Feminists are fine with being bigots if it's just ableism

This is a subject that’s been sticking in my craw for a long time now, ever since it became an issue on Iris’ forums over a year ago. It was from the conflicts that arose there that I realized that most feminists — even ones who are aware of intersections such as racism and homophobia — are steeped quite deeply (and happily) in their able-bodied privilege. A rundown of what happened on Iris’ forums can be found in my Ableism thread, but suffice it to say that it prompted me to create other posts to help promote a better understanding of ableism: Yes, it is offensive to the targeted group and Guides to using non-bigoted language.

However, I haven’t really talked about ableism on this blog or elsewhere. Except for sometimes linking the above threads to some of my LJ friends who have used “crazy” or “retard” or whatnot, I have generally avoided calling people out because, well, it’s harder to deal with people’s able-bodied privilege in another person’s space, especially because I am able-bodied myself.

But today I broke with that pattern. Jill of Feministe, a blogger I very much respect, used ableist slurs such as “crazy” and “nutbag” in a post about an anti-choice leader named Jill Stanek’s bizarre, inflammatory, and racist language. Since I respect Jill, and know that she understands that fighting bigotry with other kinds of bigotry is bad, I made the following comment:

I agree that what Stanek said was both ridiculous and vile, but the sheer number of times you casually threw around ableist slurs like “crazy” and “nutbag” really doesn’t sit right with me. Whether or not Stanek actually has a mental illness, it’s still not cool to use slurs degrading people with mental illnesses to attack her. I would recommend reading the quotes and visiting the links in this post: Yes, it is offensive to the targeted group

Jill replied graciously with, “Thanks for pointing that out, Tekanji. I will check that in the future.” However, the other replies I’ve received so far were not so encouraging.

A commenter named “ThickRedGlasses” quoted most of what I wrote and then added:

Are you confessing something here?

Although I’m not entirely sure what was meant by the comment, I am confident that it wasn’t an agreement or show of support, but more likely intended as an insult or a way to invalidate/discredit what I was saying.

“Dana” took the standard approach of denial:

Wow, that woman is insane. And yes, while I hate the word retarded I don’t see “crazy” or “insane” as ableist. Maybe I should, but I really don’t see people using “insane” or “nutbag” for that matter to insult people with actual mental illnesses. Whereas retard is a bloody hideous word that is used as a weapon against disabled people. That’s the difference in my head.

Her reply makes me wonder if she followed the link I gave, which specifically cites the people who are actually directly affected by ableist rhetoric explaining why slurs such as “crazy” and “nutbag” are, indeed, harmful to people with mental disabilities.

As of yet, no one else has directly responded to my comment. Maybe no one will. But commenters continue to attack Stanek by conflating her illogical and inflammatory arguments with being mentally ill (in addition to the words used in the original post, another commenter added “lunacy” to the mix). I have to say that the unwillingness of many feminists to address their privilege — especially when the type of privilege is not one usually discussed, even in feminist circles where intersectionality is valued — continues to disappoint me.

I believe in feminism. I respect the history of the movement and am grateful for all the hard work that feminists have, and continue to, put in to the struggle for equality.

But it’s getting harder and harder for me to identify and ally myself with feminism when so many feminists don’t fucking care about any oppression but their own. It’s not just all the casual ableism that hardly ever gets called out, or that feminists like Linda Hirshman get paid by well-known newspapers to revel in their privilege. It’s everything.

I feel like I spend more time trying to educate other feminists than anything else. How can I in good conscience continue to ally myself with people who are so fucking selfish that they are more than happy to let other groups get run over as long as their own issues are addressed?

Maybe it’s time to stop trying to work from the inside; maybe I need to just drop the “feminist” label and declare myself an anti-oppression activist and nothing else. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s looking more and more to be the only acceptable one.

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43 thoughts on “Feminists are fine with being bigots if it's just ableism

  1. I came to your post via a trackback from Feministe. Very enlightening post. Thank you. I disagree with the title of your post, but I do understand why you’d come to that conclusion. As a feminist who struggles with mental illness and who has many family members with histories of severe mental illness, I still catch myself (and become disappointed with myself) using ableist language as slurs. People like Stanek aren’t crazy. They’re bad people. Period. This thread (http://forums.theirisnetwork.org/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=437) in particular is very helpful in understanding that more fully.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. I hadn’t realized the offensiveness of “lame” until very recently, when Jesse the K pointed it out to me, and I’m grateful. I feel a little more conflicted about “crazy,” which is much more disconnected from “mentally ill” for me, as someone with clinical depression, but I’m trying to re-examine how much of that “disconnection” is coming from having the ability to “pass” as healthy under most short-term social circumstances.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I enjoyed reading the linked discussion, even though it often made me furious, because I could see a real progression in peoples’ understanding, and a lot of valid questions were asked regarding different types of privilege, and how to implement anti-albeism policies in an existing community. This is definitely stuff that people can use.

    Sadly, it shows that there is a very definite hierarchy of -isms. I think that for most able people, the perspectives of people with disabilities are (perceived as) pretty foreign or obscure. It’s not like there are a lot of media portrayals of characters with disabilities. Chronic illnesses also show up pretty rarely in TV and film, considering their prevelance in the population. People often don’t realise that they might know someone who is affected by this stuff, not least because the word “disabled” in itself often connotes complete incapacitation, which is not necessarily true for many people who have a disabling invisible condition.

    I’m happy that there’s an increase in the amount of discussion on ableism and able privilege; I’ve just got to the point where I’m sick to death of being stereotyped, and of peoples’ excuses that their language will somehow be impoverished if they actually have to choose a word that doesn’t cause deep hurt to somebody.

  4. Well, you are an anti-oppression activist, no? You certainly helped me widen my definition of ‘feminist’. Thanks 🙂

    But if you feel you’re getting burned-out, maybe spending less time/energy on such blogs/forums/sites would help? I don’t mean you should give up or anything, just that sometimes you can’t take everything on by yourself.

    As for the offensive words, I see how things like ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ could be offensive to people with some mental illness. ‘Nutbag’ is a little more ambiguous I think. On one hand it could be offensive to some, but on the other, it looks like just a silly made-up word. Do you know of any resources with info on how actual people with mental illnesses feel about these things?

  5. Lots to think about here. I admit that I’ve had a really hard time stopping using ‘crazy’ casually, so (up to now) I’d kind of given up. I let the fact that someone I know with a schizophrenic dad isn’t offended and still uses it placate me (classic ‘my friend isn’t offended, so it’s okay’ defense, but internalized!)

    But I’ve always found my use of the word problematic, especially because it’s usually aimed at myself. (I have a history of depression but most people I’m talking to don’t know that.) I use it to soft-pedal things I’m saying: “Maybe I’m crazy but…” or apologize: “Sorry, I’m just crazy today!” It’s pretty non-confident social accommodation, but worse than that, when any woman does this it ties into a long and storied history of ‘craziness’ being used to dominate, tame and stigmatize women. It is amazingly stupid of me to keep using this when I can coherently explain to a man why he’s using that history against women with the same word. Why am I doing it? Habit. Because it’s easier to keep doing something than stop. Because I’m the only one telling myself to stop — there’s no one around me who has told me to stop it or, really, who I think would understand if I told them I was trying to stop it.

    So, I guess now is the time: I need to try harder. I need to do better. I can stop doing this, and I will.

  6. One of my parents is bipolar-diagnosed: manic depressive and schizo-affective, with some other symptoms. I can really relate to the specific example behind this post, because I remember all too well the overwhelming sense of shame I had as a child about my father’s medical condition. I still don’t feel especially comfortable discussing the issue with people I don’t know fairly well. There are some deep roots to my lack of desire for children that are probably, at least in part, traceable to an insecurity about genetic potential for mental illness. And I know that the broad negative associations of all of the language around mental illness are part of the originating impulse of these feelings.

    That said, I am a sympathetic to the difficulties people have in navigating this issue around mental illness. There’s a clear shortcoming in using the terms you identify as slurs as a substitute for articulating an opinion. Calling Stanek crazy is, from an information-gleaning point of view, only marginally more useful than calling her opinions stupid, or for that matter simply saying that they’re bad.

    On the other hand, there are times when someone’s political activity has what I consider to be a real and socially destructive effect, and is motivated by what I think of is an irrational understanding of reality. Or when a religious group’s beliefs tread sufficiently far from social norms that I identify them with delusional or paranoid states.

    I know I’m rambling here, but it’s difficult. There are times when my father has been “a danger to himself or others,” and for this not in a position to care for himself, and it’s very difficult to stop seeing the metaphor. Particularly when considering the traffic in ideas like imaginary fetus consumption.

    I’m not looking for the cheap disqualification a good point by arguing from the edge cases; that’s really not why I’m making the comment. And I can see the ways in which you could substitute any number of other identities into my comment and produce grossly unethical statements. Maybe it’s some kind of perverse exceptionalism, in which this particular ableism that I’m intimately familiar with seems different. But I can’t define the difference very well, either; at least not at the moment.

    postscript: I really waffled on whether to post under my name or not, but decided it was the decent thing to do. Point in your favor.

  7. I think the weird thing about words like “crazy” is that it’s offensive to use them referring to an actually mentally ill person, but… it’s also offensive to use them about anyone else? And it seems odd to have a word that you apparently cannot use in any circumstance, especially when it’s not always used negatively thanks to long association with “bizarre” and thereby “unique”. I mean, I’m all for insults that actually describe the insulted party accurately, but this is a degree of subtlety that it’s honestly not surprising people don’t get. “Gay” is really obvious because, duh, the public transport system/starbucks/your homework is clearly not homosexual. And “retarded” is sort of like that too because it *is actually used* in a clinical context, so if you were to say “are you retarded!?” there would be a clear yes-or-no answer there, and most people it’s applied to in casual conversation are not. But I didn’t immediately see the problem with what Dana said because I don’t think of eg depressed people as crazy either (I say this as one) and I don’t think most people do – inasmuch as it refers to mental illness it seems to refer to a very specific type of mental illness which actually involves a fairly severe disconnect from reality. So, I guess can see it being offensive to schizophrenic people. Which is probably a good enough reason to avoid it, honestly, although I’ve noticed people don’t really think about schizophrenia, it’s one of those social blind spots.

    So, I guess I’m trying to say that the “crazy” thing is always going to get the kinds of responses you got because it just isn’t immediately obvious to… pretty much anyone who isn’t called crazy on a regular basis, I suppose. If you’re used to it in a non-offensive context like “man your hair is so crazy today” you have to actually think about it to see the problem with it, and people don’t generally, well, especially on the internet. I’m not trying to excuse anything, just pragmatically speaking it’s probably useful to consider the logic there.

    I think the key phrase in Dana’s comment is “That’s the difference in my head.” She doesn’t seem to realise that her words could have an effect OUTSIDE her head, and isn’t that a familiar problem. If I’m perfectly honest, though, there’s a difference in my head, too, although it’s not a binary one – I just think of “retard” as WORSE than “crazy.” And of course, if you go back far enough linguistically speaking you could bring in moron or idiot – the difference being that THOSE are archaic enough that nobody defines themselves as a moron. Point is that I think it can be a more complex issue than “crazy just is an insult to the mentally ill.” Language has room for that kind of thing.

  8. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to work from the inside; maybe I need to just drop the “feminist” label and declare myself an anti-oppression activist and nothing else. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s looking more and more to be the only acceptable one.

    That’s a feeling I’d found myself getting increasingly the more I read feminist discussion online. I was getting increasingly disillusioned the more I saw people refusing to admit to their hypocrisy and basically playing games of “well, at least we’re not like those people.” I’m hardly a model of perfection, but at least I can admit to when I’m being a jerk and take steps to correct that.

    I have strong respect for the purported goals of feminism and my own personal views tend to align with them…or at least the anti-oppression goals. I’m not interested in the mudslinging I see far too often or the attitude of “my oppression is the only valid oppression,” and I find that if I decide to take a specifically feminist viewpoint with regard to an issue, I feel limited to seeing and discussing only how a situation affects women. When commenting on someone else’s blog, I stay on topic as a matter of courtesy and convention. But it doesn’t sit right for my own thoughts in an open discussion.

  9. I really appreciate you writing this, Tekanji, if for no other reason then it may light the fire I’m working on to write my own post.

    I hate when people toss around “lame” – and I see it a lot on feminist blogs as well as elsewhere. Yes, further proof that disabled people don’t really count.

    I’m so very tired. Every time someone who isn’t dealing with living with a disability also speaks out against this stuff, I feel such gratitude. Thank you.

  10. Thanks for writing this post!! I recently debated whether or not to bring up the ablism a blogger I admire showed when he referred to someone he disagreed with as “drooling”. I didn’t. It’s certainly not nearly as in-your-face and using the word retard but to me it’s still very much under the umbrella of ablist language that subconsciously separates and devalues disabled people.

  11. Also, what ThickRedGlasses was saying with their comment was, “You must only be protesting speech that attacks mental illness because you are mentally ill,” with the implication that mental illness = shameful and worthy of being mocked.

  12. But it’s getting harder and harder for me to identify and ally myself with feminism when so many feminists don’t fucking care about any oppression but their own.

    Honestly? This isn’t just a problem with feminism. It’s a problem with all sorts of human rights activism, and the underlying cause of it is a concerted, ongoing effort to divide and conquer.

    We have all, for so long, been conditioned to believe that justice and freedom are limited quantities that we get nervous when we see someone unlike ourselves getting a piece of the pie, even if we know intellectually that they deserve that piece just as much as we do. We fight like rats in a too-small cage for the scraps that our oppressors give us, rather than banding together to ask why we’re only getting scraps in the first place.

    We get so focused on our own oppression, and that of people exactly like us, that we don’t see what’s happening to others. And, worse, we don’t see when WE are participating in the oppression of others. We seem to blithely believe that as members of an oppressed class, we are somehow exempt from the responsbility to not be bigots ourselves.

    It’s everywhere: It’s in the misogyny of some gay men. It’s in the racism from some white women. It’s in the homophobia of some people of color. The enemy for all of us is, in part, the stereotypical straight, rich, white guys who hold the majority of political and economic power in the Western world, but we also have enemies in each other, which is making the whole problem worse. Those power-holding white guys would not have nearly the disproportionate share of power that they do if they weren’t getting help from some of the rest of us who waste our time pissing on the other rats for getting scraps bigger than the ones we get.

    And while I’m at it, it’s actually not even all that productive to keep framing the enemy as the straight white guys, either. It may be true that most of the power holders fit that demographic, but it’s not like every straight, white guy is really the enemy, or is exempt from being in an oppressed class himself. Maybe he’s a recent immigrant from Ukraine and speaks little English. Maybe he has a disability. Maybe he’s short or losing his hair or is a single father.

    The truth, which so many of us ignore, is this: We are all of us privileged on some level, and thus have the power to oppress other people who don’t have that particular privilege. We will never solve oppression in general unless all of us take a good, long look at ourselves and check our own tendencies to abuse others out of fear for our own survival.

  13. Okay. I totally understand the language issue and sympathize. But what I’m wondering is: how do you come up with any word that’s shorthand for “this person’s ideas aren’t internally consistent/would damage the entire world/whatever and should not be taken seriously”? I understand you could just say the whole phrase, but if you’re saying (here’s the crappy language, be forewarned) “Crazy Republican so-and-so” or whatever, what’s a better (but still not hugely wordy) way to say this? I think if we had a guide that was more along the lines of “instead of ______ say ______ or _______” it would be easier to do this sort of thing. The links talking about unbiased language re: physical and mental illness and disability are just talking about people with actual physical and mental illness. Unless someone wants to play diagnostician, they’re not going to replace “Crazy asshole Fred Phelps” with an actual psychological disorder.

    In other words, we need some good INSULTS, good dismissive words. It’s sometimes good to be able to be dismissive of hateful and cruel people. Unfortunately, most of our language along those lines is based in dismissing and insulting people who are physically or mentally different. Maybe a brainstorming session of something ELSE to say (“asshole” wears kind of thin, and some people aren’t comfortable with “curse words”) would be good.

  14. “Fred Phelps is a jerk.” “Fred Phelps is pathetic.” “Fred Phelps is such a waste of space.” “Fred Phelps is evil.”

  15. I don’t think I ever thanked you personally, but you really did help me realize there was a lot of ableism in my language (including my former-blog title, which is why I changed it). It may be a tiny thing, but that you took the time to educate me did actually have an impact.

    Regarding crazy, etc, I’ve found myself checking this way more often due to having friends who have coped with mental illness. One of whom has several times called me in tears and then apologized for “being crazy.” So when joking around with her other times, I find I’ll start to say, “That’s cra…” and stop because I don’t want to ever, ever reinforce the idea that she needs to apologize for having a problem or convey that I have any kind of problem with her. I love her, and being careful of my language is a small thing to do for a good friend.

  16. Anon: The title of my post was more an expression of my feelings of the time, rather of some objective truth. It’s true that plenty of feminists care about ableism issues (I was turned onto intersectional feminism by the same people who helped me to understand why insults like “lame” are ableist), even if sometimes it seems as if feminism is one vast sea of privilege.

    Micole: I’m glad that this post helped you. I often feel nervous about discussing this kind of stuff because of the backlash, but comments like yours help me to remember why it’s so important not to let my fear silence me and to get discussions like these out in the open.

    Ang said:

    I’ve just got to the point where I’m sick to death of being stereotyped, and of peoples’ excuses that their language will somehow be impoverished if they actually have to choose a word that doesn’t cause deep hurt to somebody.

    Seriously. I mean, I know there are some people who want to know alternatives, but the ones who just flippantly talk about “word policing” and “the PC police” make me roll my eyes.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your take on the Ableism thread. For me it was so frustrating that it felt like a defeat, but your comment reminded me that it’s important to also look at the progress that was made and the good that came out of it.

    Kimiko said:

    ‘Nutbag’ is a little more ambiguous I think. On one hand it could be offensive to some, but on the other, it looks like just a silly made-up word. Do you know of any resources with info on how actual people with mental illnesses feel about these things?

    I haven’t come across a commentary on the term ‘nutbag’ in particular, but I was reacting to both context and that I’ve come across people who put terms like “wingnut” into the ableist slur category (see Yes, it is offensive to the targeted group).

    And, yeah, I’m an anti-oppression activist but I’ve always identified first and foremost as a feminist.

    Cecily: It’s a lifelong process. I still struggle with keeping bigoted slurs of all sorts out of my vocabulary, and probably always will. I think we could all benefit from following the advice you gave yourself here: “I need to try harder. I need to do better. I can stop doing this, and I will.”

  17. Followed a link here from Feministe – thanks for this post. I’ve only recently become aware of the way I casually throw around words like crazy, retard, lame, insane, etc because yeah, it’s become part of the cultural vocabulary and I don’t even think about it. But – my boyfriend’s mom is handicapped and a number of my friends have struggled with mental illness, and it’s completely insensitive of me to just throw around slurs like that. I can do better. And by the way – I know it’s frustrating to feel like all you’re doing is educating feminists, but some of us actually learn from that education. I got introduced to feminism via gender issues, but having spent some time exploring the blogosphere my understanding of oppression and intersectionality has grown dramatically. Please understand that some feminists, like myself, don’t intend to come off as ignorant and selfish – we need people like you to point out that there are other things going on in the world that we need to be aware of, if we’re going to be true to our commitment to fight against oppression.

  18. Wow, thanks for this post. I had never really thought about this stuff before, even though I’m bipolar. I had especially never thought about “lame” before. I think part of this is because I’ve been ashamed of being “broken” (not that I actually think people w/ b/p are broken, it’s just the way I feel embarrassed/inadequate sometimes), so it’s been hard for me to look at this stuff. Maybe because if I pretend to have ableist privilege, I don’t have to face the fact that I’m one of the ones being dissed by ableist language. I’m not trying to make an excuse (I know I’ve been wrong for using words like “crazy”) but I’m trying to think of why I do this so I can better understand. Now that I’m more aware of this, I’m certainly going to make a big effort to use different language.

    I love that you brought this up for discussion! I’m a feminist who believes in an ongoing process of critical analysis of not only wider culture, but ourselves. I think these kinds of talks better us all.

    This of course means substituting different words that don’t perpetrate bigotry…hmm…well, looking at this thread, there’s pathetic, bizarre, jerk, asshole, waste of space, evil. If other people would like to inject some of their non-ableist language, I’d appreciate it.

    Once again, thanks for bringing this up. You’ve really helped me understand this better.

  19. Thanks so much for this, Tekanji. It’s an issue I’ve been struggling with recently – the theory is easy, but the practice comes hard. “Lame” wasn’t much in my vocabulary to begin with, or “retard,” but “crazy” and variations on it are well entrenched. I usually manage to catch myself and substitute “absurd” or “bizarre” or “unreasonable,” in my speech, but I still think that way, which bothers me. Especially as someone with a couple diagnosed ‘special needs‘ myself.

  20. Sigh.

    First of all, you’re talking about feminist bloggers and other feminist writers. These are not typically people who go to consciousness-raising sessions–these are people who hang out alone in front of their computer and feel very passionately about something and try to convince others, through their choice of words, to feel passionately as well.

    It’s not fair that words like “crazy,” “lame,” and “retarded” pack a greater rhetorical punch than words like “unreasonable,” “uncool,” and “stupid.” But when you’re trying to convey how breathtakingly stupid issue/person/action X is, you’re going to get across your point a lot easier writing “issue/person/action X is retarded” than if you write “issue/person/action X is really stupid.” If something completely lacks intelligence and should be scorned, we need to find other words for that that convey that at the same level as the slur does without actually being a slur. And that’s challenging; especially when you’re just trying to jot out a quick post about something that’s pissed you off enough to make you blog about it.

    We should be more aware of how the words, and the underlying semiotics of those words–reinforce a system of oppression through negative connotations.

    My feeling is that Feminists tend to be pretty good about these things when you give them room to work: we’ve already learned why words like “bitch” and “slut” are bad — we can learn why words like “crazy” and “lame” are bad if we’re just tapped on the shoulder and pointed toward the issue. It takes time and it’s frustrating and you’ll get people who get defensive but in the end the majority of feminists really do see oppression as more than just what men do to women and will seek to rid themselves of their privilege. As for the issue at hand: You don’t know how old, or how long at it, a lot of these commenters are. We are not all sprung fully-grown from the head of Athena: a lot of bloggers and commenters are works in progress. My 15-year-old feminist self was a completely privileged head-up-asshole because I was still new to it, but as I got older and had people challenge my assholishness I learned a few things and got better. And I’m still learning shit and making myself into a better person and hell yeah it’s because I’m a feminist.

    But I don’t think it helps anyone to throw up your hands and declare “I’m not a feminist!” because 100% of feminists aren’t 100% aware of 100% of the oppressions out there. It helps people get defensive, sure. But it doesn’t help raise awareness to /ragequit feminism because some people who call themselves feminists use an expression that is offensive to another group that they don’t see as being connected to feminism yet. It just means there’s one less feminist voice teaching and advocating a greater understanding of oppression.

  21. At Mighty Ponygirl –

    “But I don’t think it helps anyone to throw up your hands and declare “I’m not a feminist!” because 100% of feminists aren’t 100% aware of 100% of the oppressions out there.”

    Is that REALLY what you see Tekanji doing? Because that’s a mighty condescending interpretation of what I see here, which is someone calling out ableist feminists on their shit. And frankly, if you’re defending a feminism that can’t handle that, who would want to be allied with your movement anyway?

    “We’ve already learned why words like “bitch” and “slut” are bad — we can learn why words like “crazy” and “lame” are bad if we’re just tapped on the shoulder and pointed toward the issue.”

    Er, many feminists already DO know about how bad these words can be. Disabled people and mentally ill people can also be feminists too, you know. The privileged (mostly white) able-bodied blogger feminist is NOT the ur-feminist.

  22. It had occurred to me that it might be ablist to describe my cat’s stampeding behavior as “crazy” but I guess now I’ll have to actually make the effort to use a different word. Yay, progress.

  23. Mighty Ponygirl,

    The thing for me is that there is often a great silence on these sorts of topics from the mainstream feminist blogs, and it saddens me. It saddens me that there was almost no acknowledgement of things like “Blog against Disabilism Day” on any of the big blogs that I frequent, and that disabled women only seem to come up in discussions around reproductive rights. It’s like the rest of the time people with disabilities don’t exist. When this is pointed out, it seems the argument is “Well, start your own blog” or “Well, write a guest post”. I do blog about disability issues, I often submit them on “tell us what you’re writing” days, as do a lot of other people.

    When the Feminist Blogging Community also casually tosses around slurs like “lame” and “retarded”, I begin to think “Hey, maybe they just don’t care“. And then, when I’m told “There are bigger things to talk about than this!”, I look back at the past several years and go “Hmm, where have I heard that before?”

    I am very disturbed that apparently if I’m commenting on issues like “lame” as an insult, I’m not doing anything else with my time. (I don’t see you doing this, it’s coming from other people.) That is the same argument antifeminists use against feminists, and it’s no more true then than it is now. But I don’t know why I should suddenly have to flash my feminist creds or show off my activism photos before I can be listened to on something as simple as “hey, watch your word choice” when the biggest thing that will happen to folks who don’t is social consequences and the biggest thing that will happen if I can’t get my bloody workplace to make an evacuation plan for people in wheelchairs is my husband will die.

    No one is going to come along and steal anyone’s words. But the silence is getting me angry, and I would like it if instead of being dismissed as a waste of time and the PC police, this stuff would be treated with the same respect that “you shouldn’t use ‘frail’ or ‘skirt’ or ‘babe’ or ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ to describe women” is.

    F.R.I.D.A.: Feminist Response In Disability Activism isn’t really a highly-linked blogged on the Feminist side of my street, and that makes me sad, too.

  24. Mighty Ponygirl: Your post broke three of the most fundamental rules of this blog by being rude, condescending, and dismissive. Your offense at one line that you took out of context does not give you the right to come into my space and ignore my discussion rules. This is your first, and final, warning. Respect me and my rules, or don’t bother commenting. As someone with commenting guidelines on her own blog, I expected better of you.

  25. I think this is a really useful post, and I hope it continues to get linked and discussed around the anti-oppression-ospheres. I’ve thought about this issue a little in the past but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to frame it in the context of ableism.

    To the people asking for alternative insults to replace “crazy”, “nuts” etc., one possibility that occurs to me is to determine in a given context whether it’s necessary to come up with a pejorative description of the person responsible for the “crazy” book/blog post/whatever, or whether characterizing that person’s statements (or actions) would suffice. In the latter case, a world of useful negatives like “tripe”, “horseshit”, “poisonous nonsense”, “morally reprehensible”, “incoherent” and so on are available to us (and I, at least, find it relatively easy to come up with those kinds of alternatives even if my first inclination was to say something like, “That’s insane“).

  26. I can understand where you are coming from. But shouldn’t stupid and dumb be there too? I mean, people can’t help if they are stupid or slow (not retarded but just slow or not even up to society’s expectations). Someone can not help how smart they are and saying “that’s stupid” is putting down people who aren’t quite as smart as the average person. My mother works in Special Education and she hates the word stupid. They constantly see people who say “this is stupid” as an attack on them as well because they actually identify as being stupid. My mother will say “You’re not stupid you’re just x” (fill in the variable).

    To all the people saying to use stupid instead of retarded how about something like: “This doesn’t make logical sense” instead of “This idea is stupid.” That way you aren’t putting down anyone’s level of intelligence when you are speaking. Can’t we all get past personal attacks and just talk calmly and reasonably about things?

  27. “Lame” drives me up a friggin wall as an insult. Not “a lame excuse”, but “They nerfed Hunters? Well that’s lame.” I cannot stand that this word – which is a perfectly good word to describe a disability – is synonymous with stupidity, badness, and wrongness. By extension then lame people are stupid, bad, and wrong? Every single time I hear it I want to clock the offender with my cane.

    I’m with Cayce on attacking the substance of a thing and not the person responsible. “Bullshit” is a perfectly serviceable word for any and every situation. Given that the prevalent “polite” language is hurting people, using a little honest blue collar dialect seems to be harmless in comparison.

  28. Kokie: I was unaware that “stupid” was being used in that capacity. I’ve removed it from the list. Thanks for the heads up 🙂

    PS. I looked for the term “dumb” but didn’t find it (nor do I remember adding it). Do you see it on the list?

  29. Thanks for wonderful post. After reading this article i did lot of search on “what is Feminists”. This is real issue in 3rd world. I don’t think we can improve situation but with education only…

  30. This article is interesting, but your forum post on iris network is really enlightening. I’d never realized some of the words I hear so frequently… I think I understand better now.

    But I have to be honest, these words can be used correctly, and I believe inoffensively. As an able person though (mental ability is questioned) I don’t know how to use it most effectively. These words aren’t struck from the language (not universally anyway) and so, can I say, as a psych patient walks by, to my young brother, who asks “What’s wrong with him?” Can I say: “He’s crazy.” ?

    Political Correctness is actually more than just ‘not using mean words’ (not a quote from you, obv) but I think really an understanding of words you use, and a constant thought process. Think of what your saying, and please, be forgiving of others when they forget. Many people who use slurs do realize what they’re doing, and if you tell them, they try to stop. But I can attest that old habit, old ‘natural’ ways of speaking can be changed, but may take a moment. There’s nothing wrong with correcting a person, especially in the manner someone mentioned. But aside from the more palpable disabilities, many people suffer with a low self-esteem. But I’ve really diverged now! That’s for another day.

    Thanks for the link to you forum post! I’ll be sharing it.

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