Tag Archives: disability

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’

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Zara Todd : Have you always been disabled?

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If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this question or a less polite version such as what’s wrong with you? Have you always been like this? Were you born in a wheelchair? I would be a millionaire.

Now I know people are curious about disability (even if I don’t really get why) but do we really need a superhero like origin story can’t we just exist? While I generally humour the disability questions, providing people are politely I’m not going to lie it is irritating.

However recently Ive begun to realise all of these ‘origin’ questions are intensely personal and potentially traumatic. While seemingly most of the questions have yes or no answers in reality the conversation doesn’t stop there. For the majority of disabled people it’s either unclear when we acquired our impairments or the result of a traumatic experience. Meaning the answer to ‘have you always been disabled?’ becomes no or I don’t know. These answers invariably lead to more questions or an expectation of an explanation. I was trying to think of similarly personal question and the best I could come up with was why did you get divorced? Whilst some would ask the majority would let the affected party direct the conversation.

Despite having my impairments as long as I can remember and therefore the questions about my impairment for almost as long, until recently I didn’t really feel like I had any option but to answer. In part feeling compelled to answer questions about my impairment comes from growing up in systems which depend on that information to judge my eligibility for support combined with me being the first ‘severely’ disabled person in many of the environments I’ve accessed. However I now question how that information being disclosed to all and sundry has aided me. Yes as someone with support some people need to know what support I need but is do impairment labels or my history communicate my needs… Not fully.

I suspect it has taken longer for me to take ownership of my right not to disclose my ‘origin’ story because I’m a woman as often the refusal to disclose information is often seen as being aggressive regardless of how polite the denial.

I’m not against talking about impairment or disability in fact if we talked about them more maybe the novelty factor would wear off, however I believe that disabled people should have control over their own story and who they disclose it to.

Surely there are much more interesting conversations to be had.

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Zara ToddZara Todd has been involved in young peoples and disability rights since she was 12 and has worked both in the UK and internationally trying to increase the voice of young disabled people.
Zara is currently chair of Inclusion London, a Deaf and disabled people’s organisation supporting Deaf and Disabled people’s organisation in London. She is an active member of the European Network on Independent Living running several trainings for young disabled people from across Europe.
She can be contacted at @toddles23

At Sparks London

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At Sparks London
the spark banner

the spark banner

The Spark is a completely free festival of ideas, discussion, art, performance and more looking at how we can bring about positive change here in the UK and around the world 20 – 26 July 2015.

Ciara Doyle leading the workshop

Ciara Doyle leading the workshop

Sisters of Frida were invited again after last year’s participation. Some of us participated at Sparks and lead workshops.

Ciara and Dyi had a workshop: The ability in disability: questioning the idea of being healthy and well-being

This workshop asks what is ‘normal’? It explores ideas around ‘ability in disability’, ‘normal health’ or ‘healthy’. It encourages a curiosity about understanding ableism as a system that affects everyone by dictating what is ‘normal’ around ability, including ideas and practices around ‘health’ and ‘well-being’.

Facilitated by:

–Ciara identifies as an activist, an academic, queer, disabled.

–Dyi has been an activist in Amsterdam around issues of gender, race, reproductive rights, and age/generation and now, in London, tries to catch up on issues of disability and sex/uality while fluctuatingly ill and doing a PhD

Dyi was actually not well on the day and Ciara did it on her own with a great interactive discussion on.

The workshop after that was Equality and being inclusive and accessible

Everyone says they are aiming for equality however they do not always factor in being inclusive and accessible. Physical, hidden and logistical barriers can very often prevent people from being properly involved. Although nearly always unintentional, this exclusion has a negative impact on the campaign and access isnt always easy to add on later.

Non disabled people do not always understand what barriers disabled people face in going about day to day activities – eg. having steps to a physical meeting place mean wheelchair users are excluded, having information only available on pdfs mean that blind people who use text reader to access electronic information are left out and if you have meetings that start very early in the morning might mean that people who need personal assistance to get ready or those who have chronic issues might find it logistically challenging to make it to your meeting.

facilitated by Eleanor Lisney, an access adviser who is also a wheelchair user.

Screening AccSex London : sexuality and disability & next steps

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Report written by Lani Parker with additions from Eleanor Lisney

People were pleased with the turnout and it was a good opportunity to network and talk to each other.
The film generally had good feedback. There was discussion on many topics, including who the film was
aimed at, the editorial devices which were used (such as changing the subtitles in order to give a “feeling
of exclusion”), and the Indian context. It was felt that it was a good film to get discussion going. We thanked Shweta Ghosh with a little momento (Happy Potter mug) from London.

Next steps

– Michelle and Charlotte had ideas for showing the film in different places and will get in touch with
Shweta to organise purchase of film and further screenings.
–  Shweta said that she will write a booklet to go with the film so that issues which have been commonly brought up at the screenings can be discussed and contextualised.

After the film we had a presentation from Stay Safe East (Ruth Bashall and Lucia Bellini) about their work with disabled women, particularly around domestic violence (their remit is slightly bigger than this). There was discussion on the specialist nature of the work running women’s support groups and the need for further groups like this.

Ruth would like to see the work done around the Serious Crime Bill and domestic violence taken forward to lobby the CPS around their guidance for the bill and they (as Stay Safe East) will be meeting with Women’s Aid shortly. Eleanor and others expressed a wish for Sisters of Frida to be involved with this work.

Eleanor, Ruth and Lucia to take forward work with CPS and Women’s Aid on the issue and the Bill specifically.

There was a discussion about a forum or space for disabled women to talk about sex, sexuality and intimacy. This is a big topic and there are many issues, including lack of information, intersections of identity and oppressions, types of impairments, and PAs’ involvement in relationships. Laki said that there is a need for a physical drop-in as well as information online and perhaps an online forum discussing the issues.

There are many things to consider with an online forum. Ruth said that GAD have a forum but it is by invitation. Seems like a sensible idea to explore along with online safety issues in the future if we were to take forward this idea. The idea would be to have a website and resources, perhaps a forum and an informal drop-in.

–  Laki and Dyi to set up meeting for Sisters of Frida to start to discuss these issues amongst ourselves and to look at collating resources.

–  Ruth to send resources she already has access to.

We discussed about funding and future strategy and future steps.

Claire Cunningham: Is dance without disabled performers actually… a bit boring?

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Claire Cunningham started the discussion on Disability and Feminism at the WOW Festival with her speech below. Many many thanks to her for allowing us to publish it here.

Claire Cunningham

Claire Cunningham (photo from WOW website)

I am one of those individuals – whom perhaps some of the panel may despair of! I don’t know… That doesn’t really know what the identity of being a woman means for me. I think for me it has been quite eclipsed – in my dealings with others, but perhaps more so in my view of myself, with my identity of being a disabled person. And a disabled artist. And that is partly my own fault because of my fascination with what I have felt that disability that offers to my work. But that is also because I have went on a quite significant journey with that aspect of my identity, and I am not sure that I have gone on the same one yet with regard to being a woman.

Being here – and having been present at Women of the World festival in the last couple of years, definitely are part of that process for me, and of raising awareness in me that there are aspects of my being that I have quite purposely ignored and not dealt with. And like my shifting awareness around disability its a journey taken once you have found the people who shine a light on the subtle difficulties, and differences and behaviours that discrimination creates that you just have not noticed most of your life, because you didn’t know any other way.   I grew up just as blinkered about what it meant, or looked like, to be a woman, as I did about what it meant to be disabled.

I’m going to talk specifically about my journey regarding my perspective on disability, but I know it is just as applicable to viewing myself as a woman. But I just don’t think, if I’m honest, that I’ve convinced myself as much yet on that front. I think there is more de-programming I need to do on myself in that regard. Being here is part of that for me. Deprogramme old and imbedded notions of womanhood and soak up the endless possibilities of what it could mean…

I grew up not wanting to be disabled. I went to ‘mainstream’ schools and was the only child in those schools that had a visible impairment, a physical impairment related to Osteoporosis, that meant when I turned 14 I had to start using crutches. I kept thinking I would be off them in 6 weeks, next month, a few months, next year….its been 24 years….

I hated my crutches. With a passion. I became convinced – in those awful teenage years -that the crutches, and my physicality meant I was repulsive. I felt very ‘other’.

So I grew up with no role models – no disabled people to show me that it was ok to be disabled. Just the typical western media filled with images of bodies that were non-disabled. This was the ideal. This is how you are supposed to look. Portrayals I did see of disabled people – either they were objects of pity. To be helped. Or movie villains – people who had acquired an impairment and were so bitter about it they would therefore blow up the world as revenge, or alternatively kill themselves at the prospect of living as a disabled person.

So someone no-one wanted to be.

On being asked “Whats wrong with you?” I didn’t think twice to tell people what my medical diagnosis was. On being offered the prayers of strangers who wanted to pray that I would be healed… I didn’t question this. I was imbued from all sides with the idea – not consciously – that it would be preferable to not be in my state. That of course I would want to be ‘fixed’. That there was, naturally, something wrong with me. Or indeed, I was ‘unnatural’….

I did want to be fixed.

Then in 2005 I had an epiphany. My road to Damascus moment. I discovered dance. I didn’t mean to. It was an accident, I had never intended to dance. I had always thought dance was for-as I would have referred to them at that time – the ‘able-bodied’. Superfit people. People who could move really quickly, and jump and had straight pointy legs and straight pointy arms…clean lines. That’s not my body.

But what I began to see, was that the way my body had developed and evolved – through using the crutches meant it had great strength, and very specific strength. By that time I had been using the crutches for 14 years. My body had also grown certain skills and knowledge – it understood – without me thinking about it, how the crutches were weighted, how my weight was positioned on them, how to manipulate this skillfully, how to dance with them.

I discovered that giving my crutches to young, super-fit non-disabled professional dancers – they actually couldn’t do what I could do.

I began to accept that my use of crutches was offering me opportunity – as an artist, And in recognizing this I began to take on the identity of being a disabled person for myself, as opposed to being identified by others. I began to acknowledge that it shaped my work literally, but also that my lived experience of being disabled meant that I had a unique perspective on things and this was something I began to treasure.

Working in dance brought me into a world where the body is at the centre, its the tool of the artform, and it was now all about letting people see my body and how it moved. Therefore what also came with that was discussions around the aesthetics of bodies. Dance is, to me, the most body fascist of all arts and there is indeed the tradition that only young, superfit, non-disabled (and in this country still predominantly white) bodies are mostly what is seen onstage. Personally I just find this rather boring. My interest has been to push the notion that disabled bodies are not ‘wrong’ but rather different, therefore present more interesting, unexplored possibilities for movement. More colours on the palette you might say.

I told a leading national (non-disabled) dance company that I honestly wasn’t that interested in choreographing for them -‘You all kinda look the same to me…”, I told them. These young dancers were horrified… “but you cant say that! That’s discrimination!”

Yes. Yes it is discrimination. Of course I don’t truly mean it, but I am not choosing that quite controversial –and loaded- phrase by accident. It is fascinating to me to see the reaction it provokes. To suddenly see people who have assumed that they are in a better position than you, who think they would not want to be you, presented with the idea that perhaps I would not want to be them. Their bodies are not my ideal…

Now I’m not saying being disabled is a wonderful or easy thing. I don’t in any way mean to underplay or be flippant about the experience of those who have much more limiting or debilitating medical conditions than me, and who do face huge problems in terms of discrimination or lack of opportunity. But I do know many disabled people that have said openly to me that they would not want to be otherwise. Of course that is not true of everyone, but I feel that if we can start to shift the way disability is viewed, to a more acceptable, positive and valid experience, part of the diversity of humanity rather than a mistake, then it will only help everyone.

The natural progress of the human body as it ages is to develop impairments. Its a loss and therefore people grieve it….but it is natural. And as long as we treat disability as being something inferior, or shameful, we make it harder for everyone. This may seem a little flippant to some but -who doesn’t know a grandparent or ageing parent who is losing their hearing or developing difficulty walking but refuses to get a hearing aid, to get a walking stick…? I believe that the shame around disability is very much linked to this. The idea that the state of disability is inferior and undesirable reinforces this.

Disability, for me, is a state of existence, a way of being in the world. It is related to having a medical condition, and to how I am treated in the world, and the perspective that gives me- but it is not everything that defines me. I have and can have many identities -I’m a human being. I’m Scottish. I’m short. I’m white. I’m an artist. I’m a European. I’m an aunt. I’m single. I’m a homeowner. I’m a daughter. I’m a thirty-something. I’m a sister…. I’m a woman….

And I’m disabled. I would not want to not be disabled. I would not be the person I am. No offence to any of you out there who’s not disabled, I’m sure you’re great, I really wouldn’t want to be you….

I’m doing fine now….

Disabled women, feminism and other diverse communities

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Michelle (in chair) with Martine (kneeling) and her son on Michelle's lap

Michelle with Martine and her son

 

Frances Ryan wrote a great article – “It’s not only steps that keep us out”: mainstream feminism must stop ignoring disabled women’ where she states that in matters of sex, sexuality and political campaigning, the resurgence of mainstream feminism overlooks disabled women.

Feminist and disability rights are born from a similar cloth. They are battles to acknowledge that oppression doesn’t come from a biological reality but a socially constructed inequality. They are concerned with idealised human bodies. They fight the structures and power that wish to control them; in sex, in work, in reproduction.

Its true that mainstream feminism do not often consider disabled women but we knew that – Jenny Morris has been writing and speaking about Feminism, Gender and Disability since the 1990’s.

Non-disabled feminists continue to treat disability as aside issue, an optional extra and in no way part of the so-called mainstream academic or political debates. The disabled people’s movement – while many and sometimes the majority of its activists are women – is still informed by political and theoretical debates which strangely sidelinewomen’s experiences and issues.

So  mainstream disability do not often recognise women’s issues neither. I spoke on intersectionality and disability at the Sisters of Frida’s gathering/party at WoW Festival at the South Bank

Disabled women who are discriminated against – from feminist communities, LGBT, faith communities because they insist on congregating in non accessible venues. And the segregation is also from the disabled people’s communities because they do not understand nor interested in other identities. Where do disabled women go to discuss about the roles of being disabled lovers, mothers if they were given the opportunity of being girlfriend, wife or mother. And there are those whose sexuality were being denied or even sterilised (often presumed to be for their  own good). And who knows how to support them when they are raped? A report by Professor Betsy Stanko, stated that the ‘rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”.

I guess I am speaking about the need for intersectionality also when we talk about disability – that we have more than one identity and we ought to acknowledge that – and that we should acknowledge we need a space for disabled women as disabled women, we need to listen to the different identities. And feminism needs to accommodate intersectionality too – speaking as a disabled woman of colour when I can be the only non white disabled at the table I feel a double disconnect. I m sure some of you here know what I m saying where you stop wanting to engage as a form of self protection.

Just this week we pointed to an event about campaigning black women that they had not included black disabled women in their program and offered to fill that gap. And they are responding positively so we might be the first to explore disability, gender and ethnicity/race in a workshop!

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women :UK report

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As Sisters of Frida, we went to meet the Special Rapporteur at Leicester. She has given her report –

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women,  finalizes country mission to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and calls for urgent action to address the accountability deficit and also the adverse impacts of changes in funding and services’

Read the report at the  UN Human Rights website (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14514&LangID=E)

Rashida Manjoo wrote

It is important to recognize that the reduction in the number and quality of specialized services for women does impact health and safety needs of women and children, and further restricts them when considering leaving an abusive home, thus putting them at a heightened risk of re-victimization. Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.

Many of the front-line service providers that I met in all parts of the UK have told me that they face increasing demands for providing more services – including for men, while there are fewer funding opportunities. I was also informed of how additional duties undertaken by third sector organizations, such as in their involvement in Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC’s) is not accompanied by more government funding, and is thus being undertaken at their own cost.

Furthermore, it was made clear to me how women from black and minority ethnic communities, women belonging to the LGBTI community, and women with disabilities, are further affected by these cutbacks. These women are, for many reasons, often linked to entrenched discriminatory practices in the political, social and economic spheres, and are more likely to depend on benefits and on support from an increasingly under-resourced non-profit sector. Unfortunately, it is precisely the specialized services catering for these women, which are being mostly affected, even more so than the mainstream violence against women and girls services, in many instances.

Much of the report touched on issues that affect disabled women on an intersectional level especially when you consider that many incarcerated women have also serious mental health issues.

It is crucial to recognize that violence against women is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and strongly linked to the social and economic situation of women. Therefore, the intersections between gender-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination that contributes to and exacerbates violence against women should also be taken into consideration when designing and implementing the State’s response.

Considering their higher rates of victimization, the specific experiences and needs of black and minority ethnic women and girls who have experienced violence, need to be acknowledged. Specific taskforces or working groups, with representation from these communities, should be set up to ensure effective policy and programming around violence against them.

 

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.

Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx