Feminist Conference 2011 | Movements: Politics, Performance and Disability/ Am I "disabled"?

Program | The Scholar & Feminist Conference 2011 | Movements: Politics, Performance and Disability.

Last week, I began to write a post entitled “Identifying as “Disabled””. I never finished it and only managed to write a few lines because I got stuck.

I went to the Barnard Center for Research on Women conference yesterday (as you can see the program for). It only further confused me when it came to thinking about these issues.

Layout of this post which I might decide to break up into a few of them.

  1. I learned a lot at the conference and wanted to share some of those experiences and that information
  2. I found a lot lacking at the conference that bothered me and I wanted to vent
  3. I found myself really struggling with how to identity

1. What I learned at the conference

A lot. Not all from what people were saying directly, but from the experience as a whole.

General things I found interesting/noticed:

  • it was a very queer event
  • there were even less men than I would normally expect at a feminist event
  • there were people in wheel chairs, using walkers/canes, etc than I have ever seen in one place before in my life
  • it seemed to be an event about disability, for people with disabilities
  • new word, “crip”

One of my friends said basically that the queer part is just because once you get to fringe academia and to these types of settings places are more queer friendly etc. I found that though to be an interesting part of the day.

The lack of men really baffled me. I am used to seeing a small, but still existent, presence of men at feminist events. Also, I would feel that disabled men would come to something like this because it was for them as well for the most part. I guess though that the more removed you get from “rich, white, heterosexual, cisman (who also presents outwardly as male in gender presentation), “able-bodied”, etc”, the more people in those various minorities that you get. For example, there were more women I saw of various racial minorities present than I have seen in many feminist gatherings.

There were ASL interpreters present, captioning for people, and various other assistive methods present. Unlike most places where there are a few “handicapped accessible” seats in the far back or to the side or somewhere else out of the way, the people in wheelchairs were spread throughout the room. There was no sense of people sitting off to the side because of mobility or fear of being in the way. When we arrived, a woman was on the floor on her back because one of her wheels broke on her chair and someone was fixing it. Women walked through the room with various physical supports and did not look down in shame as they passed by others. I realized that I’m not used to seeing people’s faces when they are using assitive devices because they often seem to be looking down at the floor as they pass by. So many of them had such physical presence it was astounding.

As I mentioned, it was very much an event that tried to be as accessible as possible for people with physical disabilities.

The word “crip”. Essentially parallel to the way that the word queer has been revamped and is now a positive word used with pride, crip is used by some within the disabled community to self-identify. Also, “to crip” something as a verb is like queering something. I have to read more because I don’t want to get it wrong, but it was interesting.

2. Venting

It often seemed to ignore that there was such a thing as a non-physical disability. I felt alienated and like an outside for most of the day. In a sense, that could be a good thing. It means that the physically disabled population probably felt like they belonged and didn’t feel alienated. I’m very glad that it was made to make them feel like they belonged. However, I wasn’t there as an observer. I was there because I am interested in these issues and affected by them.

It was very much an event about academia. Despite the presence of all of these wonderful women who were personally affected by the issues at hand, the conference was about the abstract and academic concept of “disability”. Some of the practical issues were raised, but they seemed secondary.

Anecdote illustrating this: I talked to a woman I met at the conference. Her interest in disability rights (seems to have) stemmed from the fact that her mother is a polio survivor and has physical effects of that she lives with. This woman, I will call her Nora, met another woman who is very involved in the movement (I will call her) Susan. So, Susan was at the conference yesterday and it was the first time that Nora had seen her in a while. They had a very awkward meeting previously.

Nora: (something something)…watching my mother degenerate from polio

Susan: Maybe you need to find a different word than degenerate (walks off and doesn’t give her a chance to think of one or explain)

Susan’s response I feel illustrates how I felt the attitude of the conference was. So, just to explain the interaction and how I feel about it first. Nora is presumably going through a rough time. It is very difficult for any of us to watch those we love and care about suffer. It is also difficult to know how to help them and how to react to and relate to their experiences. She described her experience in the vocabulary that fit. Susan, being opposed to the word “degenerate” and offended by it as someone involved in the disability rights community, wrote off Nora as insensitive and ignorant. Whether or not I got all of that right, you get the idea. Nora was describing her reality and Susan was reacting to it as if it were academia.

Experiences in real life cannot be written off simply because they seem to go against your specific views of the topic in academia

As someone who is used to dealing with things from the public health/psychology/social work side, that is a horrible thing to respond. It is essentially invalidating her personal experience and feelings with a tremendously difficult thing simply because she phrased it wrong. In a university course, she can ignore people from using that phrase. However, in real life outside of a classroom when she talks to another human being, it is incredibly insensitive and hurtful to do something like that. She did not even allow her a chance to change the wording and continue the conversation. She left the conversation abruptly. That is rude.

Aspie Parallel: I hate Autism Speaks, I have read things by Jim Sinclair and about neurodiversity, I plan to attend Autreat, I hate talk of curing, and I talk about aspie pride in WrongPlanet forums (hyperlinks attached to help if you aren’t familiar with any of those). Yet, I am aware of the fact that if I were neurotypical, there are a lot of things about my mother’s and my boyfriend’s lives that would be easier. If a woman said that she was stressed out trying to deal with her autistic son and went to a support group for it, I wouldn’t walk away from her. I understand that it is possible simultaneously for me to not have to apologize and feel sorry for doing things that are part of who I am and yet at the same time, for someone else I love to struggle with how it effects them.


3. Identity

I have been wondering whether or not I “count” as disabled. If I am “allowed” to consider myself disabled and whether or not I “deserve” to identify with that label. It is too complicated to begin here so I decided to move the rest of this section to a new post.


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