Category Archives: feminism

Disability and Domestic Violence Apologism

Content note: This post discusses a domestic violence case involving a woman with disabilities, and includes details on domestic violence apologism as well as threats made in the court room.

Disability and domestic violence are intersecting issues with very serious consequences. People with disabilities are more likely to experience domestic violence and we are also less likely to receive assistance. We may be afraid of reporting, we may not be believed when we do report, and when our cases do go to court, sometimes the attorneys supposedly prosecuting our abusers engage in domestic violence apologism.

A recent court case in England is a classic example of what often plays out when people with disabilities are abused and report it. Two pensioners were married for 37 years. In 2003, the wife1 experienced a stroke. Seven years later, her husband started abusing her, because he apparently decided that her disability was an ‘act.’

On May 9 at about 11am [she] was sitting at the lounge table doing some paperwork. Earlier she had put some logs on a woodburner. He came in and said was she trying to burn the house down and then hit her around the head three or four times. She grabbed the phone to call the police but he took it off her and threw it in the fire. She then left the house and tried to get in her car but he took the keys.

‘She got in anyway and locked herself inside. He then drove his car in front of hers to block it, not that she could get anywhere as she didn’t have any keys. She called the day centre and her daughter for help. After about half an hour her daughter and son arrived.’

The next day, she reported her abuse to social services, and it ended up in court. Here’s what the defense said about the husband’s actions:

‘He couldn’t get any help with her because where they live is so remote so they were stuck together and the frustrations built.’

This type of apologism comes up a lot. ‘She made me do it’ is a classic excuse used for domestic violence regardless of disability status, and with disability in particular, it’s very popular, evidently, to make claims that it was the disability that drove the abuser into becoming abusive. This naturally legitimises abuse, because while people condemn it on the surface, they secretly think things like ‘well, he was under lots of pressure’ or ‘I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a caregiver’ or ‘it must be so hard to have no help.’ Caregiver abuse becomes acceptable because, well, disability is just such a burden and it’s so hard and they didn’t get the services they needed.

Caregiver abuse doesn’t stop with cases like the one above. There have been a number of cases this year alone where caregivers have killed people and it’s reported in the media as a tragedy for the caregiver. Courts tend to return more lenient verdicts to abusers and murderers when disability is involved, because of ‘unusual circumstances.’ And people wonder why some people with disabilities are concerned about caregiver abuse. When abuse of people with disabilities is painted as something sad or hard for their families to deal with, instead of abuse of human beings, when caregivers are given lenient sentences because ‘the disability drove them to it,’ it normalises caregiver abuse.

It’s bad enough that the defense and, apparently, the court in this case thought that the husband was somehow justified in behaving abusively towards his wife because she was disabled. The prosecutor also had to join in:

That day when he told her off about the fire, she gave him cheek so he slapped her.

Where have I heard this before? Oh, only in every single reported case of domestic violence ever. Was it really necessary for the prosecutor to hop on the victim-blaming bandwagon too? When the media and defense attorneys constantly parrot lines like this, it reinforces the idea that some people just deserve domestic violence, and when the prosecution joins in, it, well, it makes me really angry.

Because, guess what? No one deserves domestic violence. No matter how much cheek or lip or sass or anything else is involved. No person deserves to be hit. No person deserves to be deprived of mobility. No person deserves to sit in court while the attorney supposedly acting in her interests suggests that, well, she kinda deserved it.

Oh, but this case gets worse.

The 68-year-old was ordered to pay £150 compensation to [her] but he told the court that, as they had a joint account, he would hand it over to her and she would simply put it back in the bank.

Economic abuse is extremely common in domestic violence situations, especially when they involve people with disabilities. The fact that this man openly admitted in court to the fact that he would do this shows me exactly how much contempt he had for the court, the law, and his own wife. And the fact that the court didn’t sit up and take notice is a sad but not surprising reminder of how often people turn their heads in the other direction in the face of domestic violence and abuse.

The victim has been relocated and, from what I understand from the article, is living independently with an aide. That’s the one bright spot here: Too often in cases like this, the victim is forced to return to the abuser.

  1. The news story names the individuals involved in this case, but I prefer not to.

Dear Imprudence: My Boss Sexually Harassed Me, Should I Cover It Up?

This week’s edition of Dear Prudence had several entries that got me extremely riled up, but the one I’m choosing to feature is one from a young intern who got, well, some pretty awful advice.

The intern wrote:

Dear Prudence,

I landed a dream internship in the entertainment industry and on my first day on the job got to be part of a fabulous evening-long project that culminated in a victory party at a bar. Due to pressure from my supervisors, who were buying the drinks, and poor decision-making, I wound up too drunk to drive home. One of the bosses took me home with him, and when we got there he repeatedly tried to kiss me. This confused me, because I had been certain that he was gay. When I rejected him, saying, “I don’t understand,” he told me that he found me incredibly beautiful and sexy. Twenty minutes later, I was throwing up in his living room while he tried to play nurse and let me sleep it off on his couch. The next day he begged me not to quit, although he didn’t apologize for putting the moves on me. I intend to stay at this internship, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do I write the incident off as a crazy, drunken night and nothing more, or confront him about it? Harassment on my first day, though committed under inebriation, is a pretty heavy issue to just sweep under the rug. What should I do?

—Harassed and Hungover

Here’s how Prudie responded:

Dear Harassed,
Get the full DVD set of Entourage and discover that yours could be considered a tame first day on the job in the entertainment industry. Certainly your supervisors should never have encouraged an intern (or any employee) to get drunk. But if you are old enough to have an internship, you should be old enough to know your own limit. Now you do, so that was a valuable evening. There is no Most-Powerful-Man-in-the-World exemption for hitting on an intern (even if the intern flashes some thong); and there’s no Hollywood one, either (especially if the intern is inebriated). Your boss gave you a revolting welcome to the industry, but at least he backed off and got all Florence Nightingale after you ralphed in his living room. Although I’d love to be there, as would any reality-show producer, when you clarify your surprise and horror at his unwanted advances by explaining, “I was certain you were gay, so I couldn’t believe you were trying to kiss me!” there are some things that are best left unsaid. His begging you not to quit indicates that he knows he behaved terribly. Now that you’ve both showered, sobered up, and returned to your desks, you need to show your boss that you have the good judgment to forget about your unfortunate start, and instead spend the rest of the summer showing that you are great at your work.


So, let me get this straight (haha). The intern wrote identifying what happened to her as sexual harassment. Prudie proceeded to blame the victim, basically say that she should have expected this given the industry, and then tell her to forget about it.

Prudie’s advice is bad on a lot of levels. First of all, telling someone to ‘forget about’ harassment is just a terrible thing to do. It’s not enough that he ‘feels he behaved terribly.’ If this intern is comfortable reporting and wants to go through with the process of filing a claim, she should consider doing so. Because she is obviously upset about what happened, she obviously feels violated, and she is obviously feeling uncertain about what to do, but knows what she wants to do something.

To add some victim blaming about how the intern ‘should be old enough’ was just gratuitous and so not necessary. When you are starting a new job and you are trying to fit in, you are not existing in a vacuum. You are struggling with certain pressures and attitudes and it’s not as simple as ‘just say you don’t want anything to drink.’ ‘You learned your lesson, Little Lady,’ is basically what Prudie says here, and no. Being sexually harassed is not ‘learning a lesson.’ You do not need to experience what could have turned into a sexual assault to ‘learn a lesson.’

So, on an individual level, terrible advice. Really, really terrible.  But it’s also bad on a structural level.

Here’s the thing. The entertainment industry is sexist. We know this. Amanda Hess over at The Sexist recently wrote about hiring inequalities on The Daily Show and made a really critical series of points about how sexism intersects with the show’s hiring practices. Her points are applicable to the entertainment industry in general; she talked about the way that ignorance, ingrained prejudices, and societal forces all play a role in the perpetuation of sexism in entertainment. The point here is that sexism is institutionalised in the industry, which means that rather than being an individual problem, as Prudence makes it out to be in her response, it is a structural one.

We cannot fight sexism in the entertainment industry by telling people to ‘forget about’ sexual harassment. Or by reinforcing the attitude that ‘well, it’s the entertainment industry, what do you expect?’ Women in entertainment are devalued, constantly reminded that they are worthless, and frequently told that they just need to ‘deal with’ dehumanising behaviour, including rape, sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. Prudence very neatly reinforced all of these beliefs in her column without a second thought, apparently; presumably she does edit her columns after writing them and apparently still thought it was appropriate to submit this for publication.

The way we dismantle institutions is not by propping them up. Better advice would have included a reiteration that, yes, this is sexual harassment, a reminder that, no, this was not the intern’s fault, and a link to some resources on handling and reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. She could even have included a note that working in a notoriously sexist industry can be an uphill battle sometimes, and wished the intern good luck with her career.

Quick Hit: In US, Women Hit Hardest by Medical Debt

From a post at

According to a study (pdf) by the Commonwealth Fund, in 2007, 33 percent of working-age women, compared to 25 percent of men, faced medical bills that left them unable to pay for food, rent or heat; caused them to take out a mortgage on their home or take on credit card debt; or used up all their savings. Economists can’t agree on the precise number, but medical expenses account for somewhere between one third and two thirds of bankruptcies in the U.S. The damage isn’t just financial — once the debt is acquired, people are less likely to seek continued care.

This is a US only study, and is influenced in large part by the health care policies and costs here in the US, but I would not be surprised to find that whatever medical costs exist in a country fall disproportionately hard on women with disabilities.

Quoted: Audre Lorde

The supposition that one [group] needs the other’s acquiescence in order to exist prevents both from moving together as self-defined persons toward a common goal. This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie.

— “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” (1978), in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (The Crossing Press, 1984)

It’s Always More Complicated: The “Justified” Abortion

[Trigger warning for “disabled child = burden” narrative.]

Last night I was reading several pro-choice tumblrs, one of which had linked to “The Choice“.

What makes us human? When is a life worth living? Worth ending? How much suffering is bearable? Is avoiding suffering brave or is it cowardice? When is abortion justified?

Should Fred be born, my wife would never return to work. My daughters would always come second. Some basic research online and asking friends in health roles showed a high chance of divorce before my son was a teenager, the stress of care literally tearing our family apart. Every news article we read showed little or no government support, with charities closing their doors. The doctors were encouraging about support; the real life carers we spoke to, not so much.

I’d never support killing a born child on any grounds. Yet here I was, suggesting death for a child almost born. I may not be a good man, but I’m a husband and a father. Had we not known, I’d be living with Fred’s condition today; but we take the tests so we can act on the information received.

So, let a bad man say the words that will condemn me: Fred’s life would have been less than human. It would have been filled with love, yes, but mostly loneliness, confusion, pain and frustration. The risk to my marriage and the welfare of my daughters was too much. I chose to minimise suffering. For my wife, for my daughters, for myself and most of all for Fred, I chose abortion. It was a choice of love.

I have complex reactions to this that are not really easy to talk about, but the one thing I do want to make clear:

Abortions do not need to be justified.

I know there are strong political and advocacy reasons why stories like these – the so-called “justified” abortion – are told whenever people talk about abortion and the law. They are “good” abortion stories, with the happy family, the desperately wanted child, the “horrors” for everyone had the abortion not been performed.

I struggle with these sorts of stories because I don’t know a way to talk about them. I want to talk about the way that disability is discussed in them – always, always, as horrible, as tearing families apart. And yet, these are people’s lives. I don’t think in any way they made a “wrong” or “bad” choice, or a “brave” one, either. They made the “right” choice, in that it was the “right” choice for their family, and I fear that talking about the language used is abusive. You’ve shared your painful story, your very personal story, and I want to now talk about disability and how it’s used to score points in the so-called abortion debate.

And yet, I desperately do.

I deeply resent the way anti-choice advocates point at people with disabilities and talk about how they’ll all be eliminated if we allow abortion-on-demand. The sheer amount of hate directed at Don when he goes to pro-choice rallies by the anti-choice contingent, because they see him as a traitor to their cause, is amazing to me.1

I don’t see these same people at protests and demonstrations about making Halifax an accessible city. I don’t see them at demonstrations about improving health care options. I don’t see them doing anything for people with disabilities except using them as pawns, and I loathe them for it.

And yet, many pro-choice advocates also use people with disabilities as pawns in these so-called debates. They hold up stories of fetal abnormalities as “justified abortion”, as the acceptable test-case, the one they know the general public is likely to agree with. I see no analysis, no discussion, of the ableist nature of this narrative. It’s an acceptable justified abortion because the fetus was abnormal, and who wants a broken child that’s going to ruin everyone’s life?

All abortions are justified.

It troubles me so much that it’s only the “abnormal” fetuses that are okay to use as abortion stories.

[Originally published on my tumblr]

[Note: Things we are not going to do in this thread: Debate whether or not abortion is “okay”. Publish shaming comments towards women who have abortions. Talk about people with disabilities as burdens. Discuss individual actions as though they occur in a complete vacuum and are not influenced by societal attitudes and pressures.]

  1. Of course, they direct more at any pregnant pro-choice women – there’s a video clip from Toronto last year with someone telling a pregnant woman “I hope your child kills you”.

An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

Dear Ms Magazine Blog:

My name is Anna. I’m what some people in North America would call a person with a disability, and some people in the UK would call a disabled person. My husband, many of my friends, all of my co-bloggers, and a large number of our commenters are also people with disabilities/disabled people.

Your blogger, Carol King, would instead refer to us as “the disabled”, and as pawns of the religious right. In her blog post Kevorkian and the Right to Choose , she wrote:

The “right-to-lifers” enlisted the disabled in their cause when they cautioned that allowing people to choose to die would soon become their “duty to die.”

I’m pretty angry about that. Not offended, Ms Magazine, angry. You see, I’m really tired of “the disabled” being treated like we’re unthinking masses. I’m especially tired of the feminist movement – you know, one that allegedly wants equal rights for all people, including women with disabilities – doing this. It makes me angry because I’m a feminist as well as a woman as well as a person with a disability as well as someone who is not the pawn of anyone, thank you very much.

Some people with disabilities support the right to die. Others do not. Others do in some cases and not in others. Each of us has come to the conclusions we have because we are reasoning individuals. Gosh, some of us are even feminists who use a feminist lens to come to our decisions, regardless of which of the many places on that particular spectrum of opinion we find ourselves.

People with disabilities deserve better treatment than you have given them. We are not a throw-away line so you can score some sort of points. We are people, and I’m appalled that a feminist blog like Ms would publish something that would treat us as otherwise.

Frankly, I am so fucking tired of this shit. I’m tired of smiling while feminist organisations treat people with disabilities like they’re afterthoughts and problems to be solved. Like we’re just pawns in politics, like we need to be appeased but never spoken to or considered, like we’re too angry or not angry enough, like we have to push this fucking rock of dis/ableism uphill while you – our “sisters” – stand by and politely look away.

Do you remember Beijing, Ms Magazine? You’ve talked about it a lot lately. You know what I know about Beijing? I know the accessibility tent was inaccessible to people with disabilities. [transcript follows]

“We will achieve our rights and the respect we deserve as women with disabilities.” “Because the issues of women with disabilities have often been excluded, the goal this year was to make sure the concerns of disabled women were addressed.” Oh, hell, just watch the whole damned thing – it’s subtitled – and see the commitment feminists made to women with disabilities. Ask yourself, seriously, Ms Magazine, why your new blog has decided not to talk much about women with disabilities. “No woman who attends this conference should be able to leave Beijing without thinking about the rights of women with disabilities.” Do you?

You know what? If that’s something you can’t do, let me sum it up:

Nothing about us without us.

You wanna talk “about” “the disabled”? How about talking to us? How about letting us talk for ourselves?

How about treating us – people with disabilities – the way you would like women like yourselves to be treated? As though we have some understanding of our own experiences, our own opinions, our own thoughts. As though our thoughts do not belong to anyone but ourselves?

As though we are thinking beings?

Again, my name is Anna. I, like you, am a woman, and I am also a person with a disability. And we deserve better from you.



Please note: This thread is meant to be about the continued marginalization of people with disabilities in the Feminist Movement. I won’t be approving any comments about Kevorkian or related discussions.
Read more: An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

Smile! (Your Face Is Making People Unhappy)

When I was in fourth grade, we had a class game. Each one of us had to bring in a photo from when we were very young and the photos were laid out in a grid on the wall. Each photo had a number, and students had to guess which photo went with which classmate by numbering a class list. As I recall, the photos were up for a few weeks, giving students ample time to review them and note their guesses.

One photo was 100% correctly identified by the class. One.

s.e. as a toddler, grasping a couch and staring grimly at the camera.

That photo was mine. What made it so easy to connect my chubby little baby face with my wiry little fourth grade self? It was all in the mouth; my baby mouth was turned down, exactly like my fourth grade mouth, exactly like my mouth right now. That’s because that’s the neutral position for my mouth.

People have hassled me about this for pretty much my entire life and it got worse after I incurred some facial nerve damage. Now, when I try to smile, sometimes it pulls my mouth into a grotesque leer. Sometimes one side of my mouth tilts up while the other twists down. Very rarely, I can ‘naturally’ smile. Both ends of my mouth turn up and I look ‘happy.’ Because, of course, the mouth is the only social cue for reading happiness, and people never, not ever, smile when they are not happy, right?

And I’m constantly told to smile. By complete strangers in the street. By ‘friends.’ When I worked in retail, by customers.

‘What have you got to frown about?’ ‘Smile, it would make you look so much nicer!’ ‘Why are you always frowning?’

The ‘smile, baby’ problem, as I call it, is something which a lot of people who are read as women experience. I will hazard a guess that at least some of our readers have experienced it; whatever the neutral position of your mouth is, whether or not you have nerve damage, whatever your mood at the time, someone, somewhere, has probably ordered you to smile.

It’s enough of a meme that it’s even cited as a feminist issue now and then; the smile police have some interesting intersections with how society thinks about women and their bodies. As my friend Hilary put it in frustration the other day, ‘I hate that I am expected to be nice all the time because I’m a woman.’ Not only are women expected to be nice (‘watch your tone!‘) they are also expected to be physically presentable, which means that they need to ‘smile, baby!’

Miss Manners addressed the smile police in a recent column, noting:

It is indeed both common and rude to command others to smile, as if this conferred a favor by improving their outlook on life.

People order each other to smile because they feel uncomfortable around people who are not smiling, especially when those people are women (or are read as such). Women are expected to be nice and sweet, to make other people feel comfortable. A woman who says ‘hey, I think there’s a problem here’ is being ‘negative.’ A woman who doesn’t smile while she’s being harassed is ‘humourless.’ A woman who prefers to stay focused on tasks is a ‘cold bitch.’ Significant gendering is involved here; women have an obligation to look and act a certain way and when they don’t, they need to be hassled until they do.

And it’s perfectly acceptable, apparently, to talk up to a complete stranger and demand a smile. Just passing a woman who isn’t smiling in the street is such a horrible offense that it must be corrected immediately by telling her to ‘turn that frown upside down!’

Have you encountered the smile police? How do you deal with them?

By 29 April, 2010.    bodies, feminism, gender, social attitudes   

Dear Imprudence: Sexual Assault By Any Other Name

The 24 April edition of Dear Abby led with this letter:

Dear Abby: I am an average 17-year-old girl with a big problem. A few days ago, my cousin’s boyfriend touched me inappropriately. It took a few seconds for me to realize what was happening and stop him. I got up and left the room.

I don’t want to tell my mom because she shares what we talk about with other people. I don’t want to tell my cousin because she loves her boyfriend, and if I ruin this for her, she’ll never speak to me again. I have seen her do it with other people.

My cousin visits my house every day with her boyfriend. I have been leaving for hours so I won’t have to see him. Please help me. What other option do I have besides telling somebody? — Staying Silent in Guam

Dear Staying Silent: You have two options. You can remain silent and let your cousin marry a man who has so little self-control that he would not only hit on another woman, but one who is a close relative of hers. Or you can tell your parents what happened so your cousin can be warned, and possibly save her from a world of heartache later on. Please be brave and do the right thing.

What I find fascinating about Abby’s response here is that she doesn’t name, identify, or discuss what happened to Staying Silent. The response is framed as ‘you wouldn’t want your cousin to marry a guy who would cheat on her, right?’

As opposed to ‘you wouldn’t want your cousin to marry someone who commits sexual assault, would you?’

Hrm, I wonder why that might be. Here we have a girl who describes being ‘touched inappropriately’ and says that she is afraid to talk to someone about it. I feel like a supportive and helpful response would name what happened—sexual assault—and provide the reader with resources such as referrals to sexual assault crisis centers or organizations like RAINN. Staying Silent did have another option; talking with a counselor instead of a family member about what happened, and maybe talking with the counselor about a way to bring this event up with her family.

Instead, Dear Abby didn’t address the actual event which occurred and informed Staying Silent that she should ‘be brave’ and ‘do the right thing’ by telling her parents. Refusing to name sexual assault is one of the reasons it is so hard to address. Calling sexual assault ‘hitting on’ someone makes it that much harder for a victim to identify it in the future; when Staying Silent is groped on a bus, is that being ‘hit on’? How about when she’s pressured into unwanted sexual contact by a partner?

How monumentally unhelpful.

Staying Silent, if you’re out there and you happen to be reading this: What happened to you was sexual assault. It was not ok. Some resources you might find helpful are the Guam Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence and the Healing Hearts Crisis Centre, both of which offer counseling services.

When Accommodations Conflict (Continued)

Reflecting on the extremely thought provoking post by abbyjean earlier, I was walking to breakfast with The Guy (caution, try not to walk while lost in thought, OYD) on a day when I was low on sleep, high on pain, and therefore using my cane. (edit: I just saw my typo! I had a funny visual of me trying to balance on a can! HA!)

Conflicting accommodations do not always mean that the conflict will occur between separate PWDs. For example, on a high pain day, I am in desperate need on my cane due to the intense pain in my hip and legs in general (though, which leg I want to use if for is debatable, even though I favor one hip). When I am that fatigued, however, using the cane is an intense use of my spoons, to the point where if I have too much to do I can’t even bother because it just winds up with me on a chair or bench in tears. Or the cane causes additional pain in my back or shoulders.

There are others that come to mind. My medication provides me with more pain free days, which is a good thing. This is an active choice I made with the advice of my doctor whom I was lucky enough to find at this duty station. The flip of that coin is that I have side effects which means that I can not always drive places, or have the energy (HA!) that I want to do things with my family, to name a few. This might not sound like a huge accommodation, but it makes a great impact on my family life, people who play a huge role in my care.

I know that some people use caffeine to both relieve some pain and migraine effects (I sometimes do) but that this has the crash effect at the end of the day (for me it means my spoons run out faster).

So, gentle readers, what accommodations do you have/use that conflict…uhh…internally? What individual needs to you have that you have to weigh daily?

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