Reproductive Justice includes Women with Disabilities

Earlier this month I spoke at a reproductive justice rally, and as much as I was honoured to be there, it wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. For a long time I stayed out of the pro-choice conversation. I have always been pro-choice, but I didn’t always feel included in the movement. My concerns about reproductive justice were a little different than most feminists, while most women I knew were fighting for the choice of whether or not to have children; most women with disabilities were fighting for the choice to have children at all.
Like many fights in the disability movement this one goes on silently and often behind closed doors. It happens in subtle ways, the dead quiet after a little girl with a disability suggests that she is going to be a mommy someday, the doctor who asks a teenager with a disability why she wants birth control, to the barrage of comments a pregnant woman with a disability is subjected to in public. It also happens in more overt ways, like when a woman with a disability is not allowed to have her child in the maternity ward, the many unwarranted calls to the Children’s Aid Society, and even in some cases forced sterilization.

There are 300 million women with disabilities around the world, each one of them are impacted by issues like these, compounded by the same lack of reproductive justice facing other women in their communities. But how do these women organize if they are too afraid to tell their stories? How can we expect them to join the movement if they do not feel included?

While these women are feeling excluded from discussion of choice and reproductive justice, the anti-choice movement has been freely exploiting us for years. One day they tell women that children with disabilities are their punishment for having abortions, and the next time they are telling women that they should risk giving birth to a potentially disabled child, even at the risk of their own lives. We did not ask to be used this way, and I for one refuse to be used this way.

What we need is a reproductive justice movement that welcomes women with disabilities in the way we want to be included. The rising of women is the rising of us all, but only if women with disabilities rise too.

“Disabling Failure: Sex, Embodiment, and Crip Critique” Event in Waterloo

When: March 1st, 4:30
Where: University of Waterloo, venue to be determined

On Thursday March 1st, distinguished scholars Morgan Holmes and Robert McRuer will collaborate to deliver a talk and facilitate a discussion on the theme of “Disabling Failure: Sex, Embodiment, and Crip Critique.”
Dr. McRuer is Professor of English at George Washington University. His book Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability was the MLA Alan Bray Award winner in 2007. He is currently completing a book tentatively titled “Crip Time: Essays on Disability, Sexuality, and Neoliberalism,” considering locations of disability within contemporary political economies and the roles that disabled movements and representations play in countering hegemonic forms of globalization.
Dr. Holmes is Associate Professor of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is the author of Critical Intersex. Her work brings together sexuality and queer theory and feminist thought with qualitative health research and law related to sexuality and health.
All interested faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, alumni, or others are also invited to take part in a small reading and discussion group in advance of the talk. This group will provide an introduction to the scholars’ work, the themes of the presentation, and the broader disciplines of queer theory and disability studies, particularly as they overlap with rhetoric and literary studies.

The Rose Centre for Young Adults with Disabilities General Meeting

Notice of First General Meeting!

The Rose Centre for Young Adults is pleased to announce their first general meeting.

Meet other Young Adults with Disabilities. Talk about issues important in your life, including Dating, Sex, Relationships, Independent Living, Social Issues or anything else that matters to you.

The purpose of this meeting will be two fold.

  1. We want to talk, about anything and everything that is important in our lives.
  2. We want to find out what people would like to see from our organization. What would be the best supports for your life and how would you like to participate in our organization

One of the main values of our organization is to provide user driven content. This meeting is our first step. We really want to see as many people as possible come out and shape what we do. We need your help. Everyone is welcome, whether you identify a young adult or person with a disability or not.

Where: Deer Park Public Library

            40 St. Clair Avenue, Toronto ON

            (Walking Distance from St. Clair Subway Station, which is Wheelchair Accessible)

When: Monday December 12th, 2011, 6:15pm-8:15pm

We will provide light refreshments, and we will do our best to meet any accommodation needs that you may have.

Can’t find work? Can’t find a partner? Why not be a phone sex worker?

“Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can have. It’s much sexier than any body part.” – Aimee Mullins

First of all I just want to say this is not the blog I intended to write tonight. I am well aware that there may be people reading this who do not agree with what I have to say; those people are welcome to give me feedback. Versions of this blog have existed in the past, but I haven’t been quite irked enough to share those thoughts until today.

I’ll start off with explaining what set me off; a photo (image 2 of 10) on the Mother Jones website. The photo is part of a photo-essay on phone sex workers. In the image sits a women in a wheelchair facing the camera with her eyes closed. She is dressed in attractively but not provocatively. She is situated in an sparse apartment that suggests poverty. I’m not pointing this out to criticize Mother Jones magazine or the woman in the photograph. I do not know this woman, and for all I know she chose this work and enjoys it, and if so kudos to her. I can’t fault the magazine either because it’s not often that women with disabilities are portrayed as sexual beings in the media. That aside, the image speaks volumes about the sexuality of women with disabilities.

The first thing that comes to mind with this image is a kind of disabled feminist rage. Unlike some of the other people in these photos she is not smiling, and her eyes are closed. This is one area where the disability movement has not kept up with the times, still stuck in the days of institutionalization, where people with disabilities were most likely to be harmed by their attendants. While this does happen today, as woman with a disability in the post-institution era, I can say from experience that the issue runs much broader than that, from straight up objectification, to partner violence, to the denial of reproductive rights.

Just the other day I was at the bookstore and some guy decides it’s perfectly acceptable to follow me around the store, making disgusting comments. Granted this would be disturbing to most women, but some guys actually think I should take this as a complement, assuming I can’t get a date (with lines like that I clearly get more action than they do, just saying). Not to mention the guys with a fetish for women in chairs (sorry this isn’t a Happy Meal, you don’t get to collect the whole set). Then there’s the disabled guys who assume I’m attracted to them because we’re both disabled, or the guys who assume I’ll be boring in the bedroom. My point is this happens a lot, and I’m sure it’s not just a straight people thing.

Moving on to partner violence, I’m not going to say a lot here because there are people doing some great work in this area, but it has only been in the last few years. There are still too many people with disabilities looking up at their partners with bloodied smiles because they are scared, or they believe its as good as its going to get. Maybe they were one of the many spoon-fed the fairy tale that someday they will find that one person that can accept them for who they are. In reality there is way more than one person, but not all of them will treat you right (it only took me a couple of decades to learn that one). Police response and self-image of young people with disabilities are still in major need of progress.

A lot could be said for reproductive rights as well, but the main thing that sickens me is how many women with disabilities live in fear of having their children being taken away not because of their ability to parent, but because of their disabilities. Not to mention forced sterilization. It’s also disgusting how few so-called feminists take on this issue.

Coming back to the image, would any of this happen if women with disabilities were handed the mic? I recently picked up a new book that claimed to discuss the reality of feminism outside of academia. I think women with disabilities were mentioned twice. Anyone women has done disability activism will probably notice it’s a pretty testosterone filled movement, and about as white as a herd of polar bears.

I should probably wrap this up by saying that I know there are women with disabilities out there with great, loving partners, and at some point I’ll find someone that wants to be mine. There are also plenty of women with disabilities claiming their sexuality for themselves, and I’m one of them. I guess that’s just harder to capture in a single photograph.

Disability in the Media: Lady Gaga’s Disability Project

lady gaga using a wheelchair in her imagery
Lady Gaga's Paparazzi Video: Liberation or Exploitation?

I`ve recently become very interested in how the media is using disability as a hot topic, while still oppressing people with disabilities.  In doing some research on this topic I came across an excellent article on Lady Gaga’s Disability Project.

I`m all for people with disabilities expressing their sexuality, but Lady Gaga`s paparazzi video leaves me confused  Part of me is glad that people with disabilities can be seen as sexual beings in the media, but Lady Gaga does not need a chair.  If she really wanted to support us, wouldn`t she put a woman with a real disability on camera?  If she is exploiting the disability movement, what is she gaining from it that she wouldn’t gain from any other video?

Please send me your thoughts on this.

To read more about this issue from a disability studies perspective, check out: The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Disabililty Chic? (Temporary) Disability in Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” | Bitch Magazine.