An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

Dear Ms Magazine Blog:

My name is Anna. I’m what some people in North America would call a person with a disability, and some people in the UK would call a disabled person. My husband, many of my friends, all of my co-bloggers, and a large number of our commenters are also people with disabilities/disabled people.

Your blogger, Carol King, would instead refer to us as “the disabled”, and as pawns of the religious right. In her blog post Kevorkian and the Right to Choose , she wrote:

The “right-to-lifers” enlisted the disabled in their cause when they cautioned that allowing people to choose to die would soon become their “duty to die.”

I’m pretty angry about that. Not offended, Ms Magazine, angry. You see, I’m really tired of “the disabled” being treated like we’re unthinking masses. I’m especially tired of the feminist movement – you know, one that allegedly wants equal rights for all people, including women with disabilities – doing this. It makes me angry because I’m a feminist as well as a woman as well as a person with a disability as well as someone who is not the pawn of anyone, thank you very much.

Some people with disabilities support the right to die. Others do not. Others do in some cases and not in others. Each of us has come to the conclusions we have because we are reasoning individuals. Gosh, some of us are even feminists who use a feminist lens to come to our decisions, regardless of which of the many places on that particular spectrum of opinion we find ourselves.

People with disabilities deserve better treatment than you have given them. We are not a throw-away line so you can score some sort of points. We are people, and I’m appalled that a feminist blog like Ms would publish something that would treat us as otherwise.

Frankly, I am so fucking tired of this shit. I’m tired of smiling while feminist organisations treat people with disabilities like they’re afterthoughts and problems to be solved. Like we’re just pawns in politics, like we need to be appeased but never spoken to or considered, like we’re too angry or not angry enough, like we have to push this fucking rock of dis/ableism uphill while you – our “sisters” – stand by and politely look away.

Do you remember Beijing, Ms Magazine? You’ve talked about it a lot lately. You know what I know about Beijing? I know the accessibility tent was inaccessible to people with disabilities. [transcript follows]

“We will achieve our rights and the respect we deserve as women with disabilities.” “Because the issues of women with disabilities have often been excluded, the goal this year was to make sure the concerns of disabled women were addressed.” Oh, hell, just watch the whole damned thing – it’s subtitled – and see the commitment feminists made to women with disabilities. Ask yourself, seriously, Ms Magazine, why your new blog has decided not to talk much about women with disabilities. “No woman who attends this conference should be able to leave Beijing without thinking about the rights of women with disabilities.” Do you?

You know what? If that’s something you can’t do, let me sum it up:

Nothing about us without us.

You wanna talk “about” “the disabled”? How about talking to us? How about letting us talk for ourselves?

How about treating us – people with disabilities – the way you would like women like yourselves to be treated? As though we have some understanding of our own experiences, our own opinions, our own thoughts. As though our thoughts do not belong to anyone but ourselves?

As though we are thinking beings?

Again, my name is Anna. I, like you, am a woman, and I am also a person with a disability. And we deserve better from you.



Please note: This thread is meant to be about the continued marginalization of people with disabilities in the Feminist Movement. I won’t be approving any comments about Kevorkian or related discussions.

Re: The transcript. The only language I am fluent in is English. I have tried to type the non-English words correctly. If they are not correct, it is my error, not that of the video’s creators.


Saud Marcos (Nicaragua) (Interpretation by Alicia Conreras): Nosotras somos my jeres eguales

We are women like you

Sentimos, pensamos

We feel, we think

La differencia es no ver, no caminar y no hablar

The only difference is we don’t see or we don’t walk or we don’t talk

Pero nostras tenemos que estar aqua con los mismos derechos!

But we, like you, have the same rights!

Exigimos accessos!

We want access!

Voice Over: Disabled women: Visions and Voices, from the Fourth World conference on Women.

Patricia Chaddwick: In September 1995 the Fourth World Conference on Women and NGO Forum were held in Beijing, China.

For the first time women with disabilities had a strong organised presence. This was due to ten months of hard work by disabled women and several international disability rights groups.

They held the first International Symposium on issues of women with disabilities in Beijing the day before the NGO forum began.

200 disabled women representing 25 countries came to China. Susan Sygall was one of the organizers.

Susan Sygall “I know I join many of you who have always dreamed of a meeting where women with disabilities and their allies from all over the world would gather together to ensure that women with disabilities will be represented at the UN Conference on Women. We will achieve our rights and the respect we deserve as women with disabilities.”

Patricia Chaddwick: The platform for action is a document produced by the UN Conference on Women. It is an agreed upon guideline for governments, organizations, and individuals on improving the lives of women in 12 areas of concern, such as health, education and employment. It was drafted in meetings held during the year prior to the conference. Because the issues of women with disabilities have often been excluded, the goal this year was to make sure that the concerns of disabled women were addressed.

Lucy Hernandez-Wong (United States): “The disability can be endured, but the lack of human rights, the deprivation of equal opportunities, and the institutional discrimination cannot be endured and should not be tolerated”

Patricia Chaddwick : At the symposium, women developed policy statements that they wanted to communicate to the nearly 25,000 non-disabled women and to the media at the NGO Forum and UN Conference.

Harilyn Russo (United States): “Disabled girls are, in fact, girls, and they have hopes, dreams, voices, and issues like their non-disabled sisters. Disabled girls are entitled to become strong, healthy, proud disabled women.”

Julia Rogers (United States): “Disabled women have the right to be parents.”

Meenu Sikand : “My name is Meenu Sikand. I’m from Canada. All income generated And projects for the economic development of women should be accessible and available to women with disabilities”

Susan Sygall “No woman or anyone who attends this conference should be able to leave Beijing without thinking about the rights of women with disabilities.”

[Sung: Gotta keep on moving forward. Keep on moving forward. Never turning back. Never turning back.]

Patricia Chaddwick: Thousands of women filled the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing at the opening ceremonies of the NGO Forum. There was an atmosphere of solidarity in the realization that so many women from all over the world had come to China, many under difficult circumstances.

In the months prior to the conference, disabled women in the US and internationally lobbied conference organizers to ensure that the site and workshops would be accessible to women with all types of disabilities. Despite their efforts, physical and communication access was a major problem.

Alicia Contreras (Mexico): “I want to say an example. In the morning there was something about Latin America. I was very interested in being there. It was on the fourth floor. Some people arrived and they would carry me. That is very dangerous.”

Cathy Haas (United States) (Interpretation by Jadine Murello): “I’m a Deaf person. People stand up and speak, and there is no translation for us. We’re Deaf people and we need to talk to the others.”

Patricia Chaddwick: Conference materials were not provided in alternate formats such as Braille, tape, and large print for women who are blind, low-vision, or dyslexic. The disability tent was placed in a remote location of the site was difficult to reach because of mud and rocks. Disabled women held demonstrations to protest the lack of access. It was the first time at the conference that a group held a protest outside of the designated demonstration area.

Maria Rantho (South Africa): “Nothing about us without us. We don’t want positions to be taken on our behalf, we want to contribute to a full discussion equally and we don’t want to be sidelined or marginalized anymore.”

Susan Sygall: “We need to discuss the fact that education for disabled girls is almost impossible to get in almost every country in the world. We need to discuss the fact that disabled women are victims of violence at much higher rates than non-disabled women. We need to discuss women’s issues and how disabled women’s issues are women’s issues. And we need to discuss that together. We need to sit down, in solidarity as sisters, to discuss it. We are not here to talk about just the ramps. We are here to discuss the problems of disabled women and how together, together as sisters, we can solve this.”

Patricia Chaddwick: The protests were effective. While not all demands were met, the tent was moved to a more accessible location. Ramps were built, and some workshops were moved. The protest also raised awareness for all participators. In acknowledgment of disabled women’s struggles, Madeline Albright, US Ambassador to the UN, gave her internationally-broadcast speech in the disability tent

The NGO forum was successful in providing an opportunity for disabled women to discover each other, form alliances with non-disabled women, and plan for actions in the future. The stories and papers presented highlighted those of a common interest and the diversity of women with disabilities.

In Japan, disabled women are fighting the Eugenics Protection Law which tries to prohibit the birth of children with disabilities through selective abortion. People with disabilities are sometimes forced to undergo sterilization to prevent them from having children.

Aiko Tsutsumi (Japan): “When I found out this law when I was 20 years old, my friends told me this is a terrible law which discriminates against people with disabilities, but at the time I couldn’t really understand why it is, and I the time, I thought I was inferior to the people without disabilities, and I was trying to catch up with the people, so-called normal people. I remember saying to my friends ‘Of course the people with disabilities, they shouldn’t be born because they have disabilities.’ And at that I made friends with Ulala, she’s CP as well. She told me that I wasn’t wrong, as I was. Meeting her, meeting Ulala, that has changed me, to think that it is okay to be myself and follow my pace, and after that I start thinking right. Something is wrong with the new eugenics protection law, that I have to do something about it.”

Naomi Ruth Esibaba: “My name is Naomi Ruth Esibaba My talk this afternoon Is going to be on power and decision making in relation to the disabled women. In most cases, it is going to be the African situation, or the Kenyan situation, because as much as our problems are the same, we have also different problems and priorities.”

Jene McCovey : “My name is Jene McCovey. I’m an American Indian. I’m very proud of who I am. We have the ADA Code, the American Disability Act, but this law is a United States code, and does not apply to the Reservations.”

Petrona Sandoval (Nicaragua): “En este momenta me toca compartiri con ustedes.” “Today I will talk about the movement of women with disabilities. Our movement in Nicaragua started in 1993 with a group of 13 people who were affected by local anesthesia. By that time, people said that we were crazy women, and that we weren’t able to do anything. But one year after we were 50 women together and we were able to have our voice in the parliament. That why I am one of the persons who believe we must change the society. We have to say that it is a right, that we have, like human beings.”

Patricia Chaddwick: At the UN conference, women with disabilities were successful in influencing the language of the platform for action. The document stressed the need to eliminate barriers in the areas of education, employment health, social services and information.

From the conference in Beijing, women with disabilities took home the realization that they are not alone in their struggle to advance human rights. They could work together to make a better world for all women, and all disabled people

[Keep on walking proudly. Keep on walking proudly. Never turning back. Never turning back.]

Produced and directed by Suzanne C Levin and Patricia Chadwick
Editing: Roxanne Burns
Sound Recording: Patricia Chadwick
Still Photography: Suzanne C Levine
IMC Operator: Patrick Campbell

Additional Images:
Cathy Cade (200 women)
Maria-Luiza Aboim (Protest Videos)
Mary Lee Turner (Broken Pathway)
Many thanks!

[Gonna keep on singing loudly, Gonna keep on singing loudly. Gonna keep on singing loudly, never turning back. Never turning back.)

Narration: Patricia Chaddwick

Music: Never Turning Back, written and performed by Pat Humprhies

Voices of Women: Saud Marcos (Nicaragua) (Interpretation by Alicia Conreras)
Susan Sygall (United States)
Lucy Hernandez-Wong (United States)
Harilyn Russo (United States)

[Gonna keep on loving boldly, Gonna keep on loving boldly, Gonna keep on lovoing boldy, never turning back never turning back]

Julia Rogers (United States)
Meenu Sikand (Canada)
Alicia Contreras (Mexico)
Cathy Haas (United States) (Interpretation by Jadine Murello)
Maria Rantho (South Africa)

[Reach across our borders reach across our borders reach across our borders never turning back never turning back]

Corbett O’Toole (United States)
Aiko Tsutsumi (Japan)
Naomy Ruth Esiaba (Kenya)
Jene McCovey (United States)
Petrona Sandoval (Nicaragua)

This video was made possibility with funding from Mobility International USA MIUSA’s contribution to this pronject is supported by The National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) through International Disability Exchanges and Studies (IDEAS), Project 2000

Thank you!

Travel and Pre-Production partially funded by Disabled Women’s Alliance USA. Post production donated by Video Arts San Francisco, CA. Their contributions were considerable factors in making this video possible.

Special thanks to Maria-Luiza Aboim, Cindy Lewis, Kathy Martinez, Corbett O’Toole, Mary Scott, Miriam Telles.

[Keep on walking proudly keep on walking proudly keep on walking proudly never turning back never turning back]

Due to the limited length of this video, we cannot include everything we wanted. Please, read the insert for additional important information

[Keep on singing loudly, Keep on singing loudly. Keep on singing loudly. Never turning back. Never turning back.]
© Wide Vision Production P.O. Box 22155 San Francisco CA, 94122-0115 USA

26 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Ms Magazine Blog

  1. You wanna talk “about” “the disabled”? How about talking to us? How about letting us talk for ourselves?

    Yes this. Why do we continue to be treated like nameless faceless hivemind?

  2. I have been appalled and amazed at the way that mainstream feminism marginalizes PWD. We’re sort of…annoying. We get in the way of the “real” conversation. We need to be “patient,” because they’re getting to us, really they are.

    I wonder why they cannot hear themselves?

  3. It’s always amazing to me what “the disabled” have agreed to believe or allow themselves to be manipulated into believing, at least according to other media outlets. I never knew I wasn’t supposed to have my own opinions on these things, and I don’t remember anybody consulting me when a consensus on “our position” was achieved. Thank heavens that TBA people are around to keep me up to date… Oh well, looks like today is going to be Threat Level Orange on my personal Sarcasm Alert; it’s practically required.

  4. Gods. Last time I told a non-disabled person to talk to us before preaching about what our lives are like, she told me to not assume ignorance and come talk to a non-disabled relative of a disabled person before assuming that such a one knows nothing of disability.


    It never ends.

  5. You mention in the transcript that you don’t speak spanish, I hope it’s ok that I figured I’d help correct the only two lines/words that I noticed were off:

    Nosotras somos mujeres eguales (bolded correction)
    que estar aqui> con (bolded correction)

    About the post itself (as a response to Ms. magazine) AWESOME! and I love that you specify angry as opposed to offended.

  6. Thanks, TheDeviantE! I’ll get in and correct it ASAP – it’ll take me a bit cuz I’m having some technical difficulties on my end.

    Bold tags only work here if you use “strong” instead of “bold”. Italics are “em”.

  7. Thank you for this post, Anna.

    It is like they see us as more of an annoying roadblock than as fellow feminists, or even fellow women, isn’t it?

    I found it kind of darkly funny in the Ms. blog post when the author hinted that it was only because of those sneaky right-to-lifers and their propaganda that we ever got the *idea* that abortion and euthanasia might be forced on us.

    If only, lady.

  8. It’s like the people who assure me that no PWD are forcedly sterilized. And then I point out cases where that has happened, and they respond with “Oh, but that’s different.”

    Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful responses. I am less angry than I was when I wrote this, but only a bit.

  9. Cosign to all of this, and also, I was wary from early on in King’s post when she wrote, “His savant qualities reminded me of Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond Babbitt, in Rain Man, also directed by Barry Levinson. That film won four Academy Awards and this one is bound to walk away with multiple Emmys next award season.”

    I suspect that King’s comfort level with “the disabled” begins and ends with film portrayals of PWD played by actors without disabilities.

  10. Thank you for this post and for the equally wonderful video.

    So much anger/frustration at society today.

  11. The short version of this reply:

    Oh, *sigh*.

    The long version:

    I was in the middle of writing my B.A.D.D. post, this year, when the lightbulb pinged on that the monster-angel dichotomy that PWD are viewed with (viewed through? IDK) echoes the Whore-Madona dichotomy that women have been viewed with / through.

    I wonder if the fact that living with disabilities forces a person to confront the limits and confines of a physical body is one reason why so many in the mainstream feminist movement want to marginalize us: our existance runs counter to the “I shall not be defined by my body” narrative that the feminist movement has been running on for the last century or so.


  12. This is a majorly excellent post, Anna.

    And people wonder why I’ve made attempts to disassociate myself from mainstream feminism; you have explained it better than I ever could.

  13. I am not going to defend the article because I have not read it, but I felt that it is important to say that I am disabled and I blog at Ms. I have not written a story about disability but that does not mean that I won’t. The reason I have no done so yet is because my commentary about disability is based on my own lived experience and I am still in the process of catching up on disability scholarship. I just felt that I had to say this in all honesty after reading this thread.

  14. Thanks Anna for a great post. Also for the video. I feel as if this issue has gone on forever. It is so hard to make any headway. Its amazing how few non-disabled feminists can apply good analysis to our situation. Ditto anti-racism movement. The excuse that is often used is a lack of evidence base, because the research is not done to our priorities. But we know that internationally we are the poorest and the most abused. All those feminists in positions of power just don’t get it. As a human rights commissioner I have tried to help women who were in danger of losing their babies or small children because the system does not provide that kind of support to non-disabled children. They could not see that the support was for a sole disabled mother to mother her child. In one case she had escaped a violent relationship.
    Love posting here as it is so accessible! Yay!

  15. Thank you! Seriously, this stuff is WEARYING, and why should it have to be? In 2010? After HOW MANY YEARS of disabled feminists explaining these problems over, and over, and over, and over, and over….?

  16. I’m trying to imagine any other diverse population group that might ever be addressed on the Ms. blog as “the _____” like some sort of monolith. I’m failing to imagine even one.

  17. Renee, I don’t think you should have to write anything about disability anywhere you don’t want to. I don’t think anyone here thinks you should have to. I don’t think you, or any individual blogger over at Ms Magazine Blog, are responsible for the editorial choices they make in whose voices they feature. And I really really do not think you need to talk about stuff just to make their blog address certain issues. I never think anyone with a disability is obligated or required to write about it, or their experiences as a disabled person, or anything of that nature. Your personal life is personal, and while I respect and appreciate that you write about your experiences as a differently-abled person, I can totally understand the decision not to do that in places that are not “yours”.

    The decision not to publish works about disability and feminism are entirely the responsibility of the folks behind the Ms Magazine blog.

    On the off chance that Ms Magazine reads this post – I did send it to them, and I know others have made them aware of it – I do have something else to say to them:

    There’s a theory that only people with disabilities can write about ableism and disability issues. As though someone who doesn’t have a disability couldn’t look at a sentence that disenfranchises and infantizes a huge swath of the population and say “Well, that’s not a good thing. How can we rewrite this to make the same point but not do it so damned offensively?”

    This is just so… structural. It’s just so typical. It happens again and again and again. And every time it comes up, the nice non-disabled women act shocked – they didn’t know! How could they be expected to know? Gosh, it’s not like people haven’t been blogging about disability & feminism for years. It’s not like whole books on disability and feminism haven’t been published fairly regularly for two decades. It’s not like one can look at records from the much-celebrated Beijing Conference and become aware of what happened there. It’s not like there aren’t Critical Disability Studies courses offered at many of the same places that offer Women’s Studies courses!

    There are all these ways (plus so many many many more) that mainstream feminist organisations, that “mainstream” feminists, could use to educate themselves about these issues. The responsibility isn’t one blogger, or one group blog, or one writer, or one course, or one anything. Feminism-as-a-movement understands the importance of collective action. Feminists Organizations are going to have to start assuming people with disabilities a) exist; b) read their material; c) are members of their organisations, or want to be; d) deserve equal rights. That all the things they write about also impact women with disabilities, as well as having things that only affect people with disabilities, or affect disabled people more than able-bodied people.

    This is so basic it shouldn’t need to be labelled 101, but apparently it does. Because this conversation has been happening over and over and over again for decades. “We are women, just like you.” How often does it have to be said before it sinks in that it’s true?

  18. Anna,

    Thank you so much for this PERFECT post. Yes, yes, yes! I am so freakin sick of mainstream feminism not giving a crap about disability and getting it wrong on such a consistent basis. I was a subscriber to Ms. for years until I became disabled, and none of it was relevant to me anymore. I hoped, waited, and wrote to them, then I canceled my subscription.

    It’s pervasive. I found, as a freelance writer, that if I wanted to write about disability issues or my experience as a WWD, most feminist publications weren’t worth querying (or weren’t worth the horror show of trying to work with the editors of an accepted piece as they consistently tried to inject their ableism into my work); disability publications or mainstream, nonfeminist publications were more interested and easier to work with! Except, that is, when a feminist publication would have its Very Special Disability-Focus Issue (every year or five or ten years), when we were sought out as writers. Or they have their one PWD on staff so they can say, “But we CARE about disability issues. Look, we have [token].” (This is not at all directed at the commenter who indicated she is a WWD who blogs for Ms. It’s not about the PWDs in these orgs, it’s about how the publication/organization handles the larger issue of representation.)

    I have heard that same line about PWDs being duped by the Christian right into having an opinion (as if we don’t have actual organizations of PWDs and allies, like Not Dead Yet, devoted to speaking/writing/educating/disseminating research on the issue — no, we just randomly are swayed, monolithically, by the big scary right wing) by every stripe of feminist, progressive, and liberal who otherwise seem great, and then they out themselves as clue-free about DR issues. AUGH!!!!!

  19. Well said, Anna. And I’m happy to hear from a commenter above that the message appears to have got through to the people at Ms.

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