Please, Tell Me More
One of the many problems which people with disabilities of all genders experience is well-meant advice. How is advice a problem? Well, it plays into a long history of infantalization of people with disabilities, and it’s a reminder to us that non-disabled people often believe that they know what’s good for us. The fact that people routinely believe that they know more than we do about our bodies is a very serious problem, because it’s this attitude which can lead to inappropriate medical treatment, institutionalization, and abuse.
All of us can relay some version of the following conversation:
Person With Disabilities: “…yes, I have [condition].”
Person Without Disabilities: “Oh, my [cousin/friend/mom/brother/etc] had that! You know what worked really well for them?”
Person With Disabilities: “…”
Person Without Disabilities: “This great medication!/A raw vegan diet!/Yoga!/Etc.”
Person With Disabilities: “Uhm, thanks.”
Person Without Disabilities: “Here, let me get you the info!”
So, here’s the thing. This kind of dialogue? Is actually not very helpful. Because people with disabilities are actually a bit more knowledgeable about their bodies, conditions, and comorbidities than random people they meet. Many people with disabilities are, in fact, working on various ways to manage their conditions. They might actually not be that pleased that they are having to share information about their personal lives for the purpose of asking for accommodation, clarifying a situation, or providing general information about themselves. Which means that they are especially displeased when people offer unsolicited medical advice.
They’ve probably tried or considered all of the things being brought up by the well meaning advice monger. And some of these things may even be working! Others may not! But, neither of these things is the business of a stranger, unless a person with disabilities specifically says “gee, I just don’t know what to do about my [condition], anyone have any advice or experience with it?” Or unless that stranger is a doctor whom the person with disabilities is consulting specifically to talk about treatment options, in the privacy of a medical practice.
There’s this idea which some non-disabled people seem to have that we are “broken” and we need to be “fixed” and we’re just not trying hard enough to fix ourselves. Or people are giving us the wrong advice. Or we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. If only someone would just tell us what to do, this logic goes, we would heal ourselves and be all better.
This same logic is used against other marginalized groups. Men sometimes tell women how feminism should be. White activists tell black activists how to address racism. Heterosexuals tell LGBQTAIs how to achieve full civil rights. In all of these cases, we have a situation in which someone in a position of power is telling someone in a position without power how they should behave. How they should access power. How they should live. What they should do.
Can one see how this might be a problem?
Can one see how this might intersect specifically with feminism?
One of the big problems with mainstream feminist dialogue around disability is the pernicious idea that people with disabilities need to be fixed, that being disabled is a horrible and tragic plight, and that people would naturally do anything to avoid becoming/stop being disabled. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily the fault of feminism; rather, it’s the fault of the culture we believe in, because these are widely held cultural beliefs. But this is the thought process which allows mainstream feminists to only bring up disability issues in the context of reproductive rights (because, of course, no one would want a disabled baby!).
Were mainstream feminists to stop to consider their thought processes, they might see how their actions are playing into a system of oppression similar to the one used to keep women subordinate for centuries. “They’re childlike! They can’t make decisions on their own! They need guardians! They should be institutionalized!” These are all sentiments which continue to be aimed at people with disabilities, and which have a history of being used to marginalize women. Should women be using them against people with disabilities, let alone women with disabilities? I think not.
Problematic attitudes like these are one of the things we are hoping to spur people into examining with this website.
If you are currently able, when was the last time you provided unsolicited medical advice to someone upon learning that ou had a disability? If you are a person with disabilities, when was the last time you received unsolicited medical advice or other advice about how to live?