Archive for the ‘ kyriarchy ’ Category

At The Intersection: Down’s Syndrome & Abortion

Picture of a girl with Down’s Syndrome

There has been a lot said over the past 48 hours about Downs Syndrome, prenatal screening and abortion thanks in large part to some tweets sent out by Richard Dawkins:

Whilst many of us naturally baulk at such words we must remember that in the UK prenatal screening for Down’s Syndrome is common place. With an overwhelming majority of the people who are told they are pregnant with a foetus with Down’s Syndrome choosing to terminate and many will then go on to try again. This is something that is worthy of discussion. It doesn’t take much research to realise that many people with Down’s Syndrome live perfectly healthy & happy lives. So why do so many make the choice to terminate? Continue reading

Can We Stop Pitting Visible Against Invisible Disabilities?

Seriously.

Today I read another post about how people with visible disabilities have it so much easier than over those with invisible disabilities. I have, in my time, also read posts about how people with invisible disabilities are have an easier time than those with visible disabilities.

Who is this helping? No one.

It’s one thing to raise awareness of the different challenges that arise from the wide array of impairments disabled people have. It’s another to wallow in “who, in this group of people who are all oppressed by a disablist society, has it worst” .

Passing as non-disabled (having an invisible disability) means you probably don’t get the constant stares in the street stemming from your impairment, the “what’s wrong with you?” questions from people you’ve never met when you are just trying to eat a sandwich in a park, the constant pressure to become a paralympian, random people telling you that you are cursed/are being punished for past life transgressions whilst you are window shopping (and that they can fix it if you give the £250), you probably have never been in a situation where two small steps have meant you can’t physically enter a building or experienced the bus-buggy-war first hand and you probably haven’t had people assume you can’t communicate for yourself on a regular basis. But it also means you have to deal with other problems arising from a lack of visibility. Such as constantly running up against people who don’t/won’t believe your impairment is disabling (because if it was you’d have a wheelchair), being told off for using accessible toilets or parking spaces, having your own bus-war when it comes to using the priority seats and a whole lot more that comes from living in a world where people think disabled people look like “x” and anyone else is either non-disabled or non-disabled and lazy/on the scrounge/attention seeking. Continue reading

Disabled Women & Domestic Abuse Posters

I stumbled upon two extremely poignant posters created by Women’s Aid to highlight some of the issues surrounding domestic abuse and disabled people. You can click the links to download .pdf versions.
They are fantastic resources and free to anyone wishing to use them. You can find the originals here.

Disability & DV Poster 1

disDV1

Disability & DV Poster 2

disDV2

#FemSchool13 – A Quick Summary Of My Weekend

I spent this weekend at the annual UK Feminista Summer School. It’s a weekend where feminists/women’s rights activists come together to learn from each other, organise and get inspired. All in all I had a wonderful time. Contrary to the picture the media presented the weekend was not all about ending Page 3 and Lads Mags to the exclusion of all else. Rather it was a eclectic mix of intersectional workshops and talks covering subjects such as class, race, disability, sexuality, arts, campaigning, lobbying, the criminal justice system, economics and much more.

The main hall starting to fill up for the welcoming meeting.

I arrived on the Saturday morning to take part in the welcoming panel with Lara Bates from the Everyday Sexism project and Constance Nzeneu, Migrant & Refugee Woman of the Year winner. The panel was great fun, it was a bit odd to be sitting in front of all those people talking about my activism and why I campaign for change, but if it helped one other person realise that they could make a small difference I think it was worth it.

Myself & Laura Bates getting ready to sit on the panel.

My personal goal for the weekend was to try to get as many people as possible thinking about disability as both a part of feminism and a important civil rights movement on it’s own. I really do believe that the struggle for civil rights needs to be intersectional. We are all stronger if we work together while, of course, still respecting the need for our own spaces. After the welcoming panel I went to a Mental Health & Intersectionality workshop where we were urged to look at how various types of oppression can exacerbate and cause mental health problems.

I followed that up by going to a workshop I was personally interested in – Women in Prison – which looked at how the current system is not set up to deal effectively with women in the prison system or after release. We learned that the vast majority of female prisoners have mental health problems, many of them personality disorders, which stem from frequently traumatic/turbulent childhoods. We learned a bit about how the system can breed dependency as well as how there is little scope for meaningful rehabilitation without structured support outside of prisons. It was a fascinating session, one I’m really glad I went to.

Instead of going to a third workshop I offered to run a open space session* on disability and language entitled “That’s so lame!”. I chose that name because I wanted to take a word that is used everyday by people in all walks of life that has disableist connections and use it to challenge the audience. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered that many people who use the word lame to mean rubbish often don’t realise that the word refers to someone who is physically disabled and has a impairment that effects the ability to walk or effects the use of a limb. So we discussed the institutional disableism that creates a language where words describing impairments become interchangeable with words like rubbish, pathetic, useless, defective, dull & stupid in the collective consciousness. We also talked about differences between US & UK ways of talking about disablism and more to boot. It was really enjoyable. I finished off the day by going to the disabled women’s safe space meeting.

On Sunday I was running (with the help of my friend, Jackie) a workshop on Disability, Feminism and Activism. Given how awesome the other workshops happening at the same time sounded I was really happy that we still got a decent sized group. We covered a lot in the hour we had; the basics of disability, the pro’s of intersectionality and a run down of the last 40 years worth of campaigning for disabled peoples rights. We did some group activities as well thinking about feminist areas of interest that strongly intersect with those of disabled people (like reproductive rights, abuse, education, body image, austerity etc..) and thinking about campaigns both movements could join together to in. The attendees were fantastic and I had a super morning chatting with them.

I had to leave after that point because I was a) almost out of spoons and b) had a family engagement that afternoon. It was a wonderful event and one that I’d recommend to anyone interested in meeting other feminists and/or learning some new skills and theory. I’m really sad that I didn’t get the chance to go to any of the workshops exploring other intersections like sexuality or race but hopefully I’ll get the chance next year.

*At open space sessions anyone can suggest a topic/plan they’d like to talk about and meet others who are interested in doing the same. 

An Intersectional Look At The Social Model

Today I want to look at the social model of disability and primarily how closely it intersects (overlaps) with feminist theory.

“In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.” UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation) statement from 1975

The Social Model in a nut shell

The social model of disability states that people with impairments are disabled not by their impairments (as the medical model states) but that they are disabled by the directly & indirectly inaccessible world we live in. The key to understanding the social model is understanding how impairments are different from disability. Within the social model any medical condition is called an impairment – a chronic health condition, a amputation, a denigrative disease, a mental health disorder, being non-neurological, a genetic condition or anything else that causes a body &/or mind to deviate from the “norm”. A impairment can have a variety of effects on a person which take varying amounts of energy to cope with. Some may barely notice an impairment others may feel it’s presence constantly and often overwhelmingly.

As mentioned in the quote above, disability is something imposed on top of those impairments. It’s being given a wheelchair to use but not being able to get it into shops because of poor accessibility. It’s being looked over for a job because of societal stigma about mental health. It’s being expected to live below the poverty line and lie for 12 hours daily in your urine because society thinks you don’t deserve more.

How does that all intersect with feminism?

One of the ideas in the social model is that because people with impairments do not fit our societies idea of normality they are treated less favourably, oppressed and forced out by society. This is done by stigmatising people with impairments, institutionalising them, sterilising them, refusing to educate them, abusing them, euthanising them and perniciously by ignoring them.

A quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thompson will hopefully tie this up;

“Female, disabled and dark bodies are supposed to be dependant, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies. Femininity and race are performances of disability. Women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependant, weak, vulnerable and incapable bodies.”

Feminism has long argued that the world we live in is a Patriarchy where overwhelmingly the voices of people in power are male because societal norms, values and cultures are set up to favour them. Being “male” becomes the norm which “female” bodies deviate from. In this way the oppression women face (as well as that faced by black & minority ethnic/ people of colour and LGBTIQ people is) comes from a similar place. Whilst the effects obviously vary, we are oppressed by not meeting the hidden arbitrary societal norm.

There are lots of ways that both feminist and disability issues intersect and that arguments from both sides can be strengthened if they are looked at together. I’ll give a example now by looking at one way that medicalisation of “difference to the normal” has been used to as a tool of oppression.

We can see  the normal actions and behaviours of female bodies have been pathologised throughout history because they deviate from the masculine norm. They have been thought of as hysterical, over/under indulgent, intellectually impaired and a host of other things. Today feminist theory would argue that the unnecessary medicalisation of the normal effects of hormones for example has been used as a social (and physical) tool to oppress women. We see the same when we look at how people with bodily differences are labelled as defective, deficient, freaks, subnormal, pitiable, eternally child-like, incapable and so on. Disability rights activists argue that impairments are normal and natural things which shouldn’t be automatically associated with any of the words listed previously. The same way that feminists would rightly argue that calling a woman who is publicly experiencing emotions as defective (hysterical) is problematic the same can be said about those who label those who were born with one foot as defective (cripples).

By looking at these issues together, and going further to include racial, trans* and sexuality critiques we start moving towards the the root of the issue; the oppression of those who deviate from a hidden ideal of normality (commonly thought to be a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled man). 

What Is "Intersectional" Anyway?

I imagine that if you are reading this you identify either as a feminist, a disabled person* or as an ally of feminists and/or disabled people and you might have heard the term “intersectional” or “intersectionality” used when talking about peoples rights. It might sound a bit academic, but the principle is fairly simple and extremely important so I’m going to attempt to explain it in this post.

In a nutshell: 
People are oppressed for a variety of different reasons such as disability, gender, culture, sexuality & race. There is a lot of overlap between these oppressions; we call the areas of overlap intersections. Someone who campaigns for disabled peoples’ rights in an intersectional way is aware that there are lots of disabled people who are not heterosexual, cisgendered, white men and that they will probably be living with more than one kind of oppression. Many people, myself included, believe that it is very important to remember intersecting oppressions to make sure that our campaigning is as inclusive of everybody’s needs as possible.

createlyPlayerStart( { container: “creately-container-hdk75qfy2-7M92QxCBiyluHrJ2Xdxwp2eJqA=”, docid :”hdk75qfy2-7M92QxCBiyluHrJ2Xdxwp2eJqA=”, title :”Intersections in civil rights”, width :297,height :330,bgcolor :”#e1e1e1″ } );
A very simple venn diagram showing some intersecting circles of oppression including gender, disability, sexuality, nationality & race.
In a bit more detail:

If you are a disabled person or an ally to disabled people I assume you will be no stranger to the idea that our society is, at it’s core, disablist. The majority of people in positions of power are non-disabled and this is in a large part because disabled people are still routinely silenced, dismissed, ignored or refused access to the necessary tools to be able to communicate meaningfully. They are frequently excluded from politics, from decision making and from society as a whole because of damaging and deep seated idea’s about what disability is or means. It results in a large gap in pay, employment prospects, education, access to health care and access to independent living between disabled and non-disabled people. The power gap between disabled and non-disabled people is frequently abused and results in disability related hate-crime, abuse & harassment whilst the successful prosecution of such crimes remains woefully low.

If you are a feminist or an ally to feminists then I assume you will be no stranger to the concept that our society is still very sexist. The majority of people in positions of power are male and they decide what media we consume, what policies we follow and how our laws are applied. Sexist stereotypes brand men as strong, powerful, aggressive, logical and confident and women as weak, passive, caring, guided by emotion and small and they have damaging effects on men & women alike who do not fit those very constraining moulds. There is a large gap in pay, caring expectations, attainment and employment & educational choices between women and men. The power gap between men and women is frequently abused and results in statistics like 1 in 4 women being domestically abused in their lifetime, 1 in 5 women being sexually assaulted or stalked whilst the chances of getting these crimes taken to court is still low.

I would hope that it doesn’t come as a shock when I now say that as well as people being discriminated against because of their gender/gender identity (or perceived gender) or because they are disabled (or perceived to be disabled) are also discriminated against in remarkably similar ways because of their race (or perceived race), age (or perceived age), sexuality (or perceived sexuality) and beliefs (or perceived beliefs).

We can also see that where there is an overlap of identities (or an intersection of identities) people face extra discrimination. I will take the example of disabled women quickly to illustrate this point. Disabled men get paid on average 11% less than similarly qualified non-disabled men doing the same job. Disabled women get paid 22% less than disabled men when doing the same job**. They effectively take one pay cut because of disability, then another because of gender. Disabled women are more than twice as likely to experience domestic/intimate abuse than non-disabled women.

When human/civil rights campaigners talk about taking an intersectional approach they are talking about remembering that there are other forms of oppression active and that these need to be taken into account. It is important to remember that when talking about women’s rights that many of those women will also be one or more of the following; disabled, working-class, black or minority ethnic (BME), lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) and/or hold cultural & religious beliefs that differ to the ‘norm’. When women’s rights campaigning ignores those areas it is complicit in further marginalising these women on the basis of their other characteristics.

Intersectionality is not about who wins the “most oppressed” award, nor is it about derailing or silencing conversations. The joy of intersectionality is that it raises questions for everyone and widens the scope of conversation, debate and dialogue. It is a tool which can be used to improve campaigns, make for a far more inclusive environment and to remind people not to assume that everyone has an equal and shared background. I don’t know about you but I personally don’t want to see advances in feminism that set LGBTIQ people back in their fight for equality and nor do I want to see advances in disability rights that ignore the reality of sexism that the people it represents experience.

I’m going to stop there. Hopefully that has given a basic introduction to the concept and hopefully it will have made some sense.

* In this post when I talk about disability I am talking about people who have an impairment and are disabled by a society that oppresses them as a result. My definition of disability includes long term sickness/illness and conditions like HIV.
** See Longhi,S. and Platt, L. 2008, Pay and equalities areas. Research report 9. Equality and Human Rights Commission. Also covers pay gaps with regards to other protected characteristics.

Language Check – Assisted Dying Campaigners

I have this conversation a lot so I want to get it written down for ease of referencing back to later. If you are not the kind of person who appreciates someone suggesting that you may have been unintentionally offensive to sick/disabled people and explaining why then I wouldn’t bother to read the rest; enjoy the rest of your day! If on the other hand you want to read on so that you can look for ways of improving your argument and/or being more intersectional, then you are welcome to read my thoughts on the issue.

Assisted dying is a issue many people feel pretty strongly about and is a topic that regularly raises it’s head in our society. It’s also one that has many overlaps with the world of sickness & disability; I don’t think I need to explain why. Unfortunately a lot of the language used to talk about assisted dying is dripping with non-sick/disabled privilege and thinly veiled disablism (ableism for many of my non-British readers). Now, I am sure that the vast majority of assisted dying campaigners are not being intentionally disablist. I’m sure many probably feel quite shocked to hear that suggestion, given how hard they fight for the rights of terminally ill people. Still, all because one doesn’t intend to appear unsympathetic to a group doesn’t mean they are incapable of being hurtful or offensive by mistake.

There is a myth that living with many of the trappings of disability is automatically miserable. Pain, discomfort, differently functioning body parts, loss of control of body parts and/or the need for assistance are spoken about as a fate worse than death. Something that needs to either be overcome or hidden away. Very rarely do we hear people in the media talking about just living with it; how even though some things are different in many ways they are also very similar.

There is a real risk that the language used by assisted dying campaigners can fall into the trap of re-enforcing this unhelpful stereotype. When campaigners talk about “…the indignity of needing care…” or “…the misery of living in pain…” they perpetuate the idea that living with pain or needing assistance is somehow always unbearable. The message I hear, and that many others who live with impairments that cause pain, confusion, sensory loss and/or require extra assistance hear, is an intensely negative one: that, to be blunt, death is better than having to ask your partner to dress you or having to take a cocktail of drugs.

Of course one can’t ignore that for very many people (especially the currently non-disabled/ able-bodied) the thought of living in pain or needing care does seem like a fate worse than death. I can’t be alone in having people comment (intending to be somehow supportive) on how they would have killed themselves, or wouldn’t be able to live, if they had my condition. This is something I could do without hearing to be honest. When I am having a bad day I don’t need those messages about how no one would blame me if I killed myself haunting me. I try to explain, often to disbelieving folk, that the reality of the situation is often extremely different. Our bodies are amazing things and we all learn to cope and adapt to our new circumstances. What seemed so scary before suddenly becomes everyday. What makes this process hard is continual messages from society that our illness, disability or impairment is either something that we should be able to completely overcome so that we can live “like normal people” or is so bad that we should give up. It is harder to live with a new (or old) condition when we are told that care is something that causes loved ones physical and mental distress, is something we are undeserving of, or is something we have learnt to fear because of it’s chequered history of abuses.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that impairments and disabilities are things that we can often live with and in themselves shouldn’t be treated as terrifying things. The things that we need to look at are the reasons people are scared of needing care, scared of having to depend on others, scared of not being able to work, scared of needing equipment and automatically scared of ill health & disability.

Now, I’m not against assisted dying as a concept. I feel that people who wish to choose their time of death and are not currently being coerced by societal pressures, mental health problems or others should be able to do so. I am not trying to suggest that all conditions are things people should be forced to live with, I can only speak of my experience of sickness & disability and that of talking about these matters with other sick & disabled people. I am also not trying to be a mouthpiece for all sick & disabled people, I am sure there are many out there that don’t agree with my take on things. All I am trying to do is suggest that their might be a better way of doing things that does not contribute to harmful stereotypes about disability. I want to challenge people who simply haven’t thought about, or don’t think about, the impact which broad sweeping statements about ill health, degenerative conditions and dependency can have on those that hear it; specifically the effect it has on those who live with such conditions daily.

So, I respectfully ask that those engaged in the debate, particularly those pro-assisted dying, think before they speak and consider the impact of their words on the chronically sick & disabled people who are listening.

%d bloggers like this: