Blogging Against Disablism Day: Pity, Tubes, and the Meaning of “Hope”

30 04 2008

Hope.

It’s a term we hear over and over again in relation to disability.

As in, for example, gene therapy giving “hope” to the blind. Or ABA treatments as “hope” for “overcoming” autism.

Could it be that we’ve got it all wrong?

I’m in a unique position. You see, I’ve been recently told that I may possibly have a kind of invisible disability – asperger’s syndrome. And I’ve grown up around people with disabilities all my life. I went to an elementary/middle school with a sizeable Deaf department – I was even a reading buddy to two students in a primary Deaf class. When I went to high school, I went to a high school with an even larger Deaf department. In fact, a couple of my close friends are Deaf.

I think I learned from a young age that people with disabilities are just that – people, who happen to have disabilities. I didn’t see someone who was Deaf and used sign language as someone to be pitied – rather, I saw them as someone who simply communicated in a different way when I did. This also why I think I’ve been more relaxed than most in facing the posibility of having a disability myself – I’ve always seen it as just a different way to be.

I guess that’s why the ableist attitudes of the general population boggle my mind sometimes. I remember, a few months ago, I was watching some YouTube videos with a young girl a few years younger than I am. I’m not sure if “babysitting” is the right word – she was 13 years old at the time. We were going through our favorite YouTube videos, and I asked her, “Want to see this video of a really awesome wheelchair dance troupe?”

“Oh, no!” she said. “It would make me so sad!”

I was a little taken aback by this comment. Here I was, trying to demonstrate people with disabilities being involved in the arts, and all someone could see was a group of wheelchairs. And, automatically, using a wheelchair was deemed to be something depressing.

This kind of prejudice has seemed to extend to a phobia, of sorts: the fear of tubes. I can’t count the number of times some well-meaning (although ableist) liberal has said something to the effect of, “Someone who needs tubes to eat/breathe/pee must be suffering horribly! That’s not a life!”

Umm… what?

Crip Chick wrote this brilliant post a while ago and I think it hit the nail on the head.

More often than not, wheelchairs/feeding tubes/catheters/ventilators make life better for people, not worse. Let me share a little story with you. I was born with severe kidney reflux and had a bunch of malformations in my urinary tract. I’m fine now, in case you were worried. But when I was really young (2 or 3 years old), I had surgery to fix my urinary tract. And, as I recovered from surgery, I had to use a catheter while my urinary tract healed.

That’s right, folks, peeing through a tube! (I realize this may be a little too much information, but it’s being used to prove a point).

Although I don’t remember much of that point in my life, I highly doubt I was miserable because I had to use some kind of assistive technology. Life is better when you can, you know, pee without excruciating pain.

The thing is, I don’t think anyone assumed my life was automatically miserable. Because, despite my medical issues, I was percieved as simply being another able-bodied kid. The truth is, most of us will end up using some kind of assistive technology in our lifetimes – if we get injured, contract an illness, have surgery, etc.

But for some reason, we assume lives of people with disabilities, especially if they have to use assisted technology, are not worth living. That’s called ableism. Or disablism, if you live in the U.K. Often, it’s purveyed by otherwise well-meaning people, who assume that it’s simply awful to live a life like “that”.

This brings me to the term that’s being tossed around – “hope”.

“Hope” to eradicate disability.

Attempting to make someone’s life easier is one thing, but often it descends into a ridiculous amount of pity. Pity is a useless emotion. And it’s often dehumanizing to the person being pitied. It’s as if to say “I’m going to pity you, because obviously you’re less of a person than me.”

I see a different kind of “hope” for disability. I wish we had a world where disability, perhaps, still exists, but people with disabilities are accepted. As people, not some specimen to study or something to be pitied. And I wish we had a world where we could accomodate people with disabilities, rather than expect them to conform to our ideals.

What kind of “hope” are we seeking?





In Defence of Raunch Feminism

18 04 2008

(Note: This is a post for the second Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy. Woo-hoo!)

About a year ago, I read Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs. If you haven’t read it, I’ll sum it up for you: essentially, Ms. Levy takes issue with “raunch culture”, especially that which is assumed to be masquerading as feminism. While some of her points are well taken, I think the entire premise of the book was somewhat misguided.

Never mind the fact that nobody really considers Girls Gone Wild or Sex and the City feminist. Not even sex-positive feminist.

A few weeks ago, the 3rd annual Feminist Porn Awards took place in my city. And the feminist blogosphere jumped on it. I don’t feel like linking every single post, so just do a google blog search if you want to read what people posted. There were quite a few positive responses, but also a lot of stuff along the lines of “How DARE you take the exploitation of women, and call it feminist?”

My friend Chanelle Gallant actually helped spearhead the first FPA’s, and trust me, she knows what she’s doing. I always found it interesting that even though she says that the Feminist Porn Awards were meant to combat sexism and racism in porn, and that while a lot of porn sucks, not all of it does, the knee-jerk reactions are still the same. And whether the debate surrounds porn, sex work, or a woman simply wearing a low-cut top, the same word keeps popping up from a lot of feminists.

Victim.

As in, “women who are in porn are victims of the patriarchy”. Or “Sex workers are victims of exploitation”. And if someone points to organizations like the Sex Professionals of Canada or Scarlet Alliance or Empower, people concede, “Well, there are some who choose to do that, but they’re in the tiny minority”.

It’s true that a number of women (and men) are coerced into sex work. But the assumption that seems to come up over and over again, at least the way I see it, is this: women do not have the power to consent to sex work.

And this seems to be coming from a blatantly sexist assumption – women are too weak, or too stupid, or too easily controlled to be able to make such choices for themseleves. I doubt many people would admit it, at least in those words, but that’s where it seems to be coming from. Not to mention it’s incredibly heteronormative – pornography and sex work can involve people who are queer or straight, transgender and cisgender. It’s not always about “men vs. women”.

The way I see it, trying to regulate people’s consensual sexual activities is often inherently anti-feminist in itself. It’s usually an effort to control women’s bodies. We see it time and time again with the religious right – restrictive abortion laws, restricted access to birth control, and abstinence-only sex education. And we’re seeing it with people who call themselves feminist. Because, supposedly, no self-respecting woman would ever do THAT! And then there’s the good old “Would you want your daughter doing that? What about your sister?” Never mind the fact that nobody wants to imagine any of their relatives doing the nasty. It’s all about control – people wouldn’t want their children, their family members, their friends doing that. So then they shouldn’t. Actually, if I had a friend or relative in the sex industry, I’d want them to be safe, but I’d support them just the same. I don’t see a need to be judgemental about other’s sex lives.

And I think, if someone is making an informed choice (and choice is the key word), more power to them.

And then there’s the other false assumption that people use against this so-called “raunch feminism”. And I think most people are guilty of using it from time to time. It’s that sex, sexuality, or anything that has to do with it is inherently unintelligent, superficial, and vacuous.

I call bullshit.

I think eroticism is one of the most powerful things out there. Or, in the words of Audre Lorde, “We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.”

Think of when you’re attracted to someone. I mean really attracted. Can you feel it throughout your whole body? Does it take over your mind? I think that’s why we use eroticism so often in media and pop culture. It’s a powerful tool. And it’s usually not done in the most tasteful or equitable way, which is why we should critique what we see in the media. But I think the mistake a lot of people make is to automatically assume sex is either vacuous and stupid, or inherently exploitive. It can be, and sometimes it isn’t.

Which is why we have a responsibility, if we choose to use sex in one way or another (and almost all of us do, eventually), to do it in a smart way. Yes, you can have really smart, thoughtful sex! Casual sex, or other sex outside of a relationship, I don’t think is excluded from this either – sex for its own sake, in my opinion, is neither disgusting, nor degrading, nor a sign of being “low class”. It just, well, is what it is – sex for the sake of pleasure. I think we have to look at power structures, and critique them, without jumping to unnecessary conclusions or making unnecessary assumptions or judgments. Don’t assume people’s reasons for doing things. I think, if you look at it, a lot of people, including sex workers and those who use their services, are smarter than you think.

So here’s to raunch feminism. The smart, sexy kind that’s breaking down boundaries and ensuring sexual freedom for everyone. It may not be what you think it is.