Posts Tagged ‘women’

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.


Read Full Post »

Obviously this title could apply to a lot of things, but I’ve been stewing over a particular set of things it’s easier not to do/be.

It’s easier not to be political.  See, once you start digging into ideas of feminism and anti-ableism and the like, you start seeing sexism and ableism and racism and sizeism and heterosexism and…fill-in-the-blankism everywhere.  Ism ism ism ism ism!  And when you see them, they sting more.  They make you angry more.  They frustrate you more.  They make you wonder about other people more.  They make you wonder if you can actually make a difference.

To give you a very basic idea, you see them in TV.  My boyfriend and I have recently started watching the show Jeremiah though our netflix subscription.  Jeremiah is a post-apocalyptic show, set 15 years after a virus that killed everyone in the world above the age of puberty.  We’ve watched a grand total of 2 episodes at this point.  So far, I’ve been seeing race fail and sex fail.  The race fail: 1) the hero is white, the sidekick (who is also the more comic of the two) is black; 2) when they appear to pair off in the first episode, the white hero pairs off with a white woman while the black sidekick pairs off with a woman who appears to be multiracial; 3) the white hero is noble and self-sacrificing and has some higher goals; the black side-kick is clever but rather cowardly and selfish; 4)  black characters are supposed to appear ‘ghetto’ but not white characters; 5) people of color have to be saved from white supremacist group by white hero (who is helped by black sidekick and other white dude, but the ideas on how to rescue them belong to white hero); 6) kidnapped woman has to be saved by white hero.  The gender fail: 1) both hero and sidekick are male; 2) women-as-commodity; 3) women walking around half naked while men are fully clothed; 4) female sex-workers, but no male sex-workers; 5) (as mentioned in race fail) the woman who gets kidnapped and is going to be gang-raped by her kidnappers gets saved by hero; 6) the only surviving carrier of the virus from 15 years ago is female – she is trapped in an airtight room, a lab, and kept alive in the hopes that someone will learn to make vaccines from her blood and save the rest of the world if the virus comes again – so we have in this instance alone: woman must be taken care of (by a male character, of course), woman as passive vessel for the virus, woman as potential cure for the world, woman who lives only because she might save others.

I’m not even touching the ideas of ableism there, because we don’t meet people with disabilities in the world of Jeremiah thus far.  Which is, of course, its own ableism – either the idea that people with disabilities couldn’t adapt to living in the post-apocalyptic world of Jeremiah OR the erasure of people with disabilities even though they make up circa 20% of the population.

It’s harder to just relax and enjoy things when you keep getting bitten by all these little fails and problems.  When you keep noticing that advertising, shows, the conversation of people around you, is loaded with -isms.  It’s hard to not have reservations about things, because there are so many little twingy things that keep poking out at you.

Life was a lot simpler when I wasn’t quite so political, when I wasn’t quite so aware.  I don’t want to shut off that awareness, because I know it’s important for me to see these things and call them out.  I just occasionally wish for the days when I didn’t see all of this.  It gets downright depressing when you realize that nothing, NOTHING is without -isms and fail.

…even you.  That may be the hardest part.  When you notice patterns in your own thinking, in your own speech, that are full of -isms.  That you have to continually be aware and be willing to change if you are trying to fully commit to the idea of a world without discrimination.  It’s hard.  It’s REALLY hard.  When you notice that the language that you’ve used since you were a child is problematic, you can’t just say ‘okay, so I’ll stop’.  It keeps creeping in.  And so you call the driver lame, or a spaz, or stupid.  And perhaps the worst part is, sometimes you don’t even catch that you’ve said it.

Read Full Post »

In 1851, Sojourner Truth, a black abolitionist and former slave, delivered a speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. In her speech, she talked about the way women of color were not treated the way everyone seemed to be claiming women should be treated, and about the right to equality between women and men. (for anyone interested, you can read her short speech here – http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.html)

That is true, too, of women with disabilities. Without any further ado, my version of ‘Ain’t I a woman?’

They say that women should have the right to reproductive choice. But the same people tell me not to have children, and call me reckless, hateful, stupid, foolish, and mean because I might pass along my disgustingly flawed genetics, and even if I don’t, I’ll force a child to live with my so-terrible disability. They say I should not have the choice to reproduce. But ain’t I a woman?

They say that women are the equal of men in the workplace, and they have passed legislation that guarantees them equal pay for equal work. But they discriminate against me in hiring, and they cannot pass laws that guarantee me equal pay. My people work for a fraction of minimum wage through disability centers. Ain’t I a woman?

They say a woman has the right to the sanctity of her body. But when my people are sent to residential centers and they have severe disabilities, their caretakers are sometimes encouraged to have them rendered infertile so that when they are raped, at least they will not become pregnant. Aren’t we women?

They say a woman has the right to an education, the same right as a man, but when I sit there in my classes, they sneer at me and fight to avoid making it possible for me to take them. Ain’t I a woman?

They say a woman can choose who she has relationships with, and whether she has them at all. But the media and society say that no one would choose to love a grotesque figure like me. Ain’t I a woman?

They claim that we who are disabled have equality – laws that guard our employment, that call for accessibility, that regulate the way businesses and the government can treat us. And yet, the majority of my people live under the poverty line. We live in the streets. We can get neither work nor government assistance. We have no value, we are told, because we do not put out work. We should rely on the benevolent paternalism of charity instead of having the hard earned dollars of working people syphoned into programs that keep us in poverty but give us enough to keep from dying.

You may say that I am a burden. You may tell me that no one values me. You may patiently explain that I have no friends, no beloved, because I am not worthy of them. You may tell me that you will not hire me because my disability makes me less capable than the next person. You may tell me that I deserve to be in poverty and to not have money to do things that make me happy.

But there is where you are wrong. Why begrudge me my value as a human being? Why deny me the same achievements, the same desires, the same needs as you have? Why slash my value because of a disability that does not affect my ability to dream, to love, to be a human being?

We are one in five of the people around you. We slowly gain political clout, employment, and recognition. All we want is to be treated as human beings with the same value as you have, and one day we will achieve it. Better you stand with us, or out of the way if you cannot bear that, than that you stand against us. We will remember.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »