I don’t like to do this. I don’t like infighting, I like coherence of movement. I do not want to go round and round on disability not being objectively bad. I do not want to play the angry dissident so folks can feel better about dismissing me.
But I simply do not want to deal with bullshit like this, time and time again.
Summary: I read a Feministing post, I got angry, I shared it on Twitter, meanwhile a bunch of people picked it up, people are writing to Feministing. Because whether it’s on disability or race or trans or class or something else, Feministing just keeps hurting women.
You should check out meloukhia’s Open Letter to Feministing, (join the co-signing) amandaw’s own Open Letter to Feministing (now with annotations by abbyjean) and Annaham’s Confessions of a Reluctant Young White Feminist, for a start. Consider this my co-signing of all of those; I wish my letter was as good. Anna’s putting together a collection of links.
Below is the email I sent on Friday.
I’m writing to address a line in your post Chivalry Doesn’t Seem So Dead – ‘If having my car door opened makes me feel like lover man thinks I’m an invalid, not so feminist.’ – as well as the larger issues around disability and Feministing.
Some “invalids,” to use your offensive and outdated terminology, are women. Therefore many people with disabilities have an investment in feminism. Did you simply not think that people with disabilities might read your site? That our feelings might matter? There’s a clear implication in your comment that being disabled is a bad thing. That being disabled makes you weak, lacking agency, needing assistance when it’s uninvited. Not to mention the fact that a great many people with disabilities can open doors for ourselves, thank you very much. If you’re thinking of responding with ‘I just meant that I’m not disabled,’ please don’t insult my intelligence.
Your comment plays into the notion of disability being a non-feminist thing. It’s as though gender and disability never interact. Not only does this contribute to the notion of PWD being never gendered and never sexual, but it’s a neat little crystalisation of the treatment of PWD and our issues on Feministing. Exactly three posts that focus on disability have been written this year – not links, not as a tiny note in a post on “proper feminist issues,” but actual substantial posts. Those were Jessica’s Parents complain about disabled TV host in February, your RIP Theologian and Disability Activist Nancy Eiesland in March and Miriam’s Sins Invalid 2009 in September. All those posts rely heavily on quotes rather than original writing. To put this in context, upwards of twenty per cent of American women – just to mention the country in which Feministing is based and on which you focus most – have disabilities. It’s not that hard to see where disability issues are appropriate on a feminist website. And you and your fellow editors have been told this again and again. It would appear that Feministing only cares about certain women, because there is no concerted effort to address these issues that affect a lot of us.
In spite of disability issues receiving minimal attention in posts, there’s still a great deal of fail in comments. Whether it’s a chorus on how having a disabled child is horrible without a single editor calling it out – see Anna on that – or rampant use of ableist language, there is a consistent lack of support for those of us with disabilities. I read Feministing every day but have never commented because I just don’t feel safe. The only reason I haven’t emailed y’all before is that I have enough of this rubbish to deal with in everyday life without encountering it in a space specifically designed to further social justice. But today I am using some of my precious spoons to try and improve things in feminist spaces for my sisters and I.
So I have three requests to make of you and the other editors:
Please refrain from erasing and insulting people with disabilities.
Please cover disabled women’s issues. (And not just in terms of reproductive rights.)
Please make the comments section a friendly environment for people with disabilities.
I know it’s easy to get defensive and I know your site has ignored criticisms before. I would like to see Feministing, one of the biggest feminist sites, represent women and be a place where women can be relatively safe. Not just the most privileged women.
I look forward to your response and hope it includes a genuine commitment to furthering all women’s rights.
Zero at the Bone
PS I shared this on Twitter and am not the only one who is angry. Here’s an open letter to you if you haven’t seen it yet.
It’s occurred to me that someone out there might misread my critique of the notion of PWD being never sexual, especially as I’ve included it as a side point and don’t expand on it. That is, I’m worried someone might read it as saying ‘asexuality is bad,’ rather than ‘desexualising people is bad’ so let me make it absolutely clear. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being asexual (or celibate for that matter, for a time or permanently, or whatever) be one disabled or abled. I do think it’s problematic to put ideas of a person’s sexuality onto them and that’s my problem with generic notions of PWD sexualities. These notions are far more widespread than ‘you’re all asexual,’ for example, when those PWD who are sexual are acknowledged as such, erasure of queer PWD often ensues. We all got that? Good.
I haven’t heard back yet and I was going to do Courtney the courtesy of waiting for her response, but, well… Since I wrote this email, Courtney has apologised (only) for the use of ‘invalid’ in comments and replied to meloukhia – although no one else – through email. Whether Feministing is going to make good on the promises of intersectionality remains unclear.