Category Archives: disabled feminism

Destroy the Joint, sure, but feminism must include disability politics

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This is reposted from The Conversation which uses a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence and with kind permission from Kate Ellis. We think this fits in very well with what was voiced at the panel on disabled women at Feminism in London.

The sometimes uneasy relationship between feminist groups and disability activists was highlighted last weekend, when online Australian feminist group Destroy the Joint (DTJ) blocked and banned a number of high-profile Australian disability activists, claiming the women were in breach of their rules.

DTJ had called for submissions to the hashtag #beingawoman on its Facebook page, sparked by a Buzzfeed article featuring both lighthearted and serious tweets reflecting on modern womanhood.

Several disability activists began posting their experiences, only to be deleted for being “repetitive, circular and off topic”.

The comments that were deleted included the following:

My doctor told me to get a hysterectomy or change my tampon in my office because there was no accessible toilet nearby at my workplace #beingawoman

when people deny my sexuality because they think disabled people having sex is disgusting #beingawoman

DTJ banned the commenters from its Facebook page, for “spamming this post and page with a large number of obvious half truths and distortions”.

After a number of members and disability activists encouraged the group to reconsider its stance on intersectional feminism, DTJ issued an apology yesterday afternoon:

Dear Destroyers,

Let us begin with a belated and unreserved apology about the way we have handled the comment moderation in this instance [the #beingawoman incident]. We acknowledge we can always be more inclusive.

We are constantly discussing ways we can achieve this and no woman living with disability should be excluded from this page. Anyone who has been banned as a result of this will be unbanned. Please email jointdestroyer@gmail.com so we can be thorough about this.

It has always been our mission to include everyone and Counting Dead Women includes all women who have been killed as a result of gendered violence.

While it was a disappointing weekend for those of us who identify as both disabled and feminist, the gaffe has prompted a reflection on the ways disability politics are essential to feminist politics.

Intersectional feminism

Disability is a feminist issue and the silencing of disabled voices and experiences does not further the feminist cause. While the women posting on DTJ may have experienced gendered oppression, such as domestic violence, they are simultaneously affected by ableism.

American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw described the ways minority groups experience multiple and overlapping oppression as intersectionality in 1989.

Women with Disabilities Australia recognises that, for women with disabilities, the effects of gendered oppression are compounded. As Sue Salthouse and Carolyn Frohmader explained in a 2004 presentation for the group:

Low levels of education relegate women with disabilities to lower echelons of society, limit their access to information and their ability to interpret it, limit their life choices and limit their ability to achieve financial and living independence.

Women with disabilities are also more likely to suffer domestic violence and sexual assault.

Feminist blogger and activist Clementine Ford told me via Facebook that this is the reason why disability politics must be included in feminism:

It is vital for feminism to focus on the impact of sexual violence, but how can we do that properly if we don’t acknowledge that 90% of women with an intellectual disability have experienced sexual assault?

Reproductive rights are core to feminism, yet they cannot be discussed without also hearing from the women whose impairments have led to doctors and carers deciding – without their permission – they must be sterilised in order to prevent the physical aftermath of sexual violence becoming a “problem”.

Just today, I read an article about two parents with cerebral palsy who have been “allowed” to keep their child. The dehumanisation of women with disabilities is appalling, but even worse is the way these issues are marginalised even within feminism.

Disability politics marginalised within feminism

In Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory (2002), Rosemarie Garland Thomson explains how both women and people with disabilities are considered “deviant and inferior” within cultural discourse and subsequently excluded from participation in public and economic life.

Other disability theorists suggest the reason women with disabilities have been excluded from mainstream feminist circles is because they are a reminder of vulnerability and lack of control, identities feminists have traditionally sought to reject.

Whereas disability was once thought of as an individual’s medical problem to overcome, following the work of disability activists such as the late Stella Young we are increasingly coming to recognise disability as a problem related to inaccessibility and negative attitudes. Disability, like gender, is a social construct.

We are all women

Back in 1988, disability theorist Susan Wendell called for a “feminist theory of disability” as a way to move forward in both disability politics and feminist theory. Wendell argued the oppression of disabled people is closely linked to the cultural oppression of the body. She believed a feminist theory of disability would “[liberate] both disabled and able-bodied people”.

Disability activist Samantha Connor, who was the first to be banned on DTJ for contravening its commenting guidelines, continues to see the importance of mainstream feminism in breaking down power imbalances for people with disabilities. As Connor explained to me:

We are all women, and the issues we face are issues faced by mainstream feminism, not by individuals or minority collectives.

The incident illustrates an important truth: being aware of intersectional oppression in 2015 should not be an optional “extra”, but fundamental to any social justice movement.

Correction: a previous version of this article contained a paragraph stating that criticism had also been also been levelled at DTJ over allegedly failing to include women with disabilities in their regular count of women who have died as a result of domestic violence or abuse. While that criticism exists, it is not substantiated.

Kate Ellis

Kate Ellis

Dr Katie Ellis is a Senior Research Fellow in the Internet Studies Department at Curtin University. She holds an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award studying disability and digital television. She has worked with people with disabilities in the community, government, and in academia and has published widely in the area of disability, television, and digital and networked media, extending across both issues of representation and active possibilities for social inclusion. Her most recent book with Gerard Goggin is ‘Disability and the Media’

Disabled women at Feminism in London 2015

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We were asked to organise a disabled women’s panel at this year’s Feminism in London Conference in October.

A big thank you to Lisa-Marie Taylor, FIL’s organiser, for inviting us!

We did some publicity by having a stall and we ‘re grateful to Annabel, Zara, Jacqueline and Sophie for helping us with the stall!

(Click on photos to get a bigger photo)

Real Media came to do do a short video feature on it – many thanks!

transcript FIL SOF panel (Word doc)

Frances Ryan also wrote a piece for the Guardian on the event A Disabled Woman’s struggle is any woman’s struggle

Obi was kind enough to video the whole event – if you wish to follow it in its entirety

http://bambuser.com/v/5877942

great additions from Nidhi Goyal and Asha Hans Part 1

http://bambuser.com/v/5878073

with Q&A from audience

Individual videos

Asha Hans video

TRANSCRIPT Asha Hans (Word doc)

Nidhi Goyal’s video

TRANSCRIPT Nidhi Goyal (Word doc)

Frances Ryan’s video

TRANSCRIPT Frances Ryan (Word doc)

Becky Olaniyi s video

TRANSCRIPT Becky Olaniyi  (Word doc)

Rebecca Bunce’s video

TRANSCRIPT Rebecca Bunce (Word doc)

Kirsten Hearn’s video

TRANSCRIPT Kirsten Hearn (Word doc)

Thank you all for having taken part in the event!

Disability is not our only identity: An interview with Becky Olaniyi

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Becky Olaniyi

Becky Olaniyi

In anticipation of this year’s Feminism In London conference (October 24-25), Alicen Grey talks with Becky Olaniyi about disability, feminism, and the challenges and lessons of being an activist at the intersection of identities.

See the rest of the interview at the Feminist Curent.

Becky is the youngest member of our steering group but she’s a brilliant speaker. Its not too late to get tickets for the workshop. And if you have difficulties paying, just let them know.

Cynthia Kim: At the Intersection of Gender and Autism – Part I

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thank you to Cynthia Kim for allowing us to repost this (posted originally on 19 Nov 2014) –

At five, I wanted to be a boy. I don’t know what I thought being a boy meant. Maybe I thought it meant playing outside in the summer, shirtless and barefoot. Maybe I thought it meant not wearing dresses.

Dresses were all scratchy lace trim and tight elastic sleeves. Stiff patent leather shoes pinched my sensitive feet. Perfume tickled my nose. Tights made my legs itch and had maddening seams at the toes.

Too young to understand sensory sensitivities, I followed my instincts. While other girls favored frilly clothes, I gravitated toward the soft comfort of cotton shirts and worn corduroys.

Somehow, comfort got mixed up with gender in my head. For decades, “dressing like a girl” meant being uncomfortable. And so began a lifelong tension between being female and being autistic.

*

For a lengthy stretch of adulthood, I had an entire section of my closet that could best be described as aspirational. Pants suits. Dressy blouses. Pumps and sandals. Skirts, bought and worn once for a special occasion. Dresses, bought and worn never, before being spirited off to the thrift store.

I preferred ripped jeans and running shoes, hoodies and baggy t-shirts. Comfortable and comforting, just as they had been in childhood.

It wasn’t until after being diagnosed with Asperger’s last year that I learned about sensory sensitivities. Suddenly my aversion to dressy clothes, perfume and makeup made sense. A huge weight lifted. I’d spent decades wondering about my lack of femininity. Where other women seemed to revel in dressing up, I saw only itchy skin and painfully tight seams. Instead of making me feel glamorous, lipstick and eyeliner left me counting the minutes until I could wash my face.

Lacking the explanation that sensory sensitivities eventually provided, I spent decades feeling like I wasn’t a “real” woman.

Today I have four dresses hanging in my closet. Made of soft cottons and knits, they’re as comfortable as my worn hoodies and jeans. They’re not aspirational like my dresses of the past. I wear them when my husband takes me out on date nights. No makeup. No nylons. No tight pinching shoes. I’ve found a style that suits me, that makes me feel both beautiful and comfortable.

I’ve learned how to shop in a way that accommodates my sensory needs and I’ve learned that there is more than one way to be feminine.

*

There are many things I’ve had to learn or relearn over the past year. Mostly I’ve had to learn how to be autistic. That sounds like an odd thing to say. After all, I’ve been autistic all my life. But being autistic and knowing that I’m autistic are two vastly different things.

Knowing that I’m autistic has helped me to reconcile so many confusing aspects of my life. It’s as if I’m slowly reassembling the pieces of myself.

There are few role models for autistic women. There is no Rain Woman, no popular stereotype that comes to mind when you hear the phrase autistic woman. Perhaps that’s for the better. Stereotypes carry with them the burden of proving them wrong.

Still, we face hurdles when it comes to public perceptions of autistic adults. Again and again in my blog’s search terms I come across people searching for an answer to questions that surprise me.

Can aspie women marry? Can women with Asperger’s have children? Do aspies say ‘I love you”?

It seems we’re a mystery.

I hope that when people find my blog, they see that the answers to all of those things are yes. I’m married. I have a child. I tell my husband and daughter that I love them.

Sadly, that wasn’t always the case.

*

Women are expected to be intuitively skilled at social interaction. We are the nurturers, the carers. To be born without natural social instincts can leave you questioning your innate womanhood.

The first hint of what was to come arrived long before I’d given any thought to what being a woman would mean. At some point in sixth grade, many of the girls in my class became huggers. They hugged when they met each other and when they said goodbye. They hugged when they passed in the hallway. They hugged when they were happy or sad. They hugged and cried and squealed with excitement and I watched from a distance, perplexed. What did all this hugging mean? And more importantly, why wasn’t I suddenly feeling the need to hug someone every thirty seconds?

This was the first of many confusing conversations I was to have with myself.

I was a mother and wife for twenty-four years before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Over and over during that time, I questioned not only my womanhood, but my humanity. I questioned why I didn’t respond the way other women did to their children. I watched the other mothers tear up as the bus pulled away on the first day of kindergarten and felt guilty at my relief. Finally, a few hours alone, was all that was running through my head.

Looking back, I bet the other moms walked back to their newly quiet homes and felt a similar relief. The thing is, I never knew for sure because I didn’t talk with any of them. Beyond a friendly good morning at the bus stop, I was at a loss for how adult women socialized. I hovered around the fringes of social groups, watching as other moms made dates for coffee or shopping. They seemed so at ease, as if they’d all gotten the Mom Handbook while my copy had been lost in the mail.

I probably should have been envious but I was too busy being intimidated.

*

Unlike my difficulties with sensory sensitivities, Asperger’s provided an explanation but little solution when it came to socializing. I’ve had friends over the years, but not, it seems, in the way that other women do. Fortunately, I’ve made one friend who has been a constant in my adult life: my husband Sang.

Again and again as I was researching Asperger’s syndrome in adults, I came across bleak portraits of adult relationships. Broken marriages. Impossible-to-live-with autistic spouses.

Many of the challenges described in the literature were familiar. Our marriage certainly hasn’t been easy. But learning that I’m autistic has given us a new framework for understanding our relationship. Everything from why I find social outings exhausting to why I need to eat the same thing for breakfast every day suddenly had an explanation.

That understanding alone is a tremendous gift. People often question why someone my age would bother getting diagnosed. Especially someone who has a job, a family, a mostly settled path in life.

The explanation that comes with a diagnosis makes all the difference. For years, I knew something was wrong with me but I had no idea what. Most of the possibilities that I came up with made me feel bad about myself. Cold. Unfeeling. Immature. Selfish. Short-tempered.

Defective.

Getting a diagnosis swept all of those aside. Not only did I get an explanation for how I experience life, I got a user’s guide to my brain. It wasn’t an endpoint in my journey, but a starting place.

*

To be continued in Part 2 . . .

Cynthia’s book

Kirsten Hearn writes: Sick of Exclusion

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Kirsten Hearn will be at Feminism in London Sunday 25th 12 30 -2pm

Multiple identities: Ordinary Lives – the challenges of being disabled and feminist

Disabled women’s rights are human rights! Disability can be physical, mental, neurological; hidden or visible. This panel will look at activism through the prism of disability and feminism and seek to explore further the intersection and challenges of being between the two and the capacity of the two movements to work together for change.

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Kirsten Hearn

Kirsten Hearn

I’m sick and tired of having to challenge inaccessible practices within the Labour Party (an in the rest of life too). I’ve got better things to do than be tied up bashing down the doors, so I and others can participate. The discrimination spans all access issues, so all disabled people are targets.

Again, and again, and again, we give guidance on how to make docs accessible. “What part of the words “PDFs are inaccessible for people using text to speech assistive technology, so give us a word doc instead”, isn’t clear? It’s hardly any different in impact from “what part of the words, I haven’t got wings you know so how am I going to get into that riddled-with-steps venue you insist on having your meetings in?”; or “What did you say?” (when a sign language interpreter or an induction loop, isn’t present.
I’ve just opened an email from the Labour Party re the women’s conference tomorrow. Granted, it arrived yesterday evening, but I was chairing a scrutiny evidence session at that time and chose to go to bed afterwards, rather than download my emails. I chose also to do my day job today rather than read my home emails. As a consequence of this, I am only now dealing with yesterday’s backlog. Oh and I have checked, there’s nothing in today’s bunch which provides the accessible document.
Arguing for inclusion within the Labour Party is definitely one of those part time unpaid jobs that I am forced to do if I want to participate in the party. I could use that time instead building a stronger party and working to deliver a Labour Government headed by Jeremy Corbin, in 2020. I don’t care that because of the leadership election and the shadow appointments process, it’s been hard to confirm speakers etc. How difficult is it to produce a word version of a conference agenda, which was initially created in word, anyway? I mean …. !
Providing inaccessible documents is at the very least laziness, but it could hardly be argued that the Labour Party is ignorant, since they have been told. Yes, if poked,, they will deal with access requests, but we shouldn’t have to keep reminding them. It’s not like disabled people have only just been invented; or that we havn’t been campaigning for inclusion since the dawn of time. My question is, why are these mistakes still happening? I don’t know how disabled people can effectively influence party policy, raise the issues of concern to disabled people out there, in the party, if we can’t even get in the door, metaphorically or actually without kicking up a stink. So, not having enjoyed women’s conference last year in Manchester, I thought I wouldn’t go to the women’s conference this year; then when Jeremy was elected, I thought I would, in anticipation that the leader is going to address the women’s conference. Now, thanks to not getting accessible info about the women’s conference, I’ve decided I’m not going. So there will be one less stroppy disabled woman there tomorrow …. and I am sure that lack of clarity about access, belief that things won’t be accessible, feelings that disabled women are not important, are also reasons why less disabled women than perhaps who want to be there, will go to women’s conference tomorrow. And I’ve no doubt that other members of disability labour will have to spent time and energy battling away at conference, trying to fire-fight on access when we could be doing something much more important, like effecting policy, talking about why the austerity agenda, whether heavy or light is the greatest attack on disabled people in our living memory and why labour must not only defend disabled people’s rights but actively promote a disability rights based agenda. Not that I’m repeating myself, but I and others have been saying the above since exclusion first politicised us, in my case for 40 years. When will non-disabled people get it that they can remove disabling barriers if they want to.

Read the rest at Kirsten’s blog

Feminism in London: Disabled Women’s panel, London 25th October

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flyerFeminism in London panel on 25th Oct sunday 12.30 Hilton Metropole London

Multiple Identities: ordinary lives: The challenges of being disabled and feminist

Disabled women’s rights are human rights! Disability can be physical, mental, neurological, hidden or visible. This panel will look at activism through the prism of disability and feminism and seek to explore further the intersection and challenges of being between the two and the capacity of the two movements to work for change.

speakers
Kirsten Hearn (Chair)
Becky Olaniyi (Sisters of Frida)
Rebecca Bunce (ICChange)
Asha Hans ( Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre. &. Women with Disabilities India by video link)
Frances Ryan (Guardian journalist)
Nidhi Goyal (CREA: disability and sexuality by video link)

Tickets available now

The conference address: Hilton Metropole conference suite at the Hilton Metropole Hotel, 225 Edgware Road, London W2 1JU. It is very close to Edgware Road tube station. It’s fully accessible.
it is on Sunday 25th at 12:30-2pm, except for speakers – you need to buy a ticket.
http://www.feminisminlondon.co.uk/timetable/

Sisters of Frida: Disability & Sex/uality Workshop, Part 1

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Disability & Sex/uality

Workshop, Part 1  

Sisters of Frida invites you to the first Disability and Sex/uality workshop on 19 September 2015 at Unity Church Hall, 1-5pm. This workshop is for self-identified disabled women who want to create a space to talk about disability, sex and sexuality.

The workshop

As disabled women we have a wide range of experiences, positive and negative, around disability, sex and sexuality. Disabled women are sexy, sexual, passionate, loving, caring, desirable, hot, beautiful, strong and much more! Our experiences of sexuality are also affected by different kinds of oppressions as ableism, racism, sexism, heteronormativity, classism and age.

This workshop is the first meeting of the project Disability and Sex/uality we are developing. In this workshop we will explore the different themes around sex and sexuality that arise from our experiences. We will also look at what we want to explore more and what work needs to happen to develop this project.

The project

The idea for this project arose from a screening of the documentary AccSex, which showed how a group of disabled women in India experience their sexuality. This project is part of Sisters of Frida. We are setting up this project out of a need to create a space where we can safely discuss our sexuality in a supportive and empowering environment.

Registration

The topics we will discuss can be sensitive, for this reason, please contact us directly to register and discuss participation as this will be a closed meeting: sof.disabilitysexuality@gmail.com. Note that places are limited, please get in touch as soon as possible. Deadline for registration is 6 September.

Accessibility and needs

The venue is wheelchair accessible. There is an accessible toilet, but without a hoist. There is a small room that people can use for quiet-time. Please get in touch as soon as possible if you need BSL, transcription or if you have other access needs. If you have any concerns or queries about the nature of what might be discussed in the workshop and how it could relate to your experiences, please get in touch. This is a peer-support group, we cannot offer professional support.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Date: 19 September 2015

Time: 1pm – 5pm

Where: New Unity Unitarians

Address: 277A Upper Street, Islington, London N1 2TZ

Contactsof.disabilitysexuality@gmail.com

Deadline for registration: 6 September 2015

Accessibility: Please get in touch to discuss your needs