Category Archives: shaming
[WARNING: descriptions of obstetric rape and PTSD]
At Jezebel, Jessica writes: Is Having A Baby A Traumatic Event?
A new survey says that 9% of postpartum women suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. You know, the same disorder that Iraq vets and plane crash survivors get. Something does not compute here,[…]
Have we become so precious and hyper-conscious that something women have been doing for time immemorial is now ranked alongside war as a painful event?[…]
Certainly, having a bowling ball of a baby shooting out your vag isn’t a picnic for anyone, but the hysteria surrounding something so matter-of-fact is troubling.
“Hysteria”. Yes, “hysteria”. She went there. She used the prime misogynist slam against women, blaming wandering uteruses. Unbefuckingllievable.
I’m only surprised there wasn’t a “princess” or a “delicate flower” thrown in there too. Or maybe a few accusations of insurance fraud, hm? That would just put the icing on the hateful cake.
Get back to me when you’ve been stripped, dehumanised, isolated, forcibly starved, and strapped to a table for 12 or more hours during the hardest work of your life. Get back to me when you’ve been subjected to a series of non-emergency procedures on your body with neither consent nor medical justification. Get back to me when you’ve been imprisoned in hospital.
Get back to me when you’ve been held down by two or three people while someone – or more than one someone – pushes their fingers into your vagina while you say “No”. Get back to me when you’ve been screaming “NOOOO! STOP!!!” and been ignored while someone cuts your body open and shoves metal forceps into you. Get back to me when you’ve been strapped to a table and operated on and had your protestations about the anaesthetic not working being ignored. Get back to me when you’re left bleeding and vomiting on a table, without access to help, wondering if you’re bleeding to death, and you’ve had your newborn baby taken away from you without explanation or good reason except an over-the-shoulder “we don’t have enough staff right now”.
Get back to me when you’ve spent months of your life – the months you thought would be a joyful, perhaps sleep-deprived, milky daze – having violent flashbacks and nightmares. Shambling through the day barely able to function, unable to bond with your newborn. Bursting into tears and panic attacks many times a day. Avoiding public places lest you suddenly start sobbing and need to run. Not able to have anyone touch you.
Get back to me when you’re hunched in a corner, unable to work, unable to care for yourself, unable to speak, and all anyone can say to you is “All that matters is a live baby”.
I hope you never experience these things. Because they can be horrifying, life-changing, deeply traumatic events. The only promise I can make you is that I won’t call you “precious” or “hysterical” if you’re ever in this terrible position.
Medical assault is assault. Obstetric rape is rape. Trauma is trauma. Some people who have experienced these things get PTSD.
And it’s not up to you, or anyone else, to instruct them that they haven’t – especially in explicitly woman-hating terms.
You don’t get to judge.
No, no, no, no, no.
The hits just keep on comin’, thanks to Slate. Earlier this month in Dear Prudence, we got to read this winner:
My husband had a stroke 18 months ago. At first he was unable to speak and his right side was paralyzed. He regained his speech and, with a lot of work, got full use of his arm and leg. But the stroke made it impossible for him to practice his profession, and he continues to have short-term memory problems. He’s home on extended leave. My problem is that he is obsessed with what he has lost and how bad things are. When I come home from work—I have to keep us fed and housed—all I hear about is what a terrible state he’s in. I’ve tried various things: We’ve gone to a counselor, his doctor has given him anti-depressants, I’ve encouraged him to go back to his hobbies. I try to plan things that will be enjoyable for him. Nothing is working. He won’t take up his hobbies or socialize, and he dwells so completely on the negative that even his closest friends are getting weary. It seems to me that he should be grateful he survived and regained so much. I am so exhausted by his negativity that sometimes I just wish I could leave him, but I would never do that. Is this the way it’s going to be forever? –Tired Wife
First, something tangential: Is this not THE perfect mishmash of weird disability-related hangups from an abled person plus some lovely Feminine Mystique-era gender(ed) expectations? It’s like it was made for a takedown on this site.
Moving on: On one hand, I can certainly see why this woman is frustrated. Adjusting to newly-acquired disability can be an extremely difficult process — not only for the person with the disability, but for their relatives and loved ones as well. However, there are a ton of stereotypes made explicit in this woman’s letter, not least of which is the “he’s just so NEGATIVE!” and the related expectation that her actions and her efforts will somehow make him become a happy, compliant Good Cripple. I have to wonder, has she stopped to consider that adjustment to disability is a long process? Or that having to go on leave from one’s job due to a newly acquired disability might, in fact, be extremely taxing on one’s self-image? Apparently not — all that matters is that he show proper gratitude (and non-“negativity”!) for all of her efforts, and not trouble her with his “dwell[ing] completely on the negative.” I am sure that many of us would find it hard to be “grateful,” too, if we had someone treating us this way due to our disability (or disabilities). Once again, a disabled person’s feelings and experiences are steamrolled over in favor of those of a person who is not disabled, and this is apparently acceptable because they are in a relationship.
The gender question, too, is worth a look; while it’s pretty common knowledge that women, on average, do much more “caretaking” work inside the home than men (at least in the U.S.), there are a few things that stick out, mostly based on what the letter writer does not mention. Was she primarily responsible for managing her husband’s schedule and social life before his stroke? If “nothing is working,” has she spoken with him about it? Please understand that I am not trying to blame her for larger sexist patterns of who tends to do the home-related care-taking and who does not; it does, however, seem odd that she has not (as far as we know) attempted to speak with her husband about this — his “negativity” nonwithstanding.
The sense that I get from this letter, overall, is that this woman has spent a huge amount of time and energy trying to fulfill the role of the “perfect” wife, and now that her husband cannot fulfill the complimentary “perfect husband”/breadwinner role, her resentment is close to bubbling over. Add to this much of mainstream white, abled feminism’s emphasis on “independence” — which seems to exist in a magical land where no one is (or should be) dependent on anyone else — it is not terribly surprising that she feels that her only option would be to leave her “negative,” disabled partner. That these seemingly opposing tendencies could show up in one letter is not surprising, either.
So, what do you think, commenters?
Description [emphases are mine]: The ad is headed, in red,
“Drive stupid and score some kickin’ new wheels.”
This heading is placed beside the image of an slim adolescent boy, white-appearing and dark-haired, wearinga red T-shirt, black jeans, and black Converse-style sneakers. He is sitting in a hospital-style wheelchair. His arms are slumped on the armrests, his back hunched, and his head bent such that his face is in shadow and not clearly visible.
The small text in the ad reads:
“Nothing’s cooler than the day you get your driver’s license. But as soon as you start driving stupid, it’s not so cool anymore. Texting, using your iPod, racing, they all fall under the category of stupid. And dangerous. So before you get behind the wheel and try to prove how cool you are, here’s a little harsh reality. Nothing kills more Utah teens than auto crashes. Not fazed? Okay, how does the thought of spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair grab you? Look, every year far too many Utah teens go from cool to crippled in the blink of an eye. So if you’re one of those drivers who think they have something to prove, you can start shopping for your wheelchair now. And hey, if you think that’s harsh, wait until the day you roll it into school.
Drowsy Driving | Distracted Driving | Aggressive Driving | Impaired Driving | Not Buckling Up
As Bad Cripple says:
But the ad relies on antiquated and deeply rooted fears to scare teens noting that “every year far too many Utah teens go from cool to crippled in the blink of the eye”. Great, this undermines forty years of legislative initiatives meant to empower people with a disability. Teens are being taught that a wheelchair is akin to a tragedy, a fate worse than death.
If you go to the website, the header currently has a headshot of a conventionally-pretty white brunette girl with sutured wounds on her cheek and lip. The heading says, “Driving stupid can really make you look bad.”
So there’s the Don’t Drive Stupid campaign: it is assumed that for teen boys using a wheelchair is worse than death – and for teen girls, the worst possible fate is to have minor wounds on her face.
It is interesting to contrast these official messages – ableist, sexist, objectifying, dehumanising – with the posters made by high school students themselves for the campaign: a car knocking the motif off a signpost, ‘When you drive you hold someone’s life in your hands”, “you know you’re tired when you swerve to miss your car freshener“, “Last message received” with a crash and a breaking cellphone, and various others – none of which rely on stereotypes about marginalised groups at all.
Next up, Bad Cripple brings us this Nike advertisement:
Description: A Nike shoe sits on a red background. The text reads:
Fortunately, the Air Dri-Goat features a patented goat-like outer sole for increased traction, so you can taunt mortal injury without actually experiencing it. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself, “How can a trail running shoe with an outer sole designed like a goat’s hoof help me avoid compressing my spinal cord into a Slinky on the side of some unsuspecting conifer, thereby rendering me a drooling, misshapen, non-extreme-trail-running husk of my former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name embossed on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back?”
To that we answer, hey, have you ever seen a mountain goat (even an extreme mountain goat) careen out of control into the side of a tree?
Didn’t think so.
Bad Cripple commentary reads, in part (check out the rest):
If anything is unusual about the above Nike ad it is the fact it was pulled. Imagery of this sort is sadly the norm and abounds. I see it every day on television, in newspapers, on the internet and in a plethora of magazines. Some people in disability studies call such images examples of the “defective person industry”.
This post is going to talk in non-explicit ways about the sexual abuse of children with disabilities, and the inclination of people to not believe them.
Writing about the history of people with disabilities is often a process of reading between the lines. Surviving records tend to be written by non-disabled people in positions of power, with the only surviving writing from actual disabled people being those approved of by others.
My specific historic interest is in residential schools for people with disabilities in the Atlantic region of Canada in nineteenth century. I spent a lot of time last year trying to read between the lines, to sort out what really happened in the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf and Dumb when the second principal of the school was suddenly unceremoniously fired two years into his contract, with many records from his tenure there destroyed.
This may seem like an odd thing to bring up right now. Whatever scandal caused the school to fire him – and I argued in my thesis that it was because of his support for a specific method of teaching that was not approved of by the Board of Directors – it shouldn’t matter now. Everyone involved is dead, and the records can’t tell me much when they’ve been cut out of the record book with a razor at some indeterminate point in the past.
We’re trained to look for supporting documents, and I found my way to the New Brunswick Hansard (the recording of speeches in the Legislative Assembly) where Mr Woodbridge is mentioned quite extensively after a law suit was brought against him. I have yet to find the true nature of the allegations, since the men standing up to defend him considered the allegations so spurious, so scandalous, so without merit that they would not even name them, saying only that the girl who had brought the charges – she also was not named – had disappeared, thus proving that the charges were spurious.
For those of us who read narratives of childhood abuse in residential schools, this is a very familiar way of “dealing” with the problem.
I was thinking of this story when many people emailed me the following news report: Ex-students claim abuse at N.S. schools for deaf.
“The children were easily victimized because they were cut off from their families and also really cut off in a sense because of language, so they were perfect victims for sexual wrongdoing,” said Tony Merchant, the Saskatchewan-based lawyer handling the suit.
The comments, as all comments are on any discussion of charges of sexual abuse, are full of disbelieve and distrust.
I think of this, and I think of the distressing results of the only study in Canada that attempted to discover the abuse of people with disabilities in any form of institutionalised “care”. This PDF outlines their results on Page 3. To sum it up: Most people with disabilities, especially women, will be sexually abused in their lifetimes.
And we are not believed.
I look at the destroyed records in Halifax, and at the brief mentions I can find of accusations against Mr Woodbridge in 1886, and the accusations that former students are bringing against the school from the 1950s and 60s, and I wonder, truly, how many more people are not stepping forward because they know they won’t be believed.
ETA: People are discussing very specific and graphic examples of abuse of people with disabilities in the comments.
In “How Do I Say ‘My Brain Is Not Like Yours’?” I discussed a lot of the frustrations I experience as a neuroatypical when I’m in social situations and attempting to navigate human interactions. Nowhere is this more difficult to me than in settings which people regard as “casual” and “low stress,” because these are the settings in which the rules I have carefully established through trial and error seem to break down, despite my best intentions.
I am speaking, here, of questions. Because, here’s the thing.
When you ask me a question, I assume that you are asking me a question because you would like to hear the answer. Thus, I am going to respond. And I am going to respond honestly, because I don’t have the social filter in my brain which tells me what is and is not appropriate; I take questions at face value. And sometimes, this turns very, very ugly.
“What you do think of the pie?”
“I think it tastes like shit. This is one of the most awful pies I have ever had. The crust tastes like cardboard sopped with simple syrup and the filling tastes like pureed ass.”
“How are you?”
“I feel like crap. This whole day is turning to shit, I think I am getting a migraine, and the fucking cat pissed on the floor again.”
“Oh.” [look of extreme boredom]
Questions terrify me. Because every time a question gets asked, I have to rifle through my mental notes. I have to think about other settings in which the question has been asked, responses which were greeted approvingly, responses which were not greeted approvingly, and I have to ask myself “is this person asking because they really want to know?” Which seems utterly alien to me, because, like, why would you ask a question if you didn’t want to know the answer?
For me, I only ask a question like “how are you” when I really want to hear the answer. If I don’t want to know, I don’t ask. (And thus, I also get confused and upset when people share information I didn’t ask for, and, hello, awkwardness.)
By extension, small talk also terrifies me, because I don’t know what kinds of topics are acceptable and which are not, and I am constantly crossing invisible lines which I don’t see until I trip on them and fall down. I am constantly fouling up in social interactions. When I was a child, it got me labeled as “rude” and “wild” and now that I’m an adult I’m “rude” and “blunt.” All because I interact with people in the way in which I want to be interacted with, clearly, all cards laid out on the table, all parameters clearly established. I fear human interaction on a deep level if it’s anything beyond an interaction with clear, easily negotiable boundaries.
Like with my accountant. I can say “hello Accountant, I hope things are going well for you at the moment, I need my taxes done now, here is the paperwork.” Or, at the feed store, when I pick up the cat food, I know enough to say “It’s a lovely day isn’t it?” or “I hope this rain lets up a bit.” once my credit card has been swiped and we are standing around waiting for the transaction to clear. When I worked in retail, I could follow the formula, the “I hope you found everything you wanted, would you like a bag, $32.16 please, sign here, have a nice day” rota. I understand how to navigate professional transactions and interactions because I’ve gone through them literally hundreds of times, and I know the formula. You want to throw me off? Introduce something unfamiliar to the formula. Introduce a question which is not related to the business which we are transacting. Introduce the X Factor, and watch me fall apart.
For me, social interactions are a minefield. I have no idea which step will be my last.
California is in the midst of a major budget crisis. The past year has seen immense and drastic cuts to social service budgets throughout the state, including elimination of all state funding ($16 million) to domestic violence shelters (which was later partially restored by legislative action) and near-total decimation of funds for AIDS testing and prevention programs to save $52 million. Even with those catastrophic cuts, the state is still in massive financial difficulty: “The state has a $6.6 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year ending June 30 and is looking at a $12.3 billion hole for the new budget year. There is $1 million in reserve.”
This means that any dollar currently being spent has been extensively reviewed and evaluated and a very conscious decision has been made to prioritize spending in that area. For example, the state is still willing to spend money for California counties to investigate potential fraud in the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program. IHSS is an essential program for many of California’s low-income elderly people and people with disabilities. Through the program, individuals are allotted a certain number of hours of assistance with personal services including bathing and grooming, home services such as cleaning, cooking, and errands including buying groceries and picking up prescriptions. The theory of the program is that assisting people this way allows them to continue living independently in their communities rather than in a long-term care facility, which not only preserves independence and dignity for program recipients, but also is a huge cost-savings measure for the state. If program recipients were to move to long-term care facilities, their costs would almost certainly be paid for by the state’s Medicaid program. And look at the cost differential: “The average cost of a skilled nursing facility is $55,000 a year. The average cost of in-home services in California is $10,000.”
Despite the cost savings realized by this program (I’m beyond the point where I think a state will prioritize and fund a program simply because it’s something that PWDs need to maintain independence and dignity), there have been massive cuts to the benefits portions of IHSS. The hourly wage paid to the home health providers has steadily declined and is now at $8.60 an hour. Needless to say, these extremely low wages make it nearly impossible for a PWD with IHSS benefits to find a home care provider with any kind of training or experience. There have also been steady erosions to the group of individuals who will be eligible for IHSS, with criteria requiring a higher and higher level of disability or functional impairment in order to qualify for the program.
The only area of program funding that has increased is fraud detection, with a grant of $26.5 million to counties to engage in fraud detection. That’s the equivalent of approximately 3 million service hours at the current rate of pay. There are also new requirements in the program that must be met by both recipients and providers in order to receive services: all providers must go through a criminal background check process, including fingerprinting; all program applicants and recipients must be fingerprinted and must place a fingerprint signature on each timesheet submitted for payment. It also requires counties to conduct unannounced home visits.
In the abstract, some of this seems to make sense. We don’t want health providers with criminal backgrounds coming into the homes of vulnerable people and exploiting or harming them. Except that the majority of providers are actually family members or immediate relatives of the PWD and the fingerprints can take up to 9-12 months to be cleared by the state, causing huge delays for PWDs who need vital services and delays in bringing often essential income to low-income families. (Not to mention how low-income people of color are likely disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and subject to criminal penalties.) It also seems reasonable to ensure that scarce service dollars are actually going to people who need and deserve them, rather than people receiving them fraudulently. But there has been a lot of research on IHSS fraud in the past, and it simply does not seem to be very prevalent: an audit released last year (pdf link) found a fraud rate of only 1% in the program. A recent program in Sacramento turned up similarly low levels of program fraud: “The Sacramento County District Attorney, who received more than $3 million from the state for anti-fraud efforts, reported last week that after four months her office had uncovered a total of 19 cases of fraud out of more than 42,000 homecare clients in the County.” That’s a rate of 0.04%. And if we estimate that each of those 19 cases fradulently took $10,000 a year from the state, that $190,000 in fraudulent benefits is dwarfed by the $3 million spent to identify that fraud.
So – these changes and programs are not about protecting recipients. They’re not about preventing widespread rampant fraud. What are they about? Some testimony at a recent legislative hearing sheds some light:
Nancy Jo Riley of San Diego testified that she and her client were “randomly selected” for a fraud investigation last October as part of a new “anti-fraud” initiative by the state. According to Ms. Riley, the agent from the Department of Health Care Services (DCHS) first threatened in a phone call to cut off all IHSS unless she and her client met with him immediately. At the subsequent meeting, the investigator asked her and her client a long series of “humiliating” questions. He then said he could not understand why a person with a severe disability like his should be subject to a fraud investigation in the first place. He also said that her client, whose hands are frozen in a fist-like position because of his disability, would “probably” be exempted from new fingerprint requirements for homecare consumers.
These rules are an effort to make it harder for people to get services or to continue receiving services. They are an effort to erect barriers to service so substantial that PWDs cannot surmount them. They designed to humiliate and shame recipients for their disability status, to force them to prove themselves, their disabilities, and their functional impairments over and over again. They don’t even make sense from a cost perspective, as they spend far more in detection than is saved by the fraud they ostensibly prevent. They’re not targeting people who are fraudulently receiving services. They are targeting the very people the program is supposed to help.
Kate Harding, writing at Broadsheet:
“If you ask us,” say Glamour editor Cindi Leive and Arianna Huffington, “the next feminist issue is sleep.” Personally, I never would have thought to ask those two what the next feminist issue is, but they make a pretty good case. “Americans are increasingly sleep-deprived, and the sleepiest people are, you guessed it, women. Single working women and working moms with young kids are especially drowsy: They tend to clock in an hour and a half shy of the roughly 7.5-hour minimum the human body needs to function happily and healthfully.” The negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation are well-documented, but that doesn’t inspire enough people to prioritize rest, and women often end up in a vicious cycle of sacrificing sleep in order to do extra work and make sure their domestic duties are fulfilled, causing all of the above to suffer. “Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires you to know your own mind — they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.”
So many obligations are heaped on the shoulders of women, and it is pretty much impossible to fulfill all of them even if you completely neglect your own needs. Of course, trying to tend to your own needs means even fewer of those obligations fulfilled, and there are cries and admonishment of selfishness and failure and responsibility to others waiting for you should you assert your right to self-care, because by asserting the right to take time and energy exclusively for yourself, you are stealing time and energy that belongs to others.
Sleep is a contested act in American society (perhaps in others too, but I can only speak to the US): getting little of it becomes a point of pride; getting a lot of it is a symbol of laziness, selfishness, sloth, dirtiness, carelessness. People are expected to perform amazing tasks on as little sleep as possible, which is completely counterintuitive, because most people are going to perform worse with insufficient sleep — consider it a generalized manifestation of the supercrip phenomenon: exactly the people who are least supported/enabled to do something are the ones who are expected to do it better than normal people.
Better sleep would surely benefit many of us, but why?
According to Leive and Huffington, the main benefits realized are in service of others; the main beneficiaries are the people around you. Or, if you see the benefits, they are benefits that stem from an obligation to others, any self-benefit remaining firmly subordinate to the “greater good” of one’s family, colleagues and community members.
We should be well familiar with the concept of women as public property. Women’s bodies, women’s time, women’s possessions, women’s decisionmaking capacity, women’s self-determination — just about anything a woman possesses, though she doesn’t really possess. Rather, she is allowed use of something that is under her care but not her ownership: it belongs instead to the people around her.
Feminists are familiar with the idea that our society considers female reproductive organs to be public property. A woman’s vagina should be available for all comers (men), and simultaneously be unavailable so as not to waste its value to its eventual sole owner (a man). A woman’s uterus is to be used for the good of the human species/civilized society: the right kind of women are to reproduce as much as possible, so that their kind remain the dominant group in both pure numbers and in overall power. (On the other hand, the other kinds of women are called upon to perform the rough, menial work necessary to uphold modern society, while not polluting the human species by reproducing themselves.)
But honestly, public ownership of women extends so much further than their reproductive systems.
No woman is allowed to assume ownership of any part her physical self, her time or purpose: it is still an “indulgence” for a woman to eat anything more substantial than a leaf of lettuce, still “sinful” to enjoy less than 100 calories of overprocessed puddings and crackers. It is still somehow selfish to take a long bath or to sit and rest for an hour’s time, still slothful to refrain from moving, working, pushing, rushing every single moment of every day.
Women’s work, in general, is under-valued and un(der)paid — and it is uncompensated precisely because women’s time, their energy, their effort, do not actually belong to the women themselves, but rather to the rest of the world. It is theirs to use whenever, however, and however much they wish, and isn’t it ridiculous to suggest they should pay for the use of something that belongs to them in the first place?
This is all part and parcel of living in a patriarchy, a predictable result when society relies upon a person’s gender to determine hir position in society, the things sie will do, the roles sie will play, the direction hir life will take. But gender is not the only variant in play here. In fact, I believe that gender is actually secondary here to another factor — it is merely one avenue of manifestation for our cultural construction of health.
Surely you have heard of the theory that gender is not an inherent trait, but a performance. This theory is definitely not without flaws, but I bring it up in hopes that it provides a familiar framework for a discussion on the social construction of health.
Health, you see, is not merely an inherent trait. Health, instead, emcompasses a variety of factors, including a person’s intrinsic qualities but also the environment in which they operate and their everyday behaviors.
Health is not just what a person is. Health is also what a person does. And what drives a person to do something is not wholly internal, but rather is largely influenced by external factors.
Gender, for instance, is both an internal sense of being and something we do for other people, something we do because we want other people to think about us, react to us, in certain ways. And the things we do, and the expected reactions to them, are different depending on which culture we are operating in — dependent on where we live, on our ethnicity, on our class background, on any number of other things. What it means to wear certain types of clothing is different in different cultures. What it means to speak a certain way is different in different cultures. And so on.
This framework is — I hope — useful for understanding what health actually is.
The form “health” takes is different depending on the expectations of the culture you live in.
The ultimate importance of that so-defined “health” is different depending on the expectations of the culture you live in.
The role “health” plays in the culture, what “health” means in that culture, the way the people of that culture interact or engage with that idea of “health,” are different depending on the expectations of the culture you live in.
What you do to achieve “health” is different depending on the expectations of the culture you live in.
How your health affects your position in life, your economic opportunities, the support that is offered for you to live the kind of life you desire, are all different depending on the expectations of the culture you live in.
(And yes, all of this is just as true in a culture that makes use of the scientific method and sees itself as cool and rational. What is investigated, and how, and how the results are interpreted, and what lessons are drawn from those results, and how those lessons are applied in everyday life — all these things must grow out of the culture they happen in! )
Health, then, is not merely a personal state, but rather a cultural fulfillment. Health (of whatever kind) is expected of you, expected by the people around you. Your health is not your own, but instead belongs to your family, your community and your wider culture. You must achieve and maintain (whatever kind of) health, not because it benefits you personally, but because you will have deeply failed your fellow members of society if you don’t.
And this is what underlies the problematic aspect of Leive and Huffington’s statements. They are not suggesting that the sleep deficit for women is a problem because the woman herself feels fatigue or cognitive dysfunction. They are suggesting that the sleep deficit for women is a problem because the woman cannot fulfill the expectations of health — and the performance of duties that rely on that state of health — that society has for her. They are suggesting that the sleep deficit for women is a problem because then that woman personally fails her family, community and country.
Here, then, her lack of sleep lays bare her duty to society based on particular qualities she holds. But the disparity between her duty and her male peer’s duty would not exist if all of us did not have a duty to society to achieve and maintain a certain kind of health.
And Leive and Huffington, purporting to be advocating on women’s behalf, do nothing but reinforce the same system that screws women disproportionately when they center a woman’s obligations to the people around her over the personal experience of the woman herself.
And here, I hope, feminists will understand what disability activists mean when we talk about the supposed obligation of mentally ill people to submit to (certain kinds of) treatment for the sake of the rest of society — or what fat acceptance activists mean when we talk about the supposed obligation of all people to be as thin as possible for the sake of the rest of society — and so on.
Eating “healthy” (as determined by mainstream cultural wisdom, largely controlled by wealthy white temporarily-abled folk) is not done solely for oneself. Neither is “exercise” (of course, what counts as physical-activity-that-improves-health is controlled by the same people who control what counts as food-that-improves-health). Participation in the paid workforce is not done solely for oneself — we are, in part, fulfilling the obligation of “responsibility” (which is a component of the health performance, because when health is lacking, the ability to work declines — so work, then, is a demonstration that you are fulfilling your health obligation).
When a person neglects to fill a health-related obligation, there is someone there to remind them of the cost to the rest of society. We’ve all heard figures on the cost of obesity, the cost of heart problems, the cost of low employment rates, the cost of suboptimal nutrition, the cost of insufficient sexual education, the cost of lost sleep… wait, that sounds familiar. Anyway, the cost might be in dollar figures, might be in time lost, might be in persons participating in x activity, or might be more intangible: work decisions, relationship challenges, judgment, problem-solving, creativity… wait a second, didn’t we just hear that? Oh yeah.
And that’s what’s wrong with this angle. Ladies, you are hurting your families! You are failing your communities! You’re dragging all of society down with you! When all you have to do is get an extra hour of sleep — seriously, how selfish are you, staying up to get the dishes clean after your kids have gone to bed so that they’ll have clean bowls to eat cereal out of in the morning?
Except that the entire reason women are getting less sleep than they need is because they’re busy fulfilling their obligations to the rest of the world. The entire reason women are getting less sleep than they need is because they’re required to be well enough to handle multiple shifts, every single day, for their entire adult lives. The entire reason women are getting less sleep than they need is because they’re required to get up at stupid o’clock every morning to handle all the things they’re required to do before going to work (including the obligations to project an image of “health” — to look and smell fresh and clean, to be sufficiently hair-free, to wear attractive clothing, to possibly spend time putting on a face full of makeup and making her hair look presentable — all which are wrapped up in appearing healthy to the people around you), and when they get home from work they still have to do the laundry and make the dinner and wash the dishes and pick up the floor and wipe down the kitchen and bathroom counters and possibly wrangle kids or partners all the while —
— and then they are getting chided by self-proclaimed women’s advocates because they spend too much time doing things for other people, and not enough time doing things for oneself… for… other people…
And it’s impossible to separate the demands of womanhood from the demands of ability. It’s difficult to differentiate the hierarchy of value imposed on people of different genders from the hierarchy of value imposed on people of differing abilities.
I’m sure you get, by now, how women get completely and utterly screwed in this situation. But I invite you to imagine, then, how disabled people get completely and utterly screwed by this situation — and then I invite you to imagine how a system that did not value people differently due to their differing abilities would also remove a lot of the pressure that is currently dumped on women.
A system of equal access, opportunity, value, for people of all types of abilities, would be radically better for people currently oppressed under this gender-based system.
And when you reinforce the ability-based system of oppression, you make things worse for the women living under it.
… just sayin’.
By amandaw 5 February, 2010. bodies, feminism, gender, identity, intersectionality, language, media and pop culture, representations, shaming, social attitudes, Uncategorized body image, chronic illness, community, control, culture, disability, family, feminism, health, privilege, social construction
The following appeared in Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice column chat-room supplement fairly recently:
Chicago: We have a close friend who is prone to embarrassing malapropisms that surpass even the best Norm Crosby bit. These are not innocent and simple mispronunciations—but ugly mangling of words including misuse and lack of understanding of the meaning of some words. I know that many words have multiple pronunciations and meanings, but this is beyond brutal. Some of them are funny, some are faux pas that make you wince and want to help. We used to try to help by repeating the word correctly in conversation after she had mangled it. No success. We have tried the direct approach—like a teacher—but this was rebuffed. We never did any of this in public but in private, away from others. And we picked our spots—only bringing up the worst cases. But she takes offense and continues mispronouncing words and inserting them in conversation where they don’t belong. Recently, my wife used the word adept, and now our friend mispronounces it and uses it like apt. It is like she has her own language. My wife has stopped trying to correct her. Her husband is no help and does the same thing on a smaller scale. I refuse to throw in the towel as I can’t understand why anyone would not want to expand their vocabulary—correctly. I would want to know if I was saying tenor for tenure and FOIL-AGE for any of the many accepted versions of foliage. We are 57 and of sound mind. She does not have a hearing problem.
There are so many problems here, I don’t even know where to begin. This “friend” is SO EMBARRASSING, nor does she take kindly to being corrected by her “well-meaning” pals who think her misuse of language is just terrible! Horrors!
One part that strikes me as uniquely troubling is this: “We are 57 and sound of mind.” Yes, because being 57 is supposed to automatically mean that one becomes not sound-of-mind? Soundness of mind, additionally, is one of those things where the meaning changes depending upon whom you talk to. Combined with the letter-writer’s utterly condescending attitude toward his “friend,” this sounds suspiciously like a trope that has been leveled for ages at PWDs, mostly by the temporarily abled who are so concerned about their welfare: If you’d just take my advice/listen to me/let me HELP you, you would get better. As has been proven time and time again, this is rarely true.
Now let’s look at the columnist’s response:
Emily Yoffe: Your friend probably has some sort of language processing disorder (there was speculation that the George Bush’s malapropisms, “I know you want to put food on your family,” etc., might have come from such a disorder), and all the schoolmarmish corrections in the world won’t “cure” her. It’s good you mention Norm Crosby, because he built an entire career on amusingly mangling language. I don’t know why you consider being with your friend “brutal.” It sounds as if you usually understand what she means, and when you don’t, you can ask for more context. Trying to keep a straight face seems like the biggest problem you face in socializing with her. So just be compassionate and let it go, and when you get in the car, you can laugh at her best neologisms.
Shockingly, I don’t totally hate this advice, despite Yoffe’s ill-fated attempts at snark/humor. She brings up an excellent point: If these “well-meaning” grammar cops think that being around this person (whom they call a friend) is such a trial, then why would they continue to be around this individual? To bolster their own sense of superiority? To show off their class privilege to this “friend” in the most ridiculous way possible? I have some issues with the “just laugh at her when she’s not around” suggestion, which seems almost needlessly rude–laughing at someone’s disability, furthermore, (which they often cannot control) is generally considered impolite for a reason.
But what the hell do I know? I’m just a person with several disabilities; if I’m lucky, perhaps a well-meaning TAB is writing a hand-wringing, oh-so-concerned letter to an advice columnist about me right this very second.
Yesterday, the Guttmacher Institute issued a press release with some study results which attracted a great deal of attention. “Following Decade-Long Decline, U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate Increases as Both Births and Abortions Rise” hit the wires and the speculation started almost immediately. Many members of the feminist community argued that it was the result of the total failure of abstinence-only education, a form of sexual education I’ve long railed against, and advocates for abstinence-only argued…well:
Others said the reversal could be due to a variety of factors, including an increase in poverty, an influx of Hispanics and complacency about AIDS, prompting lax use of birth control such as condoms.1
…yeah. Thanks for that.2
Teen pregnancy in the 1990s dropped radically. Now, it’s on the rise again, very much in line with predictions made by researchers. And there is a pretty demonstrable link here between the rise of abstinence-only and the rise in the teen pregnancy rate. This much is clear, and it’s a link which should be discussed.
But there’s another issue which I haven’t seen getting very much coverage: The denial of sexual education to teens with disabilities, even in areas where sexual education of some form beyond “keep your legs closed until marriage” is offered. This is not fair to disabled teens, and to people with disabilities in general, and it’s something which needs to be addressed, pronto, because we should be at the point in society where we recognize that all teens including disabled teens need access to balanced information about sexual health, contraception options, and recognizing abusive relationships.
People with disabilities are at increased risk of being sexually abused.3 Young people with disabilities are especially vulnerable.4 You know what happens to people who are vulnerable to sexual abuse who do not receive sexual education? It makes them more vulnerable.
It’s time to recognize, as a society, two important things:
- Some people with disabilities like to have sex.
- People with disabilities in general are at increased risk of sexual abuse and assault, whether or not they are sexual.
These must be acknowledged so that we can start focusing on making sexual education fully accessible. Because this is a critical step in breaking down a vicious cycle which perpetuates not only widely believed stereotypes about people with disabilities, but abuse of people with disabilities, including justification of that abuse.
We need to be providing disabled teens with tools which they can use to make choices about their sexuality, like if they want to have sex, with whom, where, when, and how. And, given that able people sometimes have disabled partners, providing people with non-judgmental information about sex and disability is pretty important. Plus, admitting that some disabled folks enjoy sex too can break down a lot of social stigma, including the attitude that people with disabilities can’t have sex or don’t like to have sex. When even supposed professionals ask questions like “is your partner capable of having sex,” it illustrates a profound lack of awareness.
And we need to make sure that information about recognizing and addressing abuse is provided in sexual education, with a special focus on recognizing, preventing, and handling abuse of disabled persons. We also must ensure that people have the ability to report abuse, because almost every study I see about abuse and people with disabilities includes some variation of the line “unfortunately, reporting of abuse is limited, which makes it difficult to arrive at accurate estimates…”
Not including terms to describe sexual abuse in a communication book, for example, is a pretty effective way to prevent someone from reporting sexual abuse. Sterilizing institutionalized women so that they can’t get pregnant when they’re being sexually abused by caregivers is another very effective way to make it hard to get accurate statistics on abuse. Not giving people with disabilities the language they need to describe abuse perpetuates abuse. So does ignoring reports of abuse from people with disabilities.
Disabled teens need sex ed. It’s time to give it to them.5
- Stein, Rob. (2010, 26 January) “Rise in teenage pregnancy rate spurs new debate on arresting it.” The Washington Post, A04. ↩
- Insert meloukhia-rant which would otherwise eat up this entire post here. ↩
- Myers, Leslie. (1999) “People With Disabilities and Abuse.” Readings in Independent Living. ↩
- Mansell, Sheila, Sobsey, Dick, Wilgosh, Lorraine, and Zawallich, Andre. (1996) “The sexual abuse of young people with disabilities: Treatment Considerations.” International Journal For the Advancement of Counseling, Volume 19, Number 3. Pp. 293-302. ↩
- And it’s time to make some pretty major changes in the sex ed system in general. Abstinence-only aside, a lot of sexual education is highly heteronormative and binarist. Sexual education needs to be much more inclusive of a lot of things. ↩
For the purposes of this post, I would like to remind everyone that the range of disability includes people who are mentally ill, paralyzed, Blind, Deaf, permanently injured, autistic, physically disfigured, with compromised immune systems or disordered speech or chronic pain or cognitive impairments, and many, many others. Disabilities may be fatal or not, may be degenerative or not, may be apparent or not. Being painful, fatal, stigmatized, or poorly understood does not mean that life is not worth living, and I will not tolerate any attempts to enforce a hierarchy of disability; there is no category of Especially Bad Disability that destroys any chance of worthy life.
Have you ever participated in the stigmatizing of pregnncy, childbirth and childrearing when the parent, child, or both have, or could have or obtain, disabilities?
Have you ever participated in the cultural narratives that say:
- Older women should not have children because their children are more likely to have a disability
- Women with disabilities should avoid having children because their children might also have a disability, and it would be wrong, unjust and cruel to give birth to a child that is not in perfect health
- Women with disabilities should avoid having children because only temporarily-abled women can properly parent a child, or being a mother with a disability would somehow deprive the child of necessary experiences or put a burden on the child
- Women with disabilities should avoid having children because they are more likely to be poor and need public assistance, and their children would also be more likely to use public assistance in the future, resulting in a drain on temporarily-abled taxpayers
- Women with disabilities would be selfish to have children, and to do so would contribute to environmental destruction, economic decline, and even degradation of the human species, and they and their children would be less valuable members of society because of their lack of perfect health
- It would be a tragedy to have a disabled child, disabled children are less desirable than temporarily-abled children
- Life with a disability is inherently worse than life without one; life without a disability is the baseline by which all life should be measured, so of course to have a disability would be a negative and would make a person’s life worse
- Disabled children are a burden on their temporarily abled parents, more so than any other child would be, and this is because of the child’s disability rather than because of the lack of support and affirmation throughout all levels of society for PWD and their loved ones
- Of course it is more desirable for a child to be perfectly healthy than to have some sort of medical imperfection, and those medical imperfections are a big stress and hassle on the temporarily abled people around the child, and there is something wrong with the child for failing to meet an impossible standard of perfection
- Health and ability are objective concepts and our current cultural wisdom on them are completely right and the medical industry that puts them forth is infallible; our ideas about health and ability are the only right way to look at things and can be universally applied
- To violate those cultural ideas means that you are inherently flawed
- The answer to all of this is to go to excessive lengths to avoid ever having, or being around someone who has, health problems, up to and including letting the least healthy die off or be terminated before they can live at all
You know what? I’ll bet you’ve all done it. Even the most radical disability activist has participated in some of these cultural tropes at some point in their lives.
But I’ll bet the vast majority of people “blogging for choice” would never think of disability as related to “choice” issues, and if they did, it would be for the right of temporarily-abled higher-class white Western women to terminate a pregnancy that has a more-than-minute chance of resulting in a less-than-perfectly-healthy child.
This is why the “choice” framework fails. It fails all of us, but it particularly fails those of us who fail to meet society’s idea of the optimal person: the pale, thin, beautiful, and financially comfortable picture of perfect health. The person who never relies on others (no!), is “self-sufficient,” and isn’t likely to end up a burden on the important people.
The rest of us can “choose” to stop existing.
Do you really trust women? Or are you perfectly willing to override their choices if you feel they threaten your comfortable position in society?
And you expect me to think you’re any better for my rights and needs than pro-lifers, why?
Edit, Saturday 1/23: I am being very strict in moderating this thread. The primary response from people who do not identify as disabled seems to be “Well, I respect your choice, even though it is clearly cruel and bad/makes me ‘uncomfortable’/is the ‘wrong’ choice.” That is exactly the opposite of what this post is saying. If that is what you got out of this post, you have a LOT of stepping back, listening, and learning left to do.
I’m not asking you to be nice enough not to forcibly prevent us from ever having children, or anyone from ever having disabled children, even as you eagerly stigmatized disabled motherhood/childhood; I am asking you to genuinely examine the deep-rooted prejudices you have been taught and challenge your thinking on childbearing/rearing and disability. I am asking you to question why you have these ideas about disability, and whether they are appropriate to hold as a person committed to social justice. Including for women.
Because, here’s a hint: a lot of us women have disabilities, and all of us were children once, and some of us will have children of our own. And we are still women. Are you really protecting women’s freedom? Or are you merely preserving the temporarily-abled supremacist structure of society, with temporarily abled women as a convenient proxy?
I ask you to consider these prompts, to attempt to truly challenge your assumptions about disability and parenthood. If you aren’t willing to do that, please don’t drop in to explain why disabled women are “Doin It Rong.” Check your privilege. Thanks.
By amandaw 22 January, 2010. autonomy, bodies, feminism, gender, intersectionality, justice, media and pop culture, mental health, normality, policy, politics, reproductive justice, sexuality, shaming, social attitudes, Uncategorized ableism, choice feminism, class, cultural lens, culture, disability, feminism, health policing, justice, language, mental illness, neurodiversity, normal is only one option, politics, pop culture, pregnancy, privilege, privilege-check, problematic attitudes, reproductive, self-determination, shaming, social justice, social treatment, speak up, the left, the right