Feminist Aspie

Dear Anyone Who’s Ever Had Their Disability Accommodations Ridiculed…

I’m afraid I’ve finally succumbed to The Open Letter. I was originally going to write a post aimed at the people who have spent the last few days trolling the NUS Women’s Conference hashtag, its organisers and participants, or just generally laughing loudly all over the internet, because they (like all NUS conferences have for years) requested the use of British Sign Language applause (“jazz hands”) rather than clapping, due to the impact sudden loud noises can have on people who have anxiety disorders, who are autistic and/or have other sensory processing issues, who are hard of hearing, the list goes on. I was going to write something about how all this mockery is massively ableist and horrible and should not continue. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days, it’s that there’s little point trying to reason with the aforementioned ableist douchecanoes (some of whom have sadly been fellow disabled people; I’ll get to that later) – most of them are just trolling for the fun of it, quite a few of them seem to just hate activists/students/feminists/women and have taken the opportunity to be awful towards us without giving much thought to why, and all of them are a lot like the horrible school bullies I’m sure you’ll be all too familiar with. I didn’t fancy feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall anymore, so instead I’m writing to you; disabled people who, this week or otherwise, have been subjected to that sort of treatment for requesting an accommodation abled people aren’t necessarily aware of – so most disabled people, I would imagine.

Bullies (let’s just call them what they are), especially in large numbers, can plant seeds of doubt in our minds and make us question ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I constantly find myself asking close friends for validation against those people. “Am I ridiculous, over-reacting, childish, selfishDoes the fact that I even need to ask you these things just demonstrate that they’re true? You’re nice to my face, but are you all laughing behind my back? Would you laugh at me if one of the adjustments you make for me was instead presented to you out of context on Twitter?” I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I thought I’d try to offer some of that validation to the rest of you.

So: your disability accommodations are valid. You’re not ridiculous or selfish for simply wanting the same level of access and comfort as abled people already get all the time, because the world is designed to meet their needs already. Sure, maybe you’re in a position where you can do without it if and when you have to, but at what cost to you? Abled people don’t have to just deal with it, and neither should we. Anyway, surely making your life easier in a way that doesn’t harm anyone else at all can only be a good thing? Remember that the only reason there’s been such a big fuss in the first place is because abled people are so insistent and and relentless in refusing to even allow a conference they’re not at to make a minor change in hand movement that harms nobody – they are the ones over-reacting. Please keep that in mind; just because they’re so numerous and vocal doesn’t mean that they’re right.

“How do you expect to survive in the real world?”, they might tell you. “You just need to work on your difficulties!” What they don’t know (or wilfully ignore) is that you already are doing that work, more than they could ever knowSociety or the “real world” (which, let’s not forget, is a human construct so shouldn’t be accepted as a given) is inaccessible and harmful in a multitude of ways. It is designed to exclude people like us, and even though it often goes un-noticed, you are working your socks off to live and to thrive in it anyway – and again, abled people don’t have to deal with that stuff at all. Most of them genuinely don’t realise this privilege, so it doesn’t occur to them that maybe they could move some of the way towards you. With apologies to Muse, they like to give an inch whilst you give them infinity. It is absolutely not selfish to more evenly distribute some of that load.

To disabled women: I’ve been saddened to see a lot of this ableism and bullying coming from abled feminists, who think that improving accessibility at the NUS Women’s Conference “trivialises feminism” or “makes women look weak”. I’m really sorry about them. I can’t believe this even needs saying, but you are not letting your gender down just by existing. You didn’t create a society which sees women as lesser – men did that. I think feminists really need to work on this ableist (and sexist!) idea that women have to be completely invulnerable, with no concept of emotions or physical or mental health or self-care, just to “earn” the respect that men automatically receive. You’re not trivialising feminism; in fact, by acting like you don’t exist and by holding women to an invincible-machine standard, it’s feminism that’s trivialising you. For what it’s worth, given that you’re facing patriarchy and ableism, and maybe some other oppressions as well, yet you’re still here trying to make a change, I think that if anything, you’re making women look amazing.

Going back to all genders now, I’m also really shocked by how many disabled people are willing to join in, say “but I have *relevant disability* and I don’t need this, they’re being ridiculous” and throw other disabled people under the bus; though maybe I shouldn’t have been, because a few years ago I probably would have been one of those people. Internalised ableism is something I’m still working on. Anyway: your access needs do not make other disabled people “look bad” – that’s based on the assumption that accommodations are a bad thing in the first place, and that assumption comes from abled people, not you. In addition, you are not the reason abled people don’t take disabled people seriously; abled people are the reason that abled people don’t take disabled people seriously. Your disability and related adjustments are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match somebody else’s.

Having said that, it’s important to remember that the reverse is also true; other disabilities are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match your own. I know it’s tempting to take out your frustrations on other disabled people with access needs you personally have never heard of before, to blame them for “making us look bad” whilst also potentially making yourself seem more “reasonable” and more likely to be taken seriously by abled people (“Look, you can’t call me ableist because this person agrees with me!”) – like I said, I’ve been there too. But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to attack each other than to confront abled people, because of the privilege structures involved. Think about where the structural power lies; it’s abled people and an ableist society that deny and/or ridicule your accommodations, not other disabled people.

Lastly, if it helps, something else I’ve learned this week is that the online trolls are not representative of humanity at large. It may be true that the dominant reaction of abled people to stories like this is confusion and maybe an initial “that’s ridiculous”, but most of the time, it isn’t out of malice but out of genuine ignorance, and that is something that can be changed. In amongst the awfulness of the past few days, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many of my friends took an interest in this, and were willing to listen and learn. Also, whilst it’s sad that this is the case, it seems that most people tend to be more accepting of people they know and interact with offline than of people they just find out about online, if that’s any comfort regarding the “Are my friends laughing at me behind my back?” question. Playground bullies do seem to grow up and follow us out into the world beyond the school gates, but please remember that being powerful doesn’t mean they’re right about you, or that they’re impossible to overcome.

So keep your heads up, keep fighting the good fight however you can… and then, just because it seems to annoy abled people so very much, might I suggest we celebrate with jazz hands?

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“Liar”: Why anonymity for sexual violence suspects is not the solution

(TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and other sexual violence, with detailed descriptions of victim-blaming and negative attitudes towards survivors; also mention of suicide. NOTE: In terms of the legal stuff, I’m referring to the UK throughout, although the underlying attitudes are present internationally)

The world is obsessed with proving that survivors of sexual violence are liars.

If you were in a relationship with the perpetrator, they’ll call you a liar – despite the high prevalence of relationship abuse.
If you consented at some other time, they’ll call you a liar – apparently that means you’ve given up your freedom and autonomy forever.
If you “acted normal” afterwards, and only spoke out later, they’ll call you a liar – even though abuse takes time to process, or you could have feared retribution such as being repeatedly called a liar.
If there was no sign of a physical struggle, they’ll call you a liar – even though freezing or “friending” the perpetrator is the most common survival response.
If your statements contain even the slightest inconsistency, they’ll call you a liar – even though that’s exactly what trauma does to you.
If you were drinking, they’ll call you liar – apparently you don’t have the right to drink AND maintain bodily autonomy.
If the perpetrator was drinking, they’ll call you a liar – they’ve changed their minds, turns out alcohol actually absolves you of all responsibility and also magically erases the damage done.
If you were wearing clothes more revealing than the patriarchal world would approve of, they’ll call you a liar – it seems you should have known that the awful crime of “wearing what you want” is punished with sexual violence.
If you in some way don’t conform to an often impossible, racist, transphobic, ableist, fatphobic beauty standard, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll say “who would want you?!”
If you’re a male survivor, they’ll call you a liar – because “men’s rights activists” tend to ignore the fact that men are far more likely to suffer sexual assault themselves than they are to be falsely accused, and only even vaguely acknowledge you exist when they want to shut the damn feminists up.
If you enjoy sex, they’ll call you a liar – apparently they don’t think consent makes a difference, which frankly says a lot about them.
If you’re a sex worker, they’ll call you a liar – see above, and I’m assuming these people also think it would be okay for someone to drop a load of legal textbooks on my head because, like, isn’t that what you DO?!
If you’re mentally ill/neurodivergent, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll call you crazy, they’ll say you’re living in a fantasy world, they’ll say all sorts of ableist things, they’ll gaslight you because it’s more convenient for them if it’s all in your head.

I’m zoning in on the Eleanor de Freitas case here. In short, this woman, who had bipolar disorder, made an allegation of rape, which the CPS refused to prosecute. The accused man then took out a private prosecution against her for speaking up, and the CPS took that case; Eleanor de Freitas had been receiving counselling for rape trauma, this support was cut off, and she ultimately took her own life. I wrote a few tweets about this awful case the other day, and received a reply from an obviously-fake-news-account directing me to “proof Eleanor de Freitas was lying”; it was a professional-looking dot-com domain, certainly enough to fool people, and the only “proof” it contained was… that she was mentally ill, that the police didn’t like her very much, that she bought sex toys the next day, and that she was allegedly a sex worker.

None of those things say anything about whether or not a perpetrator raped her, but in the eyes of many, these failures to comply with patriarchal norms are “proof” and she’s a liar.

You’re all liars, they say, because the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty exists. Even though the attitudes above mean that the police often “no-crime” sexual violence, so there’s no opportunity to go to trial. Even though making false accusations is also a crime, and there suddenly everyone forgets about the legal presumption, going so far as to set up websites dedicated to portraying the accuser as guilty, on no real evidence, without a trial, when they’re already dead due to how survivors are treated by the justice system as it stands. Even though when a perpetrator of sexual violence is proven guilty, they’ll still claim it’s a miscarriage of justice and set up websites to clear his name – Ched Evans, anyone? These people don’t really care about the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty; they only care about the societal presumption of liar liar liar liar liar.

This is the dominant attitude of society, which means it’s also the dominant attitude of our judges, our lawyers, our CPS, our police, our juries, and the media they (and we all) consume. The conviction rates for rape and sexual violence are shockingly low. Is it any wonder, then, that feminists (and others) have lost their faith in the justice system, and taken the stance of believing everyone who speaks out about sexual violence against them, providing one voice of “I believe you” in amongst the constant noise of liar?

Some people are far more concerned about men being falsely accused and “having their lives ruined” even when found innocent. Honestly, I’m not sure this actually happens – it seems to me that if it’s high-profile enough to be newsworthy, they’re portrayed sympathetically (because the accuser is a liar, obviously), and indeed, anonymity for those suspected of sexual violence is actually being considered, even though the preferential treatment here above suspects of other crimes perpetuates the liar stereotype, and it is often the case that one survivor speaking out against their perpetrator gives others the courage to come forward (because maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually be believed).

But if you really are still so concerned about innocent people suspected of sexual violence, how about ending victim-blaming attitudes, ending the liar myth, combating rape culture, and creating a society and a justice system that provides verdicts we can trust?

A petition to the Home Office Select Committee to review their recommendation on anonymity for suspects accused of rape and other forms of sexual violence can be found here.

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Functioning Labels 101: What’s The Big Deal?

If you’ve seen the #HighFunctioningMeans and #FunctioningLabelsMean Twitter hashtags, or more generally read or listened to a discussion by autistic people about functioning labels, you’ll know that, well, a lot of us really don’t like them, so I thought I’d write a 101 post about why that is, and what the alternatives are.

Wait, what’s a functioning label?
Many autistic people find themselves at some point being described as having “high-functioning” or “low-functioning” autism. Which label is given to the person can depend on a number of arbitrary factors, but often involves verbal ability, ability to live independently, and (especially in children) academic ability. In other words, functioning labels are basically another way of saying whether or not you think a certain autistic person can pass for neurotypical.

What’s so bad about functioning labels?
Well for a start, “passing for neurotypical” should not be the goal. We’re not defectively neurotypical, we’re autistic, and society needs to accommodate that. Being neurotypical should not be the only correct way to function. Calling an autistic person “low-functioning” is putting them down because they’re autistic. Meanwhile, calling an autistic person “high-functioning” works in much the same way as the “you’re not like other girls” trope – it sounds like a compliment and may well be intended as such, but in reality, you’re “complimenting” the person by insulting other people like them, which only serves to teach self-loathing and harmful attitudes towards those other people.

Having said that, I would argue that “high-functioning” is not only a thinly veiled insult, it’s a threat. People who cannot or will not pretend to be neurotypical to make you comfortable – the so-called “low-functioning autistics” – are treated appallingly in our ableist world; because their disability is visible, their personhood, feelings and strengths are ignored. Those of us who are more able to pass for NT more often – the so called “high-functioning autistics” – escape much of the worst of this hatred, but at a price; because we are accepted as people with feelings and strengths, our disability is ignored. When our autism is visible, if we openly discuss it, or – heaven forbid – if we request an accommodation, we’re told we’re over-reacting, we’re manipulative, we’re over-sensitive, we’re selfish killjoys; basically, we’re told we’re faking it, and should just try harder to miraculously not be autistic. In short, “high-functioning” means “act neurotypical at all costs, or we’ll see you as Really Autistic, and you know how we treat people who we think are Really Autistic”.

This binary stems from the refusal of abled people to recognise that disability and personality can co-exist – in fact, they ALWAYS co-exist, because disabled people are people. (And if, as an abled person*, you now want to correct me on my language because people-first requires literally putting the word “person” first, maybe think about why you feel the need to go against all syntax to show that in your words, and how instead you could show that in your attitudes and your actions.) It’s also used to silence autistic people standing up for themselves and their rights as a whole; we’re either too low-functioning to really know what’s best for ourselves, or too high-functioning to “count” as autistic (unless they want to include us in scare statistics, of course!) so in the end, the only ones that neurotypical people actually listen to are… well, neurotypical people.

Surely there’s some truth in them though? You’re not like my child!
There is a good reason why I’m not like your child, or anyone else’s child, or anyone else in general; every person is different. Autistic people are people. Therefore, every autistic person is different. I am an adult; of course I’m not like your child, I’m not even like myself as a child anymore. Anyway, leaving that aside, not only are functioning labels harmful, they’re also wildly inaccurate. Here’s a quick test, which I first saw by Musings of an Aspie but have also seen by various other autistic people online, in which I’m going to describe two autistic people.

Laura is verbal, and lives independently. Over the past few years she has undertaken a variety of responsibilities and committee positions, some related to her special interests, and has used these to develop an active social life. Laura is highly organised and rule-orientated, characteristics which have greatly helped her in her studies. She very rarely has full-scale meltdowns, and given the time and space, she is virtually always able to deal with shutdowns and the aftereffects of sensory overload by herself.

Faith is often anxious, particularly in social situations and crowds, and rarely leaves home without her earphones. She often prefers to communicate by typing rather than talking, and will avoid the phone wherever possible. Faith sometimes struggles to keep up with everyday self-care/household tasks, which can lead to overload in and of itself. She has a habit of pacing around her room on her tiptoes, particularly to music, and spent a large portion of last night listening to one song on repeat and spinning.

Based on these descriptions, one of these women would be considered high-functioning. One would be considered low-functioning. These women are both the same person, more specifically me. And that last part, about listening to one song on repeat? Muse are back! 90% of the fandom would have been doing exactly the same. The only reason “Faith” would be seen as weird for doing so is because of the additional stimming as well as the rest of her description; in other words, she’s already being seen as “low-functioning” so even the most innocuous of new information is automatically used to support that existing bias.

I include that last point to show how much of our “functioning level” is highly context-dependent. Everyone sometimes acts differently or feels more or less able to cope based on their mood, stress, events in their life, illness, being hungry or tired or uncomfortable, or even depending on where they are or who they’re with. As @theoriesofminds notes, functioning labels mean “how was your day going when you saw the person who diagnosed you”. It’s random, it’s arbitrary, and it’s based on two stereotypes in which no person wholly fits. So no, there isn’t much truth in them at all!

Okay, but some people do need more/less/different support to other people; how else can I acknowledge this?
As I said above, every autistic person is different, so in my opinion, the only way to accurately get across the support someone needs is to talk about them as an individual. For example, based on me again (though not my real name):

Gemma can communicate verbally, though in many cases finds typing easier, and finds the phone particularly difficult. She lives independently, but sometimes struggles to keep up with everyday self-care/household tasks. Gemma is often very anxious, particularly in social situations and crowds, but she very rarely has full-scale meltdowns, and given the time and space she is virtually always able to deal with shutdowns and the effects of sensory overload by herself.

Having said that, the support often depends on the situation. For example, in exams, I don’t need any particular accommodations, but another autistic person may need to, say, take the exam in a different room away from the distraction of other people. In parties, I might need my friends to occasionally check I’m okay and know to get me out of there/what to do if things go wrong, but another autistic person might not need any extra help at all. In short, functioning labels can be replaced with “you should be aware that this person is autistic, and in particular they have Autistic Traits A, B and C and will therefore need Supports D, E and F” and again answer any further questions based on the person themselves.

To sum up:
Functioning labels are used to demean and silence autistic people; they hold up “pretending to be neurotypical” as the ultimate ideal,and are based on two opposing stereotypes which no autistic person wholly fits. In addition, they are inaccurate due to being highly context-dependent; in the examples I use above, a band changes my perceived functioning level. Seriously, that’s how fragile these things are. As an alternative way of describing the strengths, weaknesses and support needs of the autistic people in your life, try talking about them as individuals, and actually describing those strengths, weaknesses and support needs rather than trying to force them into an ill-fitting box.


*I say “as an abled person” because some people with disabilities to prefer to be called “people with disabilities” and I don’t have a problem with that – it’s not what I use myself, but if that’s how other people want to refer to themselves, that’s their business, not mine. However, what I DO have a problem with is abled people reading posts and articles about the ableism they’re perpetuating and essentially reacting with “you’re the one who’s being offensive to yourself because I can’t see ‘disabled people’ as people”.

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Why I Need Feminism

TRIGGER WARNING: Brief discussion of rape/consent/victim-blaming, weight/food/disordered eating

I haven’t got time to do a proper blog post but felt I should probably acknowledge International Women’s Day (and also my executive function has gone completely to pot and I’m procrastinating from All The Things) so here’s a very quick introspective self-centred list of reasons why, despite the constant societal message that it’s irrational and whiny and over-reacting and silly, I still need feminism.

The loudest, most persistent, most sure-of-themselves voices are automatically deemed to be the best voices.

Living independently won’t get easier if I ever marry. If anything, it’s likely to get harder as I’m left to pick up a large portion of my hypothetical husband’s share of the household labour.

Only a verbal “no” is deemed by many to count as lack of consent – tough luck if the stress of intimidation and fear of imminent assault makes you go non-verbal.

Men are never taught not to rape. We’re all taught that “rape” is being attacked by a stranger in a dark alleyway, so men think that if they don’t attack strangers in dark alleyways, they can’t be rapists. Men are never taught to ask for consent; they’re taught to assume it. Many laugh at the idea of consent workshops at university. And then sexual violence is justified because “he didn’t know any better”.

Our paradigm is the irrational paradigm. The male-centric status quo is seen as “objective”. Where my views and perceptions differ from this, it’s mine that are considered to be wrong and abnormal.

My summer issues are often dismissed as confidence or body image issues. But having said that, some other women have summer issues that ARE confidence and/or body image issues – or fear of abuse by men.

The standard “big night out” goes like this: I’m autistic so I can’t stay, I’m a woman so I can’t leave, the only solution is for me to stay home, and even then I’m a cowardly anti-fun killjoy.

Young women are expected to instantly become independent domestic goddesses, and asking for help or admitting you haven’t yet learned certain skills is shameful. When young men barely even try, it becomes a running joke.

Even older men, or rather, older abled men who live with at least one woman, are seen as being completely unable to take care of themselves; it’s often seen as the norm for women to “look after” male partners and relatives, to the extent that when women are away for any length of time, they’ll get snarky “jokes” about leaving the poor menz to fend for themselves. I need feminism because I, an autistic female adult-in-training currently living well away from family and most friends, am seen as less in need of “being taken care of” than an abled middle-aged man who has lived independently of his parents for many years and has a strong support network of people nearby.

“No” is often taken to mean “not yet, try again later”. Sex is seen as an inevitability; eventually, you have to just “compromise” and forget about your fundamental right to bodily autonomy for a while.

As an internet-dwelling slightly-nerdy unashamed fangirl, the concept of “fake geek girls” and male or male-centred gatekeeping of fandoms is absolutely everywhere. And some of the standards used, whilst completely unnecessary and awful anyway, are also ableist; not everyone has the energy or the spoons to tick an infinite list of boxes.

Female representation is seen as disenfranchising men. Male representation is seen as… well, it isn’t really seen as anything, it’s just the norm from which anything else is a deviation.

If the next Doctor was female, I’d be too concerned about the fandom backlash and about the inevitable sexist jokes and gimmicks to actually enjoy it.

There are so many times that so many women don’t stand up for ourselves or for women more generally or for other marginalised groups because we know what the response is going to be and it’s just not worth doing to ourselves. How many times have you kept quiet because “it’s not worth it”? I know I do that at least once most days.

Some male friends and relatives see me as “you’re alright, not like those feminists” because I’m too anxious to outright openly disagree with people.

A feminist Facebook group I’m a part of is constantly, constantly, constantly criticised for, well, not taking any shit. If people are scared to comment on a Facebook group in case people criticise them, that’s seen as our problem. If I’m too scared to speak up in the entire bloody offline world because of the many and varied repercussions, that’s ALSO seen as my problem. I should just be more confident and not care what people think, even though “what people think” does have a big impact on your life.

I’ve lost weight recently because, long story short, I sometimes have issues Making Food Happen. People are complimenting me. I’ve seen other women lose weight due to illness and then be complimented on it, or think “well, at least I’ve lost weight!”. You know, just in case anyone still thought fat-shaming was anything to do with health at all.

I’m lucky enough to not have full-blown meltdowns very often, but when I think about it, my last three all have one thing in common – one part of the cause was yelling, insistent, intimidating men who won’t take “no” or “you’re wrong” or “please stop yelling” for an answer. Afterwards, two of the three incidents I’m talking about were described simply as “she had a meltdown” with the causes of this meltdown completely erased, completely absolved.

Too often, neurotypical MRAs use autism as a scapegoat, portraying autistic men as tragic burdens, violent, incapable of understanding consent. Autistic women usually aren’t acknowledged as even existing under this narrative.

Disabled women often have their choices and bodily autonomy removed from them in the name of “life skills”. Make-up, shaving, and other unnecessary grooming is seen as mandatory for women. That stuff over time takes up so much energy, especially for disabled women.

As an shy, introverted, anxious, standoffish, teetotal woman who lives in jeans and T-shirts and doesn’t go out much, I basically exhibit model behaviour for what misogynist men think women should do to “protect themselves” from the sexual violence they inflict on us. Guess what? It doesn’t work.

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