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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Access to Feminism

Among the many words which I may use to define myself, two key ones are feminist and disabled.

You wouldn't think these two identities are mutually exclusive, they certainly shouldn't be. Feminists, fighting for equality and justice for women, include black women, lesbians, refugee women, disabled women, don't they?

Some references:
Feminism, Gender & Disability:
. Non-disabled feminists continue to treat disability as a
side 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 sideline
women's experiences and issues.

[...]

A failure to understand the social model of disability lies at the heart of the
dominant reaction to the situation where children are having to provide
support to their disabled parent. Challenging the medical model of
disability and the dominant concepts of independence and dependence can
help us to promote disabled women's human and civil rights.

[...]

As Liz Crow writes in Encounters with Strangers, we need to put back the
experience of impairment into our politics. We need to write about,
research and analyse the personal experience of our bodies and our minds
for if we don’t impose our own definitions and perspectives then the non-
disabled world will continue to do it for us in ways which alienate and
disempower us.


Feminist Disability Studies:
The author discusses shortcomings in the women's therapy community's response to disabled women and suggests some analysis of the phenomenon of what she calls the "active unwillingness to know."

[...]

DePauw reflects on the often misunderstood and ignored intersection of gender and disability, an intersection she sees as a "final frontier." Feminist issues often have revolved around the female body and the exploitation of it; when disability issues are raised, it can work to disrupt and complicate issues of exploitation and control of female bodies and identity.

[...]

The feminist movement is not sufficiently conscious of its own "ableism." Feminists who criticize the traditional sex roles of wife and mother are insensitive to the fact that women with disabilities are taught that they are asexual, as oppressive a message as that conveyed by heterosexism. What is more, feminism's strategy of complete separation from patriarchal society ignores the fact that women with disabilities experience constant and tangible barriers such as physical inaccessibility. The writer suggests that women with and without disabilities need to communicate, so that a new critical feminist anthropology can be engendered; an anthropology that will take not only gender into account, but also sickness, disability, and age as powerful shapers of self and society.

[...]

This paper analyses how disability informs and complicates gender identity for women with disabilities and demonstrates that disability is a feminist issue. The first section underscores the dual silence of women with disabilities who remain largely unheard of, both in feminist literature and in the disability rights movement.

[...]

The second section of this paper suggests possible points of entry into several debates within feminist literature that would be broadened or transformed by a disability perspective. Issues of reproductive rights, control of women's bodies, newborn's right to treatment, the construction of gender as informed by disability, and sexual representations are among the issues analyzed.

[...]

the last section of this paper analyzes various strategies for change, including standpoint or minority models and strategies within feminist thought that may be useful or emancipatory for women with disabilities.

[...]

how applying a “disability lens” and reflecting the values and vision of disability feminism can help us bring the voices and visions of disabled women and girls to the policy arena and to feminist research, policy and advocacy agendas.

[...]

feminist critical analysis does not usually recognize disability as a category of otherness (as it does with race, class, and gender) unless the study specifically states this focus.

[...]

an articulation of feminist Disability Studies as a “major critical subgenre within feminism.” She asserts that feminist Disability Studies can be located in the broader area of identity politics if discourses of the body marked as deviant are included.

[...]

Feminist disability theory augments the terms and confronts the limits of the ways we understand human diversity, the materiality of the body, multiculturalism, and the social formations that interpret bodily differences. The essay asserts that integrating disability as a category of analysis and a system of representation deepens, expands, and challenges feminist theory. To elaborate on these premises, the essay discusses four fundamental and interpenetrating domains of feminist theory: representation, the body, identity, and activism, suggesting some critical inquiries that considering disability can generate within these theoretical arenas.

[...]

[Feminist disability studies] situates the disability experience in the context of rights and exclusions. It aspires to retrieve dismissed voices and misrepresented experiences. It helps us understand the intricate relation between bodies and selves. It illuminates the social processes of identity formation. It aims to denaturalize disability. In short, feminist disability studies reimagines disability.”

[...]

The nature of the problems faced by disabled women are such that they need to be addressed by both the feminist and disability movements. But the fact is that they remain invisible within the women's movement at large.

[...]

The author examines disability from the perspective of disabled women. She focuses on the social model of disability rather than a medical model and asserts that disability is another form of oppression experienced by women. She argues that disabled women have been excluded from both the women's movement, which is oriented toward non-disabled women, and from the disability rights movement, which is oriented toward disabled men. Using the history of black feminism, the author argues for a reframing of the analysis in which to explore the simultaneous experiences of gender and disability.

[...]

Disabled women activists have, however, been equally critical of the failure of mainstream feminism to recognise the disability perspective.

[...]

the incompleteness of feminism without the inclusion of a disability perspective.

[...]

The author discusses her anger and frustration with feminism in two ways: first, that disability is generally invisible from feminism's mainstream agenda, and second, that when disability is a subject of research by feminists, the researchers objectify disabled people so that the research is alienated from their experiences rather than attempting to understand the experiences of disabled women.

[...]

[she] calls on nondisabled as well as disabled researchers to continue to study the ways in which the nondisabled society oppresses its members with disabilities. Lastly, she argues that disability research is of great importance in the general understanding of the perpetuation of inequalities in society.

[...]

leading activists explore the ways feminism can and must acknowledge disabled women for the benefit of all. Revealing the ways in which disabled women have been rendered nearly invisible, it shatters received feminist wisdom on a wide range of core issues. Offering cogent evidence of the many ways in which disabled women's experiences would revitalize feminism today, Encounters with Strangers makes an invaluable contribution to a more inclusive understanding of disability rights, outlining how new and vital alliances may be achieved.

[...]

Unfortunately, little research has been conducted on this issue as it effects the lives of women with disabilities, which may reflect the belief that the lived experiences of many women with disabilities are not important nor perceived as valid by mainstream researchers.

[...]

It is part of my work as a nondisabled feminist to interrogate my own ablism and to look for the opportunities disability analysis provides for fuller theorizing and activism.

[...]

Disabled women's issues, experiences, and embodiments have been misunderstood, if not largely ignored, by feminist as well as mainstream disability theorists.

[...]

Beginning as separate enterprises that followed activist and scholarly paths, gender and disability studies have reached a point where they can move beyond their boundaries for a common landscape to inspire new areas of inquiry.

[...]

the cross section of oppressions that is created when a woman is black or a lesbian is much more mediated than the cross section of oppressions created when a woman is also disabled.

[...]

one of first articles reporting on the exclusion of women with disabilities from the “mainstream” women’s movement,

[...]

feminist critiques of these norms have virtually ignored the pressures on women who do not have full use of their bodies.

[...]

by arguing that the myth of bodily perfection and appearance norms which deny the experiences of disabled women contribute to the denial of disability and therefore are oppressive.

[...]

One group, however, continues to remains mostly invisible in feminist research; disabled women. Disabled and non-disabled feminists have expressed their deep concerns that the voices of disabled women have been missing in most feminist texts so their lives are unknown, their contributions unrecognized and the effects of social discrimination and inequality in their lives ignored.

[...]

We need a feminist theory of disability, both because 16 percent of women are disabled, and because the oppression of disabled people is closely linked to the cultural oppression of the body. Disability is not a biological given; like gender, it is socially constructed from biological reality. Our culture idealizes the body and demands that we control it. Thus, although most people will be disabled at some time in their lives, the disabled are made "the other," who symbolize failure of control and the threat of pain, limitation, dependency, and death. If disabled people and their knowledge were fully integrated into society, everyone's relation to her/his real body would be liberated.

[...]

feminist theory has neglected to incorporate the perspectives and experiences of women with disabilities, and that these perspectives must be included in future discussions of feminist ethics, the body, and the social critique of the medical model.


Disability is a feminist issue:
Disability Rights are a feminist issue because women know what it’s like to be infantalized and treated as lesser people. And we should know damn by well that it isn’t right. Not for us, and not for anybody.


See also Domestic violence and disabled women.

Okay, so that's a lot of quotes but you get the point. Feminism needs to integrate disability politics, needs to embrace disabled women and our experiences, to be fully feminist. Excluding disabled women from feminist academia, analysis, activism and community not only is crap for the disabled woman, it prevents feminism from becoming all it needs to be to liberate women.

I am drawn to blog about this because of a recent experience with a local feminist group. They appear radical, have done some great actions and one woman I have had contact with who is involved in this group is a vocal advocate for women.

I am on their email update list and recently enquired if there was a lift at the venue because they meet upstairs, as there was an upcoming meeting I was considering attending.

I got a reply saying that no, there wasn't a lift. They kept asking the pub to provide one. She asked whether I had any suggestions for alternative, accessible venues.

I replied to that email with several suggestions, and questions to find out more about the group so I could see if I could come up with any further ideas to make the meetings accessible to physically disabled women.

I had no reply to that email. I don't think she liked my suggestions because she had originally said they were not keen to sacrifice the atmosphere of where they already meet, whereas to make the meetings accessible would mean to meet elsewhere. Given that the venue is inaccessible, and they don't want to meet elsewhere, what suggestion could I possibly make that would seem acceptable?

Of course, as I never received a reply I can only speculate on why my suggestions (which she had requested!) and questions were ignored.

Then later I received an email with minutes of their latest meeting. There was no mention in the minutes of accessible venues at all. This showed me just how little Sheffield Fems seem to care about allowing physically disabled women to become involved in their feminism.

I felt dejected and totally invisible. It is not good enough for women who are supposed to be fighting for women to not even acknowledge this huge issue.

Sometimes I can do stairs, sometimes I can't. That isn't the point. Which women are they empowering? Which women are they supporting? Which women are they liberating?

Not me.


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2 comments:

fourth wave said...

I just wanted to let you know that your post is now up at the 68th Carnival of Feminists. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I found this post via Carnival of Feminists and I just...well, really, I was wondering if you have any recommendations - books, websites, etc. I'm a university wom*n's officer who is also disabled and it's...tough. And an absolute non-issue among the - otherwise radical - activist and feminist communities I move in. Ableism has never once been brought up to my knowledge (except, possibly, by me, in a rant after the fact, where I looked back at the situation and wondered why it had been so damn hard at the time only to realise, hey, that's it. Ableism. This brand of activism cuts me out without even realising).

Anyway. I think this is the first time I've read another feminist's thoughts on it. Kind of...revelatory and reassuring at the same time...also makes me cranky, but still. Um. I assume you have a thousand other things to do and all, but if you were interested, and it wasn't too much hassle...yes. I'd love to know what material you'd recommend.

Also I hope you find a much better feminist group. 'Cause that one just sounds rude, if nothing else.

womyns@union.unimelb.edu.au