Tag Archives: words mean things

Recommended Reading for 18 October 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

The first two links were sent in by Penny at Disability Studies from Temple U! Thanks Penny!

Knitting Clio: Ableism and NARAL Pro-Choice America

via NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is running a pro-choice slogan campaign.  Here are the choices:

I voted for the first one — why?  Because using “insanity” to discredit opponents trivializes persons with mental illness — a group that already experiences social marginalization and oppression.

Media dis&dat: South Carolina woman with Down syndrome volunteers as teacher’s aide in special ed classroom (Extra Special Trigger Warning for description of exploitative labor practices passed off as Very Special Favors done by abled folk)

“She had been working at a fast-food place, but they were really taking advantage of the fact that she was disabled,” Masaki said. “So, I offered her a ‘job’ here.”

Brown’s unpaid job is to be a teacher’s aide in Masaki’s classroom. While the position is voluntary, Brown works like the two full-time paid teacher’s aides, Rita Evans and Wendy Usary. The paid aides help Masaki with the classroom teaching everything from potty training to table manners to play time to desk work.

Brown helps control the children and helps keep the classroom running the three days a week she’s there.

The following post, which made me so angry I really cried because I hate the world sometimes, was sent in by reader Blake:

NYTimes.com: Mentally Ill US Citizen Wrongly Deported (TW, because the title doesn’t even begin to cover how awful this is!)

A mentally disabled U.S. citizen who spoke no Spanish was deported to Mexico with little but a prison jumpsuit after immigration agents manipulated him into signing documents allowing his removal, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges. His lawyers say the agents ignored records showing his Social Security number, while prison officials wouldn’t tell concerned relatives what happened.

Health Behavior News Service: Kids With Chronic Illness, Disability More Apt to Be Bullied

The study showed that students who reported having a disability or chronic illness — no matter where they lived — were more likely to be experience bullying from peers than those who did not. For instance, in France, 41 percent of boys with a disability or chronic illness reported undergoing bullying compared with 32 percent of boys without. Gender, however, was not a factor — boys and girls were victims equally often.

In addition, when students with a disability or chronic illness were restricted from participating in school activities, they had a 30 percent additional risk of being bullied.

Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown: The Problem with Policing Someone Else’s Mental Health

Marginalized people are particularly susceptible to having their emotions pathologized, partly because their experiences aren’t typical. When young queers are experiencing depression related to the stigma of their sexuality, people like Tony Perkins swoop in to point the blame at their sexuality, and not the stigma that they themselves are perpetrating. Women, queers, the disabled, people of color, political dissidents, atheists; all of these groups have a history of being labeled “insane” to control them.

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.

I Bet It’s Exactly Like That!

[Trigger Warning for descriptions of violent thoughts of self harm]

Oh, by now, faithful readers, you know where we are about to go. We are about to go on a little journey into my mind, the scary place that it is, where I open the floor to discussion about the ways that, once again! Stars and Stripes has managed to get so much so wrong. Because tonight, gentle readers, as I clutch the place that might be close to where my duodendum is and sip my Korean Red Ginsing tea, which the lady at the market told me might help my indigestion, I am reminded once again that I am my mental health are nothing but a metaphor to be co-opted at someone’s convenience!

Let me give you a little background here, because the only online version I can scrape up is this e-version of the print edition, and while WAVE found no accessibility issues with it, I am not going to guarantee that it will be accessible to everyone or accommodating of everyone’s needs. It is, however, a way around their habit of not putting all of their content in their online version (and also allows deployed troops to access the daily paper as well). The front page has the story’s picture, of a white male soldier in Army Green uniform: a light green collared shirt, black tie, green jacket with various awards and pins, a black belt, a black beret, holding a rifle with a bayonet affixed to it. The text on the photo says “Model soldiers [break] Every detail counts when you’re trying to join the storied Old Guard”. The actual article starts on page 4 if you are so inclined to read.

The Old Guard is a ceremonial guard that headquartered out of Fort Meyer, VA, and performs most of its duties in Arlington National Cemetary, similar to the Navy’s Ceremonial Guard, in that they perform many military funerals daily with the cleanest of precision. Their military bearing is expected to be above and beyond that of any other in their branch of service. Their uniforms are expected to be ridiculously perfect, with exquisite attention to the finest aspects of the details, not missing a single loose thread or even a speck of lint. A scuff on your shoe could set you back a week in training. They stand grueling hours at “attention” (The Navy’s Ceremonial Guard does this while holding the business end of the rifle and keeping the butt parallel to the ground for hours, I do not know about the Army’s Old Guard. Full disclosure: I once and briefly dated a guy from the Ceremonial Guard). Everything you know about military bearing is wrong when you arrive for duty, and it is re-taught to “look better”, including the way you turn, march, stand, dress, and press your uniforms (you are even issued special dress white uniforms that are made to withstand the repeated ironing in the Navy Ceremonial Guard).

Do you see what I did there?

I was able to give you some brief background on the very strict regulations of the Old Guard and the Ceremonial Guard without using ableist language. I didn’t once have to compare soldiers or sailors who are required to iron their uniforms exactly right, or who are trained to notice when their medals are one sixteenth of an inch off from the proper dress line to someone who actually obsesses over things like drinking bleach or shoving cork screws in her eyes. Or what it would feel like to jump from a fifth floor balcony.

Because these, my gentle readers, are actual obsessions. They actually intrude on your thoughts and disturb your life, and are really very upsetting, I can assure you. They make you do things, like pull out your hair, burn yourself with a curling iron, wash your hands again and again, and pick at the little imperfections on your skin. Yes sometimes you even iron your uniform again and again and again because you just can’t get it right and double creases are the End of The Universe as We Know It, but it might be because you are certain that if you stop then you are going to iron your hand, not because your Leading Petty Officer is going to chew you out (or your whole division, I mean, does the article expect me to believe that the entire Old Guard has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Because that is not on the application!) but maybe because you recently thought that you might do something very harmful to someone you loved if you stopped holding that iron very tightly. Even if your LPO has put the fear of Cthulhu in you.

Being part of an elite military unit who is honored to be charged with memorializing the fallen and handing flags to their loved ones* or escorting the President or guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a pretty powerful thing, I am sure. The end result of the intense training, of the weeks and weeks of repeated inspections and physical demands, might very well leave some people with OC tendencies or maybe even OCD outright I suppose — I am not a doctor I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know every experience — but it isn’t the same as living with a condition that sometimes (OK, often) inhibits your day to day ability to live, interact, and (here’s the important one) do your job because you are busy carrying out compulsions to get the damned obsessions out of your head.

Yeah, getting worked up over a uniform inspection? I bet it’s exactly like that!

Only, I’ve been there and done that and bought the cheap t-shirt (hell, I’ve been the OC girl who has had to prepare for uniform inspections!).

It isn’t anything like that at all.

*I want to also point out that the article, for those of you who aren’t able/don’t want to read it via the e-reader the requirements for Old Guard: Must be 5’10 or taller, must have combat experience, blah blabbitty blah. Nothing like another exclusionary Old Boys Club for the military, so they can sit around and pat each other on the backs about how Awesome! they all are. I might note, out of some Branch Pride that the Navy Ceremonial Guard frequently wins the Joint Service competitions and they have *gasp* women in their guard.

Oh, and those people receiving flags? Always widows. Always. Way to erase anyone else who might be a surviving loved one of a fallen troop, there S&S, Army, and anyone else involve. UGH!

Guest Post: Storytime

Cara is a feminist writer who blogs at both The Curvature and Feministe. She likes The Beatles, vinyl records, and social justice, though not necessarily in that order.

The first time I saw someone say in a progressive space that it was ableist to use the word “lame” as a pejorative, I thought they were ridiculous. Honestly, I’m telling you right now. I did. I thought all of those things that you most commonly see argued whenever someone is called out on using the word or one like it. It’s not used like that anymore. No one is thinking about disability when they use the word lame. That’s not what it means. It just means bad, and it’s especially useful because it not only means bad, but also bad in a kind of pathetic and sad way … and no, I’m not going to think about what that certain connotation of the word means when it’s a word that also can be used to refer to a disability because it’s not used that way anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

I didn’t make an ass of myself publicly and argue as much. But I thought it. A lot.

And so I didn’t stop using it right away. I didn’t stop, because I used the word a lot, and because I liked using it. And I didn’t want to stop. And I thought that the reasons to stop were silly.

But I couldn’t say it the same way anymore. Every time I said it, every single time, I felt a jolt, a little jab in my spine, a little pain in my heart, a little tightness in my throat. It wasn’t because I thought I was being a “bad progressive,” because frankly the popular opinion among progressives was that using the word was fine and those who disagreed were wrong. It wasn’t because I realized that my brain was connecting pathetically bad things with disability, because I still didn’t feel like it was. It was because I had seen people say that when I used that word, it hurt them. And not only that it hurt them, but that it hurt them systematically, that it harmed them, and that the harm was oppressive.

I didn’t stop saying “lame” or any other word like it because I had a light bulb moment and realized the social connections between the different meanings of the word, and how there really is a reason that “lame” doesn’t just mean bad but uniquely and pathetically bad, when people with disabilities are so commonly portrayed as pathetic. In the end, I’m not entirely sure that it matters when or even if I started believing that. Because it’s not why I stopped.

I stopped because I didn’t want to hurt people. I stopped because I didn’t want to engage in what I claim to advocate against. I stopped because people told me that it was doing them harm when I did it, and because it hurt me to realize that that hadn’t initially been enough. I stopped saying the word because I realized that it was enough.

When it comes to a lot of language that is offensive to marginalized groups — the kind that is exceedingly common and even generally accepted by most progressives, including the types who take pains to correct someone for calling something “gay” or “retarded” — I have to say that I have difficulty getting angry at an average person who uses it. That, of course, comes from a position of privilege, and a position of having been the person who didn’t know any better about 10,000 times. When it comes to most of these words, I am privileged. These words tend to not denigrate me as a person, my humanity, my existence. It is a privilege that I can say “they don’t know any better” and politely inform them otherwise, that I can give them the benefit of the doubt that they will try their best to not do it again. I’m not saying that I expect otherwise of different people, or that anyone else is wrong to get angry at someone who “doesn’t know any better.” At all. That’s just me.

But. When it comes to people who I know know better, who I know have been informed, who I know have been exposed to the harm that certain types of language can do, common though it may be, and then still not only use it, but use it so frequently that it seems like it’s almost on purpose as some kind of gross defiance … I don’t know quite what to think. But I do know it makes me really, really angry to see.

And it makes me wonder about their progressive credentials, not because I can’t believe that they fail to see the exact theoretical reasons and linguistic history as to why the word is one they should stop using. But because they know they’re harming people, people more and differently marginalized than themselves, no less … and just don’t seem to care.

This post originally appeared at Cara’s Tumblr and has been cross-posted with permission.

No, Actually, “Eat a Sandwich” is Not “Feminist Activism”…

…and I’m going to tell you why.

Because the policing of women’s bodies, whether you are being cheeky, or saying it to a plastic doll, is not cool. It’s hurtful and not useful, and has no place in feminist discourse. Can we move past that point? Huh? That’s a pretty Kindy thing, IMNSFHO.


Moving on.

*The rest of this post is going to use some harsh language that describes my experiences/anger/frustration with Anorexia and Bulimia. I am direct and vulgar and sometimes a little flippant with how I describe my past behavior, and that is how I survived it. This may be triggering to some people. I also swear. A lot.*

There is a point when you are struggling* with an eating disorder that you might find yourself thin. Perhaps painfully thin. Maybe dangerously thin. You know this. You are aware. You haven’t avoided solids for this long, or barfed up all of that dinner you were pretending to enjoy without realizing what this means to your body. You might have some misunderstandings about what your body is actually needing…but you pretty much know.

In fact, everyone knows. All anyone can fucking talk about is how good you look now that you are so skinny…but wait…you just passed so good and have moved into too skinny…(because there is never good enough…too fat or too thin you will never be in)

Seriously, girl, eat a damned burger.

Or a bacon sandwich.

Eat something.

Because, you know, it’s that easy.

In fact (shifting voices), the only thing that anyone said to me that wasn’t so fucking insulting that I didn’t want to scream was “I am not going to insult you by saying how much harm you are doing to yourself because you are a smart girl and I know you know, when you are ready, I’ll be here”.

I watched all the shockudrama’s that were meant to scare me because ZOMG my STOMACH could RUPTURE and I was DOING THIS to MYSELF!

*for shame*

I saw Tracy Gold and the mom from Family Ties and countless others on the after school specials during school and I fucking knew.

How could I not? I knew what the result was…that was the damned point.

And I knew I was sick.

I. Didn’t. Care.

And that was scarier than anything…that I felt helpless inside my own body to stop it.

Eat a fucking sandwich.

As if I wouldn’t just throw it back up.

As if that bottle of ipecac wasn’t in my glove box.

As if I wasn’t really good at tearing it into pieces to make you think I was actually eating it only to drop some and crumble some and throw the rest away…

No, I wasn’t embarrassed of letting you hear me pee…the water running was a cover for something else…

Eat a fucking sandwich.

Tumbling around inside my head…as if it never occurred to me to do.

As if I had the power to just eat that fucking sandwich.

The hurt and the denial and the lies…and shit yelling at me just didn’t help…

Because who the fuck carries sugar packets in their purse?

And do you know when that shit started?

When I was a teenager.

We shouldn’t infantilize teenagers by saying “b-b-but they don’t get that this message isn’t aimed at real people”.


Teenagers are people…with feelings…

And if anyone can tell you about what it feels like to hurt because you sit outside the socially accepted norm of appearance, it is another teenager…

being told to just eat a sandwich isn’t that funny if you are dealing with body issues

and burning yourself with a curling iron because you don’t know what else to do…

Eat. A. Damn. Sandwich.

It’s not funny or witty or clever or great new empowering activism.

It’s awful.

It’s hurtful.

It’s waking up in your own bile.

And it is possibly terrifying the hell out of someone.

Unpack that one.

*I don’t like to use “struggle” any longer when discussing disability. My experience with EDs was a struggle. There is no other word in my vocabulary, which spans a few languages, to explain it. I struggled, fought, and am still not sure I have won this one.

Ableist Word Profile: I Feel Your Pain!

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

I hear this one all the time.  I am pretty sure I am very very guilty of using this one.  I saw it used the other day in a context that I am not going to get into here, but it really struck it home for me in a way that made me jump (not at all literally) and decide that it needed to be unpacked here a little.

I feel your pain.

I had to go to the school to pick up my daughter because she had a slight fever.  Anything will get them sent home during the Flu Panic going around right now.  We walked to the nearest shoppette to pick up some canned soup for lunch before going home, and The Kid had that Look.  The tired eyes, with the dark circles and the pallor that told me she just wasn’t feeling well.  We got our soup and orange juice and a cab to get home.  She nodded off on the ride home as I stroked her hair, shoving aside my own pain wishing I knew how she felt and what she needed.  She can only tell me so much.  She can only give me clues to what it feels like to be inside her body feeling her experiences of being sick.  She is the only person who can communicate the way it feels to have that fever or that headache or to have that need for a nap and soup and cuddles and blankets.  No matter how much I understand how colds and germs and immune systems work, and no matter how well I know that low grade fevers are actually good for you, only she can tell me how it feels.

I can’t feel her pain.

Just like you can’t feel my pain.

One of the core principles of feminism, IMO, is the concept of bodily autonomy.  My body is mine.  Mine and mine alone.  You don’t get to tell me how to manage it, you don’t get to touch it without my permission, and anything that tries to attack me from the inside is treated as an enemy hostile if it dares grow uninvited.  This stems from the fundamental idea that you or anyone else who isn’t me could never understand my body better than me.

Coinciding with that, is that no one other human being other than me knows how it feels to be me, to be in my body, to literally feel the pain of living in this body.

Even the best of my doctors, the ones who care with all of their compassion, the ones who were and are capable of great empathy, can not physically feel my pain.  No matter how many fancy diplomas are on their walls or how many scans they’ve run or how many times they’ve played pin cushion with me, they still need me to resort to the handy dandy pain scale as a rubric for making this clear to them.

So, how can you, random stranger, on a random message board or in a random comment section feel my pain?

Can you feel the moment I wake in the morning, those three fleeting moments where I forget and turn my head too quickly, jarring my neck and triggering a migraine that has been hanging over me like a shroud all night?

Can you feel the way my body feels like it is bruised in all of the places it rested against itself or the mattress all night?

How can you, random person in line with me at the supermarket, feel my pain?

Can you feel the pain that my hip and other joints are causing, necessitating the cane, or that the cane is causing my back and shoulders?

Can you feel the dizziness that the blearing pain in my head causes?

How can you, random family member/friend/concerned citizen, feel my pain?

Can you feel the numerous side effects that my body must endure from the various medications I need to make it through a day?

Can you feel the rawness of my throat from the numerous times one of those side effects was not being able to hold a meal down?

I am not discounting the way that you want to relate to me, or to express that you share in my disapproval of something.  I understand that you want to sympathize with my frustration.  You may even want to align with my feelings, or appreciate my sentiment.  There are lots of options that you have that don’t somehow imply that you have some kind of insider info on the goings on of my body or what it really feels like to be me.