Tag Archives: racism

Ableist Word Profile: Intelligence

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.

Wait! you may be saying to yourselves. Kaninchen Zero, what the hell is ‘intelligence’ doing in the Ableist Word Profile series? Intelligence isn’t a disability!

Okay, so maybe you’re not saying that. But I’m serious. I hate this word. Hate the concept. With a hatred that is a pure and burning flame. True, part of this is because I get told all the time that I’m like wicked smart. When it’s some of the more toxic people in my family saying it, there’s more to it: You’re so intelligent so why are you poor? Other people use it as an opportunity to put themselves down: You’re so smart; I’m not; I could never do the things you do.

Does intelligence exist? At all?

Maybe it doesn’t.

There are tests that measure… something. They’re called Intelligence Quotient tests. The idea is that these tests actually measure some fundamental, real quality of human cognition — the people who believe in IQ believe that there’s a single quality that informs cognition as a whole and that people who have higher IQs have more of this and think better and perform better generally while people who have lower IQs have less of this quality and perform more poorly. Sorry; it’s a muddle of a definition, I know. Partly it’s a conceptual and linguistic problem — some things are not well defined and these things tend to be the things we consider to be fundamental. It’s much easier to define smaller things at the edges; it’s easy to define a fingernail. It’s harder to point to where blood stops flowing away from the heart and starts flowing back towards it.

The man who developed the first intelligence tests, Alfred Binet, wasn’t actually trying to measure intelligence. He’d done some work in neurology and psychology and education, and in 1899 he was asked to become a member of the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child. Primary education in France had become mandatory, so a lot of work on educational psychology was being done due to the large demand and the large available sample population. Binet, and others, were assigned to the Commission for the Retarded. (Again, please accept my apologies; I wouldn’t use the word if it were mine.)

The problem he was trying to solve was how to identify — consistently, without having to rely on the judgment of people who could be swayed by all sorts of personal biases (as we all are, including me) — those children who needed extra help. Maybe they had developmental disorders, maybe they had learning impairments along the lines of ADD/ADHD, dyscalculias, dyslexias, maybe malnutrition, injury, or childhood disease had caused neurological damage or limited development. The specific etiology wasn’t the point; the point was to be able to know who these children were and get them assistance. Which may be ascribing too-noble motives to him, but he doesn’t do so great later. Continue reading Ableist Word Profile: Intelligence


The topic of mental illness came up again with the latest large-scale hate crime against women to make national news. It’s a nice easy narrative for George Sodini to be a psycho, to be crazy, to be mentally ill because then we don’t have to understand him. We don’t have to relate, because we’re not like that.

Thing is, we’ll never know if Sodini was mentally ill or not. We can’t tell from what he left behind, and he’s no longer around to ask. The things he wrote aren’t all that unhinged; he just took the workaday hatred of black people and women that is everywhere in our society and picked up a gun and went hunting.

And the mentally ill means violent narrative is false anyway. Mental illness correlates with an increased risk of being a victim of violent crime, not of committing it.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating because there’s so much silence and stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. I’ve had kind of a lot of experience with mental illness and the mental health professions. Some of it may be triggering.

I have taken (in no particular order) Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Serzone, Xanax, Ativan, Risperdal. I’ve self-medicated with alcohol a lot and smoked cannabis and taken LSD when I could get it. I have been diagnosed, at various times, with clinical depression, bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, gender dysphoria disorder, depressive psychosis, and paranoia. I strongly suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which would explain a lot of my symptoms, behaviors, and difficulties. I have spent time in private and public psychiatric hospitals and spent years in weekly or twice-weekly therapy. I have damaged myself in ways ranging from very small — pulling on my hair repeatedly — to very serious — shooting myself in the left hand between the third and fourth metacarpal bones. I still have PTSD-like symptoms from the last and from growing up in an abusive environment, though episodes of it get farther apart as time passes. I have had suicidal thoughts that became elaborate plans. There were times that the only thing keeping me alive was someone needed to feed the cat. I am not alive for big important reasons; I am alive for small stupid reasons. I am alive because I didn’t want whoever found me to suffer the trauma of it. I have suffered delusions and intrusive thoughts and I have always had minor hallucinations (words printed on a page are red instead of black, patterns on a floor or wall shift while I look at them). I often have trouble understanding people when they talk and try to pass it off as being hard of hearing. I’m not; I hear fine. I have trouble processing auditory information and especially picking conversation out of background noise.

You’d think I was dangerous. I’m not. Really. I’m not even dangerous to me. Damaging myself — like it is for so many people who self-harm — is a way to stay alive, to cope with trauma. I have better ways to cope now and I don’t do that any more, but sometimes when I’ve had a really hard day and I hurt a lot and the noise in my head is very bad I remember how comforting it was to draw a blade across my arm, to feel the skin part, to see the blood well up, and how it made the noise go away for a while. Maybe it makes me crazy, but that is a warm fond memory for me. And it is what I needed to do when I needed to do it. I have the same memories about smoking, and I don’t do that these days either.

I’m much better now than I was. There are long periods where I don’t need psychiatric meds at all. But I am not cured and I never will be. I will always have mental illness in my life, just as I will always have fibromyalgia and physical pain. I’m back on an SNRI now and it’s helping and that’s good, because I could feel the old illness patterns coming back. Things have been bad lately with the economy. But I’ll be okay. I know how to cope with the bad things in ways that aren’t so drastic. There are people I can ask for help. I’m not alone.

Even if I am crazy.

Recommended Reading for October 15, 2009

Another busy day for me, so again, this is quick! (I’m coming to you from the past!)

In the blogs:

Reminder! Liz Henry is hosting the Disability Blog Carnival! Submit your links to be included!

Getting her privileged little way:

I was out yesterday with my sister, mother and nephew in Walmart. They walked away for a moment and while I was alone looking at something on a shelf , a woman pushing a large cart came toward me sideways. Instead of asking me to move, she banged the cart into the side of my wheelchair.

I’ve seen this type of rude and boorish behavior before. I was in her way and she is – well – able bodied. Never mind that there were half a dozen other people – also able bodied- who could have moved out of her way. She saw the wheelchair and I was the one in her way.

Two Hospitals to Address Access to Care for Patients with Disabilities [US]

Under a new agreement between the hospitals and the advocacy groups, the hospitals will survey and remove physical/architectural barriers to care, purchase accessible medical devices and equipment (including mammography equipment), review and modify hospital policies, provide appropriate training to staff. The hospitals must regularly report to patients and their advocates on the progress they are making. According to the Globe, advocates hope that the changes to be made at these facilities will serve as an example for hospitals across the country.

Seriously, I have ranted more than one in my own space about wheelchair inaccessibility in hospitals. My biggest pet-peeve is inaccessible waiting rooms. Don’s is people demanding he stand (that wheelchair is not for show), and then baby talking to him. Fun times.

The Etiquette of Menstrual Concealment Preserves Pain as well as Secrecy:

Kate Seear’s newly published study about the diagnostic delay in treating endometriosis finds that menstrual etiquette rules and the culture of concealment are among the most profound causes of the delay between the first experience of menstrual pain and the diagnosis of endometriosis, which then opens avenues for relief through either surgery or medical treatment. The delay is non-trivial: research estimates an average delay of 8 years in the UK and 11 years in the US. Reasons for the delay include minimizing of menstrual pain by doctors, family members, and others, and women’s inability to distinguish between ‘normal’ menstrual pain and abnormal pain, and, Seear argues, the social sanctioning women experience when they talk about menstruation in general or menstrual pain in particular.

I was thrilled to learn that the Disability Studies Lecture Series at Temple U will be available on line in both text and audio.

I’m not just concerned, I’m utterly appalled:

A trial is set to begin in Northern Victoria, in which 30 Australian Aboriginal participants will undergo gastric banding. Because you know, banding has worked for the ‘white population’ so let’s experiment on the blacks and see if it works for them too. And that is practically a direct quote. I shit you not

In the news:

Via UnusualMusic: A Fatal Cultural Gap: Depression Among Minorities

Major depressive disorder is a common disease, occurring in approximately three out of every 20 people in the United States.

However, members of minority communities, especially first-generation immigrants, often express their illness in a manner that is different from their white counterparts, which makes it more difficult to diagnose depression in them, said Dr. Russell Lim, who teaches cultural psychiatry at UC Davis School of Medicine.

“We (who are trained in Western medical schools) are defining depression though our cultural lenses,” said U.S.-born Lim. “A cultural psychiatrist, on the other hand, looks for less specific signs” than those outlined in medical textbooks.

Email Q&A: What About Womanists?

We’re not even a week since the roll-out, but the response so far has been tremendous. Along with the excellent discussion in comments, we’ve gotten some really great questions, like this one (which we’ve paraphrased from the original email):

Why is the name of the blog Feminists With Disabilities? Wouldn’t it be more inclusive, especially of women of color, if the name acknowledged the womanist movement? Say, Feminists and Womanists with Disabilities?

We’ve been discussing this since we got the email, and we’ve come to a consensus that for now, we aren’t comfortable using womanist in the title of our blog. None of the current group of contributors identifies as a womanist. While we aren’t all white, those of us who are women of color identify as feminist. Those of us who are white don’t want to be disrespectful of the work womanists have done and are doing and appropriate their word for their movement created specifically in response to white privilege and oppression.

We also do not want to imply that we are authorities on womanism and that anything about womanism needs to change by including “womanists” in the title. Many of us are concerned with the historical exclusion of women with disabilities from mainstream feminism, and that exclusion is the primary focus of this website.

None of this means that we don’t welcome womanists and womanists with disabilities to join us as readers, as commenters, as guest posters, and as contributors (and if someone who did identify as a womanist did join us as a contributor we would revisit this issue). We want to create a safe space for all women here, and we do not want womanists to feel excluded; they have much to add to the conversation, and we look forward to hearing from them. We hope that FWD will be a place where inclusivity and respect are the rules rather than the exceptions.