Tag Archives: exclusion

Oh Canada: This week in Canada & Disability

It’s been an interesting week or so in Canada regarding issues around disability. “Interesting” here means hit and miss.

I could, for example, direct you to the coverage of the Paralymic Games, but that site appears to be inaccessible to screen readers. It’s very busy, and has a lot of flash on it. There’s an audio slide show – the first I’ve ever come across – but you need to download something in order to run the audio.

So, hit and miss there, I guess.

Of course, then we get this story: No sugar-coating for disability exhibit: Co-curator’s trip out west parallels struggle to overcome obstacles in Out from Under

For disability rights activist Catherine Frazee, the personal overlaps with the political even when she doesn’t intend it.

That happened with Frazee’s recent journey to Vancouver from Toronto for Out From Under, a unique exhibition on the social history of disability in Canada.

As one of its three curators, she felt it was important to be here for the exhibition’s opening during the Paralympic Winter Games.

Frazee, the director of Ryerson’s Institute for Disability Studies, can’t fly for medical reasons having to do with living with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by the degeneration of the motor neurons. When she travels, she is accompanied by an attendant and Patricia Seeley, her life partner.

The only option for her was to take the train.

Frazee was willing to make sacrifices to travel out west, such as sleeping in her electric wheelchair. She can’t be separated from her wheelchair, which is uniquely customized to her body’s needs. At times, for example, she has to tilt it slightly back to help with her breathing.

When she contacted Via Rail, she was told that she and her wheelchair had to travel separately.

Of course she was. *headdesk*

The exhibit itself sounds amazing and I wish I could see it. But it’s telling to me that in my country, where politicians regularly tell me they really care about the needs of people with disabilities, it’s impossible for Catherine Frazee to travel to Vancouver. Ultimately, she and her partner traveled through the US, where the Americans with Disabilities Act, as poor as it may be, still required that there be train cars that Frazee be able to use.

Or another hit and a miss: Promoting rights of disabled new foreign policy focus: Cannon

Promoting the rights of disabled people around the world will become a key foreign policy focus for Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said at the United Nations Thursday.

Cannon made the declaration after delivering Canada’s ratification of the world body’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Awwww. Isn’t that awesome?

Meanwhile our Prime Minister held a TalkCanada event that was inaccessible to blind or partially sighted people.

Yesterday morning Prime Minister Stephen Harper performed a first, by being the first Canadian Prime Minister to have his remarks streamed live through YouTube. Before and after the PM’s speech, and up until Sunday at 1:00pm ET, Canadians can login to the Talk Canada YouTUbe page to submit and vote on questions, which the PM will answer in another live stream on Tuesday.

As a completely blind Canadian and an Information and Communications Technology Accessibility Consultant (I help make information systems work for persons with disabilities), I take exception to the PM using technologies such as YouTube and Google Moderator (used for the questions and voting). These technologies were poorly accessible to me, and to other blind and partially sighted Canadians, including Derek Wilson who wrote about the barriers he faced. This is not the way that things need to be, it would have been very possible, should the PM have cared, to make the Talk Canada event easily accessible to a much wider range of Canadians, including the blind and visually impaired.

[I also have no idea if the actual videos will be subtitled, Signed, or a transcript provided.]

Oh, and Canada continues to refuse immigrants when family members have disabilities. The only ‘hit’ there is that we’re talking about it, I guess, since it’s been going on forever.

I’m frustrated. Politicians, business owners, school officials, everyone tells me that they really care about the needs of people with disabilities. They often do grand gestures: Ooh, we’ll show highlights from the Paralympic Games! We’ll agree that yes, we’re going to support the needs and rights of people with disabilities in other countries! We’re going to put in a Student Accessibility Services Office (because all people with disabilities on campus are students) and that will solve all the problems!

What we won’t do, apparently, is ensure that people with disabilities in Canada can get from Nova Scotia to Vancouver with minimal fuss and drama, like the currently non-disabled can. We won’t discuss how inaccessible politicians are to people with disabilities. We will express disdain that the laws in Ontario now require universities to be accessible to students before students spend months or even years self-advocating. We will approve bursaries for students purchasing equipment that helps them write their essays and do their school work in February – 6 months into the Academic year.

Oh Canada. Please do better.

We Need to Consider More than Universities

There’s a lot of really good stuff out in the blogoamorphia1 about sexual assault on uni campuses. The focus is specifically on USian colleges and universities though Rape Culture exists pretty much everywhere with only slight variation. It’s worth reading, if you’re up to reading about sexual assault at all. (I’m not always.)

Predators are good at target selection. All of them. We see this in the uni rapists who repeatedly assault vulnerable young people. And the analysis of these assaults and assailants is valuable. I hope the attention being focused on this issue leads to real change in how sexual assault is treated by colleges and universities because the status quo is disgusting. Victims are made to undergo ‘mediation’ with their assailants in the name of ‘fairness;’ people known to administrations to be serial rapists face only the most cursory of punishments while their victims often leave, faced with an environment that could hardly be more obviously hostile; the government agencies tasked with reducing rape on uni campuses in the US have hardly bothered to appear to do anything at all.

But I’m a little uncomfortable that the focus is on the most privileged, most visible, most likely to be photogenic segment of sexual assault victims. Not that these people don’t need or deserve attention–they do. (And really I’d like there to be much more awareness that the things cis men do to each other are not HILARIOUS PRANKS but are sexual assault and should be treated as such. Cis men, you have a task: Even if you can’t be arsed to end sexual assault of other folk by cis men, you may wish to end assaults on yourselves by cis men. Hop to it.) I just worry that the pattern we see so often where the most privileged people are centered and marginalized people are pushed to the edges will repeat itself. That sexual assault victims whose circumstances differ will have a more difficult time being heard. That there will be a sense of “Well fuck we already had to care about these college [het cis probably currently non-disabled largely white largely middle-to-upper-class] girls getting raped and now you want us to care about you? Sorry, we’re all out of giving a shit.”

Because predators aren’t just at universities and colleges. All those uni students will leave school eventually. Not all predators even go to uni. They will all be looking for targets. Not only will they choose targets that are vulnerable and have a low risk of incurring negative consequences, they will seek out environments where there are large concentrations of their preferred targets. They will search for jobs where they will be in positions of authority over those targets. Predators that prefer children try to get jobs in schools or in religious settings. Predators that prefer disabled people, mentally ill people, or elderly people look for work in hospitals and supportive care facilities. Predators that prefer sex workers become pimps or police.

Part of the problem is going to be that people will be able to relate to the uni predators better. University-age women are often attractive people by accepted standards of beauty. Raping a pretty young cis woman is understandable–the rapist was attracted to her and wanted to fuck her and wanted to cut through all the preliminary bullshit and get right to the fucking. It’s harder for people to imagine wanting to fuck children or older people or disabled people or crazy people or fat people. Who’d find that attractive? (Who would rape you?)

It isn’t about sexual attraction. A predator’s preferred type of victim may not have anything to do with the sort of people xe finds attractive in non-predatory relationships (assuming xe has any) and may be of a different gender from xer orientation. Cis men who identify as straight and prey on children who read as male by ciscentric standards aren’t necessarily lying about their orientation, even to themselves. Predation isn’t about sex despite there being sexual gratification involved. (Though the predator xerself likely doesn’t understand this.) It’s about the predator making xerself feel powerful by stripping xer victims of power. It’s about the predator boosting xer self-confidence by humiliating xer victims. It’s about the predator feeling safer by making someone else afraid. It’s about hate. It’s about entitlement. It’s about controlling the behavior of others. And like all kinds of abuse, it’s about making the victims responsible for the emotions and actions of the predator.

Sex is just the mode of abuse. The choice of victim is about getting away with it.

So how do we not lose track of this? How can we address the issue of rape on university campuses without centering that experience of rape and marginalizing others? How can mainstream anti-rape activists not treat our experiences of rape as Other, as exotic, as something incomprehensible? Because that path leads to paternalism and patronization. It’s not good for us no matter how well-intentioned. It’s the sort of thing that leads to disabled people with ovaries being sterilized without their consent or knowledge at the behest of guardians who simply assume, with ample justification, that they will be raped in institutional care facilities. Since there’s nothing they can do about that (as we all know rape is a force of nature and not an act performed by humans capable of changing their behavior2) they can at least protect those people with ovaries from some of the potential things that could result from said rape. That one of the things they are protecting people with ovaries from is the possibility of bearing a child and being a good and loving parent–which happens even when a child is conceived by an act of rape–doesn’t occur to them. They know best, and they can’t imagine this person they’re placing in an institutional care facility being a good parent.

Cross-posted from my tumblr blog, Rabbit Lord of the Undead.

  1. Sphere, pshyeah.
  2. MY SARCASTIC VOICE LET ME SHOW IT YOU.

Quick Hit — 4D Plexes

Movie poster from the Korean realease of Avatar, showing a white man on the left and his blue faced Avatar on the right, with fantasy creatures imposed in the bottom foreground. Bottom has Korean writing for title "Avatar".Our local theater in South Korea has one of the first and only 4D Plexes in the world (and it is currently showing Avatar, so I could possibly be entertained and annoyed and over-stimulated all at once! Whee!).

“The way the company finally cornered that elusive fourth dimension is by engaging all five senses: moving seats, wind, water sprinkling, lasers, and synthetic smells are all used in time with the movie.”

What are your thoughts/feelings on this so-called break through in the movie going experience? Does the thought of a moving seat and being accosted with sprinkling water and scent sound like an enhanced movie experience for you? Does it seem like it would just provide another barrier to your enjoyment?

Personally I picture myself using my popcorn bucket for something other than its intended purpose…

Have at it in comments.

This is Why We’re Always on about Language

I’m not linking to the original source because the specifics don’t matter. This isn’t about the individual people or the individual documents involved. This is just an example of how the use of ableist language harms disabled people. Sometimes our posts on ableist language are on the abstract side, so here’s something real concrete. The ableist language is “insane” used to mean “this is bad.” The disabled people are me and everyone else who has been abused and has mental illness.

Some context is necessary, though. The first quote is from the comments thread of a post on intimate partner abuse. More specifically it’s about the way people outside the abusive relationship contribute to the abuse. Even staying “neutral” or “not getting involved” contributes to the abuse: when power is unequally shared among people in a relationship, staying neutral is siding with the person with the most power. But much of the time people don’t stop with that much. They actively side with the abuser. (The reasons for this is a subject for another post. Graduate degree dissertations. Books. I’m headed in a different direction right now.)

One of the commenters expressed disgust with the people who’d taken the side of the abuser and ended the comment with:

How insane is that?

Here’s my reply.

It is appalling, frustrating, disappointing. It makes me want to cry every goddamn time I see it because I know my abusers are fine upstanding successful people and I’m fucked up and broken and poor.

It is not insane.

I am insane. I have had delusions and paranoia and hallucinations. There are parts of me I do not talk about ever because I am deeply ashamed of them: what’s wrong with me that this is in me? How can I be this fucked up? I spend every day working on not killing myself because the parts of me that hate me and want me dead never shut up.1

I would like, please, to not have to be the metaphor for abusers and their abettors as well as their victim. I carry enough shame already.

This is why we talk about ableist language. It’s not because we hate fun. It’s not because we have no sense of humor. It’s not because we want to take people’s words away.

It’s because we shouldn’t have to be the metaphors for our own oppressions.

  1. Unfortunately, none of this is even exaggerated.

I’m not here for your inspiration

I think I upset one of the newer employees at my favourite tea shop today. Most of the staff are used to my cynical reactions to newspaper discussions of how inspiiiiiiiiiiring people with disabilities are at this point.

But let me begin at the beginning.

Actually, no, let me begin with something important, since recent events have told me one cannot be too careful.

There is a certain way news media prefers to talk about people with disabilities. They like to tell our stories in a way that’s “inspiring”, that’s about making non-disabled people feel better about stuff. “Oh, look at how brave that person is, being all alive and stuff despite having a disability! I would rather be dead! That person/their parents/their loved ones are so brave and inspiring! I will now put issues of accessibility and disability out of my mind, because I have been inspired!”

These stories aren’t really about people with disabilities. They’re about making currently non-disabled people feel they know something, that they’ve been touched, that their lives could be suffering and badness, but look how lucky we all are. Look at the plucky crippled person, and be inspired. [This is, of course, why Helen Keller is reduced to “hand in water” stories.]

There are, of course, reasons why people with disabilities and their families participate in these stories, and I certainly don’t blame them. I know if someone offered to interview… wait, I’ve been interviewed a few times now about disability, and I did leap at the chance. I don’t think that people who are interviewed for these stories are doing anything wrong. They’re talking about their lives, and describing their experiences. No, it’s the way that these things are spun, the words being used by the reporters to fill in the gaps, that is the problem.

The tendency is so very very wide spread that Haddayr (with the help of Codeman) made a bingo card for us all:

Description follows

Description written by Haddayr:
Are you writing an article that profiles or even tangentially involves a disabled person? Make it easy on yourself: string together these words and phrases with a few voyeuristic references to the person’s body parts, and call it a day!

She didn’t let her disability stop her!
Differently Abled/Handi-capable/Challenged/Some other twee or awkward phrase
Forced to use [mobility device]
Thought she would never get to [some activity most of us never get to do]
Courageous battle
He relies on [friends/a guide dog. No fair using electricity!]
Confined to a wheelchair
Then tragedy struck/her dreams were shattered/the unimaginable happened
. . . wants to help others [the ‘bless him’ is inferred]
Will never again see his childrens’ faces/hear them say ‘I love you’ canoe the boundary waters/run a marathon
Can only communicate through [communication device]
Cheerful/ Never let it get her down/ Positive attitude
Free Space:
BRAVE & INSPIRATIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Through the miraculous assistance of [something completely non-miraculous]
She refused to give up/give in/succumb
Defying overwhelming odds
She ‘suffers from’ [impairment]
If you saw her sitting down/lying still/riding the bus, you would never know that she has a disability…
[insert some pseudoscience]
Determination
Most of us could never imagine [horrific impairment] happening to us, but…
Every day she has to [take some medication/do some physical therapy]
Special
He has overcome his disability!
. . . proving you can achieve anything if you really try!

So, let’s go back to my story.

I haven’t been following anything to do with the Olympics for reasons I won’t go into here, but I knew exactly what was going on when I glanced at Saturday’s Globe & Mail and saw this splashed across the front:

A Different Victory: When Alex Bilodeau’s brother cheered his gold, the triumph went more than one way. The skier and the painter find inspiration in each other – and neither one accepts limits. Ian Brown travels to the intimate heart of a family.

“Oh gosh!” I said to Don, in my overly chirpy sarcastic voice. “It’s going to be an inspiring crip story, I just know it! Quick, let us purchase this fine newspaper so we can be inspired!”

Poor dude behind the counter proceeded to tell me how inspiiiiiiiirng he found “the brother of the guy who won gold”, to which my response was… less so. “Inspiring crip stories irritate the fuck out of me.”

You know what would inspire me, gentle readers? Curb cuts being cleared of snow so Don & I could get across the street without having to go three blocks out of way first. But I guess when you’re a bitter, cynical, angry person who just hates fun, that’s what you get.

Sadly for all of us, Ian Brown’s articles don’t seem to appear on the Globe & Mail’s website (except perhaps behind the paywall), so I can’t let you read the inspiriiiiiiing story of Frédéric Bilodeau, but I can show you a BINGO card that Don & I filled out while we read it.

Description follows

Description: As above, but with the following squares circled:
Differently Abled/Handi-capable/Challenged/Some other twee or awkward phrase
Forced to use [mobility device]
Then tragedy struck/her dreams were shattered/the unimaginable happened
Will never again see his childrens’ faces/hear them say ‘I love you’ canoe the boundary waters/run a marathon
Cheerful/ Never let it get her down/ Positive attitude
Free Space: BRAVE & INSPIRATIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
She refused to give up/give in/succumb
If you saw her sitting down/lying still/riding the bus, you would never know that she has a disability…
Determination
Special
He has overcome his disability!

Of course, what Frédéric Bilodeau’s story has actually managed to inspire is awesome comments at the Globe & Mail like this one:

Proud for so many reasons

Alexandre Bilodeau has provided something more than his magnificent gold performance (Gold Comes Home – Feb. 15). He has provided an example of the role that individuals with a disability play inspiring us as they overcome their challenges.

Thank you, Alex and Frédéric.

Brian Smith, Toronto

Mr Smith, with all due respect, we are not here to be your thrice-damned inspirations thank you very much. Be inspired! Lobby the Canadian government to provide funding for all universities to be fully accessible to people with disabilities! That would help lots of people with disabilities overcome their challenges!

The point of this post isn’t “here I am, talking about an article you can’t read, and being as sarcastic as possible, aren’t I witty?”. It’s actually to talk seriously about the way disabled people are written about. We’re allowed to be inspiring stories of overcoming adversity – and often those stories focus on the difficulties our loved ones have, and how hard it can be to have a disabled person in your life – or we can be a passive victim of crime. That’s it.

If new media actually presented people with disabilities as we actually are… well, that, gentle readers, would be actual news.

ETA: facesofcathy found that Ian Brown’s article’s up over at CTV. (Why? I don’t know.) Check it out: The Bilodeaus: Elusive truths from an unforgettable family. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of the text (I think the headings are different?) but it look pretty close.

Check out the comments if you like to headdesk over how inspiiiiiiiired people find these types of stories.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: A Discussion That Always Happens From Outside

My addiction to YA literature has moved on to another series. I decided to check out Ann Brahsares The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Aside from the fact that I am going to really milk this series for review fodder, I really enjoyed it, for many reasons.

Seldom do I find stories written by women that tell women’s stories that I think get so much right. Here, we have the stories of four young women, Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby, who have grown up together, and for the first time are going to spend a summer apart. Young women who have grown so much a part of each other and have formed such a tight bond, a sisterhood that forged long before the eponymous pants found their way into Carmen’s closet from the thrift store, must branch out and discover how to be whole women by themselves.

And that is a story that I don’t get to read often in popular young adult fiction.

I fell in love with this book just a little bit… more than a little bit.

Which is why it pains me just a little bit to write what I am going to write.

Three of the four girls goes away from home to stretch her wings in situations that are so poignant that I felt the need to hide my face behind my book and bury my tears in the pages. Of the four of them, Tibby alone remains in Washington, D.C. for the summer, getting a summer job, dreading being home without her friends. During her shift at the department store Tibby begins an at first reluctant relationship with a twelve year old girl named Bailey, who passes out in the middle of the antiperspirant display that Tibby had built. Through a series of events that leads Tibby to Bailey’s bedside both at the hospital and at her home, it is revealed that Bailey has leukemia.

We pretty much know what happens to kids with cancer in books like this.

Bailey serves as a vehicle to help Tibby learn to see past appearances as they make a documentary together, or the “suckumentary” as Tibby likes to call it. First intended to be a slightly mocking film about people Tibby finds somewhat laughable, Bailey conducts interviews that help Tibby see these people for unique and wonderful people, each broken and needy like she herself is. Bailey is, of course, here to teach a Very Special Lesson to Tibby, who will then go on to learn so many wonderful lessons from it that she will pass on to her friends in the form of a message on the Pants.

Because naturally Bailey’s time runs out. Time, that thing that Bailey fears most, calls up on Bailey. And Tibby goes through a long and painful denial that she must call upon the Pants and her friend Carmen to help her overcome.

I must ask: Why do we always read of the story of Cancer Girl from the perspective of the healthy and able bodied outsider? I have read so many stories (My Sister’s Keeper, comes to mind, and although she doesn’t die, I know I have read others where the Kid with Cancer is meant to teach a lesson from outside the perspective), and have yet to find one that tells Bailey’s story. Bailey is brave, and good, and wonderful, and she has much to teach us, but does she not ever depart the world with any wisdom of her own? Is she only here to impart and never receive?

I hate that the Baileys of YA are only ever vehicles and never the main character. I hate that I have to read Bailey’s story from someone else’e eyes. It reminds me that the disabled and chronically ill are to be talked about, but not to. Our stories and lives are teaching tools, but not to be lived or experienced. We are to be silent.

Bailey’s story marred this otherwise exceptional book for me, and yes, I was delighted to also have Bailey be a young woman, another woman’s story, but she was just a window dressing, like Tibby’s guinea pig who also died.

Bailey lives on, though, in the Pants, and in Tibby’s first movie, and in the friendships she forged outside of her sisterhood when she needed to. I just wish that it didn’t take Bailey’s life and story to teach this Very Special Lesson.

Also worth noting, the author uses the word “lame” frequently, although I think it was only for two of the characters, as casual dialogue. It grated on me to no end. I wish it wasn’t so pervasive. This otherwise lovely novel that has strong feminist language and themes was kind of flawed by this.

Thank you, always, to Chally, for recommending this book to me. I am going to be reading the next in the series very soon. It seems that one of the girls deals very seriously with depression, and if this is a continuing theme, perhaps you will hear from me on that one too.

The Cult of Busy: Introductory Thoughts

The first time I noticed the correlation between “busy” and “important” was when a friend of mine boasted of her first “cardiac incident” at the age of 27. She was a very important person, after all. So important that she had to be on call 24 hours a day for her workplace, had to arrange everything around the schedule of her workplace, and rushed back to work after being released from the hospital, in case anything had happened that needed only her to fix. 1

Since I judge my worth the same way, I don’t really blame her. The Cult of Busy tells us that worthwhile people have full daytimers, with every minute packed. Want to do lunch with friends? I’ll have to plan that week in advance. Coffee date? Only if I can fit it in between my full-time job and my hours of volunteering. And I simply can’t agree to anything else right now, have I told you how busy and overwhelmed I am with all my important things to do?

There are things I think are wrong with this pace of life for everyone (including me, but as I said, I totally buy into it), but it’s especially difficult when it comes to people with disabilities. When you value someone’s worth as a human being on how much they can squeeze into a day, what value do you place on someone who cannot do all of that? And what value do you place on people who attempt to do enough to keep up with everyone else, but fail?

We value certain things in Western Society, and one of those things is How Important You Are, and how we judge that importance is how busy you are – how in demand you are – how many people want to know what you have to say.

One of the ways this manifests is around Work (by which I mean paid labour outside of the home – the issues of unpaid labour within the home are a bit different, and we all know that unpaid homemaking is very undervalued, and people have some odd ideas about home offices and small business run out of them, and then we get into volunteering and– well, I mean paid labour outside the home for now). “What do you do?” means “What is your job?”, and if you can’t work full-time because of a disability, well. Well. That’s so sad. What do you do all day, after all? (How important can you be? What will I talk to you about if I can’t talk to you about your job? Gosh, you must be lazy. It must be nice to sit around all day!)

And then things get internalized. “I don’t have a job. I’m not contributing. I’m not important. I better make myself small and inoffensive in some way so that no one thinks I’m a burden. I don’t really have a lot of worth as a person because I’m not contributing.”

The Cult of Busy reinforces a lot of abliest ideas about who is important, and who is not, which means that the people with disabilities who can’t do It All (whatever It All is) are by default not important. They don’t count. They don’t need to be considered in how you build a business, say, because they’re never going to work for you and never going to spend money there because they aren’t important. They’re not worth including in your campaign about social justice issues because they don’t work so they don’t really contribute and even if they did, no one cares about what they have to say anyway because they aren’t important. If they were important, they’d be Busy. And Busy means something very specific: As many hours of the day filled with Stuff To Do as possible.

I want to write a lot about the Cult of Busy, in a variety of ways. How The Cult of Busy feeds into the idea that people who work less than 40 (or 60 or 80) hours a week are “getting away with something” and “not actually committed to their jobs”. How if you’re not working you “should” be volunteering, because otherwise you’re doing “nothing” with your day. How we disdain people who “just sit around all day”. How people like me end up confusing “busy” with “important and meaningful” to the point where we make ourselves ill doing too many things and being torn in too many directions.

Be busy. Be more. Be better.

[Be exhausted. Be unwell. Be harmed.]

  1. This wasn’t actually true, just how she perceived things. When she was fired several months later and the place she worked at was better for it, she was the only one surprised.

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]

Less Than / More Than – My complicated thoughts on reproductive rights & feminist discussions

When I’m not being a student, I typically get temp jobs working in a variety of offices. Once things get settled, and folks realise I am married, they often start asking about kids. “Do you have kids? No? When are you having kids? It’s not too late, you know!”

This may seem like an opening for a post about being child-free, but it’s not.

I often put these questions off with flippancy or a shrug or just saying we’re not interested in having kids. In my experience, this will often have people leave the issue be.

Sometimes, though, people will hound and hound and hound.

“Oh, it’s different when they’re yours. But what about Don, what does he think of all of this? What about your parents? What about– what about– what about?” 1

Do you want to know the secret way of getting people to never again ask why you’re not having children?

At some point, drop into a conversation that your husband’s disability is genetic.

Without fail, that has stopped every single person who has asked and asked and asked about children, even when the “genetic” bomb isn’t dropped in a conversation about having children.

One of the reasons why the focus of abortion! abortion! abortion! whenever talking about reproductive rights really bothers me (and a lot of others) is because of the assumption that people like Don & I shouldn’t have children (because – oh no! – the child likely will have Marfan’s just like Don! And everyone knows people like Don are a burden on the system/have miserable lives/are never happy/can never be married/are all the same/should be stopped/are just an example for the rest of us). When people focus on reproductive rights only involving abortion, they neglect that, for people like us, the pushback is to not have children. Don’t burden the system. Think of the children – and don’t have any.

I’ve seen similar conversations play out around the feminist blogosphere. 2 When older women have children, there is always a sudden upswing in “BUT THE CHILD MIGHT HAVE A DISABILITY!” (Yes, the child might. And the child might fall out of a tree and land wrong. Or the child might grow up to be the next Stephen Harper and prorogue Canadian government. WHO KNOWS!) “Think of the children!”

The same fears are reflected when discussing women with disabilities having children (with bonus “but how will she care for the child?”), or when parents forcibly sterilize their disabled daughters.

This pains me, perhaps especially as someone who doesn’t want children. It pains many other women who, for a variety of reasons, are discouraged or outright prevented from having children they want. That, in North America, these women are overwhelmingly women of colour, lower class, disabled, queer – that they’re often women who have been institutionalised in some way, be it a “medical” institution or a “criminal” one – is not a coincidence.

In my experience, marginalized voices who speak out about this disparity between on-line feminist discussions of abortion and on-line feminist discussions from a broader reproductive justice framework 3 are often shouted down, or ignored. We’re told our issues are “special circumstances”, or “pet projects” or “in the minority” or “don’t apply to as many people” or … Well, basically everything feminists in general are told when they talk about issues that are “special circumstances” that don’t apply to enough people (read: men) to count.

Frankly, I end up not knowing where to go from here. Do we, who are limited on spoons or forks or energy or time, keep trying to push for more mainstream feminist discussion on these issues? Do we form our own spaces, our own groups, and have our own discussions? Do we write blog posts that seem to dwindle down, rather than lead us all into the future?

I don’t know. I know and respect people who have made each of those choices, and still others that I haven’t mentioned. But I don’t know what the right one is.

Maybe they all are.

  1. Everything in quotation marks in this post is a paraphrase.
  2. I have decided not to link to specific examples, because it’s a general attitude I’m talking about here. And also, who wants to start a blog-war? Not I, said the Anna.
  3. FREE Halifax: Feminists for Reproductive Justice & Equality. We meet every other Tuesday for teach-ins & movies about Reproductive Justice. Look for us on Facebook.

Quoted: Karl Michalak, “Face Value” (excerpt)

Everything healed up
but in a very strange way
Years later
when it was very obvious
that something was very wrong with my face
everyone
said one or more of the following:

It’s the Lord’s will.
Just learn to live with it.
It’s all in your imagination.
Don’t be so self-centered.
Shut up and do your homework.
Other people are worse off than you.

[Full text available in the 2004 anthology Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories, edited by Bob Guter and John R. Kilacky.]