Monday, February 23, 2015

Flavors of Feminism

If in your book/essay/blog post you claim to be an intersectional feminist—or„indeed if you see writing about any social issue—and then you neglect disability, you have failed. 
Any time I come across a list of adjectives that nearly every author addressing social issues—particularly gender equality—wants to make sure their reader considers, I cringe. These ubiquitous lists contain what I like to call the flavors of feminism. 
Listen, they entreat. Pay attention to transgender women! Women of color! Queer women! Muslim women! Jewish women! Women next door! Men who have also suffered the sting of patriarchal expectations!
These lists are nearly comprehensive, and as such they are generally identical, regardless of the author’s position and privilege. This makes the omission even more harmful. 
These lists entreat us to rally around those like us, and those different from us. However, they generally exclude the one category that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, class, or creed. There are parts of the disability experience that could provide common ground between folks that inhabit entirely opposite subsets in every other conceivable way. 
And maybe that possibility is why it’s so easy for able-bodied people to neglect. Unlike many minorities, disability can be acquired. Without it the menu requires only acknowledgement from the reader--yes this is my life, I must understand my challenges and check my privileges; or, no, this will never be my life, and so I must have empathy. Disability is a variable. It could happen to you, or a loved one, and introduce an entirely new factor into your understanding of social issues. Yikes! That’s too nebulous for this true/false questionnaire!
I’ve put more thought into in this than I meant to, but I wanted to examine the function of these lists in order to tease out the reason for the exclusion as well as the consequences. At a a basic level, these lists are true/false tests. The reader scans them, notes which apply to their life, feels the thrill of being remembered, the relief of remembering that one is not alone. The other descriptors eacb up an image, the reader’s mental construct of an entity to whom the designation applies. Someone in their life, or from the media. Not them, but a person, they realize, whose life is affected differently than theirs by the construct at hand . They consider the possible differences, the positive and negative, and tell themselves to bring them to mind as they construct their identity within this realm. They must do so, because taking on that perspective will never be instinctual. It will never be a part of their day-to-day experience in the same way as someone who is part of the listed group. 
But disability is a reminder that circumstances can change. That’s uncomfortable for people of all privileges. However, I don’t think it’s bad for anyone to remember that this shift can happen to anyone; that even the uncertainty gives them something in common with those on the other side of the spectrum in all other aspects. Fine, maybe you can’t unexpectedly wake up with a different ethnicity, race, or sexuality*, but you could acquire a disability. So could the man in the mansion across town. Both of you need to think about how your economic choices affect the disabled, because it is the ethical/equal/right thing to do—but also because it could affect you.
But that’s seeing this from a non-disabled lens, which is an act of empathy on my part. It is not a sphere I inhabit, or that I could. I cannot omit disability because it doesn’t apply to me, and I’m not reminded by running through the women on Orange is the New Black**. I am disabled. It is the linchpin of my identity. Thus, I feel more than disappointed when it is excluded from a checklist of minorities that the true intersectional xxx-ist must remember. I feel invisible, neglected, and ignored. I feel as though I have done something wrong. I must have, to be forgotten by those who wish to fight for the rights of everyone, whatever their lifestyle, power, or privilege. 
Disabled woman is a flavor of feminist. We stand (march, sit, lie) with other minorities to advocate for rights they have been denied, and we should have the same consideration. We tell others about the Stonewall riots, so please remember the Capitol Crawl. And, please, put us in your lists. To be truly intersectional, one must acknowledge that black men can be queer, Muslim women can be trans, non-binary folks can be in the one-percent. 
And any of these people can be affected by disability. So could you. 
And I am. That makes it my favorite flavor of feminism. I’d really appreciate you remembering to keep it on the menu.

*Yes, you can convert to a religion, but since that is a thought-through choice, one generally puts more consideration into how the whole of their life will be affected by that. 
**Note that I say women. Bennett does have a disability, but his character isn't associated with that; whereas Laverne Cox has become the country's symbol for transgender women.


Post a Comment