The time has come for the Transcontinental Disability Choir to say farewell, with a rousing thank you to Bitch for hosting us, and to the Bitch commenters who engaged with our posts and had such interesting thoughts and comments to add.
We've certainly had an interesting time at Bitch. The response to some of our posts was pretty explosive, and highlighted a great deal of the disconnect between disability rights and feminism. The very idea that disability rights should be addressed in a feminist venue seems deeply troubling to many people; the Bitch editors were even told on Facebook that they shouldn't have hosted us, and one commenter threatened to cancel her subscription because of us.
On a website dedicated to "the feminist response to pop culture," we were on occasion told that disability-focused critiques of pop culture were not welcome. That, in fact, critiquing the depiction of disability has no value or meaning, or is even a "waste of time." Over at Racialicious, the editors recently covered this very issue, highlighting a discussion of the fact that media critique is a valid form of media consumption. I also discussed this issue on FWD/Forward in my introductory post to a series on Glee, saying: "We absorb messages from all the media we interact with, and we have an obligation to think about these messages."
Many feminists agree that some of the depictions of women in the media and pop culture are deeply harmful. Relying on troped stereotypes about women perpetuates misogynistic attitudes in society in general, because people really do absorb the things they see on television, read in books, hear in music. Examples of positive depictions of women are deemed empowering and celebrated, with people arguing that such depictions show that it is possible to contribute to pop culture without needing to be antifeminist.
The same does not seem to hold true for disability, in the eyes of many observers. Negative depictions of disability hurt people with disabilities just like troped depictions of women hurt women, but able people seem to have trouble accepting this. People with disabilities are always excited to see positive, fully realized, complex portrayals of disabled characters, pointing to these as examples which demonstrate that it is possible to do disability well, just as feminists hold up good depictions of women as an example of the things that are possible. That, indeed, one does not need to rely on stale caricatures to tell a story. Yet, the same tired themes keep coming up again and again when it comes to disability in pop culture, which suggests that we're talking, but no one's listening.
Why is there such a deep disconnect between mainstream feminism and disability rights? Between mainstream feminism and racial issues? Trans issues? Class issues?
The dominant voices of mainstream feminism are pretty homogeneous. That's something that will only change by centering different voices, as Bitch Magazine did when they invited us to guest blog for them about disability issues. But centering those voices is only effective when people are ready and willing to listen. I'm not sure that mainstream feminism is ready for that yet, and it hasn't been ready for a long time, despite the fact that women of color, people with disabilities, the trans community, and many other communities living on the margins have been knocking on the door for quite a while. Individuals within the movement as a whole may be ready to engage, but it can be challenging to connect with individuals while being marginalized by the movement.
Disability-centered critiques seem to be viewed as almost threatening by some people active in mainstream feminism. I think it's worth pondering why that is as we leave you; if feminism is about advancing the cause of equality and furthering all women, why is it that keeping women down is acceptable in some feminist circles? Why are pushes for equality from an intersectional perspective so troubling for many mainstream feminists?
I don't have answers to any of these questions. But, as a new year dawns, I'd like to invite you to think about what feminism means to you.