Category Archives: For Cereal?

Bingo?

I came across this on tumblr and rolled my eyes so hard they just about fell out of my head. I feel like I should get bingo just for looking at it:

a clip from tumblr. there is a photo of a young man face down on asphalt, surrounded by beer bottles. there is text below the photo.The text reads “Even though autism can cripple communication, Paul managed to overcome his disability and save a teens Life. Seeing a 17 year old lying on the ground because of Alcohol poisoning, he went over to him, asked him how he was doing and called 911. To read more click here: [link].”

Inspirational crip! Using the word “cripple” to describe the effect of autism on communication! He “managed” to do something! And thus overcame the immeasurable burden of his disability!

This was posted on the tumblr of the organization “The Friendship Circle,” whose goal is “bring[ing] together teenage volunteers and children with special needs for hours of fun and friendship. … Our special friends blossom and gain the confidence they need to make the most their abilities and talents.”

This has got to be bingo. Someone give me a prize.

Today In Journalism: Simply Overcome

As soon as I saw the headline ‘Local overcomes disabilities‘ pop up, I knew this article would be worthy of a ‘Today In Journalism’ feature at FWD, because, folks, this article has it all. I’m not going to blame Judy Sheridan, the author, for the title, because most journalists don’t write their own headlines1; the honour for the title clearly goes to the editor of the Weatherford Democrat, a publication that I’m sure has a fine, upstanding, and meritorious history.

The ‘overcome’ narrative is a common and pervasive one and it annoys me to an extreme degree. So, based on the title alone, I would have had a brief snark, but then, right there in the lede:

The locals know Ray Magallan, a cerebral palsy victim who has walked aimlessly down city streets for years, fighting frustration, anger and utter hopelessness…

I had a brief moment of bemusement imagining cerebral palsy cornering Magallan in a dark alley and taking his lunch money, I confess.

The thing about terms like ‘suffers from’ and ‘victim of’ is that if someone self identifies with them, that’s fine. But when they get used as generic terms to refer to people with disabilities in general, it sets a precedent. It tells people that disability is suffering, and that people with disabilities are victims. The reason that we ask people to use neutral language when talking about disability is not because we want to tell other people how to feel about their disabilities, but because we don’t want to tell nondisabled people to think negatively about disability.

This is an important thing, when talking about language. There’s a big difference between identifying with a term and using it, and using a term in general to refer to everyone like you, or, in the case of nondisabled people, using a term you’ve heard someone use as self identification to refer to everyone like that person. If the media presented disability in neutral terms, ‘The locals known Ray Magallan, a man with cerebral palsy who…,’ it allows readers to approach the article with neutrality. But here, from the very start, the subject of the article is a victim.

Maybe if disability wasn’t routinely framed this way, it wouldn’t be such a frightening identity, and people who find the word upsetting or frightening would view it with more neutrality. As a facet of identity, rather than an all-consuming tragedy. In our recent discussion on ‘special,’ commenters brought up the fact that many people are afraid to use the word ‘disability,’ and children in particular are socialised to fear it, which is why disability euphemisms are so widespread. It’s easy to see why people would shy away from identifying with disability when all the narratives they see inform them that disability is a tragedy and that people with disabilities are victims.

The rest of the article hits all the keywords…’challenge,’ ‘inner strength,’ ‘students who are challenged,’ and, of course, our old friend ‘overcome.’

I like the idea of including people with disabilities in local community profiles, to remind readers that we are members of the community too, and to show people that we do things in the community, but inevitably, these stories always just leave me really angry, and really sad. They are so objectifying, and so dehumanising, and they leave readers with terrible messages about disability, disabled identities, what it means to be disabled.

It would be so very easy to write one of these profiles well. Why can’t anyone seem to do that?

  1. You do know that, right?

For Cereal, Internets?! Not Even Venn Diagrams Make Ableism Acceptable

Content note: This post discusses ableist humour that involves psychiatrisation and belittling of ADHD.

There’s an oh-so-witty joke that has been making the rounds lately. It keeps popping up again and again, even at sites that I would expect to pass on this type of ‘humour.’ Amazingly, no one’s emailed a tip on it to FWD, I’m assuming because everyone who encounters it does the same thing I did when I first saw it, which is tremble with a combination of rage and horror and be unable to process it any further than that. Seriously, I have been sitting on this for a week and trying to come up with something to say about it that isn’t in all caps, illegal in six states, and totally incoherent.

People talk about casual ableism like it’s not something that happens anymore and they say that we are ‘too sensitive’ and then, they circulate things like this as an example of ‘humour.’ I have seen this circulated by socially progressive people who claim to care about disability issues and think that this is ‘hysterically funny,’ as noted on one post I saw about it.

It’s a Venn Diagram, headlined ‘Social Media: Unlocking the Awesome Potential of Behavioural Disorders.’ The outer circles are labeled ‘narcissism,’ ‘stalking,’ and ‘ADHD.’ At the intersection of narcissism and stalking lies ‘Facebook.’ Between stalking and ADHD is ‘TweetStalk.’ Between ADHD and narcissism is ‘myspace.’ The center of the diagram, where everything overlaps, reads ‘Twitter.’

I…really don’t know what to say about this. I am rarely at a loss for words, as I think we all  know, but this leaves me wordless. There are so many problems with the attitudes embedded in this, ranging from the tendency to apply the diagnosis of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ to ‘troublesome women’ to the complete devaluation of online friendships, interactions that occur online, and online communities implied in reducing online interactions to ‘behavioural disorders.’

For me, as a person with disabilities (including, ahem, things that the author of this ‘joke’ would probably consider ‘behavioural disorders’), social media and the Internet are invaluable and irreplaceable. Events like the regular Second Life meetups organised by GimpGirl Community provide opportunities for networking, organising, activism, fellowship, friendship, community building, education, and the exchange of ideas that would not otherwise be available. This Internet-as-pathology attitude is highly pervasive, and highly ableist. Attitudes about Internet, Internet users, and ‘normal’ behaviour work their way into everything from scientific studies on Internet usage to, well, ‘jokes’ predicated on making fun of people on the basis of their engagement with online communities.

What’s most peculiar about ‘jokes’ like this one is that they are perpetrated by…online communities. Some of the most vicious devaluation of online communities and relationships…comes from online communities. The companies profiting from this particular ‘joke’ are specifically making a profit…because it has spread through social networking and online communities.

Colour me unimpressed by this particular ‘joke,’ on multiple levels.

A Venn Diagram, showing three circles. The outer circles are labeled 'narcissism,' 'stalking,' and 'ADHD.' At the intersection of narcissism and stalking lies 'Facebook.' Between stalking and ADHD is 'TweetStalk.' Between ADHD and narcissism is 'myspace.' The center of the diagram, where everything overlaps, reads 'Twitter.'

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘yes, but it is it available as a t-shirt?’

Today In Journalism: Do You Feel Special? Well? Do You?!

Content warning: This post includes a discussion of an article that frames disability in extremely patronising, offensive, and infantalising objectifying (note) terms. There will be selections from said article quoted for the  purpose of criticism and discussion.

I’ve been noticing an uptick in really, really bad articles about disability lately. I was puzzling last night over why the mainstream media has suddenly taken an interest in disability, and someone pointed out that the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is rapidly approaching, which means that we can probably expect more really bad articles about disability in the US over the next month or so.

I suppose it’s too much to ask that the media consider contracting people with disabilities to write articles about disability, or that the media consider educating its journalists so that they can cover disability more effectively and appropriately. Oh, wait. No it’s not. There are, after all, style guides published by professional organisations providing information about how to cover disability. It’s not like people with limited experience have no resources to use when preparing articles on disability. They are just choosing not to use these resources.

We read so you don’t have to.

Up today, ‘Inside the life of a person with disabilities,’ a feature that recently ran at an Ohio ABC affiliate. This article and the accompanying video read like the journalist closely read haddayr’s ‘Plucky Cripples Don’t Let Lack of Bingo Card Stop Them‘ and my guide to talking about disability in the media, took careful notes, and then deliberately tried to hit every possible offensive trope. Really, my hat is off to Susan Ross Wells, the reporter who prepared this piece. It takes remarkable talent to be able to fit all of this into one short local interest piece. This a journalist who will be Going Places, I can sense it.

Here’s the lede:

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you couldn’t see or if you were confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. It’s a reality for people living with disabilities, but that doesn’t mean these special people can’t lead happy, fulfilling lives.

I am rarely surprised by things in the media anymore. I pretty regularly think that I’ve seen it all. And then one of my Google Alerts has to deliver something on a whole new level, like this article. This lede manages to hit variations on ‘She didn’t let her disability stop her!’ ‘Confined to a wheelchair’ ‘Special’ and, of course, ‘…proving you can achieve anything if you really try!’ all in two sentences!

The article profiles an institutionalised woman with disabilities, making sure to tell us that her mother thinks of her as a ‘joy’ and informing us that the mother feels like ‘placing’ her daughter was, well: ‘the hardest thing that I ever had to do, but it turned out to be the best thing that I did.’ Life in institutions is grand, the article suggests. A barrel of fun times, all the time.

And, of course: ‘She has brought so much out in me as a person, as a mother. She’s brought such joy.’

Inspiring!

People ask, sometimes, why we are so angry about depictions of disability in pop culture and the media. Why we can’t just be happy that disability is being covered at all. Articles like this, depictions like this, do absolutely nothing to promote social equality for people with disabilities. They do absolutely nothing to dispel harmful myths and stereotypes. They do absolutely nothing to humanise us. As long as nondisabled people are the ones covering disability for the media, we are going to continue seeing disability framed in these terms. Is it any wonder that ableism is rife when stories like this are the models for thinking about disability, interacting with people with disabilities, and talking about disability that most people encounter?

Avoidance

Building on what Chally talked about in her post about doing fine, I wanted to discuss some of the disability aspects of my recent semi-absence. Sometimes I feel like thinking about, reading about, writing about, arguing about, disability issues can become overwhelming for me. I feel that there are so many problems – ableist policies and laws and governments and businesses and people and attitudes and media portrayals and interactions and opinions and splainers. And a horrifyingly large number of instances of people with disabilities being abused and battered and humiliated and ignored and erased and dismissed. Each of those things seems like an immovable stone that fit together to form a wall that is beyond insurmountable.

Even thinking about everything that’s overwhelming feels overwhelming. (And this, of course, is part of the effect of the kyriarchy – to be so overwhelming and monolithic that it forces conformity, punishes people for differences like being a PWD, and places immense pressure on them to conform as much as possible to the norm.)

So when this happens, I notice myself avoiding disability related topics. I keep posts on disability issues unread until they start building up in Google Reader. I somehow don’t get around to reading that article or book on disability activism I had bookmarked. Someone I’m around in a casual setting says the R word and I let it go by. I pass as much as possible for TAB and neurotypical – even to myself. I just ignore disability – in general and mine specifically – as much as possible.

I noticed that my avoidance started right around the time I started working on a work project related to domestic violence. Working in that area always makes me aware of how many people, predominately women, are subjected to horrifying abuse on a daily basis. In the past, I’ve had the same kind of overwhelmed/avoidance response to feminist issues, when it feels that the patriarchal structure is too entrenched and too powerful to fight.

In other words, feeling vulnerable about domestic violence and sexual assault makes me feel like I cannot risk being vulnerable about disability, so I try as hard as possible to ignore it. I know that I am doing this to protect myself. But I do not like that protecting myself means ignoring disability issues or feminism. That protecting myself means, to an extent, ignoring part of who I am. Not just in the way I present myself to the world, but even in how I think about myself in the privacy of my own head.

That makes me angry. It makes me angry that retreating into my shell is coping mechanism brought on by the infinitely-headed hydra of ableism and sexism. It makes me angry that a necessary reaction to the frustration of engaging in disability activism is to take a break from that activism and to momentarily stop identifying as a PWD. (Or as a DV survivor. Or as whatever else is making me a target for kyriarchical oppression.) Basically, I get angry that the kyriarchy works, that even my efforts to stop being hurt by it are intrinsically shaped by it. That my life is inherently a response to it. That I cannot seem to exist outside of it.

Fucking kyriarchy.

For Cereal, Internet?: I Has A Hotdog edition

I love looking at pictures of cute animals on the internet. Cats, dogs, monkeys, dolphins, turtles, otters – whatever. And I find that skimming through a few LOLcat macros during the workday can do wonders to perk up my mood or give me a smile before diving back into work. Which is part of why I get so annoyed when the LOLcat sites do something offensive or wrong – this is supposed to be my fun time, not my get-my-rage-on time! I have a whole other folder of RSS feeds for rage time!

So I got mighty cranky when I saw this at I Has a Hotdog, the spinoff site from I Can Haz Cheeseburger that has LOLdog macros:

A group of identical white pomeranians, with the caption "Multiple Personality Disorder: you're doin it right."
A group of identical white pomeranians, with the caption "Multiple Personality Disorder: you're doin it right."

Ok, FOR CEREAL??? This is not only offensive, it doesn’t even make sense. A person with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), which is more commonly and more accurately termed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), does not manifest in multiple identical bodies. The whole point is that there is one body/mind that manifests multiple, distinct identities or personalities, called alter egos. A person who could split themselves into multiple identical bodies, all with distinct identities, is not a person with MPD or DID, but instead is some kind of magical self-cloning person who should probably be off fighting crime in Gotham City.

This underlined for me how DID is a go-to joke, a punchline often used in contexts or situations that make absolutely no sense to anyone who actually understands what DID is. It’s a lazy way to make a joke about a “bizarre” or “outlandish” mental illness without even taking time to understand the diagnosis being thrown around so cavalierly. For me, it reads as a shorthand “hahaha saying the name of a mental illness is funny isn’t that funny??”

I can’t imagine how this use of DID as shorthand for “exotic and hilarious mental illness” must affect people who actually experience DID. Given that the second google link when I searched for “multiple personality disorder” is to a site discussing whether MPD or DID actually exist or whether they are made-up movie illnesses, I imagine there’s an extraordinary stigma experienced by people with DID and an overwhelming tendency to doubt and discount their experiences at best, and to mock and ridicule them at worst. These kind of “jokes” only add to those issues. And they should not be tolerated.

For Cereal, Time?

I was perusing the internets doing some research for work when I came across this lovely list from Time.

Seems some orthopedic surgeon is now the ultimate authority on all things medical…in every iteration thereof. Doesn’t matter what specialty or what your history. Dr. Scott Haig is now the expert, so stop what you are doing, right now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and certainly do not trust whatever you have worked out in your personal health care, and just do what Our Dear Dr. Scott says.

Of particular interest to me is that the Great Dr. Scott says that narcotic pain medication “never” works for chronic pain. Ever. You should never use it unless your pain is acute, and if you are using it for such, you should stop, now. Forget your medical history, or whatever other methods you have tried or that have failed you:

The drugs are relatively easy to get and tempting to take, but you should never use them for chronic pain. Narcotics addiction is insidious. The drugs change who you are, and over time they make any and every pain worse.

This tidbit makes me want to say something to Our Dr. Scott…something that starts with an “F” and rhymes with “uck You”. Because Dr. Scott does not know my pain, or what I have been through trying to manage it, or how for the first time since all of this started I am living a semblance of a life that doesn’t leave me feeling worthless.*

I have some other very interesting and loud thoughts on Our Dr. Scott’s advice on “Exercising an Injury”, “Overplayed Allergies”, and “Google Abuse”, but I will let you all have at it now. I am going to go chronically abuse some narcotics.

/sarcasm.

*As in, each person has to decide what they can live with, want to live with, are willing to live with in terms of their medical care, and base their decisions on that personal choice insofar as it is in their control to be a part of that choice. It is part of my privilege to be able to do so and to say “I want to be able to do these things, and these side effects are worth it”. It is not that way for everyone, and I want to acknowledge that.

For Cereal, Stars and Stripes? Mocking “Paranoia” is Headline-Worthy?

OK, so I saw this one in my paper edition because I get it the night before (and technically a day late, since I am in the future!), but you can find it online too.

In the 16 March edition of Stars and Stripes writer Jeff Schogol wrote an article containing letters from people who sent letters to the Defense Department website. He calls the letters he said the DoD provided to him “the more bizarre feedback it gets” and notes that “[t]he authors’ names were withheld, but all spelling, grammar and paranoia are authentic“. (emphasis mine)

The article, titled “Airborne bears to catch bin Laden and other letters to the Pentagon” seems little more than a great way to laugh at people for myriad reasons. Let’s poke fun at their lack of intelligence! See how they can’t construct proper sentences? Those silly people without proper educations and who aren’t newspaper columnists or Pentagon officials! Ha ha! That’s so funny!

There were several letters published by Jeff Schogol in his article that I don’t feel comfortable publishing here, because I don’t feel that it is proper to display these letters that were meant to be private correspondence and won’t further his ableism. I don’t want to further hurt a person who might already be pained by finding hir something they never meant to have public spattered all over the internet and a military wide newspaper. They were not meant for this type of dissemination, and I think it was vile of whichever Pentagon employee thought it was appropriate to release them to a newspaper. I also don’t feel that it is in good taste to print a letter in a newspaper with the intention of laughing at the “crazy” person, as it is clear here that is what is meant. We are supposed to have a good chuckle at the supposed ludicrous ideas that are put forth by the letter writers. Schogol obviously feels that it is OK to call people paranoid and make light of mental illness and disability. Har har.

I am going to invite you to write to Jeff Schogol at Stars and Stripes and let him know that you don’t think it was a great idea to run this article, or that it was in good taste to reprint these letters. Or if you feel inspired, maybe you would like to use the same venue as the original letter writers who thought that they were writing private correspondence to the DoD, and let them know just how unprofessional it was to release those emails to a newspaper for a chuckle.

For Cereal, Yahoo?

A periodic feature in which we highlight some of the more ableist posts and comments in the blogosphere – the things that made us throw up our hands and ask “FOR CEREAL???”

Today’s edition of “FOR CEREAL???” comes to us courtesy of the lovely folks at Yahoo, who published this handy guide from, I kid thee not, “GALTime.com”: “Save Your Sanity While Working at Home.” As some FWD readers may be aware, I am one of those folks who works at home, so I can review this guide both from an ableism standpoint (hello, TITLE!) and a realism standpoint.

We’re informed that this article has “hysterical” tips which will “help you keep your sanity” while you work from home1.

Uhm, for cereal? No. Really. FOR CEREAL?

This is an article which is supposed to be humorous, but, really, it reads like a pile of misogynistic claptrap of the worst order, because it’s misogynistic claptrap from fellow women, presented in a giggly, tee hee, aren’t we all conspiratorial kind of way which makes me want to gag violently. Because, it’s not about fun stuff. It’s about “women need a stern talking to or they get hysterical” and “women are so helpless they can’t figure things out for themselves” with a healthy dose of “not all careers are right for women” piled on top. This is a style I don’t really like, whether it’s in magazines or on websites or what have you, and pretty much regardless of the content2. It pisses me off, as a general rule, and it really makes me wonder about the women who write this kind of copy. Don’t they feel a bit…debased at some point?

There are a lot of tips which folks who work from home could really use, especially when they are getting started. Do I see any of those tips in this article? No, I do not. Instead, I see the writers telling people to wear trousers at home, not sweatpants. Because sweatpants are icky and gross! And you shouldn’t be comfortable just because you are working from home! Kiss my candystriped-cotton-weave-clad ass, GALTime.com.

And the article is rife with little “tips” which seem to be primarily sending the “if you work at home, you will get FAT” message. Like “don’t eat at your desk” and “get outside.” Everyone knows that it would, of course, be unbearable to become fat, and really, that’s the most important concern when it comes to working from home. Don’t worry about building up a client base, maintaining professional relationships, getting your bills paid, just worry about your pant size, ladies!

Finally, the article concludes with advice I find totally bizarre:

DO NOT tell anyone, including your husband and kids, that you are working from home! It’s none of their business, and how are you ever supposed to get any work done if people know where you are?

Uhm, for cereal? I think this is supposed to be a tongue in cheek way of saying “you need to set boundaries for people when you work from home because otherwise lines can start blurring,” but, FOR CEREAL?!?! You’re telling people they should lie to their families? This is cute? And funny?

No. Just. No.

Want some actual advice on working from home? I’ll tell you what works for me (although your mileage may vary, because every human experience is different!): Setting a clear schedule and sticking to it, structuring breaks into my schedule, setting clear boundaries with friends and clients about when/how to contact me, wearing comfortable clothing, and eating at my desk.

In fact, GUESS WHAT I AM GOING RIGHT NOW.

  1. Evidently, all people who work from home are verging on the brink of “insanity” and can only be brought back with a stern, yet cutesy, talking-to.
  2. Everything from articles giving women “permission” to eat chocolate to articles about how “exercise is fun, really, you just need to try harder” regularly stimulates a stark rage in my living room.

For Cereal, Cute Overload?

A periodic feature in which we highlight some of the more ableist posts and comments in the blogosphere – the things that made us throw up our hands and ask “FOR CEREAL???”

I’m late on this one, but that doesn’t make me any less upset. Cute Overload is one of the best and most regular suppliers of the cuteness I so often need to take the edge off the day, but it’s becoming increasingly problematic. They have a continuing series called Cats n Racks, featuring photos of kittens placed in cleavage, usually cutting off the woman’s head. Recently the site posted a picture of a extremely wrinkled puppy with lots of excess skin and compared it to Eleanor Roosevelt (described here at Filthy Grandeur). She also points out a recent photo of a wallaby titled “The New Slave Girl, She Intrigues Me,” captioned with what sounds an awful lot like a rape fantasy.

Not content to settle for racist and sexist, the site went for a hat trick and added ableist to their list! In their post reviewing the ten most popular posts of 2009, number five is a photo of a bunny with a long forelock brushed over one eye, called “Emo Bun.”

a small grey bunny looking to the side, with a long forelock of fur falling over one blue eye.

The text reads “On June 18, Stephanie N. took a minute from cutting herself to send us this awesome shot, an emotional bunneh.” The alt-text for the photo of the bunny reads “No Mom I was NOT cutting myself!”

FOR CEREAL, CUTE OVERLOAD? I’ve written at length about my issues with the term “emo” elsewhere, but beyond that, the multiple references to cutting are 100% non-negotiably inappropriate. Having an undeniably cute bunny whine about cutting minimizes and dismisses the very real pain of people who do self-injure. It implies that self-injury is a choice as superficial and changeable as a trendy hairstyle and that it’s done to fit into a trend. It’s not funny. And it’s certainly not cute.