Tag Archives: disability is a feminist issue

Recommended Reading for November 30, 2010

Jessica Pauline Ogilvie for the Los Angeles Times: Stuttering: Working to free the words

An estimated 3 million American adults have a stutter that didn’t resolve in childhood, according to the nonprofit Stuttering Foundation of America. As kids, many dealt with the giggles of classmates and confusion of teachers; as adults, they often deal with uncertain glances and the impatience of strangers. They’ve long sought comfort from each other, sharing their experiences at conferences and advocacy groups.

Eli Clare at eliclare.com/blog: Disability Pride (from a few months ago, but definitely worth a read!)

Disability Pride calls for celebration, hope, rebellion. We take shame, fear, and isolation, turn them around, and forge wholeness. Pride refuses to let the daily grind of ableism, discrimination, exclusion, violence, and patronizing define who we are. Pride knows our history, joyfully insists upon our present, and stretches into our future.

Wheelchair Dancer at cripwheels: disability is a feminist issue

By using disability as she does, she makes herself smaller, less objectionable to the man; she dismisses herself and undervalues herself. She does her best to dodge what might be a harsh remark
about her intellectual capacities. She does disability in the old way, a way in which the value of our diverse minds and bodies is not acknowledged. Her disability is a weakness that separates her from an actively feminist goal of being an equal partner in the conversation and the game.

Brittany-Ann at A Bookish Beemer: A Glimpse of an Employed Epileptic

I know. I’m saying it’s wrong. I’m saying that the hoops one has to jump through, if neurologically atypical as I am, just to ensure you’re not fired because of being neurologically atypical, is ridiculous. That I should first have to reveal my medical history (which is private) to my managers, then explain to them what epilepsy is, THEN explain how it affects me, to finally say that it might prevent me from coming into work someday in the future, maybe, is ridiculous.

WHEELIE cATHOLIC: Dear Illegal Parker

As I passed the half a dozen handicap spots, I noticed that your car didn’t even have a placard or plate. I wondered why even on Thanksgiving at a senior housing complex, someone would illegally park in an accessible spot. I suppose you didn’t think someone in a wheelchair might really need that spot.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for October 26, 2010

firecat at Party in my head (DW): How To Be Sick

I went to this talk because I have chronic health conditions that affect my mobility and energy levels, and I am a caregiver for my mother, who has Alzheimers. I’m a Buddhist and my study of Buddhism has helped me work through grieving over these things and building a life around them, and I wanted to hear a talk that specifically addressed how Buddhism can help a person deal with chronic illness. I figured that I already knew a lot of what she was going to say, but I thought I’d learn a few things and find out that I’m already doing a lot of what there is to do, and that would help me feel more confident.

beautyofgrey at The Truth That Came Before (DW): On invisible illnesses and harmful judgment

Our illness is invisible. At first, even I did not want to see our illness. I wrote it off as “discipline problems” or “unresolved anger” and resolved to become a better disciplinarian, better parent, and to slowly count to ten. I assumed it might be due to changes in our life. Later, doctors did not want to see our illness. Everyone had a healthy weight and height. They wrote it off as “difficult phases” and assumed that the problem resided at home. They asked us to wait a year or two before we considered whether the chaos, aggression, and emotional stress weren’t just tricks before our eyes. Our illness was invisible, because we were not “that bad off”.

kankurette at The Hidden Village of Aspergers: Happy Mental Health Day. If “happy” is an appropriate adjective

I’d always been a melancholy kid. Think Marvin, Eeyore, Cassandra, the Ides of March. I just went along with it. In my teenage years, I had moments where I was suicidal, and I started self-harming at 14, but I just put it down to teenage angst. Depression wasn’t an illess, I believed. It couldn’t happen to me. Even though my mum turned into a wreck after my dad died and spent days in bed, even though she had panic attacks in front of us and seemed to be more temperamental and headachey than usual, even though the doctor gave her pills to take, I just thought she was sad; I didn’t realise she was ill.

K__ at Feminists with FSD: Interesting posts, some time in October

I have a feeling we’re probably going to see another spike in coverage about Flibanserin, (I’m thinking certain feminist websites are more likely to cover it than others, and maybe some op-ed pieces in mainstream newspapers, as well as others) and when we do see it, I can guarantee you it’s going to get real ugly, real fast. Everyone, get your bingo boards ready to go if you’ll be doing any reading on the matter. If you see any new and bizarre arguments about FSD and why no woman, anywhere, ever, needs medication for sexual desire problems ever, in comment sections to the inevitable anti-Flibanserin posts, let me know; we may have to produce a version 2.0 if we keep running into the same old shit again and again.

Lisa at Sociological Images: What is Intelligence?

We often think that intelligence is somehow “innate,” as if we are born with a certain IQ that is more or less inflexible.  These scores suggest, however, that our potential for abstract thought, though it may be located in the biological matter of the brain, is actually quite malleable.

(Note: For a further discussion of the concept of “intelligence” and its history, see kaninchenzero’s AWP post on Intelligence.)

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Imperfections

I am one of those people who often cannot ask for help.

At times, I am so afraid of seeming weak, or whiny, or overly-sensitive, or dependent on other people that I tend to either ignore my own needs until I start flailing around at the last minute in order to not get overwhelmed, or minimize the possibility that some things could be going wrong. I am one of those people who needs to outwardly look like I know what I’m doing and that I have things totally under control — preferably at all times. (Intellectually, I know that this expectation is intensely unrealistic, and can be dangerous; even the most “put-together”-seeming person can be a total wreck in private.)

Part of this is a defense mechanism that I developed around the same time that I started getting made fun of in grade school for my mild cerebral palsy and the limp it caused. Somehow, I figured that if I could be perfect at something — my something being academics — and make it look effortless, other kids would stop making fun of me. This didn’t work out quite the way that I planned; regardless, I still tend to hold onto remnants of this habit.

Part of it is also my own internalization of the cultural ideals that tell people with disabilities that we must always “compensate” for the imperfect status(es) of our bodies or minds, a la the Good Cripple or Supercrip, as well as the cultural messages that tell many women that they must be “perfect” while making it look downright easy, in accordance with the current “ideal” feminine role. A great number of women are told, in ways subtle and not, that we must try to “have it all,” and do it without a drop of sweat showing. We must look good all of the time, we must wear clothes that are “flattering”, we must keep a figure that approximates whatever sort of beauty standards happen to be “in.” We must take care of others’ needs and feelings and make this our number one priority, and think about ourselves last (if at all). We must project an outward appearance of cheeriness, strength, or deference, no matter how we might actually feel. If we cannot do most or all of these things, we have failed. And when this loaded set of expectations intersects with the PWD-compensating-for-disability trope, look the hell out.

These are just a few examples, of course, and these expectations shift in various ways depending upon race, class, ability status, sexuality, gender identification, education, and a host of other factors that are often derided as being remnants of “identity politics.” Identity and its politics, however, still continue to matter.

Here’s where I am going with all of this: For the past few weeks, I have been dealing with newer and more unpleasant fibro symptoms that are starting to affect my day-to-day life. At first, I thought these symptoms were just the result of a bad day, and then a bad week, bad month, et cetera (you can probably guess as to where this leads). I wanted to believe that these symptoms were not a huge deal, and look like I knew how to deal with them until I made it back to “normal,” however tenuous that position is for me. Now that these new and interesting symptoms have become a bigger deal than I had anticipated, a lightbulb has also gone off in my head: I need to work on letting go of this all-or-nothing, but-I-should-always-have-it-together-even-when-I-don’t-and-do-not-need-help mindset.

Today, I finally made the decision to schedule a doctor’s appointment to get help with my new symptoms.

Acknowledging that I don’t have some things completely “together” and that I (gasp) need medical help with these symptoms may be a tiny first step toward changing the tape loop in my brain that tells me that I am on one side of a binary — that I am either a or b, all or nothing, need help with everything or do not ever. There is a middle ground. Until now, I haven’t been able to acknowledge that.

Recommended Reading for August 10, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer at Feministe: On the Cover [trigger warning for discussion of violence]

Regardless of how disability plays out in Aisha’s world, the vast majority of readers of TIME live in a culture that understands disability as tragedy. As shocking. As among the worst things that can happen to you (bar death). Mainstream American culture thinks it knows disability and knows how to read it. Ms. Bieber has a history of photographing disabled bodies[. . .]But the work she does in the Real Beauty series does not come through in this photograph — perhaps because of the context and placement of the image. Here she (and or the editor) uses Aisha’s disability to trade upon the readership’s sympathies and their horror: this and other unknown kinds of disability are a direct result of the US departure from Afghanistan. This is not about Aisha; it’s about the message of the article.

Cripchick at Cripchick’s blog: tell me who i have to be to get some reciprocity?

don’t feel the way white supremacy creeps into your life and plops itself in the center?

in the last wk, white ppl have:

  • told me how to rearrange my words as to be more approachable.
  • made my need to have ppl of color time about them.
  • asked me invasive medical questions about my body.
  • thanked me over and over for teaching them about oppression.

Cara at The Curvature: Disabled Student Assaulted on School Bus; Bus Driver Watches and Doesn’t Respond [trigger warning for description and discussion of severe bullying]

Most readers here who have ever ridden a school bus will have at some point been on at least one end of bullying and harassment. Many will have at different points throughout their childhoods and adolescences acted as both bullies and victims — myself included among them. Big news stories since I stopped riding a school bus have left me with the impression that little has changed. School buses are places where bullies, harassment, and violence thrive. And as all current or past school bus passengers know, students with disabilities, particularly cognitive or intellectual disabilities, are especially vulnerable.

Daphne Merkin at the New York Times Magazine: My Life in Therapy

This imaginative position would eventually destabilize me, kicking off feelings of rage and despair that would in turn spiral down into a debilitating depression, in which I couldn’t seem to retrieve the pieces of my contemporary life. I don’t know whether this was because of the therapist’s lack of skill, some essential flaw in the psychoanalytic method or some irreparable injury done to me long ago, but the last time I engaged in this style of therapy for an extended period of time with an analyst who kept coaxing me to dredge up more and more painful, ever earlier memories, I ended up in a hospital.

William Davies King at PopMatters: In Defense of Hoarding

To be sure, a special label like compulsive hoarding seems required by many of the heart-rending cases they recount, people neck-deep in the slough of their despond, overwhelmed by more whelm than can be weighed. But sadness and dysfunction are hardly rare or new. What is new is the social imperative to ram open that front door. Bring in the wheelbarrows, the commanding case worker, and the camera—especially the camera, which enlists us all in the drive to evacuate these cloacal dwellings. Reality TV rolls up its sleeves, puts on the rubber gloves, and hoards the evidence while [authors] Frost and Steketee stand alongside the labyrinth, notepad in hand, giving that Skinnerian nod.

Recommended reading for May 11, 2010

sqbr at Poking at Thorns (with gloves on): Disability in Speculative Fiction: Monsters, mutants and muggles

Fiction reflects social attitudes, and the social attitudes to disabled people tend to suck. Disabled people are presented as scary, pathetic, exotic, demanding, laughable, etc. But some tropes are popular/unique to SF.

It’s not all bad: speculative fiction allows for powerful allegory, and can also make very interesting explorations/extrapolations of future attitudes/experiences of disability.

Jamer Hunt (Fast Company magazine): Our Bodies, Our Quantified Selves

The data generated by this micro-physics of the everyday has the potential to create unprecedented, massive databases available for projects from a dizzying array of fields. Imagine what researchers studying disease epidemiology might do with this information, or anthropologists exploring changing social patterns within the digital proletariat.

Courtney at From Austin to A&M: Cosplay, race, ability and gender; or, who gets to dress up as whom?

Doing cosplay as a femme!Doctor (or a black Doctor, or a visibly disabled Doctor, etc.) is part necessity (as in, I am in a lady-body, so if I want to cosplay as the Doctor, he would have to be a lady-body-Doctor, like a person in a wheelchair would have to be a wheelchair-user Doctor, or a black person would have to be a black Doctor). But it’s also a way for fans to see themselves in the Doctor, as the unquestioned protagonist of the show. Doctor Who fans can say all they like that DW is progressive enough in its way, but it’s still dated by its insistence that the main character be a white British man.

Lisa Sanders (NYT Magazine): Diagnosis — Pregnant and Pained

She didn’t have a fever, but the racking cough made her body ache all over. Her husband said it sounded as if she were coughing up a lung. Her OB said it was probably a virus. Whatever it was, it didn’t go away.

Switchin’ to Glide: “Independent Women”: Privileged Feminist Ideologies and Ableism

Independence or the pursuit thereof is a pursuit of privilege; the less that one has to depend on networks and relationships the more “successful” that person is. This is a profoundly ableist notion, in the sense that it constructs any sort of dependency as an obstacle to “success,” and because of the way our society is structured, people who are disabled are neccessarily dependent on various support systems.

Lines in the Sand: Daly, Showalter and Tactics of Exclusion

The second-wave radical feminist theologian and professor Mary Daly died earlier this month, and there has been a veritable outpouring of eulogies from various feminist blogs.

Few of these eulogies have acknowledged Daly’s transphobia and racism.

I do not deny that Daly was an important figure in second-wave feminism, but to mourn her passing without a nod to her work’s more problematic aspects, or explorations of these aspects, are, to put it mildly, not good. In particular, the intense, hateful transphobia found in some of her writing, and her issues with unexamined white privilege and racism — which both QueenEmily at Questioning Transphobia and Sungold at Kittywampus cover very well in recent posts — strikes many as both deeply disturbing and an old pattern that has, and continues to, rear its grotesque head in certain segments of contemporary feminism. I include myself among those who are deeply troubled by Daly’s transphobic sentiments and her questionable record when it came to examining the entrenched racism and issues surrounding white privilege in the second-wave feminist movement.

I should probably mention at this point that I do not mean to appropriate or co-opt the struggles of trans* folks in any way, although my cis privilege will most likely be unintentionally reflected at points in this piece. Though the struggles of trans* people, trans feminists and PWDs and disabled feminists are not the exact same, some exclusionary tactics of certain cisgendered feminists and those of abled feminists sometimes take similar forms, especially within the mainstream feminist movement. The oppression of trans* folks and PWDs in cis, abled culture intersect in a number of ways; this post, however, barely scratches that surface. I believe that the many issues present in Daly’s work–as well as the reaction to her death around the blogosphere–can serve as just one entry point to discussions of the similarities in oppression(s) that trans* people and PWDs face. There are also clear differences, among them the fact Daly used language that can only be called genocidal, while many other feminists of her generation did not advocate such an extreme path when it came to keeping certain individuals out of feminism. I will be focusing on feminism’s exclusion of trans* and PWDs as reflected in the work of two very influential second-wave feminists here, but there is, of course, much more to these stories.

Daly’s penchant for exclusion and outright hatred (particularly of trans* individuals) couched in oddly phrased academic rhetoric unfortunately brings to mind another famous second-waver’s similar issues with people (particularly women) with disabilities. Princeton scholar Elaine Showalter — best known for bringing feminist literary theory to the fore in the academy at a time when such a discipline was, for the most part, inconceivable — dismissed disabling conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome and mental health issues such as Dissociative Identity Disorder (referred to in the text as Multiple Personality Disorder) in her 1997 book Hystories.

In Hystories, Showalter attempted to debunk “modern media epidemics” such as the aforementioned disabilities as well as more traditionally disproven phenomena such as alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse. In the book’s chapter on Chronic Fatigue, Showalter rather disingenuously declared that she did not want to “disparage the suffering” of people with such conditions only a few pages before she called CFS an extension of Western “fin de siecle [end of the century] anxiety.” She followed this stunning assertion with the claim that the Western news media was primarily responsible for making CFS into an escalating “psychogenic epidemic” (117, 131).

Like Daly’s severe opinion of trans* people as dupes of the medical industry (which Kittywampus cites in her post), Showalter also seemed to be taken with the idea that people with CFS are somehow being duped into thinking that they are ill because of the media focus on their condition. She wrote that many CFS patients and their defenders are “hostile to psychiatric or social explanations” of the condition, and that many of them react in a way that is not friendly to the labeling of CFS as “psychiatric” (128). However, the reactions of these same patients make sense if considered from a non-abled perspective. Showalter also seemed completely mystified by these “hostile” reactions. If CFS is just a manifestation of “fin seicle anxiety,” as she contended (adding that “emotions have tremendous power over the body”) she seemed to push the conclusion — without any scientific or medical proof — that many people with CFS have somehow been brainwashed into believing they have it; thus, the media-driven “hysterical epidemic” has worked.

Nowhere are feminists with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or related conditions consulted; the not-so-feminist implication here is that feminists with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome either do not exist or are just victims of a “hysterical” media-led epidemic and therefore cannot be “real” feminists. This is similar to how trans* feminists were erased, excluded and castigated by Daly as somehow not “real” women or feminists, and as benefiting from patriarchy in a way that “real” women and feminists could not. To put it crudely: This is exclusionary bullcrap, and it does not do trans* people, people with disabilities, feminists who fit either (or both) of these categories, or the feminist movement as a whole any favors whatsoever.

Exclusion is not radical. It has never been radical. It is, in fact, extraordinarily status-quo. No one should be able to arbitrarily pick and choose who “belongs” in the feminist movement and who does not, especially if those who are being excluded because of their gender identity, sexual identity or disability actively identify as feminist. Feminism should be for a wide variety of people; exclusion, however, is something that is not — and has never been — very  feminist.

Author’s note: I will be moderating this thread with an iron fist; please have the courtesy to not try to tell me how Daly really was an ally to trans* folks, or how Showalter didn’t mean what she said about CFS *that* way, or that either author’s influence on the feminist movement somehow excuses their hatred and bigotry. Thank you.

[Cross-posted to Ham.Blog]

Cycles Are Hard To Break: Disability and Domestic Violence

According to a 1997 study which I see cited in a lot of places but can’t actually find a copy of, unfortunately, 85% of women with disabilities in the United States have experienced domestic violence. Other studies pinpoint the rate at lower levels, but seem to generally agree that women with disabilities are at least twice as likely as able women to experience domestic violence and intimate partner abuse.

For women with disabilities, domestic violence is a very serious issue which is complicated by disability. It can take many forms, including insidious ones which outsiders would not necessarily recognize as domestic violence, and intervention becomes complex when you realize that many crisis and counseling centers are inaccessible. The limited resources available to able women are even more limited for disabled women.

When I worked for a domestic violence and sexual assault hotline/crisis center several years ago, one of the questions I was most commonly asked by outsiders was: “well, why don’t women just leave?” Many people are aware that the answer to this question for able women is: “it’s a complicated situation.” Take that to the power of 12 for a woman with disabilities: How can you “just walk out the door and don’t look back” when you’re a wheelchair user being kept on the inaccessible second floor and you’re dependent on your abusive partner to get out the door?

For women with disabilities, leaving an abusive relationship may mean losing a carer. It may mean losing children, because the courts are often reluctant to award custody to women with disabilities. It may mean being deprived of autonomy by people who think that people with disabilities cannot make their own decisions. It may mean institutionalization. It may also end with being forced back into that abusive relationship.

Women with disabilities who experience domestic violence can be made financially and physically dependent by their partners. Patterns of abuse can include depriving women of medication and routine care. They can include total isolation from friends and family members. They can include sexual abuse, ranging from rape to forced sterilization. They almost always involve total control and the use of coercion and threats; physical violence does not have to be present for a relationship to be abusive. They often involve deprivation from financial and social independence, including economic abuse in the form of confiscating funds which belong by rights to the disabled partner.

People with disabilities often literally lack access to domestic violence resources in their communities. They may not be aware of domestic violence services and may be unable to label what they are experiencing as domestic violence. If they attempt to report abuse, they may face disbelief, even from people like members of law enforcement who are supposed to take such reports seriously. Indeed, women with disabilities may encounter social attitudes that suggest that they actually deserve to be abused; “caregiver fatigue,” people say. “It looks abusive but it’s really not,” they also say. The abusive partner may in fact be praised by members of the community, and viewed with sympathy by people who view the disabled partner as a burden and who are not seeing the dynamic at home.

Help is increasingly available for able women in domestic violence situations. The same is not true for women with disabilities. There needs to be a greater push for accessibility in shelters. A greater push for intervention services specifically targeted at women with disabilities, including training for counselors and advocates which includes discussions of the unique axes of oppression experienced by disabled women. There needs to be a greater awareness of the fact that trans women are even more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their relationships, and that abusers often target disabled trans women. There needs to be a recognition of the fact that, for abusers, disabled women make a particularly appealing target.

Is your local domestic violence center accessible? Is it trans-inclusive? Does it focus on heterosexual relationships, or does it recognize that abuse can occur in a broad spectrum of relationships? Does it specifically offer disability services? Does it respect neurodiversity? Do representatives of disability services in your community know how to look for the signs of domestic violence and receive training in intervention? What is your community doing for disabled women experiencing domestic violence?

The feminist community at large has made domestic violence an important issue, but what is it doing for disabled women?