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.