Category Archives: feminism

Why can’t disorder be beautiful?

The mess in my apartment never goes away. We get this room clean, and that room clean, and the other, but rarely all at the same time. Even when we push to get everything in order, there is always something neglected — usually my mess in the second bedroom where I keep all my art supplies, strewn about, which I always promise to myself to organize but never get around to doing.

I’ll organize this, and organize that, and it will help me keep my life together for a time — organizing my closet or my deskspace or the living room — but as soon as a stressful time comes, and they come with regularity, the organization goes out the window — I throw my clothes on the floor and never pick them up, food kept on my desk with nail polish and sewing thread and sticky notes — it’s always the concept of, do what is necessary now and put everything in place later, when you’ve returned to “normal” energy state and can handle it.

But life seems to move at a faster pace than my body can keep up with. Maybe could keep up if I had a normal amount of energy, then I’d have the space and drive to get that make-up work done regularly, if I still weren’t able to just maintain everything as I went along (that being the idealized perfect state to which we aspire, right?). Maybe if I had the energy that I have when I’m at my best — but all the time — things would be great. And when I’m at my best energy level, I feel like I could continue things like that, if only I did this and changed that and kept things this way. And I try those things as they come to me, I am constantly reorganizing my entire life, never stop fine-tuning, trying to make things more efficient. But it’s never enough, I just don’t have enough in me to keep up with it all.

So maybe we get the junk off the floor and vacuum and swiffer everything, and tidy up around the edges of things, but there’s still that mess within those edges, still always something just sitting in a jumbled pile that I’m supposed to get to later. No matter how well I am — and even with an able-bodied husband doing more than his share of the work — we never get it all.

I have trouble thinking when I can see clutter. What it is about it, I don’t know, surely some gender considerations there, my insecurity about my disability always looming, and my personal idiosyncracies. But when there is visual clutter, my brain locks up and it is so much harder to process very basic things. And if only it were as easy as getting up and taking care of the clutter, then the energy I would be using on thought processing goes to the physical labor of cleaning, and I’m back to blank square one anyway, and a day later the clutter is back again.

And that’s the cycle I find myself in.

One day, a couple months ago, I sat in this chair trying to comprehend what I was reading, with a mess on the floor in my peripheral vision, and I spun around and thought to myself, why can’t this be beautiful?

This mess, this disorder, everything that comes with a life well-lived? The clothing on the floor, the half-filled mug of tea, the unmade bed, the shoes in the entryway, papers scattered about? Why do I feel like it weighs me down? Why can’t it be like the wrinkles and mottled skin and greying hair acquired with age: a reminder of everything you’ve done to earn them, a window into the life you’ve lived to get them?

Why can’t it be an indicator of richness? Why can’t it be something positive?

That one moment, I felt it deep inside. And it hasn’t come back. I just can’t look around and not feel weighed down by everything being so disordered, feel it reflects poorly on me, look at it and see nothing more than “something I should be doing but can’t do.” Something that is my responsibility, but I haven’t the capability. That is what pulls at me when I look at my mess, my beautiful mess. All I can see is everything I can’t do, while simultaneously feeling, in the back of my head, that I can do it but choose not to and that I am just of poor character, lazy, unmotivated, irresponsible, inconsiderate, slothful and selfish…

Maybe my physical mess, then, is a manifestation of my mental mess.

I just want to know. Why can’t I be beautiful too? If this is all I can do? Why do I feel lesser than the middle class folks who have these lovely tidy homes, not perfect and still full of personality, but tidy? They get to be beautiful, they get to be responsible and considerate. Why can’t I be too, if this is all I can do?

What will it take for me to look at that mess again, and see something grand? Will I ever see it again?

What does it mean to heal?

Perhaps this is the wrong question. Instead, I propose: What is there to heal?

Healing is the process of a body, having been injured in some way, doing what it takes to restore itself to normalcy. Merriam-Webster says, specifically, “to make sound or whole” and “to restore to original purity or integrity.”

Take note of the words I have highlighted. What are they saying?

This cultural idea of healing, applied to a person’s spirit rather than body, draws upon the idea of an abnormal body being made “normal.” It assumes that any person not normal should be made normal.

But there are all sorts of bodies in this world. Bodies with broken bones, broken skin, disfigured limbs, faces, with cuts and gashes and wounds, missing limbs, missing organs, organs which work in abnormal ways — according to our cultural norms.

And, much the same, there are all sorts of people in this world. People who have survived assault and abuse, been subject to violence, faced trauma, been manipulated or neglected, dealt with addictions, lost loved ones. People who have experienced any number of things which cause them significant distress.

These people are expected to “heal” from their experience. They go through a modest amount of time processing the event emotionally and then return to normal.

But why should they be made normal?

Why should any broken person be pushed and pressured into a form which does not fit?

Why is it that a person who is anything other than normal is therefore less than whole?

Why can’t a person simply be who they are, even if they are injured or broken or disfigured, and still be considered a whole person?

Any person who has faced trauma will need to find ways to process their trauma, ways to cope, ways to live with what has changed in their life. But that person should not have to push hirself to go back to how things once were — or to make things resemble what they are for a person who has not faced that trauma. Things may be different. There is not only one way to live a life. There are many. And perhaps you will settle into a different one — one which works better for who you are now — which may not have worked for who you were before. And that way is no less right.

What do you do when life changes? You adapt. You make things fit you. You don’t make you fit everything else.

It’s ok to be broken. Being broken does not make you less than whole. It makes you different. And that’s ok.

Calendar Girls: Sexification Strikes Yet Another Serious Health Condition

[Author’s note: I’d been meaning to submit this piece somewhere since earlier this year, but never got around to it. I know we’re almost finished with 2009–so focusing on a charity calendar may seem a bit old meme, at least in internet time–but some of the issues that this campaign raises are, as they say, timeless.]

When the words “chronic pain condition” come to mind, not many people can name a charitable project that is trying to raise awareness while also dovetailing nicely with current mainstream standards of beauty. British former model Bianca Embley has set out to change this, at least in the UK. After a work-related accident that resulted in a diagnosis of severe fibromyalgia, Embley was left unable to work. According to her website, Embley “aim[s] to raise awareness of Fibromyalgia, specifically in the press and media, but also by supporting awareness campaigns through UK Fibromyalgia charities and organizations” with the rather risqué Polka Dot Gals 2009 Calendar [NSFW]—a 12-month compendium of artistic nude and nearly-nude portraits of female models, including one who, the website crows, has posed for such illustrious publications as Maxim and Playboy. All of the photographs make use of the organization’s official colors (black polka dots on a yellow background) in various creative ways. The calendar and its photos have garnered a fair amount of press coverage in Great Britain, in addition to quite a few celebrity endorsements. While this project’s goal is certainly one that means well, the project also brings questions of conventional female beauty, its marketability, and intended audience to the fore.

The Polka Dot Gals project seems to have an almost-exclusive focus on a very specific type of beauty that’s almost a Feminism 101 cliché: the young, white, thin, fully made-up and free of body hair paragon of femininity that is so overexposed in modern consumer culture, advertising and—dare I say it—pornography. As many a feminist activist has warned us, this type of “beauty” sells; at the same time, it is this sort of representation of female beauty that feminists have decried since the 1970s.

However, what makes this criticism more complicated is that Embley herself posed for the calendar, and though she may appear able-bodied in these images, she is not. The photographs that feature Embley have her posed [link goes to an article that appeared in The Sun; NSFW] in ways that suggest that she is able-bodied, at least in part; in one shot, she stands fully nude, her back to the camera, as she clutches a martini glass in one hand and her cane in the other. Taken out of context, this pose does not seem to allude to her condition in an obvious way—and the photograph, in fact, looks strikingly similar to many soft-core images that have come before it. The message seems to be twofold: 1) Women with chronic illnesses can still be sexy, albeit in ways that are approved and encouraged by the culturally sanctioned gold standard of sexualized, “feminine” display; and 2) This sexiness can be channeled into photographs for public display and consumption, so long as the goal is to “raise awareness” of chronic illness and disability.

A few of the poses struck by these ostensibly well-meaning calendar girls don’t seem to have much to do with the condition, or with disability, at all: former Playboy model Danni Wells, in her photo, wears both a coquettish smirk and a yellow and black polka-dot ribbon that (just barely) covers her naked body. Were it not connected with Embley’s campaign, the image could plausibly be a banner ad for a porn website. Wells’s personal stake in the campaign stems from the fact that her grandmother lives with fibromyalgia. (One might wonder how Wells’s grandmother feels about her granddaughter’s participation in the project, especially given the nature of the images that make up the calendar.)

Such images bring to mind the question of intended audience; according to the website, a “portion of the profits” will go toward raising awareness of the condition in the UK, which begs the question of who, exactly, might purchase this calendar. The fact that the calendar is full of photographs that, by and large, seem designed to appeal to a heterosexual and possibly able-bodied male audience, is obviously problematic in a feminist sense. Given that fibromyalgia is a very gender-skewed condition (the ratio of females to males with the condition—at least within the US—is nearly 10 to 1), it appears that projects which aim to raise awareness of the condition in new and interesting ways have been a long time coming. The goals of the Polka Dot Gals are admirable, and the calendar may bring some much-needed attention to a condition that lacks a public face, but the project’s uncritical reproduction of the white, attractive and (seemingly) able-bodied female body as body-on-permanent-display—no matter if the body in question is wrought with constant pain and fatigue—is still troubling.

Time and Energy, or Lack Thereof

This amazing post and its follow-up by Anna at Trouble in China (she is also a contributor here, as you may have noticed) got me thinking. [In the interest of full disclosure, my Shakesville post is in there as an example of the problematic nature of inclusiveness.]

Whenever I mention my personal blog in, say, a contributor’s or artist’s bio, I nearly always include the qualifier “sporadically updated.” Regular readers will know that this is partially my style–the dash of self-deprecation–but it masks something else. Namely: I very rarely have the energy to write a whole blog post, to respond to comments, or, hell, to comment on other blogs with wit and insight. This does not mean that I do not exist. It only means that I, quite simply, don’t always have the mental or physical energy to contribute to a medium that is, by and large, designed in favor of the non-disabled.

Before the inevitable questions of “why don’t you just quit?” arise, I keep and have kept blogging for a very specific reason: I cannot just give up. Certainly, there are better writers out there than me. There are better blogs. I have blog friends who are more articulate, more stylistically clever; some of these folks who blog more, or have more readers. Yet I know that the blogosphere is a bit wicked in that one is only as good as her or his last post (to use a worn cliche). Some of us can crank out quality posts nearly every day. Many of us cannot.

I often cannot keep up with a ‘sphere in which other voices–more able voices–have the luxury of time and actual emotional/physical energy to blog. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to chalk this up to the blogosphere’s–and to a lesser extent, the internet’s–design as yet another space where able-bodied folks can “fit,” and can be “productive” in terms of number and quality of posts. For all the talk of the internet as a utopia where one is free to not be embodied, the same old shit seems to keep coming up, along with the big ol’ Cthuluphant in the room: that the world is designed for able-bodied (and preferably white, straight, middle-class, and male) individuals. Productivity, fitting in, responding quickly: These are things that non-able-bodied folks may not be able to do, whether because of issues of time, energy, ease of access, or many other factors. What happens when one cannot type because of searing pain in her hands, wrists, arms? What happens when one finds that he is too brain-fogged to write a post, much less comment on an existing post that many other people have already commented upon? When one is confined to bed because of nausea or all-over pain that forces her to lie for hours, staring at the ceiling, doing nothing because it’s all too much? What happens is that much-needed voices are not part of the conversation. They are lost, but not because they are not there.

This is shameful. There is no other word for it.

Do I know where to begin in pursuit of a solution? No.

Does anyone? I am not sure. I would like to hope that someone does, but I remain unsure.

We’re here. You just might not know it, yet.

Originally posted at Ham.Blog

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?

By 17 October, 2009.    autonomy, bodies, feminism, identity   



Disability Is a Feminist Issue

FWD/Forward is all about the intersection between feminism and disability issues, so it’s worth talking about why I think (know) disability is a feminist issue. I’ll note that this post is not intended to be a comprehensive review, nor is it intended to be the final word on the matter. It’s just a brief primer. Also, fair warning, I’m a bit jived on asthma medication right now, so this post is a bit slangier and more sarcastic than my usual oeuvre.

The short version of the reason that disability is a feminist issue is that some people with disabilities are women. I know, shocking! But I’m here to tell you that it’s true. And I don’t speak from purely anecdotal evidence. According to the Centers for Disease Control*, approximately one in five American women is living with a disability. So, people, science says that some people with disabilities are also women.

So, if you identify as a feminist, presumably you are doing so because you care about women and issues which affect women. If an issue affects one in five women, it’s probably something which you should care about.

But, there’s more!

Did you know that women with disabilities are up to twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault and violence? Those certainly seem like feminist issues to me, so it seems worth examining why one in five women is at a higher risk of experiencing violence.

Did you know that people with disabilities are also twice as likely to experience poverty and unemployment? Poverty and unemployment are also considered feminist issues by many feminists, in no small part because they tend to disproportionately affect women. So, if you have conditions which already disproportionately affect women involving some women more than others, again, it seems worth exploring the causality behind that.

Did you know that the wage gap is also more severe for people with disabilities? The wage gap is often identified as a key feminist issue; it’s the thing that a lot of non-feminists think about when they hear the word “feminism.” Again, if you have a problem which is recognized as an issue which affects women and you find out that women women experience that problem at an even higher rate than ordinary women, isn’t that a feminist issue?

This is called intersectionality, people. It’s the idea that overlapping and interconnecting systems of oppression are involved pretty much anywhere you feel like looking. Now, every single feminist in the entire world does not need to address every single overlapping system of oppression which touches women. But every single feminist in the entire world does have an obligation to make sure that deliberate harm is not inflicted by ignoring intersectionality. That means that if the focus of your feminism is, say, sex positivity, you need to think about sex positivity beyond pretty white straight cis people without disabilities. Because, if you don’t, there’s a chance that you, yes, you, are hurting people with your feminism. And not just people in general, but other women!

And, I would like to point out that this is an argument so simple that even my father, who is the most un-hip person you can imagine, who scratches his head when he hears the words “intersectional feminism,” gets it. So if my dad can get it, you can get it, seeing as you are presumably interested in feminism and disability issues, since you’re reading this site, which means you’re already ahead of my father.

*Have you ever wondered why it’s called the “Centers for Disease Control,” instead of the “Center for Disease Control”? It’s because it’s the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” which is somehow magically acronymed into CDC. Who knows where the P went!

By 14 October, 2009.    101, feminism, intersectionality   



Ableist Word Profile: Hysterical

Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

Today’s word: hysterical. There are a lot of different contemporary definitions of the word (Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Encarta), but the theme among all of them is emotions that are extreme and unmanageable. A movie described as hysterically funny is likely funnier than most and may cause you to laugh uncontrollably and snort soda out your nose. Someone at a funeral who is crying loudly and who cannot seem to stop crying would likely be described as crying hysterically. But while your mental picture of the movie-goer laughing hysterically could have been either a man or a woman, the person hysterical with grief or worry is much more likely to be a woman than a man. That’s no accident – the history of this term is very gendered.

The word itself is derived from the Latin word hystericus, meaning “of the womb,” and from the Greek word hysterikos, meaning “of the womb, suffering in the womb,” from the Greek word hystera, meaning “womb.” And they understood the uterus to be the direct cause of hysteria. As Hannah S. Decker writes, “Various ancient Greek philosophers and physicians, including Plato, had argued that the uterus is an independent entity within a woman’s body… these thinkers concluded that the uterus had an ardent desire to create children. If the womb remained empty for long after the owner’s puberty, it became unhappy and angry and began to travel through the body. In its wanderings it pressed against various bodily organs, creating “hysterical” — that is, uterus-related — symptoms.”

So when someone on a blog tells me to chill out because it sounds like I’m hysterical about an issue,  the etymological meaning is that my failure to put a baby in my uterus (which has independent will and agency inside my body) has caused it to become angry, loose itself from its mooring, and start floating around inside of my body until it bangs into my brain and starts making me unreasonably upset.

There’s also a strong historical tradition of labeling women as “hysterical” in order to silence, marginalize, or even kill them. During the Roman Catholic inquisitions, thousands of European women were tortured and burnt as witches because they were thought to show signs of hysteria. But it was during the Nineteenth Century that things really got going. Some doctors considered the force of the uterus so powerful that it might overcome the brain and cause a woman to have pathological sexual feelings, “requiring” the physicians to “medically manipulate” the genitals in order to release the woman from control of her uterus. Yes, you read that right, the doctors were obligated to fondle their patients sexually for their own medical good. Conveniently, both mental or emotional distress and any physical symptom could be an indication of a woman’s hysteria, so doctors could diagnose literally any woman as hysterical.

Once hysterical women were no longer burned at the stake, the most common treatment was to send them to bed or to an asylum to prevent any activity or thought that would inflame their hysteria. This was an extremely effective way to marginalize or silence women, as any protest that she was not hysterical would be seen as conclusive proof that the diagnosis of hysteria had been correct. This meant, practically, that any woman categorized as hysterical was forever silenced and lost all credibility.

That’s a whole big mess of etymology and history, so let’s unpack that a bit. When I am told I am hysterical, there is both 1) the implication that I am excessively or unreasonably emotional AND 2) the implication that my condition is unique to my femaleness. It’s also 3) implied that hysterical statements (or even statements from hysterical people) should be discounted and hysterical people need to change in order to participate in the discussion, or should be removed from it entirely. Now let’s look at each one of those individually.

The first is a criticism of and dismissal of my personal emotions based on the observer’s judgment on whether they conform to what “normal” or “reasonable” emotions would be for that situation. The idea of “extremeness” is built into every definition of the word, implying that there is an assumed agreed-upon “normal” range for emotions. In the past, that likely meant “emotions acceptable to white men with money.” Currently, though, the idea is strikingly parallel to current definitions of mental disabilities and mental health diagnoses in the DSM-IV, which require that a specific set of symptoms “must cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning” in order for a person to meet diagnostic criteria. This means that thee idea of emotions that are outside the “normal” range of experience to the degree that they affect a person’s function is the very definition of mental illness. So the accusation of “hysteria,” with the implication that the hysterical person has abnormally extreme emotions, is very clearly an accusation of mental illness. And remember part 3 — the conclusion that a hysterical person (or a person with a mental disability, by equivalency) should be discounted in discussions because of their hysteria/disability. THAT IS ABLEIST.

But that’s not all. The other implication of the term is that this over-emotional condition is a uniquely female condition and is caused directly by female reproductive organs being sad about not having a baby. While that’s not literally how it’s meant today, it still feels like a slightly nicer way of saying “you’re just upset because it’s that time of the month,” another way to marginalize and dismiss females based explicitly on their femaleness. It’s a way to say “that sounds like something a woman would say when she’s being super woman-y and influenced by being a woman.” And again, this is assumed to be a reason to discount the information or perspective offered and to exclude that person from the conversation. THAT IS SEXIST.

And here’s where the intersectionality comes in. Hysterical is a handy dandy insta-dismissal that slams two marginalized groups at the same time – and it only works because to be related to either group is considered to make you lesser. It also means that this word, with its invocation of both ableism and sexism, is particularly sharp when aimed at women with disabilities. That’s why arguments like “It’s sexist because it makes all women sound like crazies! Who’d want to be a crazy!” are extremely problematic – not only does the word rely on both sexism and ableism, it relies on the interaction between those two axes of oppression to be a super strong word.

If we thought of people with mental disabilities as full equals, with valid feelings, thoughts and perspectives that deserved respect, then the message “you are talking like a person with a mental disability because you are a woman” would be a compliment. The message would be “you are presenting a perspective or idea that deserves respectful consideration.”

If we thought of women as full equals, with valid feelings, thoughts, and perspectives that deserved respect, then the message “you are responding with extreme emotion because you are a woman” would imply that the emotion was valid and important and deserved respectful consideration. It would likely mean that whatever idea or perspective presented with that emotion would be given more credit and consideration, not less.

It only works as an insult, as a way to dismiss and marginalize, because both groups are considered lesser. And this is a great example of why intersectionality is so important – the kyriarchy uses other marginalized groups to attack us. As we support each other and all grow stronger, the kyriarchy will be less able to use these groups against us.

Note: I use the word hysterical in some contexts (‘I was hoping Zombieland would be as hysterical as Shaun of the Dead but it totally wasn’t.’) — I think these concerns are primarily relevant when using the word to characterize an individual’s argument, ideas, emotions, or perspective. I’d be interested in learning if others find it problematic in those contexts.

Email Q&A: What About Womanists?

We’re not even a week since the roll-out, but the response so far has been tremendous. Along with the excellent discussion in comments, we’ve gotten some really great questions, like this one (which we’ve paraphrased from the original email):

Why is the name of the blog Feminists With Disabilities? Wouldn’t it be more inclusive, especially of women of color, if the name acknowledged the womanist movement? Say, Feminists and Womanists with Disabilities?

We’ve been discussing this since we got the email, and we’ve come to a consensus that for now, we aren’t comfortable using womanist in the title of our blog. None of the current group of contributors identifies as a womanist. While we aren’t all white, those of us who are women of color identify as feminist. Those of us who are white don’t want to be disrespectful of the work womanists have done and are doing and appropriate their word for their movement created specifically in response to white privilege and oppression.

We also do not want to imply that we are authorities on womanism and that anything about womanism needs to change by including “womanists” in the title. Many of us are concerned with the historical exclusion of women with disabilities from mainstream feminism, and that exclusion is the primary focus of this website.

None of this means that we don’t welcome womanists and womanists with disabilities to join us as readers, as commenters, as guest posters, and as contributors (and if someone who did identify as a womanist did join us as a contributor we would revisit this issue). We want to create a safe space for all women here, and we do not want womanists to feel excluded; they have much to add to the conversation, and we look forward to hearing from them. We hope that FWD will be a place where inclusivity and respect are the rules rather than the exceptions.

Outrageous pre-existing conditions

(Originally posted a month ago at three rivers fog; in the meantime, news also came out that things like acne were considered pre-existing conditions as well: consider any and all further outrage well and fully included in the subject of this post.)

You’ve undoubtedly heard the news already. A history of domestic violence or C-section are considered, by private US health insurance companies, to be “pre-existing conditions,” which are used as a basis for denying coverage, rescinding coverage, charging higher rates, or other discriminatory practices.

Of course, this is outrageous. Why should a woman who has been beaten by some asshole be denied health care coverage? It isn’t fair.

But there’s something wrong here. And not just with this discriminatory practice — but with the people breathlessly reporting it.

Because, you see, it is being reported, not as:

Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions Are Morally Wrong, but as

How Dare They Treat DV Victims and Mothers the Same Way They Treat Women with Depression, Diabetes and Cancer!

It is being reported as different from “normal” pre-existing condition exclusions. It is being reported as being especially wrong. As being worse. A true moral violation, taking things to a new level.

But why?

Here’s the thing. Insurance companies refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (anything from asthma to leukemia) because they know these people will be highly likely to incur greater costs than healthy patients. The entire rationale for excluding them is because they cost more money.

If you have had a C-section once, you are much more likely to end up having another one if you ever give birth again. If you have a history of domestic violence, you might end up with an abusive partner again, and end up needing care.

Yeah, it’s complete bullshit that these people would be refused health care. It’s downright immoral.

But why is it especially immoral to refuse health care to these women — but not to women with osteoporosis or an anxiety disorder or back pain? Or Ehler-Danlos Syndrome or food allergies or heart disease or lung cancer?

How is it any different?

Victims of domestic violence don’t deserve to suffer consequences for something that is not their fault. This is truth. It contributes to the very popular cultural myth that victims are somehow to blame for the abuse they suffer — that they must have done something to provoke it, or that they should have left, etc. All this stuff is highly damaging.

But that doesn’t make it different than telling a woman with lung cancer that she can’t have care because her disease is somehow her fault. Which contributes to the very popular cultural myth that people with medical conditions are somehow to blame for them — that they must have done something to earn them, that it’s their own fault they ended up that way, and therefore they lose rights to certain things because they are inflicting the costs of their mistakes on the rest of us.

Because if you haven’t done anything wrong, you won’t ever end up sick. If you do end up sick, there must be something you did wrong.

Maybe that woman smoked. And maybe that other woman slapped her boyfriend first. And that woman who was raped wore a short skirt and flirted with the man first. That does not make this violation her fault. This is basic feminist theory. “Blaming the victim.”

Health care is a human right. We all deserve basic health care that respects a person’s dignity and integrity and humanity.

So why are these things different? Especially outrageous?

I can’t identify any reason except one.

Because they apply to healthy women.

It’s understandable why health insurance companies would refuse care to women with arthritis. It makes sense that they would deny care to women with psychiatric disorders.

Because we, as a society, think it is OK to deny quality of life and societal access to people with medical conditions, disabilities and chronic illnesses. We have determined that it makes sense to discriminate against them. We get why these things are done. And they’re done to those people. Over there. Not to me and mine.

But C-sections? Why, one-third of mothers in the US will have a C-section instead of a vaginal birth! That affects me and mine. Therefore, it is especially outrageous — that we would be treated like we treat them.

Oh, but that’s not how you think?

Really?

What justification is there for acting as though these practices are any worse than the practice of denying coverage to women who have lupus?

There isn’t any that isn’t rooted in a deeply ableist bias.

How about we get outraged by the fact that there is any such thing as a pre-existing condition exclusion at all? I can get behind you on that one.

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