Monthly Archives: October 2012

I Am Not Your Motivational Poster

This is What We Call a Pedestal.

People With Disabilities (PWDs)  are not living motivational posters. Please stop using us as such.

I get it. You’re able-bodied. You don’t want to go to the gym. Oh man, you really don’t want to go to the gym. Then someone shows this picture. A little boy, running on cheetah feet to replace the legs which he does not have.

And you think “Oh WOW. If that little kid is running why aren’t I?”  Because the child without legs can run, clearly you don’t have a reason to not go to the gym.

Now, if I were to express that I am tired, or that I don’t feel like dealing with the lights in my gym (they’re flourescent and fluorescent lights give me migraines), I’d be told that I should really look at this quote: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”

Great. Now I’m in the Great Disability Paradox.

If I’m successful. then I’m placed on a pedestal for doing things that able-bodied people can do without help. I’m labelled as “brave” because I can ride a bicycle, labelled as “inspirational” because I have college degrees. But if I am frustrated because I cannot drive, or because I need an adaptive aid to help me get around a city, or if I get tired and overwhelmed by the city that I live in – then I’m whining. And here’s a picture to prove it:

The Only Disability In Life is.... Uh... Having one?

I… Right. So as long as I have a good attitude and don’t whine, I’ll be not disabled? The power of positive thinking and whatnot? I think it’s AWESOME that this little girl is learning how to run from Oscar Pistorius I think that whatever was happening when this photo was taken was probably really great. However, the fact that so far I’ve only seen photos of white children using the feet, well, that indicates a level of privilege that I’m not comfortable with. And furthermore, that little girl may someday be super frustrated and hate that she doesn’t have legs – and that’s okay. It is okay to be angry about having a disability, because sometimes, it’s just not fair.

What’s not fair is this: they’re wearing cheetah feet, a device which costs 15-18k, and will have to be replaced when they grow. What happens if their families cannot afford to continue providing him with the means to run? Shouldn’t we find it amazing that the technology exists – and sad that the technology isn’t accessible for everyone? The reason why I bring this up is because whenever I see PWD’s in the media there are two archetypes. Either the sad dejected veteran (who we admire because they became a PWD through a war) or people using new technology. And if they’re using their new technology and that’s all the public sees- what’s stopping people from understanding that this isn’t the norm?

My  point is this: By being trapped by these two sides of the perceptions of disability PWD’s end up not really being able to express their feelings about their lives – and this is where the last trope ends up coming in.  The Nice Trope.

We are often told that we need to be “nice” to people when they ask questions. That we need to not get angry. That we need to be calm. The trope of the Angry Disabled Lady (or man) is one that I fear I fall into frequently. I’m not being mean, though. I’m just tired of being expected to be friendly JUST because I have a disability. Just because I carry a cane, means that people get to ask me questions like “are you really blind” or “Do you have extra spidey senses?”

The only people whose questions I will answer are children’s queries – because educating them means that perhaps when they grow up they’ll know how to handle sharing a planet with PWD’s. Perhaps someday, we’ll be seen as equals – equals with differences, but still.

Please find your own inspiration to go to the gym, whether it be a famous runner, or a swimmer. But don’t use children whose futures are uncertain to get your ass in gear. The lives of PWD’s are not community property to be gawked at and used by example, it’s not right that every day, we must educate the public because of societal expectations that we be friendly and helpful.

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Why I Look Outside my Comfortable Liberal Bubble

I voted yesterday.

I voted to approve gay marriage in Washington State, I voted to make marijuana legal in Washington State. I voted to reinstate Barack Obama as President. And in Washington, I would imagine that most of these things will be what the majority chooses as well.

I live and study and work in the New York Metropolitan Area, also a bastion of liberal thought. I spent my days being friends with anarchists, talking to artists, drinking with performers.  I write an obviously liberal feminist blog and spend my days researching feminism in America.

My worldview, if I chose to let it be, would be very cushy. Nobody is going to take away my right to choose in New Jersey, or New York. New York already HAS gay marriage. It could be very difficult to remember that I live in the same country as the Tea Party, if I chose to let it be that way.

But I don’t choose that path. I choose to be cognizant of the country that I live in, and the differences between my politics, and the politics in other parts of this country. I have to recognize that there are people who think that being gay is a thing you should be put to death for. There are people who believe that I shouldn’t have the decision of whether or not I carry a pregnancy to term.

I went to a relatively conservative college for undergraduate work, and I remember feeling like minority in my own home state. I think this was a good experience for me, because it taught me that even if I am surrounded by the people who agree with me, there’s always going to be someone who wants to convince me that my belief is wrong. I remember coming away from heated political discussions in tears. These days, i value having experienced this because I need to remember that I don’t live in a Liberal Wonderland. So these days, I watch documentaries. I read books. I go out of my way to read the kinds of news stories that frustrate me and upset me. And I do it so that I remember. Because I can’t afford to forget that I live in a patriarchal society. I can’t afford to forget that I live in an anti-feminist world. I can’t forget that I live in the same country where Matthew Shepherd and Brandon Teena were killed.

I have to remember, because if I don’t someday I may turn around and see that my rights are gone. Even from inside our liberal bubble, we must strive to know what is happening outside of it. We’re one country, not two. When interracial marriage was illegal, it was illegal everywhere. Protecting ourselves is about more than just protecting our little bubble. We have to protect the whole nation.

 

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Bullying – It’s not just for kids anymore.

I was bullied in middle school. I was the kid you made fun of.

Well, as an adult I’m tired of watching the scenes of bullying play out again and again and again. Over the internet, in workplaces, during lectures. And it’s not just about the middle schoolers anymore. It’s about adults.

And the bullying isn’t targeted at straight, white men. It’s targeted at women. Smart, vivacious, intelligent women. Women whose bodies are used to attack them. The bullying is anti-feminist rhetoric. It is anti-woman rhetoric. It  has in one instance been anti gay rhetoric. And it has to stop.

The one year anniversary of the Tyler Clementi suicide was last month. He committed suicide because his roommate secretly streamed a “romantic interlude” on the internet. Tyler Clementi was gay. His roommate outed him to the entire world, and as a result he jumped off the George Washington Bridge.  The individual who outed him was sentenced to jail for a mere 30 days. 30 days for outing someone, and causing them to jump to their death. 30 days for bullying someone into such a state of depression.

Amanda Todd was a fifteen year old Canadian girl. She is the youngest person I write about today. She posted a YouTube video about her experience of being cyber bullied as a cry for help. A year ago she started befriending people on the internet and was convinced to flash a topless photo.

One year later, a man contacted her on Facebook, threatening to send around the picture of her topless “if [she] don’t put on a show.” Terrifyingly, the stranger knew everything about her: her address, school, friends, relatives, and the names of her family members. Soon, her naked photo had been forwarded “to everyone.” – Huffington Post

She was found dead, bullied with the image of her own body, and the shame that she felt knowing that everyone had seen her topless. It is possible to bully someone to death, and both Tyler and Amanda are examples of how it is done.

But bullying isn’t just for teenagers and college students. Adult women are receiving the same kind of treatment.

” Anita Sarkeesian runs Feminist Frequency, and writes similar things to what I do, except that she critiques video games. After her kickstarter in order to fund a project called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  She seeks to interrogate the kinds of stereotypes which permeate gender dialogue in video games. And because of that, she has been attacked by the internet. The kind of bullying she has been the target of has made video games about punching her in the face, photoshopping pictures of her being raped by Mario, She’s not relenting because of the attacks, she’s standing up and telling everyone what is happening to her. But this doesn’t change the fact that this is what’s happening to her, and it’s scary. (Please follow the link. Anita has documented her harassment thoroughly, and as upsetting as the information is, I think it’s important for everyone to see it.)

This morning, I found out about yet another woman being attacked for speaking out against sexism – Rebecca Watson, a member of the skeptic community has been attacked for speaking out against feminism. In her own community. “It wasn’t until I started talking about feminism to skeptics that I realized I didn’t have a safe space.” she said to slate.com.

She had very good reason to say this, the paragon of atheist thought Richard Dawkins even spoke against her “whining” about female genital mutilation and sexism. But it was because of this that people said they’d like her to be raped and killed. And they laughed about it. But it’s when the tweets start getting personally threatening that I really begin to fear for her:

Wow. Okay. So now we’ve stepped away from creepy photos, and from obnoxious comments on blog posts and YouTube posts to actually threatening to grope a woman in an elevator. Ha. ha. That’s so funny.

Oh, wait. No it isn’t. And the conference mentioned in the tweet (which both Rebecca and Bill attended) took no mind of this threat and allowed Bill to attend, despite the sexual threat towards a woman in their community. Shouldn’t this be taken more seriously? Why is it that when women speak up against bad treatment, they are given no reason to think they’ll be protected by their communities?

Here’s the thing: I was afraid to write this article. I was afraid because I knew that I might be opening myself up to the kind of attacks that these women are receiving from the internet. That I might get dead body photos in my comments, that people may try to find me where I live. But here’s the thing – I believe down to the very fibres of my being that this behavior is wrong. I was bullied as a child and I refuse to be bullied now. If I see that something is wrong, if someone is being abused by society, or if they are being attacked because they speak truth about sexism, or feminism – I’m going to stick my neck out and stand with them. Because that’s the only way to beat the hordes of anti-feminists out there on the internet. The only way is to speak louder, rather than bury our heads in the sand.

So – what happened to Amanda Todd was cruel. What happened to Tyler Clementi was cruel. What is now happening to Anita Sarkeesian is unspeakable, and the fact that Rebecca Watson cannot feel protected by her own community is sickening. We have to stop allowing those who fear us to push us down, even if it means stepping a little closer to the flames of hatred.

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Filed under Feminism, Politics, War On Women

The Power of Hate

There’s a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately: Hate.

I hate white people.

I hate straight people.

I hate republicans.

I hate men.

Hate is a really powerful word.  I feel pretty strongly that blanket statements of hate don’t get us anywhere – but I especially feel that way when it comes to those of us who fall under the blanket of “liberalism”. I’ve always found myself believing that being liberal is a part of being accepting.

Where has the ability to agree to disagree gone? Furthermore, where has the ability to get along with those who aren’t like us gone? We live in a difficult political era. There are people who want women to have no rights to their bodies, there are those who say that gay marriage is a sin. There are those who don’t believe that being trans is real.

But those people have always been a reality. Since forever,  there have always been conservatives, there have always been people more interested in removing rights rather than giving them to people. There have always been those who do not believe they have equals. There are always those who put down others.

We don’t need to speak in this way.

We don’t have to shriek that we hate a blanket group, just because portions of that group are difficult to live with.

I do it too. I’m trying to learn how not to hate people I’ve never met. It’s difficult to not hate the Wesboro Baptist Church, for example. Because they do things I find unspeakable. I find it difficult to not hate Mitt Romney, because to me he presents a threat to my way of life. It is difficult to not hate those who ascribe gender normativity to those who will not conform. It is difficult to not hate those who want to keep gay men and women from marriage.

But I need to learn not to. I need to learn that there are better ways to make my point known than to hate. I can disagree vehemently with another person and not hate them.  Hate is such a deep-seated emotion – but the word almost loses meaning with how much I see it used today. If we all hated as much as we say we do, then I fear for the very fabric of society. I fear for feminism, because if we hate men, then we’re just falling straight into the trap of being precisely what the anti-feminists fear. Strength is not hate. We can have strength and conviction without the means of rage.

Not only that, but it hurts. It hurts when you area straight ally and don’t participate in gay bashing, but you hear that your friends hate straight people. It hurts to think that just because of orientation, you end up being lumped in with the very people you disagree with.

Hatred creates so many things. It is responsible for lynchings, for murders, for rapes, for many things which I would never do, and you probably wouldn’t either.

Stop hating. Start disagreeing. Start having convictions. Start talking rationally.

I’m not saying to stop being angry, but I want us to voice our anger differently than through hate.

Just stop hating your fellow human beings, and start talking in productive ways that change things.

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Foreign Policy Debate Tonight

Me: I need a wine recc
him: What are you in the mood for
Me: Something to wash down the debate with
Him: Party?
Me: Feminist political commentator
Him: You need everclear.

Liquor Store Win.

 

You can find the bottle of wine and I on twitter tonight. I’ll be tweeting.

P.S.

On my way out he says “I hope your guy wins” and I say “The ladies never seem to. “

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Dressing in the Past to Learn in the Present

The Mary Sue ran a piece about a young woman named Stella Ehrhart yesterday. She does historical costume for school every day. By which I mean that she dresses as different historical figures each day for school. In the article she is pictured dressing as Helen Keller, Billie Holliday, Grace Kelly – she pulls most costumes from a book called 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century.

I was that child. My halloween costumes were almost always historically themed (sometimes fictional, since I had a penchant for Sherlock Holmes.) I had a medieval themed birthday when I was seven, a Sherlock Holmes Murder Mystery Dinner when I was 9 (Victorian themed costumes requested), a Foreign Dignitaries Tea when I was 11 (come as a historical foreign leader and celebrate my birthday), a Revolutionary War themed birthday party when I was 14.

I also wore Victorian clothing to school a lot, and in Middle School and High School, during Spirit Week, I attended classes in full Victorian garb on ’80s day. Because they didn’t specify which eighties.

I bent genders while I was cosplaying history a lot of the time – but I did dress as women too. I think in my own explorations the lines of gender became a problem for those surrounding me rather than issues of cultural appropriation which may be at play here.

I have always loved wearing historical costume. I have worn actual Victorian clothes as Halloween costumes, dressed as Suffragettes and flappers, political figures and Presidents. For me it was a part of my passion for history – and it still is. While we’re talking about how fabulous it is that this 8-year-old girl is dressing up as historical figures every day, adults do it too. I attend Jazz Age parties in New York City, I’ve been to the Jazz Age Lawn Party, to Wit’s End, to many other events where some people do go far to wear appropriate era clothing. I hope that someday, Stella gets to meet the adults who value wearing the clothing of different eras as much as she does.

Basically, I think this kid is awesome.

That being said, I do really hope that the adults in her life are talking to her about the differences between her and the people she portrays on as she explores history. I hope they explain to her that Helen Keller’s disability is not a disability she has, and that putting on her disability would be inappropriate. What I mean by this is, I hope she’s just dressing as these people, and not trying to act like them. If she’s writing in peoples hands, I’d feel like that was an inappropriate use of the historical figures she admires. I’m sure there will be other discussions she has with people – about race, and not appropriating others skin colors or cultures. Essentially, I hope she learns where the line is between respect, and appropriation. So long as she’s not putting on racial inflections of language, I think she’s got it all right.

I’m not saying Stella should stop – I think she’s doing something really cool and I want her to continue. But I just hope that people are having the childhood versions of these complicated discussions with her now, so that when she gets older, she has an understanding of why this might make people uncomfortable. It’s not easy, but I hope that along with admiring and becoming these historical figures, she learns to respect the differences between them, and to interact with those differences in thoughtful ways.

She’ll make one hell of a historian someday if she does.

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Flying The Flag

In the Castro, there is a flagpole on Harvey Milk Plaza. It flies the Rainbow Flag 365 days a year, unless a specific group under the LGBT umbrella has requested that they fly a flag for them. They’ve done it for the Bears, and they do it for the Leather community.

So why was the Transgender Flag on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance any different?

The Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) run the flagpole, and when asked in early September to fly the Transgender Flag to honor those who have died because of who they are, the MUMC chose to deny the request. It was rejected on the basis that the request had been made to fly the flag at half mast given the purpose of the day.

Had the organization simply said “We’d be happy to fly the flag so long as we are provided with the flag and we can fly it at full mast in order to comply with safety requirements. It is also a part of our goal to never put the flag at half mast, since we want to represent the strength of the LGBT community” it would have been fine. But no. Instead of offering to fly the flag and demonstrate solidarity with the transgender community, the MUMC chose to deny the request in full.
I am very glad that after 1000 signatures and many emails they chose to remake their decision and are now planning to fly the flag on November 20th. However, even their acceptance letter leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as they state “This has been a difficult conversation and emotions run very high in both directions on the issue.” and I have to ask – why? Why is it so divisive to fly this flag when others have been accepted in the past? The whole thing has notes of discrimination, and in a community of minorities, during a time when equal rights are being fought for, dividing the community makes little sense.

I hope that the organization considers widening their gaze to include all people under the LGBT umbrella in their considerations with less snark in the future.

 

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