Oh, Feminists, Can You Stop Telling People With Disabilities How To Take Care Of Their Bodies?

(A slightly different version of this post appeared at this ain’t livin’ under the title “Yes, Actually, I Can Make An Informed Choice“.)

There’s an interesting trend I’ve been noticing more of late at feminist websites: The idea that certain women don’t know what’s good for them. These women need to be told in no uncertain words about how to take care of their bodies, how to live their lives, how to interact with medical professionals, how to make decisions about their medical care. And, by extension, how to handle their disabilities.

Who are these women? They tend to be women who do things which feminists disagree with. For example, women who opt to have large families are informed that they are endangering themselves with multiple pregnancies and they should stop. Likewise, women who are considered “bad sluts” within the good slut/bad slut dichotomy are informed that they’re doing it wrong. That they are incapable of caring for themselves. Women who opt to stay at home, to not go to college, are also informed that they are making bad choices. Women with disabilities are routinely informed that they don’t actually know their own bodies and that they are endangering themselves. Simply by daring to be disabled and proud!

I’ve seen supposedly feminist websites saying that women should be subjected to unnecessary medical procedures “to make sure that they get STI testing,” because apparently women wouldn’t get STI testing if they weren’t forced to come in for excessively administered pap smears. I’ve seen sites saying that women should get screenings which are not recommended because otherwise they won’t know to take care of themselves and won’t see a doctor in a timely fashion. I’ve seen sites arguing that women who have multiple children are “brainwashed” and “need counseling.”

As one might imagine, I find this extremely irritating. Because, here’s the thing. I think that everyone is capable of making informed choices. And when I make an informed choice, I do not need to demonstrate to anyone that I have satisfied their requirements of what an “informed choice” is, and I do not need to justify my choice, ever. If a woman decides that she wants to have 12 children and she’s making an informed choice to do that, and it is not my business to tell her that she is engaging in risky behaviour and she is brainwashed.

People are welcome to disagree with the choices I make, and to feel that they would not make those choices (but they can’t know my situation so they can’t speak to the issues specific to me which might have shaped my choice). But to tell me that my decisions are not valid because they do not meet someone’s definition of “how to take care of yourself” or “how to be a feminist” is extremely problematic. Please note that I do not view coerced and false “choices” as true choices, and I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the “choices” women are forced into. Not whether or not women who make those choices are “feminist enough,” but about the circumstances which force them into those choices. (See the difference there?)

I cannot help but find it intriguing that mainstream feminism is remarkably supportive of “choices” which fit in with the framework of things that it views as “feminist.” Using birth control, for example, is supported and regarded as an informed choice when in fact many birth control users are not well informed and are not making an informed decision. Choosing to only have one or two children is also viewed as a choice worth supporting, but apparently choosing to have more children than that isn’t a “valid” choice any more. Mainstream feminism has a checklist of “what’s feminist” and choices which fall outside that checklist “aren’t feminist” even though decisions do not occur in a vacuum, not even one of perfect feminism, and do happen on a highly individualized basis which means that one choice does not fit all.

This attitude is especially troubling when it comes to disability matters, because it reinforces the idea that other people know more about women’s bodies than they do, and that doctors can and should force procedures on their patients. That ladies don’t know what’s good for them, and therefore it’s up to other people to tell them what to do. That women with disabilities can’t possibly make informed choices because there’s no way they could possibly know more than a mainstream feminist who is providing a lecture about “what’s good for you.”

Try making an informed choice at your doctor’s office. Really. Try asking for more information so that you have a complete picture before you make a decision. And try informed refusal: “no, I do not want this test, it is not necessary.” “I don’t need an appointment right now.” “Given that I’m a virgin, a pap smear is not appropriate.” Informed refusal is met with “well, we have to do it.” Subtext: You silly woman, you don’t know what’s good for you.

This attitude, that certain people get to decide what is feminist and what is not, is a form of policing. There’s one way to take care of your body, and one way only, and you cannot deviate from it. Only certain things are feminist and everything else is antifeminist. If you do not “choose” the “feminist” choice you are a “bad feminist.” It all ties into prescriptive feminism and the idea that it is not only ok but obligatory to tell other women what to do when they are doing something which you disagree with.

For women with disabilities, this is extremely dangerous. Given that one of the core values of feminism is bodily autonomy, it is shocking and very upsetting to see feminists promoting denial of bodily autonomy for disabled women. The inherent conflict here seems lost upon many mainstream feminists, and when they are challenged on it, the pushback can sometimes be quite extreme.

Here’s the thing.

I can make an informed choice.

I can research a situation, I can weigh the pros and cons. I can think about the impact which various choices will have on me personally. I can think about what I need to do to meet my needs and to take care of myself. And, considering all of this information, I can make a decision about what I want to do and how I want to handle the situation. When it comes to medical care in particular, I think I know a little bit more about my situation and my body than other people, and I can in fact be trusted to do the right thing, for me. I can even, yes, consider the cultural context of my choices.

To tell me otherwise is to deny me agency. To tell me that a choice I am making is “antifeminist” or “not good for you” is to tell me that I am a foolish clueless person who should not be allowed to make choices for myself. Demanding that I justify my choices is invasive, rude, and inappropriate. I don’t demand to know why other people do or do not do something. I trust them to make their own decisions, based on their experience as unique individuals.

If people ask me for information or thoughts while they are making choices, I may offer it, although I try to structure it carefully to make it clear that I am not speaking for them or prescribing any course of action. But if my input has not been requested, I don’t give it.

It is not appropriate to tell women that they should undergo unnecessary, invasive, and sometimes harmful medical procedures “for their own good.” It is not appropriate to tell women that all bodies are the same and that therefore there’s only one way to take care of them. It is not appropriate to tell women that they cannot make informed, considered, thoughtful choices. It is not appropriate to tell women that there’s only one kind of feminism and only one way to be feminist. Or that a specific choice is always inherently antifeminist, no matter what.

I may choose a different thing for myself than you might choose for yourself. You might opt to respond to things differently than I do. But that does not mean that a woman’s personal decision about something like, say, cancer treatment is invalid. Or that she is “stupid” for not choosing what I would have done. Or that she’s “not feminist” because she did something I disagree with (or even that her individual choice is “antifeminist” because I don’t like it, even if I grudgingly recognize that she might be feminist despite that).

I can make an informed choice. You can make an informed choice. Can we trust each other to do that, and move on to more important things than policing each other?

43 responses to “Oh, Feminists, Can You Stop Telling People With Disabilities How To Take Care Of Their Bodies?”

  1. Danine

    I completely agree with what you said but if you’re going to call out “mainstram feminism”, I think it would be helpful to provide examples. Those who do this need tone called it specifically or else it won’t change. I’m also concerned that by portraying this as a problem with “mainstream feminism”, you are lumping most people who call themselves feminists together. This is unfair and casts blame on people who would never presume to do any of the things you’re talking about above.

  2. hsofia

    What is this in response to? You mentioned STI testings and screenings, but I’m not sure how that relates to disabilities. I’m trying to think of specific disabilities that women have that feminist women are lecturing them on. I’ve seen this with weight and diabetes (which I wouldn’t think of as a disability per se). What are other things?

  3. SaraDee

    *claps enthusiastically*

    if I may be allowed to add – can we trust each other to make mistakes, to even make the occasional uninformed choice (because we don’t always know ahead of time that we didn’t have all the information we needed), and still get to keep our humanity, our feminist status, and our agency?

    There’s so much energy it seems being spent on figuring out what choices a woman can make that will “let the team down” (like you said bad slut/good slut good cripple/bad cripple, etc.), as though it was possible to be a human being and live so perfectly that your actions will always “look good for the team”. Personally, whether I’ve been a student, or an employee, or a supervisor, I’ve always had this niggling voice in the back of my head assuring me that I have to do this perfectly or else I’ll blow it for all the other women trying to make their way in my field. Which I have to confess to y’all – I’ve blown it for the team a bunch of times. There is some truth to the idea that everyone from an underprivileged group is sometimes a spokesperson for their whole group – chauvinists looking for an excuse to declare all women bad at X will leap at an example of a single women doing poorly at X to justify their stance. But too many feminists are giving those people all the power again – by policing other women to make sure they never do poorly at X or risk making us all look bad, they’re implicitly agreeing that those gross generalizations have merit!

    I’d always thought that by saying one was a feminist one meant that one thought women were people, and deserved to be treated as such (for good or for bad, depending on how well they treat others – a female despot deserves the same condemnation as a male). So whenever someone makes a statement like “feminists don’t take their husbands last names” or “it isn’t feminist to have more than 2 kids” I think “people who think women are people don’t take their husbands last names” or “people who think women are people don’t have more than 2 kids” and see if that makes any sense. More often than not, there is no argument for why someone should believe a woman isn’t a person if she does X that doesn’t posit that the patriarchal hogwash feminists are supposedly arguing against is true; i.e., that a woman actually *is* a man’s property if she takes his name, or actually *is* some sort of brood animal if she has a lot of children.

  4. Chally

    hsofia: The idea is that unnecessary medical procedures ARE a disability connection. Medical decisions are often dictated to PWD, who are told they couldn’t possibly decide for themselves. And for disabled women in particular that plays into the denial of women’s bodily autonomy where these decisions are forced on them, and always the denial of women’s agency. Bodily autonomy is so important to feminism… but apparently only for abled women, or under particular circumstances – or within particular choices.

    All sorts of disabilities are policed! It’s quite sad, really.

    ETA: What is also sad is that the first couple of comments on this post on this very big issue within feminism question whether it’s really real. Which of course plays into the denial of experience we’re talking about.

  5. Amanda

    Another choice I often see policed is the choice to go through with a pregnancy where the fetus is known to be disabled. The more severe or devalued the disability is thought to be, the more policing goes on. Ditto if the woman chooses to forgo prenatal screening.

  6. Hatlover

    YES. I’m very fat and sometimes have an invisible disability. Those two things are not related, however the number of times self-described feminists have implied or outright said to me that if I just “looked after myself a bit better” I wouldn’t have “so many problems”. I am fat therefore everything that happens to me is caused by my fat. If I’m fatigued and don’t want to take the stairs or walk fast, it’s because I’m just a lazy fat person. Or my disability “musn’t be that bad” because the other half of the time I can manage it. Yes, Virginia, genetic autoimmune conditions never happen to thin people!

    When I last saw a medical specialist, she was a woman fairly well-known for her feminism and activism for breaking the glass ceiling in the medical profession, fighting misogynist behaviour, and so on. She tried to sell me a lap band — weight-loss surgery — because it was “obvious” I had a binge eating problem and didn’t know how to take care of myself. The new framing of fatness as a disease in and of itself is making the incidence of policing and pitying increase, on top of all the usual crap people get for being fat.

    I once got into an argument in the comments at a radical feminist blog when someone piped up to say that the most pressing concern relating to women today was obesity, and that it was tragic that so many women were “dying of obesity” and we should be doing something, as feminists, to get women to lose weight. That women were victims of evil fast-food companies, brainwashed by shiny advertisements featuring deep-fried food; all they needed were some nutrition lessons and be shown how to grocery shop properly, especially the poor ones. Michelle at the Fat Nutritionist actually has a good post addressing this, just posted today: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/if-only-poor-people-understood-nutrition/

  7. lauren

    Amanda, exactly. As if making an informed choice is only possible with all the scientifically testable information. As if one can not look at what such a scan would mean, what information it ight reveal, what one would do with that information, and than decide based on that that no, one does not actually need this information. Because it is not relevant- one choses not to give it relevance- to questions on whether or not one keeps a baby.

    I hate it when forced-birthers call feminists “pro-abortion”, but the sad fact is that there are some frightening lines of thought in mainstream feminism that go towards that direction in cases when the baby will have a disability. It is sad that feminists will defend a woman’s right to have an abortion, and not be forced to reveal her reasons to anyone; yet some of the same feminists demand explanations when a woman choses not to have one despite the child having a disability, or the child being the fifth one, or whatever other reason these people believe should make abortion the default. Because if one makes an “unfeminist” choice, feminists have the right to demand explanations before they allow you to call yourself feminist again.

    If we reach the point where only one choice is accaptable, there isn’t really any choice at all. A shame, after so many women have fought for it so hard.

  8. hsofia

    @Chally “ETA: What is also sad is that the first couple of comments on this post on this very big issue within feminism question whether it’s really real. Which of course plays into the denial of experience we’re talking about.”

    I never questioned whether this is real. I am trying to understand the phenomenon the article is about. I wasn’t asking for specific examples, posts, names, or articles. I asked for types of disabilities feminists out there lecturing people about.

    @Amanda – thank you for giving an example. That is something concrete that I can start paying attention to in regards to feminists. One of my interests is preserving (and in some cases reinstating) women’s birthing choices. I’ve experienced first-hand what you describe (I have a child with a birth defect).

  9. closetpuritan

    Chally,

    Your explanation did shed some light on this. The article genuinely piqued my curiosity about how policing of womens choices by feminists affects women with disabilities specifically. I didn’t get the sense that the first two commenters were questioning the existence of the policing, just wondering how this plays out. None of the (nonspecific) examples in the article (unnecessary Pap smears, how many children you “should” have) related to women with disabilities.

    I’m getting the sense from the comments that in general, there’s a pattern that rejecting the most aggressive/invasive care possible for an illness/disability is critiqued as “unfeminist”, because you’re not asking for the “best” care for yourself.

  10. Anna

    To use the specific example of pap smears:

    Women! Get your [whatever-number of years] pap smear! We don’t care if the doctor’s office is accessible, if the examination table is designed to be used by women with disabilities who might not be able to “just hop up here” or hold their legs for any length of time in a certain position – get your pap smear or you’re doing it rong. We don’t care if having medical (or any other) thing inserted in your vagina causes you pain – get your pap smear! Insertion causes trauma? PAP SMEAR. You are DOING IT RONG if you don’t do it just as I am telling you you should, and you know what you need if you’re the type of person who already has anxiety about such stuff? People shaming you! We all know how much people shaming you can help ease your anxieties or help you find a doctor whose examining table is accessible, who ensures there’s always a ‘terp available, and has the information you need in braille!

    I know the tone above is quite snarky – this isn’t because I’m irritated at anyone in this thread, but just because I really am at a loss at how else to express it. [My snark has been turned all the way up to 11 this week.]

  11. Nonny

    In regards to choices about children, I’d also like to bring up the choice not to have children. I’ve had feminists confront me and ask me how I could possibly consider giving up the ultimate feminine experience, and treat me as if I’m somehow less of a woman because I don’t want kids.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is that no matter what choice you make, there will be people who feel it is their staunch duty as a feminist to tell you that you are WRONG and belittle you for the life choices you’ve made. I find that sad, and angering, because that’s not what feminism is supposed to be about, at all.

  12. susanna

    I have always thought that it was a feminist issue to stand up against the social pressure to conform to a certain body pattern, and I’ve also always thought that it is a feminist issue to stand up against doctors forcing unnecessary medical procedures on women. When I was young, it was a huge issue that more hysterectomies than necessary were performed so that gynecologists could get their approbation. (It was general medical opinion that women beyond menopause don’t need wombs, so why not let some young doctor get some practise.) Feminism was about women empowering themselves and questioning (male) doctors. They created “Women’s Health Centers” to provide information that women would not get from their doctors, and invited lectures by women who offered an alternative, more critical view on the medical system.

    Also, feminism has always insisted that it is a woman’s right to abort, not a woman’s duty, not even if the child is disabled. Feminists have rather questioned the bigotry of conservatives who are against abortion but are ready to urge a woman to abort when the child is disabled.

    They have also insisted on a woman’s right to have a lot of children if they want to. For example, they pointed out that in the common discourse on birth control in the Third World (“they are poor because they have too many children”) it is overlooked that having a lot of children can be a rational choice. They insisted that you should not only look at numbers of population growth but also at the situation of the concrete women.

    But that was feminism when I was young…

    So either the definition of feminism has changed 180 degrees during the recent 20 years, or there are a lot of people who call themselves feminists and are not… I can only say that the monster you call “mainstream feminism” has nothing to do with feminism as I got to know it some twenty-five years ago.

  13. K

    Okay I am really having a hard time reading this post, not because it’s bad or wrong, but because it’s right on.

    Because I keep running into this attitude too, but, with a bit of a twist –

    See, the thing is, keep in mind – it’s also completely inappropriate to tell someone else that it’s not okay to undergo medical treatment. Because that’s the pressure I keep getting.
    It works that way too – it’s not okay to force medical procedures on anybody. It’s also not okay to make it harder to access meds.

    And like for me it’s coming from this historical standpoint where there’s this big concern about what happened in the past re: sexual dysfunction. I get it. And concern about side effects & marketing medicine. I get it.

    I can also make informed choices too!

    Instead I keep getting … I feel like I’m supposed to feel guilty. Pressure to stop doing what I’m doing. Pressure to … try these other alternatives that I have zero interest in and that I don’t think – no, you know what, I *know* – would be right for me.

  14. amandaw

    I didn’t get the sense that the first two commenters were questioning the existence of the policing, just wondering how this plays out.

    But what effect does the question have?

    For example, what if someone (anyone, but especially a man) said this to a woman: “I’m not questioning the existence of your rape, just wondering how it played out.” How would you interpret that?
    .-= amandaw´s last blog ..Why I don’t think it’s funny to use Limbaugh’s drug abuse as a punchline. =-.

  15. PharaohKatt

    Possible TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of medical procedures. 

    Oh the pap smear “discussion”. I have attempted a pap smear once and never will again. The doctor didn’t seem to understand that my screaming was indicative of pain, and simply assured me that the speculum was no larger than a penis, so I should be fine. Before trying again and having me leave the office crying and shaking. 
    She also said I should take drugs to “put me out”, and offered to write me a prescription then and there – after I informed her that I was on anti-depressants and didn’t take anything without first consulting my gp. 
    If that wasn’t bad enough, there was a post that same week telling “everyone” to GET YOUR PAP DONE!!! and the lovely implication that those who didn’t or couldn’t were ignorant or whatever. Bleh. 

    I’ve also encountered what K described with reference to my anti-depressants. Don’t I know that I’m being brainwashed by Big Pharma?!? If I just excersise/take this vitamin/meditate/roll in cow dung all my problems would be magically fixed!!
    Um… No. 

  16. Puffalo

    If a woman came up to a guy and said “Hey, let’s have an in depth, kind of academic discussion of the social implications of the time I was raped.” (which is unlikely) wouldn’t it make sense for the guy to ask for the context? Of course, no woman would be likely to feel that her painful personal experiences were up for discussion in the same way as common blog topics might be.

    I know that I had to hear some concrete examples to even know how to think about this subject.
    I’ve seen the “big pharma is tricking you into thinking you have a mental illness, like how uppity women were put into mentalinstitutions to control them in plays in the 50s!” type of argument. So I wasn’t sure if this post was talking about that kind of pseudo-feminist concern trolling, or something from the perpetually noobish Feministing, or what.

    It looks like the specific inspiration for the post was women’s advocacy with a very narrow definition of “women,” which is an old problem in feminism, and the sometimes unclear line between benevolent sexism and women’s advocacy, which is actually a pretty interesting problem. How do you say that women should have the opportunity for whatever, or even that women should be encouraged to do whatever, in a way that doesn’t take away an individual woman’s choice NOT to do whatever, or punish the woman for not being able to choose to do whatever for any reason?

  17. Danine

    @meloukhia & others – I must say I’m kind of flabbergasted by the response to my comment. I honestly wasn’t really sure what you were referring to in your somewhat vague examples, meloukhia. Even now, with the explanations in the comments, I feel like I’ve had to read between the lines to figure out what each of the issues was that you were referring to. I feel foolish admitting that, but oh well.

    Having said that, if it takes me, a person WITH disabilities but with a limited knowledge of disability issues, this long to figure out what this post was all about, imagine how long it will take a non-disabled, completely uniformed person. I would venture to guess that a lot of these problems can be chalked up to ignorance, like the pap smear issue. If the “mainstream feminists” you’re referring to realized that simply AREN’T able to access that GYN care due to mobility/pain issues, they would start to be more inclusive. They’re good intentioned; they simply want (cis) every woman/girl to have the lowest risk of cervical cancer.

    As for the other things, feminism needs to start having more conversations about personal choice and control over our own bodies. We’ve been so busy taking control back from men, government, media, medicine, etc., and trying to advance women’s health by promoting research, prevention, wellness, that we forget that just because we have this right/privilege (say, Pap smears/abortion) it’s not right for every one.

    These conversations need to happen here of course, but in other places as well, which is partly why I encouraged you to call out those who were saying/doing these things. Unless we have more constructive dialogue like this, people won’t change. I’m not sure how to keep these positive and constructive dialogues going, but I know they need to happen.

  18. Danine

    @Chally – Also, I wasn’t *trying* to deny that these things happen in the feminist community. I was just ignorant, asking questions and trying to create a dialogue. I’m sorry if that was the wrong thing to do.

  19. amandaw

    Again:

    If a man were asking you to provide specific examples of harassment and groping on public transport, because he’s on the subway a lot and he never sees it, how would you react?

    I really can’t believe people are this oblivious to mainstream culture, including mainstream feminism, questioning PWD’s and especially disabled women’s medical choices. You really can’t think of any examples for yourself?

  20. closetpuritan

    For example, what if someone (anyone, but especially a man) said this to a woman: “I’m not questioning the existence of your rape, just wondering how it played out.” How would you interpret that?

    Well, starting off with “I’m not questioning the existence of your rape” without first being accused of questioning its existence gives the whole question a different (protest-too-much) flavor, doesn’t it?

    And as Puffalo said, when would a woman want to have an academic discussion of her rape?

    Re: Again (subway)–You’re setting up an implication of disbelief, which I did not perceive in the original questions. Maybe the original commenters and me could have found some way to ask about it while making it clearer that this was not coming from a place of disbelief, I don’t know. If, in your example, it was phrased something like, “Wow, I had no idea. What kinds of stuff do they try to do?” then no, I wouldn’t be offended, although if I’d experience a particularly upsetting example I might not want to recount it.

  21. hsofia

    @amandaw – To use your example “harassment and groping on public transport” this is what it looked like to me; : Woman says: “Dude, you need to do a better job of protecting women in public! What are you going to do about that?” Man says: “Protecting women from what? In which public places?” Woman says: “Do I really have to explain to you what I mean? Haven’t you been on this planet long enough to know what issues are facing women in public? Are you denying that women are targeted and victimized in public?!”

    In any case, there have been some helpful examples in the comments. The access to examining tables and mobility issues that make undergoing those types of tests difficult … I honestly never thought about that particular experience. I’m trying to think of how feminists who push for these types of tests can ALSO be allies to women who *want* these services but are having trouble accessing them, getting to them (by public transport), undergoing them, or finding medical professionals who will happily accommodate them. It should be a piece of any type of campaign that encourages this.

    It sounds like people are also saying that feminists should NOT urge women to undergo these testings in order to be sensitive to those with traumatic experiences. I’m not sure how that would look … but interested in ideas.

  22. Annaham

    An observation: I am seeing a lot of “Prove/justify your experience to me NOW” (Derailing For Dummies has more) *and* “Educate me, marginalized person!” (here) in this thread, mostly by people who do not seem to be regular commenters here. I don’t think I have to expand upon why demanding that people provide *personal* examples works very much in conjunction with policing (though they are not the same thing).

    And to answer the more general query posed here, I don’t think policing is a great strategy for feminism in general, even though many parts of mainstream feminism have already succumbed to doing exactly that. Because once you start policing, you also start denoting who is “in” and who is “out,” which of course brings up yet more issues. If feminism wants to welcome as many people as possible and truly retain its status as a thriving and relevant movement, the policing will have to be (somewhat ironically!) identified and phased out.

  23. Gossamer

    Meloukhia – I really liked this post. Thanks for calling attention to these issues.

    I don’t care for the idea that feminism is about choices for all women, as long as they’re the right kind of women who are making the right kind of choices.

    This is something I’ve had to deal with a lot. My mother was involved (she’s much less involved now, for reasons that are kind of awful) in the quiver full movement. I’ve struggled with her choices, to put it mildly. But they are her choices, and she doesn’t have to justify them to anyone. She does have to live with the consequences, but that’s a different matter.

  24. Kali

    I am glad that in general, my GP is very empowering and feminist-friendly. He’s the only doctor I’ve gone to who will put all of my treatment options on the table, make his recommendation, and ask if I want to go that direction. And part of what I like about him is that when I decide I don’t like his suggestion, he says ‘Okay, well, I think the other option I’d suggest is X.’

    …hmm, maybe I can convince him that I only need to have a PAP done every other year and still get my birth control. The student health center, where I get mine now, is utterly rigid about me getting a yearly PAP in order to get my dang pills.

    ~Kali

  25. Caitlin

    I was happily surprised when, while discussing my birth control with one of the doctors at the campus clinic (a woman, which I think made a difference, having seen all of the male doctors at different times, and not the, uh, less than useful woman who didn’t want to give me painkillers until I did physio, even though I would need the painkillers ANYWAY so I could work and therefore, you know, be able to buy food), she told me she didn’T think a PAP was necessary after she found out my complete lack of sexual history. She said I should probably have one when she thought I was sexually active, but as soon as I explained that I wasn’t and never had been, she adjusted her recommendation accordingly. There wasn’t any “ur doing it rong” at all, which pleased me.

  26. KJ

    Yes! This post is right on! I choose not to get a Pap smear every year. I’m not sexually active. I’ve never been sexually active. I have no plans to be sexually active. If I decide to be sexually active, I might reconsider. But until that time, I have no plans to see an ob-gyn. They are hard to get appointments with in my town and I don’t really need their services. However, when I mention this fact to people, they always get shocked and tell me I am risking cancer.
    KJ

  27. Rebecca

    I do comment here somewhat regularly. And, I do want examples as well, because I want to know which blogs I should comment on to point out their ableist assumptions. Usually the posts here include links to a few offending blogs, and I thought this one would too.

  28. Rebecca

    Oh, I have experienced a ton of policing personally. It’s a characteristic of this particular site that, frequently, posts on general trends of any kind tend to include links to examples of those trends. So that was what I have come to expect here.

  29. Brooke

    A couple people have mentioned the reverse situation, where it’s also not okay to tell people that they shouldn’t take medication/undergo a certain treatment. Although it’s completely unrelated to my disability, I want to pull my hair out whenever there’s a thread about birth control pills and how they’re evil and controlling women and exploiting us with the horrible, horrible hormones – because without those horrible, horrible hormones, I can’t function once a month. I’m always thinking, it’s great that you feel in touch with your uterus and think you’ve stopped poisoning yourself ever since you went off them, but they only help me. I’m not duped by the patriarchy who’s trying to control my body – I know the difference between how I feel on the pill and off the pill and which one is better for me. I’m not so sure why people find it so hard to grasp the idea that everyone reacts differently to each treatment option.

  30. Anna

    Rebecca, one of the things we do try to avoid is calling out specific feminist blogs or commenters for specific chiding because it tends to do one of two things: It causes what is called “blog wars” – which leads to dismissing of a particular concern as a “blog war” rather than as a general discussion about trends, and it lets other people off the hook.

    So, if we point to commenters as Super Anna’s Blog Of Awesome Feminist Stuff as being particularly prone to policing bodies and demanding people follow certain medical procedures to be Health Enough To Be Worth Caring About, other spaces where such behaviour is also tolerated won’t be considered as a problem. “Well, FWD called out the commenters over here, so they’re obviously letting the commenters as meloukhia’s Blog Of Feminism & Awesome OFF THE HOOK!!!!” (Or, alternately, “Obviously what the folks do at meloukhia’s Blog of Feminism & Awesome is okay, because only the commenters at Super Anna’s Blog of Awesome Feminist Stuff were called out.)

    Focusing on generally trends rather than specific instances invites people to think about general trends in their own readings and interactions. When we say “Don’t police women’s bodies regarding medical treatments they choose or do not choose to undergo”, we’re asking you to not only think about “Well, that feminist blog over there”, but also your own social interactions, the books and other material you read, the PSAs that you see every day, etc.

    This gets into issues like “the personal is political” and “consciousness raising” and the like – we talk about our experiences because our experiences are meaningful, and in talking about them, we challenge dominant ideas on what is okay and what is not.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..*hides* =-.

  31. Tori

    I am going to share a personal example because it is one that’s very much on my mind right now.

    I’m recovering from a diagnostic laparoscapy & hysteroscopy to diagnose debilitating pelvic pain; the working hypothesis was endometriosis.

    Before deciding to have this surgery, I consulted with my GP and the gynecologist to whom he referred me. In separate appointments, we discussed what’s already been done to try to manage the problem as well as what my priorities were in terms of various pain/reproduction concerns. I decided — and my health care providers agreed — that this procedure was the best next step for me.

    And I *am* grateful to my partner and my friends who were supportive of *me* making this decision.

    That said, there were also a fair number of people — to whom I’m close enough that I even talk about this with them — who let it be known that they thought I was doing the wrong thing. Who thought that I was taking an unnecessary risk for problems that could be managed with hormonal contraceptives — despite knowing (or, where they didn’t know, not bothering to *ask* about) the history I’ve had with those. Or, on the flip side, who thought that I was remaining a “slave to my uterus” by not having the whole thing cut out — despite not knowing that I may want to become pregnant in the future and that removing my uterus may not actually fully relieve the pain.

    And yes, had they *asked,* I may very well have felt comfortable explaining this to these people. But they did not ask; they told. And they did so in a way that clearly suggested (*at least* — some people said this explicitly), that what I was doing with *my body* was the wrong thing.

    And, yeah, it’s hard for me to mesh that experience with my ideas of what feminism should be.

  32. amandaw

    Tori, thanks for the comment. (Did you find out what the diagnosis is?)

    I had the same reactions when I shared with my family about my endometriosis: when I was given birth control pills continuously so I wouldn’t have (as m)any periods, I was thinking it was good news, “hallelujah! my doctor just spared me a great deal of pain!” But I was informed by several family members (and, later, have encountered a quite similar view in certain radfem circles) that this was unGodly/unfeminine/not right somehow, to not have a period, and it must be sinful/misogynist (how dare I not enjoy my painful, painful ladybits)/extremely unhealthful to not have a period, and so on. And when I called home to tell them about my laparoscopy, everyone kept asking me when they’d be taking my uterus out — because that’s the natural thing to do, of course; uterus isn’t perfect, must be removed!

    Those reactions are all over the map, but they’re all the things that get thrown at disabled women (& PWD in general), in part because our bodies are understood as “weird” or somehow especially corporal (by which I mean: when a different person’s body performs a function, it’s weird/gross/confusing, but when a normal person’s body performs a function, it just is; our bodies end up being viewed as more earthly or animal, and of course in a Christian culture you can make the connections from there).

    The moon-goddess branches of feminism have always felt off-putting to me, not because I don’t appreciate the fact that it *is* a good thing to reclaim as positive what society has defined as negative for all this time, but because of the extremely ableist structure that ends up being reinforced. You see this in the “health-conscious” upper-middle-class-white-urban-liberal branches of feminism, too. You might have different tropes flung at you, but they’re both policing your body and your decisions about it.

  33. hsofia

    @amandaw – would it be fair to say that the appropriate response to a woman sharing about her medical issues would be something along the lines of listening quietly and asking if there is anything you can help her with? NOT advice, your own rambling stories, etc.

  34. Tori

    amandaw, no, I don’t have an official diagnosis yet. (Except for the adenmyosis, which was diagnosed via MRI a few years ago.) The doctor was actually running behind during surgery (the one before mine encountered some complications), and so by the time I was coherent enough to process and remember what people were saying, he was already in his last surgery of the day — at 6:00pm. (Not ideal, but I understand why he made that choice.) I have a follow up appointment on the 25th, so I’ll be able to talk in depth with him then.

    Because of the locations of my pain (primarily spread through my low back and hips), I am fully expecting a “no easy answers” scenario — maybe nothing identifiable, maybe identifiable but not discretely removable, etc. And I’m prepared to be able to work out, with my provider, a “best bet” treatment/management plan that is not perfect. Unfortunately, I’m also preparing myself for that plan to be “not good enough” for various other people who I will tell about it.

  35. amandaw

    hsofia, that’s a great start — it’s a common topic which has been addressed here and elsewhere many a time (more than I can link off the top of my head). Attempts to empathize are wonderful, but if the end goal is to validate the other party’s feelings on the matter, simply doing so would be best (and here, you follow cues: if they’re just talking about their lives/bodies but don’t seem to be expressing any sort of distress, avoid responding in a negative vein). Listen for what their emotions are and agree with them. “Oh wow, that’s frustrating!” “Ugh, that’s got to be exhausting, I’m sorry.” Sharing stories can be a bit of a touchy area, especially comparing that one time you had the flu to the person with immune complications or chronic pain, but I do think there is a way to share stories without trampling right over the other person’s experiences; unfortunately I don’t really know how to articulate the distinction.

  36. amandaw

    Tori, I remember now the two-week wait between the surgery and follow-up. My doctor did at least confirm to my husband while I was in the recovery room that yes, it was what we suspected, but it was still frustrating because it was the biggest thing on my mind and yet I had no information to work with. Best of luck.

  37. abby jean

    i think birth control pills are a great example – because there are commenters in this thread who depend on them and get great relief from them, and then there’s people like me who have such horrible mood side effects from pills or any other kind of hormonal birth control that it’s not at all a viable option. (ugh, that time i got a shot that lasted a whole month and was instantly seized by crushing depression was awful.) i get criticized for relying on non-hormonal birth control methods (“that’s such a pain! you should just take the pill! sheesh! margaret sanger fought so you could have that!”) and often am asked to explain to doctors why i don’t want a prescription for the pill or the shot, while other people get criticized for taking the pill at all.

    we can’t win – no matter our choice, we will be criticized or policed by someone. there is no option we can take that will let us escape that judgment.

  38. Snarky's Machine

    Chiming in to agree with the upthread “What about uninformed choice”. I do feel I have made some of those – something you can only discover in hindsight – and have had those choices and my feminism questioned.

    As someone who has gone on and office various medications to treat mental illness, this post has resonated strongly with me. I have received criticism for opting out of exhaustive and what I felt was useless talk therapy (no, I don’t need to find a better therapy, I just need to not be doing blah blah therapy) and for opting for chemical means to turn off the sad.

    Since I do not benefit for the “why” I felt this was the best choice for me. I don’t why I was sad. I just wanted not to be. I am excited by this post for articulating the what I have felt about for a very long time as it relates to specific choices and how they are framed by feminists.

  39. Snarky's Machine

    I so do not understand why I typed “office” instead of office. oops.

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