Feminist Aspie

Autism Speaks, I Want To Say… Stop the Silencing

(This is part of the “Autism Speaks, I Want To Say…” flashblog; click the link for more information.)

As Twitter-using feminists will no doubt be aware after the last few days, all too often there’s a double standard surrounding prejudice, hate and falsehoods – namely, that dominant groups can spread it (inadvertently or otherwise) as far as they like for as long as they like, but when the victims of this call it out, suddenly they’re the ones being hateful. And this double standard is as present in the autism community as it is everywhere else.

As summed up here by the brilliant Amy Sequenzia, the current conversation about (and usually not with autistic people) can be incredibly hurtful. It can feel like a constant attack. But when we point this out, we’re doing the “attacking”. We’re told we’re wrecking the “united voice” that’s usually just the voice of groups like Autism Speaks who refuse to listen to autistic people. (I wrote about silencing and unity last week and whilst it focuses on feminism due to the nature of this blog, I did have the neurodiversity movement in mind toward the end of that post.) We’re silenced by functioning labels – as summed up in this Tumblr post by Crown-Of-Weeds, we’re either too “high-functioning” to know what we’re talking about, or too “low-functioning” to be worth listening to (which, if it isn’t clear enough already, is unbelievably ableist). And when autistic people create change, we’re erased from our own activism; for example, as reported in detail here by Michael Scott Monje Jr., Autism Speaks reported the removal of offensive Google autocomplete terms about autism without as much as a mention for the autism flashblogs that demanded this (Autistic People Should and Autistic People Are – unfortunately I was unable to participate in these) or any credit for the person who led the campaign, Alyssa of Yes, That Too.

Those of us on the spectrum really shouldn’t have to fight through a million-and-one barriers like this just to be heard in the conversation about our own lives. In short, nothing about us without us. Thanks to flashblogs like this, autistic people across the spectrum are speaking out. Now all we need is for people to actually listen.

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Silenced For The Sake Of Unity

I meant to blog about unity some time ago, before my brief hiatus, but I never got round to it. However, recent events have served as a reminder, with the final straw being this article (New Statesman) which describes online feminism as “an exclusive, Mean Girls club” and the “Online Wimmin Mob”.

Most of the problematic aspects of the article have been debunked elsewhere (for example, in this brilliant post by Sam Ambreen and this equally brilliant post by Cel West and Zoe Stavri), so I’m going to focus on the reduction of calling people out to “whipping up huge Twitter storms and inviting feminists to flame other feminists” and an “excuse… as a front for making yourself feel superior at another woman’s expense”. That’s not what calling out is at all, but I digress. I think what the author is trying to say is that in-fighting is A Bad Thing and we should all just get along.

Now, I think those sentiments are well-intentioned and I can really see how the author got there. I’d love it if we all just got along. I’d love to have unity, in feminism and elsewhere. Evidently, a united front has a more powerful voice, and that can only be a good thing, right?

Not exactly. The “united front” ideal is also a powerful silencing tactic. It comes in two forms – within a group, and between groups.

My problem with the NS article concerns the former. For instance, if one feminist calls out a racist comment made by another feminist (inadvertently or otherwise), this sometimes leads to calls of “Stop nitpicking, we need unity!” to, in effect, defend said comment. I recently blogged about the problem with the “stop nitpicking” argument, and I’m not entirely sure how unity can be used as a defence. Being a feminist doesn’t give you an excuse to be racist, just as fighting against racism doesn’t give you an excuse to be sexist. Therefore, why should someone be prevented from calling out racism just because both parties involved happen to be feminists? The same applies to practically any combination of oppressions – it’s Intersectionality 101.

However, it’s not just within groups; unity can also be used to silence people between completely opposing factions, and it’s this type of silencing that I’ve wanted to blog about for absolutely ages now. Let’s stick with sexism as an example. There’s the myth peddled by the media that feminism is about female superiority. There’s the subsequent argument that we shouldn’t be “feminists” but “equalists” (for a thorough debunking of this argument, see this awesome Tumblr post by Diya Mukherjee). There’s the argument that women calling out sexism alienates men and tars them all with the same brush. Generally, there’s the idea that if men and women should have a “united voice”, feminists are Doing It Wrong.

This is where the silencing comes in. If you call out sexism, you’re told you shouldn’t because of the “united voice”. If you call yourself a feminist, you’re told you shouldn’t because of the “united voice”. If you voice an opinion that isn’t the majority opinion, you’re told you shouldn’t. If you deviate from the status quo, you’re told you shouldn’t. So, who does the “united” voice being called for really belong to?

A “united” voice that denounces and suppresses all dissent isn’t really united at all. It’s the voice of the dominant group. It’s the voice of the oppressors, whoever they may be. It’s the voice of privilege. It’s the voice of the status quo. And the status quo is only changed by disagreeing, by dissenting, by fighting for what you think is right rather than what you’re told to fight for.

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Seriously, having *some* rights is not the same as having *equal* rights…

Before I start, I’d like to apologise for not blogging for a month. Sorry about that. Basically, exams happened, but they’re done now and normal service has (hopefully) been resumed!

(TW: reference to Nazis)

Anyway, society at large seems to be of the opinion that when an oppressed group gains certain rights or reaches a huge milestone, their oppression is magically over and, therefore, they should be happy and stop complaining. For instance, regarding feminism, there’s a lot of “You’ve got the vote, you can work, what more do you want?” and claims that sexism doesn’t exist anymore in certain countries because women there can vote and work. It’s one of the biggest silencing tactics.

I think this is related to the insult “feminazis”. Evidently, comparing a group campaigning for women’s rights to a group which systematically killed millions of innocent people is really problematic as it is. Another derogatory term which seems to have the same meaning is “militant feminists”,

Generally, these terms mean “feminists who criticise every little thing that might lead to gender inequality”. This confuses me. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of feminism?!

Those “little things” add up quickly, as shown by the fantastic Everyday Sexism project. Those “minor” inequalities might not seem as major as the right to vote and work, but they’re inequalities nonetheless. And as long as gender inequalities exist, feminists will criticise and fight them. It’s what we do.

Gender equality is when women and men have equal rights, not when women have some of the rights enjoyed by men. That’s still an inequality, even if it’s smaller than it was 100 years ago. The pay gap still exists. Rape culture still exists. Stereotypes still exists. Feminism has come a long way, but we’re not done yet.

Of course, this concept applies to many forms of discrimination. Women having the vote doesn’t mean sexism has stopped. The abolition of slavery and segregation doesn’t mean racism has stopped. Widespread awareness of physical/mental health issues and/or disabilities is absolutely necessary and still very much needed, but it doesn’t mean stigma and discrimination surrounding them has stopped. I really don’t understand why same-sex marriage hasn’t been legalised already (in the UK), but when it is legalised, homophobia won’t just stop. The list could go on and on.

In short, having some rights is not the same as having equal rights. The wider societal issues need to be challenged to; all inequalities need to be confronted and criticised, and if that makes me a “militant feminist” then so be it.

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