Feminist Aspie

Why is fair and equal pay still up for debate?

Doing the rounds on Twitter this morning is this clip of a Polish MEP arguing that women should be paid less than men. To quote directly: “And of course women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.” …Yep. Really. If you’ve made it on to this blog, I’m going to assume you already know that these views are abhorrent, that equal work deserves equal pay regardless of any stereotypes attached to the worker, and these discriminatory stereotypes certainly can’t be used to justify further discrimination in pay, because that’s just an awful circular argument when instead we should be fighting to end discrimination in the first place. At this point, in 2017, it isn’t even up for debate in the minds of all but the most extreme misogynists. Incidentally, a quick scroll through Google and Wikipedia shows that Janusz Korwin-Mikke has daughters, but that evidently hasn’t even stopped him being actively sexist, never mind giving him a free pass to speak on behalf of all women on the basis that he happens to be a parent of girls.

Keep this in mind.

Doing the rounds on Twitter yesterday was a ~debate~ over whether or not disabled people should be “allowed” to work for less than the minimum wage. (I’m not 100% comfortable giving that article more clicks, so instead I’ll link to this great Twitter thread by Stavvers which does also link to the article if you’re interested.) This argument did not come from a disabled person who wants to be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage; it came from an abled person who happens to be a parent of a woman with Down’s Syndrome (whose opinion, as far as I can tell, has never even been asked for). She also happens to employ disabled people in her own business; she’s effectively saying she should be allowed to pay her own employees less.

To be fair, a lot of people seem to be seeing this for the awful retrogressive ableist argument that it is, but it turns out there’s also a worryingly high number of people who don’t – or at least, they’re saying it’s so hard and complex, because it’s better than nothing and it could be a stepping stone and you can’t just easily fix society, y’know?  Maybe this shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did, because equal pay should not still be up for debate. Honestly, this post should end here. But given that these arguments do still have a lot of traction, I think it’s worth going through some of them.

Because it apparently needs to be pointed out, paid work and volunteering are not the same thing. At this point I feel I should say that I now volunteer with an autism organisation myself – I won’t go into details for anonymity reasons, but I will say that I and the other autistic volunteers have been treated with nothing but respect from the start, it’s all about real autistic participation in shaping how they run and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience, and it’s absolutely NOT  the same as a paid job. It’s volunteering, as in voluntary, as in I actively want to be a part of this and I’m not being pushed into it by other constraints, and it’s something I do every so often on an irregular basis for a few hours at a time around the degree that I’m doing full-time. If I got a regular job with them or somewhere else in the sector, I would expect to be paid, as their autistic and neurodivergent employees are. Of course, there’s also the ongoing issue of lengthy unpaid internships that basically amount to unpaid work, but that can’t be used to justify “allowing” (read: coercing) disabled people into unpaid work either – one exploitation doesn’t justify another exploitation, they’re just both exploitative.

And let’s not make the patronising assumption that disabled people are somehow exempt from the system of money. Disabled people are people – we need to eat, and have somewhere to live, and clothes to wear, and all kinds of other needs just like everyone else. Not all disabled people live with their parents or even have the option of doing so (it’s almost as if disabled people aren’t just extensions of abled parents or something…) and even for those who do, not all families can so easily support the needs (disability-specific or otherwise) of that person with their existing funds, especially as the Tory government continues to decimate disability benefits. A “fulfilling and purposeful life” is nice, but we also need money. And besides, why is work necessary for a fulfilling and purposeful life? What does that say about how society views those disabled people who are unable to work?

Another argument that I keep seeing conflates accessibility and adaptation of jobs for disabled people with paying disabled people a lower wage for some reason. It’s this idea of it being the first rung on the ladder, the idea that if only disabled people were “allowed” to work for less than the minimum wage, employers would jump to make all the accommodations necessary and eventually provide a fair wage. Even if I set aside my scepticism as to whether that would actually happen (why would employers want to take experienced disabled people on at a fair wage if there were allowed to take them on at an exploitative wage?), this ignores the fact that employers shouldn’t need cookies for bearing the oh-so-tragic-burden of accommodating disabled people – employers should accommodate disabled employees because it is legally required.

The next response is usually something along the lines of “but changing society is hard, this is better than nothing in the meantime”. And this is something I find really infuriating. Some accommodations are as simple as clear directions, as simple as moving to a calmer area, as simple as understanding and acceptance, basically as simple as not actively being ableist. That’s not the case for all accommodations for all people, but it would be a huge step forward, and it’s easy – if only abled people would listen. Some accommodations are less straightforward and would take longer to implement, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try. The gender pay gap persists after years of campaigning, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and accept that that’s the way it is, even though ending the gender pay gap would involve huge changes to the current way work life is structured which disadvantages maternity. Society has undergone lots of major long-term changes over the years – this is just saying disabled people aren’t worth making the changes for. The “better than nothing” approach is essentially expecting disabled people to just give up, to accept our lot, to be grateful for scraps because abled people couldn’t be bothered to give us anything better. “In the meantime” says that we should just wait our turn until a magical day in the future when abled people can be bothered, even though conceding ground such as this will decrease what little political will there is to actually empower disabled people currently. Discrimination is an artificial problem – rather than just acting like it can’t be helped, we need to end it.

These kinds of arguments were used decades ago, and apparently even today, to block equal pay for women. We know, fundamentally, that equal pay for women is not up for debate. So why are we even entertaining the idea for disabled people?

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A Law Student’s Guide To Free Speech (and what it isn’t)

Here are some of the main sources of the basic human right to freedom of expression:

Freedom of expression is formulated slightly differently in each of those documents so I’d encourage having a look for yourself, but basically, it means everyone has the right to hold and express opinions without interference from the state. This interference might include:

Freedom of expression means you are free to express your views in general, but it does not give you a right to specific private platforms or audiences. If I invited you into my room and you started yelling abuse at me, I could kick you out without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to yell abuse everywhere else. Indeed, if I invited you into my room and you do nothing wrong but then I have to go to class, I could kick you out and end the conversation with me without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to express yourself to everyone else. In fact, I don’t HAVE to invite you in at all – you can still hold and express opinions, you just have to do it outside or somewhere else. The same principle would apply if my space was virtual and my name was Twitter.

Here are some other things free speech does not include:

These are privileges; the majority of us won’t ever receive these privileges, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all lost our rights to free speech!

As noted above, the right to freedom of expression protects against interference from the state – it cannot be violated by private parties. Having said that, it’s true that some private actions might impede a person’s ability to express themselves freely even though this cannot amount to a legal violation of freedom of expression, for example:

Neither of those violate the right to freedom of expression (although they may violate other laws), but you could certainly argue they go against the general spirit of why freedom of speech is so important.

Which begs the question – why is freedom of speech so important? There are various reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the importance of self-expression for developing autonomy and self-fulfilment (although it’s probably worth mentioning at this point that media corporations are not human beings developing autonomy and self-fulfilment). Then there’s the argument based around democracy – in a democratic society, we should be able to hear a wide range of views in order to evaluate them ourselves as opposed to, say, far-right white men shouting everyone else down and creating an atmosphere hostile to other voices.

This is where those restrictions I mentioned earlier come in – at least at a UN and European level, a proportionate, legal restriction on freedom of speech is permitted where this is  necessary for a specific list of aims – both the ICCPR and ECHR include the rights of others in this list. A common example of a situation where this balancing is needed is the tension between freedom of the media and the right to privacy of the individual they are reporting on. However, some speech can also reinforce or increase existing damage to the rights of others; for example, trans people are already at high risk of sometimes fatal violence and are frequently denied healthcare, and high-profile transphobic speech (such as this high-profile transphobic speech…) perpetuates the belief that these human rights violations are acceptable. So transphobes may have a right to express their hatred, but this has to be balanced against the rights of trans people to, in many cases, literally continue to exist. I don’t imagine freedom of expression would prevail there.

 

Basically: All free speech really means is that an opinion is legally allowed to exist without state interference. And if the best defence of an opinion you can think of is “it’s legally allowed to exist”, perhaps it’s time to start looking around for some better opinions.

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Ableism kills. Again.

(CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses murder/filicide and child abuse, specifically the Austin Anderson case, and its links to systemic ableism)

Another day, another murder. Austin Anderson, aged just 19, was left in a field to die from dehydration and lack of crucial medication. By his own mother. And the media and the public are sympathising with the killer rather than the victim, because the victim was blind and autistic. (For more information I recommend this post by Grimalkin)

I saw the news on Facebook, made the mistake of reading the comments, and it felt like a punch in the stomach. How can this happen?

Why, after so many other murders of disabled people by their caregivers and the subsequent backlash by disabled adults against these ableist views, do those views – and the murders – persist?

Why are the methods of killing always so, so cruel?

Why are they sometimes called “mercy killings” in spite of this?

Why, when Anderson was crying out for help for as long as he was able, do people still jump to the horrible conclusion that, because he was disabled, he was automatically better off dead?

Why is autism in mainstream media always framed not from the point of view of an autistic person, but from the point of view of a neurotypical caregiver? (Think about it – would we let men control the feminist movement on the basis that they have daughters and other female relatives? I certainly hope not.)

Why is so little thought given to autistic people, in discussions supposedly about autism, that autistic lives are considered so disposable?

Why is the autistic person erased from the picture to such an extent that people only have sympathy for the killer, and empathising with a disabled murder victim is viewed by abled people as a lack of empathy? (Because in their eyes, the only “real” person in the situation, the only person available to be empathised with, is the abled person.)

Why is autism called a burden, an epidemic, a source of unending stress and misery, something to be eradicated, without anyone even considering that these are people they’re talking about?

Why is it that the huge stresses and strains of raising any child are (like all forms of labour traditionally ascribed to women) constantly erased and ignored, but as soon as the child is disabled, all abled people want to talk about is how all that hard work must be so stressful that literal murder is “understandable”?

Why do abled people not consider that the same ableist factors that make raising a disabled child hard make being disabled even harder? (Oh yeah, because they don’t think disabled people are people.)

Why can people simultaneously hold the views that autistic people are not allowed to engage in harmless stimming to cope with the stress of being autistic in an ableist world, and that neurotypical people are allowed to engage in literal murder to cope with somebody else dealing with being autistic in an ableist world?

Why is disability seen as a debate rather than a group of people, to the point that Facebook commenters think it’s okay to “just play devil’s advocate” when somebody died?

Why do people think being objective in this “debate” means having sympathy for that person’s killer?

Why are autistic people who object to all this so often dismissed as “high-functioning” and “not like my child”?

Why do neurotypical people want to divide us based on our ability to look and act like them?

Why do neurotypical people think autistic people aren’t “autistic enough” to have an opinion, but they can have an opinion when by definition they’re not autistic at all?

Why, when we put ourselves through debating our own humanity just to show solidarity with the victim, when we read these awful upsetting infuriating scary things about us and fight through autistic emotional overload just to show solidarity with the victim, when I had to wait until I had certain special interest material to keep myself steady enough to write this properly to show solidarity with Anderson, when our brains and an ableist society are fighting us every step of the way and we still want to show solidarity with the victim, do neurotypical people still think they can say we lack empathy?

Why do neurotypical people use perceived common traits of autism from the ableist mainstream point of view – lack of empathy, lack of theory of mind, and so on – as weapons to silence autistic people?

Why do abled people still mock the concept of ableism and attempts to reduce it? Why do abled people still think ableism is made-up?

This is ableism. Ableism kills. Ableism keeps on killing. And I’m already bracing myself for ableism killing again.

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Why “technology is ruining society” is my number one pet hate

(CONTENT NOTE: Discusses abuse and harassment)

It ranks above fandom gatekeeping. It ranks above people thinking the ECHR is the EU. Believe it or not, it even ranks above the weather. Seriously, nothing turns me into this bird faster than the constant bombardment of “Kids these days and their screens!” “Nobody talks anymore, they’re all just staring at their phones like zombies!” “Look up!” Stop it. Please. You’re being kind of awful. Here’s why.

Reason number one – It is massively, massively ableist. Not everyone can physically leave their home, or do so on any regular and reliable basis. Not everyone can physically access all social spaces with ease. Not everyone can speak verbally, or understand verbal speech, or do so at all times and in all circumstances. Not everyone can go to your loud, crowded big night out without suffering a massive sensory overload. (On a related note, not everyone drinks alcohol either, which is another huge barrier to IRL socialising when so much of IRL socialising revolves around alcohol.) In short – not everyone can socialise in the same way as you can. Where’s that famous neurotypical theory of mind?

At this point another pet hate of mine becomes relevant – the defensive abled response of “no, I don’t mean you, I mean those other people that don’t really need it”. NO. Remember – you cannot tell just by looking who is and is not disabled, and we are under no obligation to disclose to strangers. Even if you could magically know the disabilities (or lack thereof) of all individuals you meet, remember that many disabled people are constantly told we’re not disabled enough, our disabilities are not valid, and we’re just being lazy – when you say “Well those who REALLY can’t…”, we don’t think “That applies to me”, we think “Maybe I need to try harder”, and that doesn’t end well. In any case, why should the “normal” moral standard be a standard which some people cannot possibly achieve? That, right there, is the social model of disability. That, right there, is othering. Don’t do it.

Reason number two – Social media allows people to identify with each other, unite and speak out against oppression. If you are part of a minority of any kind, it may be difficult to meet others belonging to that minority because, by definition, you are outnumbered. If you are part of a marginalised group, it may be difficult to meet others in that group in some cases because the threat of oppression and abuse force many people to hide that part of themselves, at least in public spaces. Even media representation of marginalised groups is often abysmal if present at all, leaving many people without others like themselves to identify with. And even if you do manage to meet others, you may not be able to talk openly about that oppression in public spaces, where the oppressors are present, because at best we’re taught that doing so is impolite, and at worst you will be abused.

The internet and social media can be a hostile place for marginalised groups, but at the same time, it has helped to break down those barriers. Groups, forums and hashtags are established specifically for marginalised groups, and specifically to talk about oppression and social justice. If you’re the only one in your school, workplace or even town, that doesn’t have to exclude or silence you – there are others in the world at large, and many of them will have an internet connection. If you don’t have the money or the spoons to travel back and forth to protests and events which are often concentrated in the biggest cities, you can participate in that conversation by other means online. Social media brings with it the ability to remain anonymous, and this ability is unfortunately abused by many who wish to harass and abuse others without fear of consequences. On the other hand, it also allows survivors of abuse and harassment to speak out about their experiences without fear of retribution by their abuser, allows those with anxiety to write persuasively and change minds in a way their brains won’t let them do out loud, and simply allows people to be honest about things that have happened to them without the baggage and repercussions that come with accusing specific individuals. I choose to write this blog anonymously for all of the above reasons – a lot of what’s written here, or on my Twitter, would never have been expressed at all without the internet.

Indeed a lot of it would never have even entered my thoughts without the internet, because I got into feminism and learned about many social justice concepts through social media, which brings me to reason number three – The idea that online chat is “less real” is just… nope. You think thoughts, type corresponding words somewhere I can see them, I read them, understand their meaning, have thoughts about it and send you corresponding words in response. It’s conversation. It’s real. It creates discussions, teaches knowledge, changes opinions, sparks interests, sparks friendships and relationships. Why is it less valid than a verbal conversation? Why should the things I say matter less than the way I say them? Why is my terrified, immediate “sorry!” to a stranger who startles me on a bad sensory day deemed more real than a Facebook chat to a friend from uni about our new jobs and our favourite music?

Enter reason number four – It facilitates IRL relationships too. I went to university, away from home, and made lots of friends there. Many of my close friends live in different places. Lots of people from school also moved away, to their own universities and careers and families and lives. Some relatives live far away. And thanks to social media, we can all keep in touch. Isn’t that incredible? Like many autistic people, I find using the phone incredibly difficult; when I’m at uni, Skype and Messenger allows me to talk to my parents regularly and have a genuine conversation with them rather than having to focus on interpreting the phone noise as words, filling the silence, and calming my anxiety. And when I’m at home, social media allows me to have genuine conversations with my friends without the same obstacles.

What if that technology was not available to me? Cue reason number five – We wouldn’t all be happily chatting away to each other if smartphones, MP3 players and social media didn’t exist. Autistic people, and disabled people in general, also existed back in your cherished “good old days” when ~everyone played outside~ and ~everyone talked to each other instead of staring at their phones~. If those people do not feature in your nostalgic memories, it’s because they were discriminated against, denied access to the schools and workplaces and social spaces you accessed, and excluded by methods of socialising which were inaccessible to them. Even if we leave disability aside (as abled people love to do), people in public spaces did not spend all their time talking to strangers before they had earphones to listen to and screens to look at. Just as it is today, reading was a popular solitary hobby, and there are countless black and white photos of trains full of people reading newspapers to counter the “everyone talked to each other” myth. Alternatively… people just sat there. And didn’t talk. Try it. It’s entirely possible.

Unless, of course, somebody is trying to make you talk. Reason number six – Sometimes it’s about entitlement. Today, an article about how to make women wearing headphones talk to you is doing the rounds on Twitter. It features such gems as “if she ignores you, it’s a test” and “allowing her to ignore you or control the interaction is a common mistake”and is clearly about male entitlement and harassment. (Click here for why it’s not “just making conversation” and click here if you’re tempted to make it about autism and “not understanding signals”). This article is a very extreme example, but it did get me thinking about the links between entitlement to people’s time and attention (especially male entitlement towards women) and my number one pet hate, the “technology is ruining society” rhetoric. Smartphones in public apparently make people angry because “nobody’s talking to each other” but as we have established, people on social media are talking. They’re just not talking to the people who happen to be in that physical space. They’re just not talking to you. Why are you so angry about that?

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Think Before You Food-Police

(I’m really sorry that this is only my second post this year – I promise I haven’t abandoned the blog totally, just that I’m basically in finals mode now, so I don’t expect to get back to any sort of regular posting until summer. TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses food, food-policing and disordered eating.)

Food is hard.

Considering that it’s literally necessary for survival, food is really, really hard. For many of us, for different reasons, in different ways. To top it off, food and diet seems to come with a particular stigma, with individual morality attached to it: the idea that if you don’t eat this, if you don’t cut out that, if you don’t have a perfectly balanced/perfectly ethical/perfectly “normal” diet, you’re a bad person. In that sort of atmosphere, we can’t talk about it – and if we can’t talk about it, we can’t ask for help or share advice about the subsection of these varied issues which can be resolved, so we’re less likely to ever be able to meet whichever standards are being asked of us. Food-policing helps no-one.

When people think of food-policing they tend to think of dieting, fatphobia, forcing people (especially, but not exclusively, women) into starving themselves to meet impossible beauty standards and so on; sadly, this remains a huge issue. But food-policing has many other faces. You may have noticed that I included “perfectly ethical” above, and – in the interests of honesty – this blog post is inspired by a thread in which people were claiming veganism is necessary for feminism and dismissing all the various obstacles to veganism that were brought up, so that’s the particular strand of “if you don’t do XYZ with your diet then you’re a bad person” I had in mind with this post. Having said that, cutting meat and/or animal products out of your diet is also subject to pretty relentless food-policing, whether by outright mockery or concern trolling and telling vegetarians/vegans that they can’t possibly be healthy when they know they are. People with certain food allergies or intolerances are routinely mocked for those too, even though they have absolutely zero choice in the matter.

So, before you judge, you may want to consider the following:

  • Class is a thing. Poverty is a thing. Not everyone can afford to implement whatever you’re advocating. If something has saved you money personally, that’s great, but options that are cheaper long-term often require higher costs initially, which can mean it’s not an option at all.
  • Whilst money has a big part to play itself, financial difficulty brings other difficulties too. After long working days, many don’t have the time or energy to cook in a certain way, or teach their children to do so. Poverty can also be linked to mental health problems, which make food harder in their own right.
  • Disability is a thing – or rather, it can be many things. Some people need to eat certain things. Some people cannot eat certain things – at least not without really messing up their health – and this often eliminates lots of food from the options pool from the start. Adding additional restrictions on top of that can be expensive at best and downright dangerous at worst.
  • It isn’t always just about the actual eating of the food – planning, buying, and preparing food requires spoons and energy and executive function and not everyone can take those things for granted. Personally, it’s this stage which is often the giant hurdle for me. At the moment I rely quite heavily on the fact that my university offers meals during the week, and things really went a bit pear-shaped for a while on my year abroad, which also scares me for the future. And again, the constant feeling of being judged that comes with food adds so much to that – the more I’m worrying about what other people in the kitchen will think if I make a “silly” mistake, the less likely I am to make it into the kitchen at all, which means I’m even less confident about it, and so on.
  • I feel like this shouldn’t need saying, but eating disorders are a thing, and constant bombardment with moral judgments about what you as an individual should and shouldn’t eat can be particularly damaging for those affected.
  • If you fit into one of the above categories and you’ve made it work (or know someone who is/has), that’s fantastic, but remember you (or they) are not everyone. Even the same disability can affect different people very differently – autism is just one example of that. My main issue here is executive function and anxiety as mentioned above; for others like me, the main issue here is sensory overload, with some tastes and textures being physically painful; for others still, the main issue might be diverging from a long-established, safe routine.
  • “I can’t” does not always mean “I can’t yet. For example, even if I did want to cure my autism (which I don’t) it wouldn’t be possible to do so. The idea that if we’re not where you want us to be with food then we’re just not there yet is incredibly damaging. As mentioned above, sometimes food-policing can start from a place of good, and of course increasing accessibility is generally better than assuming accessibility cannot be achieved (although it’s funny how this is only considered when accessibility means doing what abled people want), but no amount of shouting at people because something may be possible for them in future does anything to actually help them do it.
  • Any sort of rhetoric revolving around ” well, if you genuinely really can’t…” plays right into the hands of an overarching ableist society in which disabled people are constantly being told we’re not disabled enough for accomodations. Too often, nobody is considered genuine in this narrative. Given this context, I imagine very few disabled people would respond by thinking “Oh, that includes me” even if you intend to include them – it’s more likely that, like me, they’ll think “well maybe if I ~just tried harder~…”
  • Don’t assume what people are or are not dealing with. Evidently, there’s a huge stigma around food, and this means the people you’re stepping over are less likely to speak out about it at all, never mind openly identify as one of the people you’re stepping over. In the case of disability, not everyone with a relevant disability will even know they have it (for instance, autism is hugely underdiagnosed in adults, people of colour, and women).
  • Unless you’re a doctor, don’t assume you know what’s healthy for a person better than they do. Contrary to popular belief, weight isn’t always an accurate indicator of health at all. And yes, vegetarians/vegans who are able to access sufficient non-animal sources of nutrients can and do live healthy and active lives, sometimes more so than some omnivores. Mockery out of ~concern~ is still mockery.
  • “But some people do use their disability as an excuse-“ NOPE. Stop. This is often just another version of “just try harder” in practice. This isn’t just fun for us, and it definitely isn’t convenient to have to carefully navigate that thing that’s literally necessary to survive and face everyone else’s scrutiny on top of that. Stop.

Food is necessary. Yet, food is hard. Think before you make it harder.

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The Elephant In The Room: Emotional labour link round-up

Every time I come home from university and get properly re-acquainted with domestic family life again, I always end up wanting to blog about the same topic, yet I don’t think I’ve ever made it beyond a muddled outline in my drafts. It’s difficult to articulate without feeling like I’m making a fuss over nothing. It’s a big pattern of smaller things that, taken in isolation, seem barely worth mentioning. It’s definitely there, and it definitely scares me as a young autistic woman who only just about manages to look after myself without hitting total overload half the time, but I can never quite manage to convey it in words in a remotely satisfactory way.

Luckily, a load of other people already have. Over the past few weeks I’ve come across some really great pieces online about emotional labour, constantly left to women and constantly unnoticed and unappreciated, so I thought I’d share them here:

“Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts.”

Do feel free to share further recommendations (and yes, that can totally include self-promotion) in the comments!

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Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 2

This is the second in a series of blogs I was nominated to carry out by A Willful Woman, and the rules are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavour.

This quote is from an article I read earlier this week, “Leveling both sides of the playing field” by Elaine Filadelfo:

“What if, instead of teaching women that they have to raise their hands to speak at meetings, we taught men to be more reflective and circumspect; instead of telling women to tamp down their emotions at the office, a man was told that he didn’t appear committed enough to the job because he’s never shed tears over it; instead of pushing women to take public credit for their work, we publicly admonish men who don’t properly acknowledge others’ contributions? I was just invited to a seminar on public speaking skills for women — where’s the class on listening skills for men?”

I’d really recommend reading the whole thing, which explores how and why the problem sexism in the workplace is often left for women to resolve; as well as ignoring the fact that when women do act more stereotypically “like men” they’re criticised and punished for it, this can also stray into blaming women for their own experiences of discrimination.

Today I’m nominating Spectrum Perspectives, ischemgeek and TARDISTIC. This challenge concludes tomorrow!

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The Illusion of “Neutral”

A huge part of privilege is that we are able to totally ignore the fact that we have it. If you don’t have to deal with any given oppression – sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc – day in day out, if it doesn’t affect you, you might not notice microaggressions (or even larger structural issues), or you might notice but look the other way, or you might notice and think to yourself “that’s a bit iffy” then forget about it and get on with your day – bear in mind this is a privilege not afforded to the marginalised group in question. Until, of course, the people directly affected point out the problem and ask for change – then, because you can’t ignore it anymore, you might think they are the problem for “creating divisions”“starting arguments” or “making it political”. Honestly, I’ve been there; I think we probably all have at some point.

This demonstrates two things. Firstly, we should listen to marginalised groups we’re not a part of, because they know their own oppression better than we do. Secondly, those arguments are necessary. Because here, “neutral” or “apolitical” means “don’t rock the boat”. It means just passively keeping things the same. And that means continued oppression.

Yeah, I know. Conflict is always unpleasant, and it’s sad and frustrating that these conflicts keep cropping up. But the solution isn’t to simply suppress the conflict; the solution is to tackle the oppression that’s causing the conflict. To reiterate: the oppression causes the conflict. People seem to have this idea that marginalised groups just love arguments and get angry all by themselves. Unless you just happen to be a white, straight, cis, abled, financially comfortable man who also has whichever other privileges I’ve forgotten to list, you’ll know that’s not true in terms of your own marginalisation(s) – so why do we have such difficulty in transferring that knowledge to situations where our group is the oppressor?

To be told that your words or your actions are harmful is uncomfortable, but it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable as actually being on the receiving end of that harm time and time again, every day, everywhere, even in supposedly “safe” spaces because many people think that “safe” means “neutral” and argument-free. Safe spaces should be safe for all the people they aim to support, including those who are marginalised within that group. This means that structural oppression has to be addressed, and that can mean conflict. It might seem theoretical and pointless to you, but for others, it’s the first steps towards making a space safe and positive again.

In short, privilege matters. This is also why, in these situations, “compromise” is not a solution (that’s basically saying “we’ll be slightly less harmful/less obviously harmful and you’d better be grateful for it”) and why the privileged group in these arguments using “this makes me feel unsafe” as some sort of checkmate phrase just doesn’t work – usually they’re referring to the discomfort of having the problem (which they are complicit in and/or benefit from) pointed out to them, whereas the oppressed group are talking about, well, literal safety.

Basically, “safe” does not always mean “safe from criticism”. And “neutral” does not always mean “equal”.

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On Condition

Content note: This post discusses rape culture.

There’s a tendency, particularly amongst the “I’m a feminist/ally but” types, to respect women if, and only if, said women appear to be invulnerable, perfect machines.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she dedicates all her time and energy to her work and/or to other people. Self-care is viewed as selfish.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not show emotion under any circumstances, because emotion is considered feminine and feminine is considered bad, so she’ll get every stereotype in the book thrown in her face.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she “respects herself”, a phrase that usually seems to have nothing to do with actually respecting herself and everything to do with following all the old tired nonsense rules about how to Not Get Raped, which doesn’t sound a lot like respecting her to me.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she is “strong enough”; that she “can take it”. Nobody stops to question exactly what she has to take and why she should have to take it.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not make requests, whether that’s accommodations for childcare, for disability, or anything that even as much as puts her on a level playing field with others. She has to just take it, otherwise she’s considered weak.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she doesn’t “let herself be a victim”, which is apparently still a phrase that exists and is used on a regular basis. Victim-blaming in its purest form. In order to not “let herself be a victim” (again, what???) she has to just take it, not make a big deal out of it (read: keep quiet). Any trauma she has experienced must not manifest itself, for example in the form of PTSD, because (even though she obviously doesn’t have a choice about that) then she’s “letting herself be a victim”. And woe betide her if she asks for trigger warnings.

I use “a woman” because, if she goes against any of the above, she’s suddenly considered to be representing all women – in many cases, she’s told she’s “letting her gender down” or “making women look weak”. The aim of this is to turn other women, sadly including feminists a lot of the time, against her in order to protect themselves (because women are already deemed to be weak too much as it is), leading to a situation where we’re all competing for scraps of respect and validation because we have no other choice.

Meanwhile, at least in terms of his gender (other axes of oppression may of course apply), a man is deemed worthy of respect… full stop.

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Scary Thoughts I Had In A Group For Autistic Women

(TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses ableism, misogyny, harassment, relationship abuse, and sexual assault)

If you grow up surrounded by social norms you find confusing, unnecessary or uncomfortable and are told you just have to learn to accept it, then patriarchy and gender roles might not seem any different.

If you’re constantly mocked and teased by people who assert that it’s “just a joke” (and therefore your fault for not finding it funny), then you might also blame yourself for reacting wrongly when men insist that catcalling and harassment is “just a compliment”.

If your facial expressions are always perceived as wrong and as a problem to be fixed, then “smile, love!” might seem like helpful advice.

If your requests for people to meet you halfway or even 10% of the way in an ableist world and make minor accommodations for disabilities have always been deemed uncompromising, selfish, manipulative or controlling, then you might not notice a problem when requests for a partner to do even part of their fair share of the housework are met with a similar response. Or you might have learned not to make requests at all.

If you’ve been taught to move, speak and act exactly how other people want you to, you might not recognise this sort of control as wrong, or as anything less than normal.

If you’re always told your autism isn’t enough to count, you might assume your abuse isn’t enough to count either.

If you’re taught that standing up for yourselves isn’t worth it, you might not stand up for yourself anymore, and then everything must be fine because you’re not arguing over it, right? Why don’t you just confront him?

If you’re told that things you find painful don’t really hurt at all, that your feelings and perceptions are incorrect, that nothing is as important as passing for neurotypical which usually means compliance, if you were never given the tools to say no, then… you do the maths.

In “Quiet Hands”, Julia Bascom uses the phrase “And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.”, something that I think could be extended to other disabilities too. This pervasive ableism leaves all disabled people vulnerable to further abuse. Throw in the prevalence of gendered abuse and violence against women (as well as other intersecting oppressions) and the way we treat disability becomes all the more chilling.

Because if you’re constantly told you’re a burden, you’re always to blame, you should be grateful when people don’t outright dismiss you and laugh at you, then you might start to believe it.

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