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Categories and Their Impact on the Ethical Treatment of People within Society

Austin Andrews

In today's society, everything and anything is categorized. From gender to race to academic ability to physical ability - everything is labeled and classified. One of Anne's lectures was on the topic of categorization and how it is used too much in society - how it can actually lead to corrupt treatment of the people in those categories. I disagree with her opinion on this matter. Although categories can be seen as hurtful and unnecessary, in today's world they are just the opposite. Through categories, people within these groups can make themselves heard and can earn rights that may not have been available if they were just another untagged person in the crowd.

Being in a category gives many people with similarities (whether they be academic, racial, physical, gender, or otherwise) the chance to be heard - in a political realm especially. Acts cannot be passed and laws cannot be made for one individual. They can be made for groups of individuals with a similar goal, however. For example, the NAACP has made many movements toward the better and equal treatment of African Americans. This is only possible because it is a group comprised of African American citizens all working towards their equal treatment. If it were just non-categorized individuals working towards this, the goal would not be achieved as easily or efficiently.

Another example is the category of the disabled. Individuals who are not as physically or mentally capable as the rest of society have all been given this label. Some people see this tag as a disadvantage to the disabled because it can seem as if they are looked down upon by a large part of the general public. People with disabilities are still human, so why should they be labeled as something that can often be misconstrued to have a non-human connotation? Because of this, many able-bodied people believe that those who are categorized as disabled must not like this classification. This is not the case. Most disabled people embrace their category and many changes have been made in the past decade to allow them to do so.

"It is widely agreed that people with disabilities are treated unfairly in our society," begins David Wasserman in his article titled "Disability, Discrimination, and Fairness" (388). Wasserman explains how previous to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disabled people were bypassed greatly by the civil rights revolution during the past generation of people. Congress had decided that discrimination on the basis of disability had no legal recourse, unlike discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and many other things. "The ADA is intended to provide that legal recourse," says Wasserman (388). The Americans with Disabilities Act "requires employers, transit systems and public facilities to modify their operations, procedures, and physical structures so as to make reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities" (Wasserman 388).

With the creation the ADA, disabled people now have a right to equal treatment. Employers must hire those with disabilities and provide easy and equal access to them. For example, ramps must be put into place and elevators must exist so that people with wheelchairs can enter, exit, and move around the building with the same ease as an able-bodied person. Public transportation must also provide easy access for those who are not able-bodied. Under the ADA, busses and trains, for example, need to have lifts for wheelchairs. Other types of public facilities like restaurants and restrooms are also expected to provide ramps, elevators, and other accommodations for disabled people. Had the category of "disabled" not been created and used, this act would not exist today. This change in the way society views and treats disabled people was made possible only because of the efforts of a united group of people. Individuals not united under a label would have never received such results. They would have simply been overlooked and not considered.

Many categorized groups feel the same way as the disabled, including hermaphrodites. In a documentary video called Hermaphrodites Speak! which captured the discussion among ten hermaphrodites who all met in California to share their stories, the individuals all shared that they were very happy to be categorized. They all had the desire for there to be a more worldly usage and acceptance of this tag as well. They strongly believe that with the categorization of people as hermaphrodites, more information and stories will be spread, leading to a greater knowledge within the entire society. They want hermaphrodites to be considered and accepted as a gender along with male and female. They want doctors to leave hermaphroditic babies alone and let them decide whether they want to be male, female, or hermaphrodite on their own when the time is right.

It has not been that long since the category of hermaphrodite has become more accepted. It is still certainly not accepted in a wide enough capacity, however. But these people all coming together under one label is the only way in which society can learn about hermaphrodites and the only way that hermaphrodites can gain more rights and acceptance in today's society. If they were ostracized and working as individuals, as they had been until recently and even to some extent currently, changes within society could not and would not be made. The growth that hermaphrodites are making within society is all thanks to the fact that they are starting to be - and continue hoping to be - categorized.

While there are people who don't believe in the categorization of society and feel it is only detrimental, the people within those categories take a different stand. The only way that movements can be made and acts can be passed in today's culture, society, and legal system is through the categorization of people. When similar people make a united front, so much more can be accomplished - from acts passed that force ramps and elevators to be added onto buildings to the acceptance and understanding of hermaphrodites as a gender to so many other examples. Categories provide ethical treatment of the people within those groups, and without these labels, opinions and stigmas that society holds for these different people would never change.


Hermaphrodites Speak! Videocassette. (1996)

Wasserman, David. Disability, Discrimination, and Fairness. Ed. Christine Koggel.
Canada, Broadview Press, 1999.

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