Womanist Musings: GOP Legislator Suggests Sending The Disabled to Siberia

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Womanist Musings: GOP Legislator Suggests Sending The Disabled to Siberia.


Great article on Martin Harty’s statements about sending disabled people to Siberia.


Dismissing Disability

February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

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As a sister to a person with disabilities, the framework of disability has always played a major role in my life. I’ve had a lifelong sensitivity to the complicated nature of the issue and an awareness of the oppression faced by many disabled people. However, it wasn’t until incredibly recently that I began to think about disability as a feminist issue. I think I assumed disability was a category in its own realm, completely extricable from my own non-disabled self. I understood the fact that I interacted with other categories of stratification–race, gender, class etc–but never thought of “ability” as a category of analysis. Disability was or it wasn’t, and while I was (and will always be) dedicated to the rights of disabled people, it was because of my status as a sibling and NOT because of my identification as a feminist.

I had one of my most major feminist “a-ha!” moments when I realized how deeply incorrect I was to consider disability to be so black and white. The boundaries between abled and disabled are much more porous than most people assume. The meanings of disability and lines between disabled and non-disabled are constantly changing, reforming, and crossing over multiple categories of analysis. Despite the flexibility of the definition of disabled and its associated meanings, the consequences of falling on one side of the boundary lines are significant and life-altering. The label of “disabled” controls a person’s access to resources, and oftentimes denies agency–and makes it acceptable for others to do so.

In many ways, the acceptability of denying disabled people subjectivity is evident in the way I went about researching this blog post. While I knew I wanted to do an entry on disability feminism, my first instinct was to find background on disability theory and on the history of the field. For my other posts, I actively tried to focus on getting posts from the groups of feminists themselves, as they were obviously the authority on their lives. It took me until I started writing to figure out that I hadn’t even thought about finding writing from disabled feminists themselves. Feminists writing about disability, maybe, or disability researchers who examined the gendered nature of ability. Why has it become okay to ignore the voices of the people themselves?

That disability “a-ha” moment culminated in talking to my mother about raising a disabled child. I felt astounded when I realized that disability was a social construction and started using the phrase (dis)ability. I felt proud of my cynicism of the meaning of disability. As I began to read from the disabled feminists themselves for this post, it’s clear that while they talk about the importance of understanding the structures of disability and breaking down stigma, that it’s not enough to use cutesy word plays to challenge disability. While it may be a social construction, disability is a real and powerful structure that affects all aspects of a person’s life. Wheelchair Dancer puts it beautifully in Differently Abled — Disability Language On My Mind:

Outside our pride, culture, arts and rights movements, disability is less an immovable condition than a legally defined state and moving target.  There are no absolutes: you can be disabled enough to qualify for a parking tag, accommodations in the workplace, but not, say, certain types of state assistance.  What counts as disabled seems to be defined by the agency or organization from which you are seeking services.

Disabled people are rarely allowed to take an active role in creating their identity and are marginalized when they become a part of a movement other than for disability rights. Despite the fact that people with disabilities are clearly discussing their experiences, creating communities and vocalizing injustice, no one–including feminists–have allowed the realities of the disabled room to be valued. While the flexibility in the meaning of the phrase “disability” is complicated and controversial, it can’t be ignored. It’s demanded of true intersectional feminists, as s.e. smith explains in Disability is a Feminist Issue:

But every single feminist in the entire world does have an obligation to make sure that deliberate harm is not inflicted by ignoring intersectionality. That means that if the focus of your feminism is, say, sex positivity, you need to think about sex positivity beyond pretty white straight cis people without disabilities. Because, if you don’t, there’s a chance that you, yes, you, are hurting people with your feminism. And not just people in general, but other women!

We, or I, can no longer allow for it to be acceptable to assume disabled means worthy of disregard. As feminisms have grown and been strengthened by listening to alternative realities and acknowledging experiences outside of our own, so must we figure out the ways in which disability feminists can strengthen all feminists and inspire feminisms across all borders.

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