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