however, still insist on calling the interview a ‘debate’.

“I’m not quite sure what there is to debate.”

Firstly, let’s discuss the name of this illness: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So it’s an affliction (disorder) that occurs after (post) somebody has suffered some sort of traumatic stress. It’s not “post war disorder” or “post battle disorder”, it covers anything that is traumatising. This could be anything: an accident, the death of a loved one, dealing with an illness, or indeed an assault (to give but a few examples). Luckily, Piers Morgan does not suffer from PTSD himself, possibly because he’s not experienced anything that has been so traumatic it has affected him in this way. Another possibility is that lizards in human suits feel no emotions.

So as a second point, let’s boil down what’s going on. On one side we have Piers Morgan: a straight, white, rich man who (as far as we know) has never suffered such a traumatic event that would cause him to suffer PTSD, but he has experience because he has military family. Due to his gender, race, and social class it is statistically unlikely he will ever be the victim of a sexual assault or rape. He makes his money by being “controversial” and “edgy”, which to put it another way is being an attention seeker. On the other side we have Lady Gaga: a bisexual, white, rich woman who has been raped and suffers from PTSD. As a public figure, she has spoken out to raise awareness in young people to lift the stigma attached to mental illness.

I’m not quite sure what there is to debate. Yes, she too is an attention seeker, but through artistic displays, such as her costumes and stage shows. Does Morgan just dislike anyone getting attention but him? And is he trying to suggest that she needs to explain her attack or justify her illness? Does he want to debate whether people can suffer a mental illness? Sorry Piers, you’re going  to have to help me out!

“Not all PTSD sufferers have held a gun”

The way I see it, if you boil it down even further, what you have is a person with no experience of rape trying to humiliate a rape victim.

The fact of the matter is, mental illness is far too complex to say “it is or isn’t” this. Just like not all amputees are soldiers, not all PTSD sufferers have held a gun. Some are children in a summer camp when Anders Brevik arrived with a gun and murdered 67 people. Some are parents who have sat by an incubator as their tiny baby fights for its life. Some are people who have fallen in the mountains and counted down the hours before they see another human again…. or they don’t.

And some Piers, some are people who have been violated by another person.

“If I had my bag stolen, would the length of the strap, the colour of the bag, the strength of the zips be called into question as much?”

He also made a comment about why she hadn’t reported the assault sooner. This shows so little empathy, as rape is a very complicated crime. Usually (but not exclusively) there are two people involved, and it becomes one word against the other. The actions of the victim are called into question: what were they wearing, how were they behaving, did they know their attacker etc. If I had my bag stolen, would the length of the strap, the colour of the bag, the strength of the zips be called into question as much? This is one of the reasons why people are reluctant to report sexual assaults: the trauma of this questioning can be additional damage on top of the assault itself. I can strongly recommend reading Sarah Pascoe’s book Animal for a much more thorough run down of this.

So press your meat suit if you must, and if you interview Lady Gaga, approach it with sensitivity and care. Perhaps you could get attention for doing a sensitive interview that raises awareness? And while you’re at it, remember to thank your lucky stars that this does not affect you directly. This is a gift you’re fortunate to have.

Don’t take it for granted.

If you’d like to read another piece I’ve written on mental health, you can find it here


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