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Archive for February, 2010

As you all know, I’m a law student. I’m taking a ‘practical skills’ course called trial advocacy. The idea is that we act like ‘real’ lawyers and research and argue our cases.

The case we have for this semester is a sexual discrimination/sexual harassment/defamation case. The gist of it is as follows. A woman (who is a single mother) had been a paralegal at Employer. She went to law school, got her degree, and managed to land a spot as an associate. In her 5th year, her father gets cancer and dies, so her work is kinda sucky. During her 6th year, she and High Powered (married) Male Partner get into a relationship. (before this happened, he had said and done things that were romantic/sexual enough to make her uncomfortable, though she never reported it) This relationship is NOT the first time he’s had an affair with a female associate; it’s happened several times. They have an affair for a while, and he keeps promising to leave his wife. She gives up on him leaving the wife and ends the relationship. Soon after that, she stops getting as much work offered to her, which means her billable hours drop – serious bad news. She talks to Mr High Power and another partner she’s worked with, and they advise her to put off trying for partner for a year. She ignores their advice and tries anyhow. She fails to make partner and is given 6 months to find a new job. She applies to several places, but Mr High Power sends out very lukewarm recommendation letters, and she is not able to get a job in the city.

So she brings suit – for hostile work environment, for sexual harassment, and for sex-based discrimination, as well as for defamation.

On Wednesday, we were having a mediation. I’ve been assigned to represent the defense – that is, the law firm and Mr High Power. I am, as I’m sure you can guess, displeased with this.

So for mediation, 1/4 of the class is in the classroom at any given time, and the rest of the class is outside. We’re sitting around killing time. The guys are joking around about this case.

One of the guys says, quite seriously, that a man who has worked that hard and been that successful has a right to enjoy what comes with it – the attention of women. If ‘they’ keep biting, how is that his fault?

In the classroom, one of the other guys jokes with the professor that our new corporate sponsor will be Hooters, and similar things.

I was floored. How could they see nothing wrong with this situation? How could they think that this was funny?

Gender based discrimination is rampant in our field, and it becomes clear why that is. It’s not just that it’s an old boys club (which it is), but it’s also because my male cohorts see nothing wrong with women being hit on and harassed at work.

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve seen this in law school. My first year, we had a writing course. Our first case was a fairly bad sexual harassment case. We were reading cases that were on the books, because in the field of law decisions are based on prior decisions. The cases we were reading were horrific, truly awful, and my male partner was ‘joking’ that the women in question were wimps and whiners for complaining about what was happening.

Oh my, yes, their privilege shows so very often. And I find myself wondering…what can I do? I do tell them that what they’re saying is inappropriate, and try to explain why. This looks like a systemic problem, based on the common concept that women’s bodies are openly available to whoever wants them (and it is a woman’s responsibility to stop someone if she doesn’t want to be available). I can’t break down their prior training, the acculturation that lets them think this kind of attitude is alright.

I’m angry and hurt and spitting mad and I can’t do a damn thing. Why? Because if I complain, if I try to make them understand, I’m just a no-fun shrew raining on their parade because I want to be treated as something other than a sex toy. Boo bloody hoo.

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Poor boy

Hudson’s got an ear infection. I tried to clear it up on my own. I caught it early and started cleaning his ears frequently, but it’s just not going away. We’re off to the vet in the morning.

On another note, I remembered something else funny I meant to include in my last post.

Hudson’s posture when he’s running around excitedly and when he’s trying to get away from something scary are EXACTLY the same – hindquarters tucked, tail in close against his legs, and rapid scooting. It’s very, very funny to watch him – he only runs normally when he’s outside the house, so if he gets excited inside, he ‘scoots’ the same way he does when he’s scared!

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One of the funny things about working with Hudson is that he has weird obsessions. Some of them are transient, and some seem to be here to stay.

When I first got Hudson, he wanted to watch me pee. He wanted to so badly that he would nudge my underwear out of the way so he could see.

He also, at that point, felt the need to check the toilet every single time before it was flushed. Sometimes he’d watch things swirling around as it flushed.

Fortunately, the obsession with me peeing faded after about 2 months, and his toilet-checks have been reduced to an occasional thing rather than a constant.

However, he has had one obsession that has stayed relatively constant – inspecting my pants and socks. Before I put on pants (be they jeans, slacks, or pajamas), he insists on giving them a thorough sniffing-over. The same goes for socks. If I don’t stop and let him sniff things before I put them on, he can make getting dressed difficult! He’s so insistant about sniffing them that he’ll do it as I’m trying to put them on if I don’t let him do his thing first. He used to have the same sentiment about my underwear, which fortunately has mostly gone away – once in a while he’ll still decide he needs to sniff them, but only rarely. He so loves sniffing my pants, however, that if I have a pair of pants in my hands, he starts grinning and wagging his tail. It really is quite comical how excited he is about my pants.

His final obsession seems to be with snow. He MUST sniff it. This one gets difficult and earns him a lot of corrections as he gets very distracted by his desire to sniff the snow. He’s far worse about snow than he is about anything else he might go by. If there’s a snowbank, he wants his snout in it! (Which gets his beard adorably filled with snow – it’s really cute, when I’m not trying to get him to do something!)

He feels like he must shake every time he stands, whether he’s in harness or not. He does this even when he’s clipped short for the summer. MUST SHAKE! says the dog. He doesn’t do it immediately, so sometimes we’ll be in the middle of the street before he decides to shake, and then I have to drag him along instead of letting him stop and shake. It’s rather embarassing in class, when I have to get up during class to go to the bathroom or get more water, because he’s SO noisy when he shakes with his harness on! I feel like the spotlight gets dragged from the professor to me sometimes, and I often end up apologizing after class even though I warned the professor that it would happen at the start of the semester.

So there you are, some of Hudson’s more bizarre quirks. I definitely didn’t expect him to…well, have so much personality, I guess!

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We live in a culture that normalizes violence and rape as appropriate responses to love and lust.

I’m sure this isn’t quite what you expected of a post on Valentine’s Day (er, okay, a few days later – this was intended to go up on Valentine’s Day), but I take my job as an advocate of women and of people with disabilities fairly seriously. And yeah, I do think of myself as being an advocate. It’s better than being a victim.

Ooh, the v-word.

This is part one woman’s experience and part a little talk about how things are. Because when it comes to how we treat love and lust, things ain’t good, honey. Things ain’t good.

The overwhelming majority of victims of domestic abuse are female. An appalling proportion of PWDs have lived through abuse. The majority of rape victims, especially date rape victims, are women. The worst part isn’t just the numbers, but how our culture normalizes and accepts these things.

Why the abuse? I’d say it has to do with power, control, and value. Culturally, we value men over women, ABs over PWDs. Women, children, and PWDs find ourselves in places where someone else can have control and power over us. That’s not to say that people who are AB or male aren’t ever abused. I’m talking about the majority.

Wow, that’s a majority you don’t want to find yourself part of.

And yet, here I am. I’ve survived abuse of multiple kinds. Oh yes, that I have lived through.

So here are my scars. I grew up in a family that yells, verbal violence if you will. One side of my extended family is prone to saying incredibly hurtful things – one of my cousins knows that he was unwanted because he was born male, my grandfather makes very nasty comments about people’s weight and general appearances, my aunt made us learn the song ‘If I only had a brain’ when we were children. When I was 17, I found myself in a relationship I didn’t intend, and one that was abusive, for all the typical reasons – I didn’t know how to say no, I didn’t think a woman who was smart and strong ended up in abusive situations, he just kept pushing and pushing, and I didn’t want to hurt him (especially this, because he was emotionally unstable and I felt like it would be my fault if he committed suicide because I hurt him). I can’t tell you how many times, when I was dating, I moved a man’s hand off of somewhere I didn’t want it and had him put it back. And the times when they de-valued my boundaries even more – when I told them to keep their hand off of a location verbally, making it absolutely clear what I meant, and was told that he ‘just couldn’t help [him]self’. When I was told that it was my mental illness that was causing the break-up, that he could see it coming, when the problem was really that he didn’t respect boundaries on ANY level. I’ve been verbally abused quite deliberately by an AB housemate (who, among other things, told me that I was faking it, that I was drug-seeking, that I was crazy and sick in the head, and that I should adopt a dog from the pound so a ‘real’ disabled person could get a service dog instead of me). Add to the list of people who have lashed out at me my AB classmates, even by an AB professor.

I have the utmost respect for a great many men in my life, so the excuse that a man is ruled by his gonads just doesn’t fly with me. I know too many men who would stop at a suggestion that their interest or touch was undesired, and men who have stepped between me and an abuser. To say that men can’t help themselves is to say that their penis has the ability to lobotamize them. Can you really believe that? No. It’s something we’ve imbedded into our culture quite thoroughly, though. And as for the blue balls argument, frankly a man is quite able to move himself into the bathroom and take care of things for himself it that’s such a problem for him.

We teach date-rape quite well. How many times do we blame women for getting drunk rather than men for taking advantage of drunkenness? If you want a particularly cringe-worthy episode of that, check out Jamie Foxx’s ‘Blame it on the Alcohol’, which includes the lovely line “Couple more shots you open up like a book”, and lists several brands of alcohol the girl should blame for what happens…rather than blaming the man who pressures or assaults her. We have enough culture of getting women drunk for sex that it’s unwanted. Women learn that they ‘owe’ someone sex if they get an expensive dinner or gifts. And of course, we’re told that we shouldn’t be mean, shouldn’t push back, shouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings by refusing. Our wants and needs should be subsumed under a veneer of ‘polite behavior’.

We create a culture of blame for women who are raped. We ask what they were wearing, if they were drunk, where they were walking, if they had suggestive conversations or behavior. We ask if they locked their doors, if they were careful to stay out of dark places. We ask if they fought back, if they yelled, if they tried to prevent their rape. We tell women that they should not walk alone after dark, that they should only drink with friends to watch out for them, and that they must watch their drinks at all time.

And then there is domestic abuse. Instead of helping women escape from abusive situations, we tell them that they need to get themselves out without any regard for the fact that they probably have been cut off from friends, family, and finances needed to break free. We say that domestic abuse is a terrible problem and we should fight it, but we show it on TV as a ‘plot point’. As a matter of fact, we are so conditioned to accept it that shows have implied threat of violence…and most people don’t even notice it.

All of this adds up to a terrible toll on women, on people with disabilities, and on children.

So what do we do?

We teach our SONS as well as our daughters that they should not just believe ‘no means no’, but they should seek ‘yes means yes’ – enthusiastic participation instead of passive lack of resistance. We stop treating women as the sexual gatekeepers who must be persuaded. We believe women when they say they have been assaulted, made uncomfortable, threatened, or hurt. We support people who have lived through this, whether they describe themselves as victims or survivors. We blame the attacker, not the person who is harmed. We support shelters, especially domestic abuse shelters. We put in better lighting. We teach women that they matter, that their feelings are important. We stop objectifying women. We stop comparing women to food, to animals, to art, to mannekins, and start treating them as people. We teach people that there is NOTHING that obligates another person to ‘give’ sex – not marriage, not expensive dinners, not dates, not even saying that they will (and later changing their minds).

Most importantly, we STOP teaching our daughters to be ‘nice girls’, because being ‘nice’ lets predators in. It’s incredibly important to create a difference between polite social behavior and de-valuing our own needs and wants.

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One of the unfortunate things about the cultural phenomenon of disability is that we rarely make contingency plans for PWDs, and even more rarely do we make effective ones. Even if there is a contingency plan for PWDs, it’s not uncommon for us to be left in the dark about what they are!

This particular post is partly inspired by the disaster in Haiti, partly by the massive snowfall in the mid-Atlantic, and partly by my experiences with fire alarms.

So, Haiti. We have a country where a large amount of the major infrastructure has been destroyed. The roads, government programs, buildings, hospitals – a great amount of the services people rely on are in ruins. This becomes particularly problematic when you are disabled. To get food or safe water, you must wait in long lines – something that a person with a disability like mine would be unable to do. Much of the shelter that is available is not accessible, as Haiti does not have a law comperable to the ADA that would require at least some degree of accessibility. (I’m not going to go into how limited that requirement is, or how often it’s flouted here. We at least theoretically have standards that increase accessibility – Haiti does not) Medication and medical care are scarce, including supplies like catheters and osteomy bags, which are necessary for some PWDs.

This is all compounded by the fact that most of the operatives for NGOs are able-bodied people. Their first priority is to serve the masses as much as possible, and because people with disabilities might need more assistance, they get de-prioritized. We also need different services sometimes, and the NGOs are trying to provide the basics that everyone needs rather than the specific treatment needed by comparatively few. Finally, when planning these big operations, most NGOs do not give much consideration to needs of PWDs – they are mostly AB and thus have the luxury of not considering what a PWD needs day to day. Because of this, their plans do not include making the necessary arrangements for PWDs. In short, we are forgotten people.

Let’s talk about these big snowstorms recently affecting the mid-Atlantic region of the US. These were relatively severe for that region, in terms of deposit – 20+ inches each storm. Worse yet, two of these storms were within a week of each other, and there was not enough warming in between for the snow to fully melt – just enough to form a layer of ice under the snow.

So, you have deposits of up to 55 inches in the space of 1 week. The major streets get plowed and salted, and in some areas even the sidewalks get salted. But only in some areas, generally the most expensive parts of town. The smaller streets do not get plowed or salted at all, and this results in a problem.

With drifts up to mid-thigh on a man, the streets are massively unaccessible. I’m a relatively ambulatory PWD – I walk with the assistance of my service dog – and even I can’t go more than a few feet. We sink into the snow, skid, get soaked, and get exhausted. The car is buried, and worse than that, in many areas once you park, you can’t get back on to the road. Why? Well, the road hasn’t been plowed or salted, just packed down by people driving over it, so there is a 4″ pack of ice sitting on the road. The last time we got stuck in one of those spots, it took the boyfriend and 5 men, 2 snow shovels, 1 heavy metal shovel, a cardboard box, plus 2 cups of road salt the coffee shop gave me, to get us back onto the road. People aren’t just getting stuck in their parking spaces, they get stuck on the road as well, completely blocking our little one way streets. They also slide around on this unpredictable, unsafe surface, resulting in accidents and very close calls.

And thus, I am only able to get out of the house because of my boyfriend and the car. He drops me at the front door of where ever I am going, because I can’t walk far in this mess. He digs the car out. He’s shoveled more snow in the past week than in the two years before that. If we didn’t have a car, I’d be completely housebound because our sidewalks are still over a foot deep in snow and slick with ice. Most people walk on the roadway, which is treacherous ice, because the snow drifts haven’t been packed down in many places. If I was in a wheelchair, I’d be out of luck. Why? Because the cities don’t salt or plow residential areas when the snow hits. Even a small amount of snow makes accessibility questionable. And even in areas where they do salt or plow the streets, they almost never plow or salt the sidewalks, leaving a person with the options of attempting to slog through the snow (and the plow leavings, where they cross streets) or slip and slide along the road and hope they don’t get hit.

When it comes to snow and other weather disasters, the city doesn’t think about us. We get forgotten again.

And then there are fire evacuations. In fires, you aren’t supposed to use the elevators. People who are AB or ambulatory get sent down the stairs. And the rest of us? We get told to wait in a ‘fire isolation’ stair if one exists, with a promise that someone will inform the firefighters that we are up there. What if the fire moves too fast? What if no one remembers to tell the firefighters to come get us?

When buildings are built, our ability to evacuate isn’t considered. We are supposed to be content with a plan that relies on A) a person remembering we are in the building B) telling someone who can help us and C) that person being able to help us. We have no ability to help ourselves, take initiative, even direct matters to go in the way we desire. No autonomy.

Oh yes, we are forgotten people. When disasters strike, there is often very little planning for our safety. Subways have escape routes, but they rarely have escape plans for PWDs outside of ‘someone could carry them’. No plans that respect our dignity and autonomy. Tall buildings have much the same problem. Emergency evacuations because of natural disasters face, again, the same problem.

The worst part is that we are rarely informed about what we are supposed to do in an emergency. I had to ask the administration at my school to find out where I was supposed to go in a fire, since I can’t manage multiple flights of stairs. If our house were to burn down, it’s hard to find out which shelters would be accessible to me. In emergency evacutations, the place for PWDs to be picked up are often different…and announced at a fraction of the frequency that other evacuation sites are mentioned. Even if there are plans in place, people forget to inform us.

If you are part of an organization, see if you have a plan for the evacuation of people with disabilities. If you do, does it respect their autonomy or does it make them rely on someone rescuing them? Is it well publicized? Do you post notices or send out memos to make sure that everyone – both people with disabilities and ablebodied people – know what the plan is?

If you didn’t like your answers to any of those, talk to your administration and management and see if you can change them. Don’t forget us.

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One of the things I hate the most about having put on weight is how much harder it is to find clothing.

I went from a women’s medium to large to a women’s extra large to 2X in most stores. Old Navy tells me that means my waistline is somewhere between 34 and 39 inches, which is accurate – my waist is about 38 inches.

I’ll get back to major retailers in a minute, because nowadays some of them still have potential to carry clothing I can wear. Right now what I want to talk about is small and indy stores.

Here’s the trouble – a great many indy stores only carry up to size L, or numerically either 12 or 14. I’ve heard a handful of excuses about why they stop there – the margin isn’t as good on larger clothes because of fabric costs, you have to re-design things to fit plus sized people, plus sized people have more variety in body shape than ‘straight’ sized people, and plus sized people simply don’t want the kind of clothes they carry.

Right, let’s look at these one at a time:

1) More fabric is more expensive. Strange how this problem can’t be cured by charging slightly more for larger sizes. I can see how that might be difficult for big retailers, but for independent shops, they’re probably hand pricing everything anyhow, so it seems like little trouble to make the price different.

2) You have to re-design the clothing. I’m not entirely sure why this is supposed to be true, unless it’s connected to #3. Fat people are just as likely to want the trendy shapes and patterns as thin people, so it’s not like they need to be stylistically different. Are we saying that the shape of the pattern has to change? Anyone who has used clothing patterns will tell you that the shape of the pattern changes between straight sizes, too. This sounds an awful lot like a straw man argument to me.

3) Fat people have a greater diversity of body shapes, so clothing designed for any one shape will fit fewer people. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Thinner people still have a huge variety of shape. When I was thin, I had an enormous bust (which meant few things fit). My measurements were 34G-24-32. People aren’t shaped the same way just because they are similar in size; likewise, being one size rather than another does not change the range of diversity in shape. This is why we have things like swimsuits where you buy separates – many people don’t entirely fit into one size or another. That doesn’t change as you go up or down in size!

4) Fat people don’t want trendy clothes. Wow. No, fat people have gotten used to the fact that no one wants to carry clothes for them. If you want to start carrying plus sizes, advertise and believe me, they will come!

Now, I’ll admit, the thing that’s bringing up today’s topic was personal. I was on a website and I saw an advertisement for http://www.modcloth.com. I wanted the dresses I saw SO BAD, only to find out that they don’t make my size. Modcloth theoretically covers sizes up to 3X, but their 3X has a 35 inch waist. For reference, Old Navy’s 3X fits up to a 48 3/4 inch waist.

If you’re going to have plus sizes, have REAL plus sizes. Not these silly tiny sizes that get our hopes up because the size should be right, only to find the measurement is wrong.

Until then, dresses like this http://www.modcloth.com/store/ModCloth/Holiday+Gift+Guides+2009/Big+Spender/Hotel+Particulier+Dress will just have to wait. …oh how I wish I could wear that dress.

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January 12 was our 6 month anniversary. Hudson and I had lived through half a year of being partners.

I’ll tell you straight up it’s not what I expected. That’s partly my fault, and partly because of expectations. And the ‘not what I expected’ is not all bad, far from! A lot of this is just that…life with a service dog is different from what you think it will be.

For one thing, Hudson’s personality is entirely unlike any of the dogs I had growing up. He’s a gentleman, and the most curious dog I’ve ever seen. He’s also, as these things go, a doggy genius. And anyone who works with animals will tell you, that creates as many problems as it fixes.

Hudson doesn’t mind working, but he does mind getting dressed in his harness, prong collar, and haltie. Well, on an average day, anyhow. Like any thinking being, he has his days where he doesn’t want to do anything that resembles work.

He’s got stronger moods than I expected of a service dog. When he’s really enthused (and out of harness), he’s like a puppy, running around just because he can. When he’s bored, I get these great gusting sighs and occasional grumbles. He gets mopey and lonely, too, to the point where he’ll come over and nudge my laptop a little to try to get his head in so I’ll pay attention and pet him.

It’s more work than I expected. He has to be groomed daily, have his nails clipped and his ears cleaned weekly, be bathed every few weeks and clipped about every two months (except between his toes, which as to be clipped about once a month). I have to give him a nose to tail inspection for signs of health problems daily. There’s also the work of training – I have to be on top of his training at all times. I can’t chance him developing bad habits, so I have to notice when he picks up a dropped dog treat off the floor (in which case I have to pounce on him and take the treat out of his mouth, even if he’s started to chew and swallow. NOT FUN), when he reacts too strongly to the boyfriend coming home, so on. I also have to sit there and correct his bad habits by making him do things correctly, which is more work than you’d think. We also have to work on his skills all the time, so that he doesn’t forget the ones I don’t use very often (like turning on lightswitches). When he decides he isn’t in the mood to do something, or do it right, it can mean a great deal of fighting with the dog, which is frustrating. I find myself sometimes thinking, for a dog that’s supposed to be helping me and making my life easier, you sure make a lot of work!

I also didn’t expect…hmm. How to explain. I guess what I didn’t expect is how much a part of me Hudson has become. He’s more a part of me than any of my other mobility aids ever were. My self image includes him. We are so close that it’s hard to imagine myself without him, and if I do it makes me start tearing up because I know that eventually, I will have to be me without Hudson. 6-8 years – the average working life of a service dog – seems pitifully short.

He’s also an emotionally needy dog. I have to spend a lot of time just…petting him and reassuring him that I care about him. It gets a little frustrating now and again, because who wants that kind of emotional demand? But I know that I am more than repaid by his dedication to me, so I remind myself that this is part of being a partner. And, well, if you aren’t too busy or too much in pain to do it, petting a dog really is a nice way to spend your time. It’s only when he starts butting into me working or trying to hug the boyfriend that I get annoyed.

Which leads me to the final unexpected point about the dog – how much he’s bonded with my boyfriend. It’s very clear that Hudson thinks of the boyfriend and I (and possibly my care assistant) as his ‘pack’. When the boyfriend comes home, Hudson wags his tail enthusiastically, beating the ground with it. It took us weeks to convince him that it wasn’t acceptable for him to pop up and greet the boyfriend! He watches the door when the boyfriend leaves, waiting for him to come back. All that when the boyfriend hardly has any direct interaction at all with him!

So there you go. Life with a service dog isn’t exactly what you expected, or what you thought you bargained for, but that’s not a bad thing – just different.

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