As we go the one-month milestone of the present monkeypox outbreak, experiences are rising that the World Well being Group (WHO) intends to vary the title of the monkeypox virus to keep away from stigma and discrimination. Whereas this is a vital step, greater than a reputation change could also be wanted.
As a researcher learning metaphors in well being, I take advantage of important metaphor evaluation to discover how the metaphors used to know and talk about monkeypox might amplify problematic, discriminatory and harmful social beliefs.
When a problem is metaphorically framed a sure approach, the answer to that subject usually follows throughout the identical body. For instance, metaphors used within the context of COVID-19 often framed it as an enemy, and the pandemic as a struggle. Inside this body, actions of “making sacrifices,” “celebrating heroes on the entrance strains,” and “sheltering in place” made sense.
Within the first month since monkeypox circumstances have been recognized, completely different frames have been used to know it. Every has potential penalties.
A metaphorical legal or youngster
A method monkeypox is metaphorically framed is as a legal. This legal is constructed as having damaged out of the West African space wherein it had beforehand been contained. It has been “launched” to the “neighborhood,” shifting “undetected,” making a “risk” and “rising danger.” Monkeypox might even be masked or disguised.
(NIAID), CC BY
When monkeypox is characterised as a legal, the affordable social response is to deal with it as such. That is seen in how we describe the response to monkeypox in legal phrases: “suspected circumstances” must be “investigated” and “detected” to “comprise” it. We create a narrative that is smart given the kind of tales we’re conversant in, and the phrases now we have obtainable. This could spill over into how we reply to individuals with the virus.
Monkeypox has additionally been described as being “associated to,” the “cousin” of, or “in the identical household” as smallpox. Compared to smallpox, which beforehand acquired considerably “extra consideration and sources,” monkeypox was comparatively “uncared for.”
Solely now could be monkeypox “attracting consideration,” “making itself identified” in “sudden locations” and ceasing to be “mute.” It’s “popping up on our doorstep” and alluring itself into our communities. These descriptions mix right into a characterization of monkeypox as one thing of a uncared for, rebelling youngster.
How metaphors feed narratives
The metaphors framing monkeypox happen within the broader context of current discriminatory narratives. Characterizing monkeypox as a legal might have problematic penalties when it happens alongside experiences of circumstances amongst males who’ve intercourse with males.
Ongoing LGBTQ+ historical past is riddled with criminalization, the place figuring out as LGBTQ+ is taken into account against the law, in addition to a historical past of being thought of an “sickness.” Inaccurate descriptions of HIV/AIDS as a illness affecting solely homosexual males additional entrenched these dangerous, stigmatizing narratives.
When monkeypox is framed as a legal within the context of this historical past, it might strengthen the affiliation between LGBTQ+ identification, sickness and criminality.
Equally, when monkeypox is portrayed as a “Black” illness, by means of the frequent imagery of lesions on Black our bodies and affiliation with Africa, alongside the continued criminalization of Black individuals, this may increasingly additional entrench that narrative.
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The story of the uncared for, rebelling youngster runs parallel to a bigger colonial narrative that infantilizes many African international locations and peoples. Metaphorically, international locations are constructed as individuals: political “our bodies” that work together inside, and are a part of, a bigger “worldwide neighborhood.”
In these metaphors, western international locations are sometimes framed as mother and father, and people nonetheless “growing” as child-like. Western international locations might be perceived to have a accountability to assist them develop “appropriately” if they’re rebelling, which fuels colonialist attitudes, insurance policies and actions.
(NIAID), CC BY
Monkeypox characterised as a uncared for, rebelling youngster might mix with broader colonial and racist narratives, fuelling racist beliefs and actions. One other racist narrative compares Black individuals to apes and different primates. This narrative is evoked at the side of the kid metaphor by means of the virus’s title — monkeypox — together with descriptions of it originating from explicit African areas or international locations.
The case for title change
One of many reported causes for the WHO’s meant title change is to disassociate monkeypox with the African continent,, notably the names of variants with African international locations. There may be additionally a name to cease utilizing photographs of lesions on Black our bodies when discussing the virus.
Within the context of broader discriminatory narratives mentioned right here, this is smart. Breaking these associations might weaken the hyperlink between the language used to know monkeypox and the broader discriminatory narratives that permeate tradition.
Nevertheless, the metaphors used to know the virus will nonetheless exist. They could nonetheless be problematic. As we determine “who monkeypox is,” we have to contemplate not provided that that is an correct characterization of the virus, however how this narrative might intermingle with others already in circulation and the dangerous penalties this may increasingly have on sustaining racist, colonial, homophobic and different discriminatory attitudes and beliefs.
Kaitlin Sibbald receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Analysis Council. She is affiliated with the Canadian Affiliation of Occupational Therapists.