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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

One of the most disheartening parts of doing social justice work is how often people draw lines, create ‘us and them’, ‘deserving and undeserving’, ‘good and bad’ categories among people who could all theoretically come under one umbrella and work together.

I think in an ideal vision of social justice, I, a fat bisexual feminist crip, would be able to hold hands and work together with fat acceptance folks, GLBTQ folks, feminists, and crips.  I’d also like to be counted as an ally for groups I don’t belong to, like people of color.  In theory, in an ideal world, these groups that represent part of my fight against oppression (and even parts that do not oppress me but that I recognize as oppression that should be fought) would welcome me just as much as they welcome people who do not have intersections of oppression.

The unfortunate truth is that they often do not.  Let’s go through these one by one, shall we?  Now, keep in mind, I am speaking of the mainstream of each movement I mention.  There are figures in each of these movements who try to counter what I’m talking about, and I salute them, but that has not yet bridged the gaps that the mainstream movements have created.

Fat acceptance folks often start drawing lines between ‘good fatties’ – people who eat extremely healthy, normal portioned diets and exercise – and ‘bad fatties’ – people who do not eat as ideally or exercise.  There’s also often a line people draw between fat and ‘too fat’.  Now, as a crip with my particular gathering of disabilities, in hot weather, I cannot exercise beyond an extremely low minimum, and my diet is always somewhat limited by what my GI issues will allow.  My disabilities (and the medications that treat them) are a significant portion of the cause of my weight gain, so even eating well, at best, I level out temporarily until a new medication change screws up my body again.  I have also developed one of the problems we mark as belonging to ‘bad fatties’ – hyperglycemia, also known as prediabetes.  In a perfect world, we could look at people who are fat and say, it does not matter why you are fat (whether it is genetic, or disordered eating, or lack of exercise, or disease, or medication, or disability) or how fat you are, you are still just as valuable a person as a thin person and no one has the right to judge you for your weight.  But we don’t seem to be able to do that, we keep defending how we are not bad fatties, how we are not like ‘them’, the ones who shouldn’t gain the same respect we want for ourselves.

The GLBTQ (which some people now write as GLBTQAI – gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning, asexual, intersex) movement has I think done a good job in recent years of attempting to start including more membership – hence why it has gone from just ‘gay rights’ to the longer groupings of letters.  They do still tend to represent most strongly the people they believe are their core, ideal group – gays, lesbians, and sometimes bisexuals.  However, this movement tends to cut itself off sharply from people who are poly (that is, people who have relationships that include more than two people).  They also tend to be rather shakey with how well they support their members who are people with disabilities or people of color (though this, as many of these intersections, is often a case of both groups kind of pushing away people who rest in that intersection).  The GLBTQ crowd also tends to try to make a clean break between the GLBTQ movement and sex workers, and rarely supports laws to protect and assist them. 

Next come the feminists.  Now, there are all kinds of issues with feminism cutting people off.  We say women should be able to work, and we now kind of scorn women who don’t, especially if they can’t (as opposed to women who choose to stay home).  We say women are strong and resiliant, just as men are, and we don’t like acknowledging that some of us are weak, some of us do not bounce back (whether that is a disability or a personality does not seem to matter).  We say women are intelligent, and we cut off the women with mental handicaps.  We talk about women’s reproductive rights, but we still treat women who choose not to have children as some sort of tragedy.  There’s the sexual revolution, but what about women who are asexual?  The feminist movement also treats victims of abuse very poorly, as a whole, because as victims they do not typify the self-sufficient image feminists want for women.  I can barely start to talk about the ways that mainstream feminism has sold out women who are lesbian, bisexual, trans, of color, disabled, fat, because it has been done so often and so deeply that it is hard to begin to describe the gap that has been created.  The feminist movement, having become successful, has done exactly what early abolitionists did to early feminists – they have said ‘Wait until we complete our success, and then you too can get what we are getting.’  They have treated the social justice movement as a ladder that only one group may advance at a time, and at that, only the core, ideal members of that group.

Which brings me to the disability rights movement.  Oh, we are a problematic group, I’ll openly admit that.  There are more than a few branches of the disability crowd that only recognize people with physical disabilities, and treat people with psychological or mental disabilities as very much second class citizens within the movement, if they’re included at all.  All three different groups have issues with attacking language that is negative to their particular type of disability, but ignoring language that hurts people with different disabilities.  In fact, we often use language that reflects negatively on other disabilities, even within our own categories (like people who will use ‘blind’ to refer to lack of foresight or insight when they are a wheelchair user).  The disability movement, in addition to often segregating itself (and failing with spectacular frequency people with mental handicaps), also tends to have issues with how it represents its GLBTQ members, members of color, fat members, and to some extent female members.

I’ll be honest, I’m not going to address the issues within the community of color, because I am not of color and haven’t seen the divides from inside.  What I will say is this – my experience with other social justice movements suggests that it is likely that people who do not represent the ideal of this group are shoved off to the side, ignored, and trampled on just like they are within other social justice movements.  I’ve heard things, but this isn’t my community and I really don’t feel like I have enough knowledge or experience to speak of it.

What does this all add up to?

Well, the simplest thing is that we have to look at ALL of the members of our group that we’re supposedly seeking rights for and try to make sure EVERYONE is getting the kind of rights we want for ourselves.  The right to health, safety, equality, basic standards of living, access to who you love, protection under law, and general fair treatment.

The harder thing is that I think we have to start reaching out to other groups.  I think we have to open our hands to groups we are not a part of and say this: we are all, every one of us who is working for social justice, seeking basic human rights that every person should have.  I trust you to say what you see as basic human rights you do not have now, and I will support you in trying to get them.  If we do not treat what others are seeking as basic human rights, they may not grant us the same treatment.  If we do not think of these changes as attempts for complete and true equality, then we may never succeed at getting them.  If we cannot invision our own rights, and the rights of others, that way, then the majority will win when they say ‘you’re asking for special treatment.’

And to me at least, the most basic tenent of social justice work is that we are not seeking special treatment – we are seeking inclusion, an equality of privileges, and being treated just like everyone else.

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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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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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A piece of fantastic language out of the dissent in a Supreme Court case. Dothard v Rawlinson, 433 U.S 321 (1977)

“Once again, the pedestal upon which women have been placed has, upon closer inspection, been revealed a cage.” (internal quotes not indicated)

An entirely too true statement; so often, women are trapped by the supposed pedestal that they are placed on. I’ll admit, it makes me smile that these words come from Justice Marshall, a man who was amazingly consistent in his championing of the cause of equality.

I think this can be true of the way PWDs are treated as well; especially on topics like token assistance. I believe I’ve mentioned token assistance before – it is the type of assistance where a person who is AB does a small act, one the PWD can usually manage for themselves, and it is usually motivated by this need to feel good about doing a favor for a person they believe obviously requires the assistance.

You hold the door open for me because you do not think I can manage it on my own, or that I ought not have to struggle with it. Yet, please, consider – if you do not allow me to practice my adaptations, like using my service dog to pull doors open, how much more I will struggle when there is no hovering over-helpful person to ease my path? And if you do not consider me capable of doing simple things like opening doors, how much more do you decide I am incapable of because you have noticed I have a disability? It is a delicate balance between making necessary accomodations and assuming that a PWD is incapable of doing things for themselves. The balance, I find, is often best served by asking if a person requires assistance and being willing to render what they ask for, even if it is not what you expect – sometimes the best assistance is letting me do things for myself.

(For those of you interested: the case was involving a refusal, in Alabama, to hire women for ‘contact positions’ inside of prisons – that is, any position in which the person would have contact with prisoners. The claim was that there were sex offenders in there who would offend again if given access to female guards, and the lack of a ‘normal heterosexual atmosphere’ would drive other prisoners to assault female guards as well. The violent conditions, crowding, and understaffing, admittedly in violation of the Constitutional safeties that were supposed to protect prisoners, were deemed such that they would put female guards at constant risk. I find it a source of embarassment that this decision was handed down the US Supreme Court. As Justice Marshall so aptly said, the analysis sounds distressingly like saying two wrongs make a right. He was a very wise justice, Marshall was.)

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