Friday, December 20, 2013

Twitter, Feminism, Disability, and marginalized voices calling out privilege. Or, what the actual fuck, dudes?

It is news to no one who uses Twitter, particularly feminists, that it can be remarkable and wonderful and astonishingly shit at the same time.

The wonderful has been demonstrated in past weeks with hashtags like #NotYourAsianSidekick, where a lot of white people mostly shut up and listened to the daily lived experience of Asians from many parts of the globe. #MyFeminismLooksLike was similarly awesome. Both tags included contributions from people who mentioned disability, mental illness, and cognitive/developmental disorders affecting their lives.

Yesterday Meghan E Murphy's post decrying "hashtag activism" and bullying of dissenting views attracted a storm of criticism on #TwitterFeminism, to which she responded with absolutely stereotypical silencing and gatekeeping tactics, refusing to listen to the voices of large numbers of WOC, poor, disabled, and working class women. All this behaviour was rightly called out. Seeing feminists of all races, abilities, gender identities and sexualities speaking out and sharing some incredibly painful, personal material was inspiring and showed exactly how remarkable Twitter can be.

Disability was touched on in all these discussions, but the voices discussing it were relatively few and the number who regularly talk about disability or mental health issues when examining intersectionality and oppression are even fewer. A number of disabled tweeters said they regularly felt silenced and excluded on #TwitterFeminism

And then, when we do speak out, in spaces which claim to be inclusive towards us - other feminists jump on us and use all the same silencing tactics as those employed by Meghan E Murphy, and every guy who's ever stuck his oar in to try and derail feminist discussion.

I was up late with insomnia. I had literally just discovered #solidarityisfortheablebodied when I read @UVGKassi observe that the tag excludes disabilities which do not center on the body, ie. cognitive and developmental disabilities and mental illness. She did not say the discussion did not include many of them - it did, and was fantastic, which I'd been here for it. She was simply questioning the language of the tag, suggesting #solidarityisfortheable as a better choice.

This spawned a number of discussions: I'm adding links to a couple as it's been pointed out that quoting without naming and linking means people don't know who said what. The hashtag was created by @nealcarter and some of the initial discussion began here.

Many of the things I've object to and talk about below were written by @amaditalks during this part of the discussion, and more here. @nealcarter also used @UVGKassi not being there at the time as an argument against listening to her POV, but it would take me 20 mins of scrolling to find, and I'm now running on empty. I recommend exploring and reading the various discussions from last night to add context if you have the energy.

Here is how @nealcarter responded to the initial version of this blog post (which lacked these links). I hope I've addressed his concern by giving these links. I think the fact that he says our raising topics we find important is "derailing", and accuses me of speaking out to get clicks, supports the points I am trying to make below. To be fair I should also acknowledge @annamarya_s' point that some things said to him during the discussion were unfair and triggering for him.

OK, end of edited section.

Did people take the privilege check? No, they became defensive and hostile and jumped right into silencing tactics. Others (including myself) added our voices in support of @UVGKassi's objections and were similarly shut down. We were told we didn't have a right to voice our lived experience because the tag was over 3 weeks ago (there's a time limit on when we can Tweet about a hashtag now?), that @UVGKassi didn't have a right to voice her opinion because she wasn't on the tag at the time (she was busy with #boycottautismspeaks, which was largely invisible outside of the autistic community), that you can't privilege-check other disabled people, that stating our feelings and replying to someone was "hectoring", then harassing them (another said "coming for" them); oh, and the opinions, lived experience and feelings of someone with autism were "nonsense accusations."

Excuse me, but why the fuck is this shit acceptable?

I'll just take two points. Firstly, excluding someone from the right to add their views to a discussion on disability because they weren't around when everyone else was discussing it is almost hilariously ableist. @UVGKassi was busy with disability activism that non-autistic people were ignoring, but there could have been a hundred other disability-related reasons for someone to have missed it. Maybe they were sectioned on a psychiatric ward at the time. Maybe they didn't have the spoons. Maybe they were too manic/depressed/exhausted to take part. Seriously, what the fuck?

Secondly, our voice was specifically excluded by one tweeter on the grounds that the mind is part of the body, so the phrase "ablebodied" includes us (she ignored the "body-centered" point). This is an incredibly disingenuous claim.

1. Parity of care, esteem, and funding for people with mental health problems has been specifically raised as a problem and discussed within both governments and mental health activist communities lately. The health, social care (and in the UK the benefits/welfare system) absolutely treat mental health and cognitive disabilities as something different from physical health and the body. Don't tell me that since my mind isn't separate from my body, the phrase "ablebodied" doesn't exclude me when nearly 30 years of living with my disability tells me otherwise. This is the exact same shit privileged white women pull towards women of colour.

2. Then there's invisibility and erasure. @spazgirl11 asked, "what's your standard image of ablebodiedness? someone who isn't VISIBLY disabled. thus erasure of nonvisble." This is a massive point, a massive issue, and hits home especially hard for people dealing with the appalling and terrifying situation with disability benefits in the UK right now. The propaganda against disabled people, and increasing hate crimes, affect us all, but they affect people with non-visible disabilities in a different way, and that is precisely why it is vital for any movement that calls itself intersectional or inclusive to include our voices and listen to our concerns (much as we listen to theirs). Enormous numbers of people are entirely clueless about issues which particularly impact people with mental illnesses or cognitive disabilities, including plenty of disabled people, much as disability issues in general are frequently not grasped by people without lived experience.

This shit is just wrong, and it needs to be acknowledged and discussed in arenas like #TwitterFeminism, if our voices as non-visibly disabled people matter.

I could write a lot more, but I'll close with this. I have avoided naming the people whose comments I found offensive, because my mental health cannot really take a shitstorm. If any of them feel I've misrepresented them or would prefer to be named and have the threads linked to, I will edit this post (as and when I have the spoons to). Mostly the point should not be name-calling, it should be addressing the issues. * Edit: I have now added names and links so people can read for themselves; it was a misjudgement to leave them out. Am leaving this paragraph here in the interests of transparency.

At some point I'll try to work on a post with some suggestions of people to follow and learn from if you want to make feminism more inclusive to people with disabilities, including cognitive disabilities and people with mental health problems. For now I will share a handful of links which it would be great if people would read and think about before getting angry.

Again, we are critiquing the choice of language. None of these criticisms mean we think #solidarityisfortheablebodied wasn't fantastic or wasn't full of extremely important voices, including of terrible discrimination and stigma suffered by people with mental illnesses and cognitive disorders. It was. Everyone should read it. solidarityisfortheablebodied and feminism's ableismproblem.

See also:

  • Feminism, secularism, skepticism, and ableism
  • To Autism Speaks, from the "Woman of Color"

  • And a few on the way the British government is currently treating disabled people, ie. driving us into poverty and suicide.

  • Armed police point weapons at disabled claimants
  • People's Review of the Work Capability Test (pdf, long but packed with lived experiences)
  • Independent Review of the WCA which the government is ignoring even though it's on their website.

  • So yeah, basically, feminism please stop adding to the marginalization of people who are already silenced, oppressed, and amongst the most vulnerable in society.

    Also it sucks that I'm genuinely afraid over posting this, let alone trying to draw attention to it, because I've seen way too much of people refusing to engage in dialogue about it but just shouting our voices down.

    And finally I should have clarified that I am @cdaargh on Twitter, for anyone who wishes to engage on these topics there.

    Saturday, November 07, 2009

    I hardly ever use this blog, but I want to post a couple of links.

    First, Ewan's liberal musings: Good luck to 500000 turfed off incapacity benefit, and the comments on it.

    And second, a new blog on Being on Benefits, addressing the myths the media perpetuates about people on incapacity benefit, especially those with invisible disabilities (like mental illness and chronic pain).

    The stigma surrounding being on benefits, and the fear of losing them, contributes a huge amount of unnecessary stress and distress to the lives of people who are already struggling. They - or I should say we, since I suffer from depression and have been on income support for incapacity - find life hard enough as it is, due to our various disabilities, and income support really doesn't provide much to live on. There are many factors that keep us on benefits, from the rather obvious fact that many of us need them because we cannot work, to the fact that employers blatantly discriminate against people with a history of mental health problems, and people with gaps in their work history.

    Many of us contribute to society in ways other than through paid employment, like voluntary work, and sometimes as homemakers and caregivers. Yet we are tarred with the brush of being "economically inactive" (even though this is not true, as what little money we have goes straight back into the economy when we spend it), and treated as lazy, good for nothing scroungers.

    In the rather unlikely event that anyone is reading this, I hope you'll go and check out the links above.

    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Autistic person translates from her language

    This is truly one of the most beautiful and moving statements I've seen on language and communication. "In My Language" is a video in which a non-verbal person with autism "speaks in her own language" -- a combination of sounds and visual cues and gestures -- and then explains what this all means by means of a text-to-speech program.

    read more | digg story

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    From my LJ, and regarding the LiveJournal Breastfeeding Fiasco:

    On the flip side, I also get annoyed at people who get annoyed at people for protesting about something they care about. It doesn't really matter why they care about it, they don't have to justify themselves to you. I've seen this recently in some of the "nipplegate" discussions - LiveJournal is a private company so they can do whatever they want, deal with it. Well, yes, they're a private company. They can't actually do whatever they want as they're still bound by the law, but within those limits they can have whatever TOS they choose. And as users, we can speak out (or shout and scream) if we think that TOS and those rules are wrong, or poorly applied. Using the service of a company does not take away your right or ability to complain when you think something is wrong. Indeed, a company should be listening to its customers harder than it should listen to people who don't utilize it.

    It's legal for Wal-Mart to use sweatshops, it's legal for Starbucks to sell "sweatshop" coffee, it's legal for all manner of companies to pollute the environment and screw over their workers. Of course, compared to these things, LiveJournal's TOS or abuse team problems are pretty insignificant. But part of LJ's business model, part of the reason we all use it, is that it builds up that sense of community. Without the community, quite a few of us wouldn't stay. If a company depends on its users and their communities for its popularity and success, it would be wise to listen to them. They may not owe any legal duty to do so, but it's a poor business decision not to.

    Also quoted over here.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    Why does LiveJournal Abuse hate breasts?

    Breastfeeding moms are up in arms over LJ deeming the act of breastfeeding inappropriate for default user icons. LJ Abuse responds to their complaints by altering the wording of the FAQ to support their new anti-breast stance. Shit flies all over LJ, and beyond.

    Friday, May 12, 2006

    More things I'm sure make us all really trust the wonderful US government.

    "The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY."