Category Archives: Ableism

March of the Food Snobs

People get very passionate about food. This is understandable, because when it’s good it can provide valuable nutrients to our body as well as cherished pleasure to our palates. But passion can become zeal and, before you know it, people are telling others how to eat. They are often well-meaning, when they evangelise about how easy it is to cut out gluten or become vegan, or how evil supermarkets or plastic packaging are, but they do not take into account the reality of many people’s lives.

The line between food enthusiasts and food snobs can be a thin one, and when, “It’s easier!”, “It’s cheaper!”, etc. drown out your insistence that the intersecting oppressions of disability, poverty, racism and fat-phobia play a part, then that line has been crossed.

I was vegetarian for many years and I have to admit that I was obnoxious about it when I was a young teen. I would gleefully point out that anyone with meat on their plate was “eating a dead animal” and, although I was half-joking, I’m sure it made me a thoroughly unpleasant person to eat with. Thankfully I grew out of that particularly objectionable habit long before adulthood, but many adults continue to judge others on what they eat as if it was a simple choice between good and bad with no other context.

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Skepticism and Chronic Pain: A Match Made in Purgatory?

I’ve been a lurker in the online skeptic community for a long time. I am also a feminist with fibromyalgia and several other health conditions (lifelong cerebral palsy and debilitating allergic reactions amongst them).

Whether it’s Dawkins-style puffery on which health conditions “actually exist” versus which are “somatization disorders” or, say, discussions of chronic illnesses that reduce said illnesses to strictly theoretical exercises instead of things (albeit misunderstood things) that impact peoples’ lives, there appears to be an unwillingness to make space for–and listen to–people with those very conditions.

Now, the notion of a skeptic and atheist with a “controversial” health condition will seem strange to some, and even stranger still because of the relative absence of skeptics with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and chronic health conditions in the online skeptic community. The feminist community — even online, where things like gender, ability, race, class, age, and sexuality supposedly “don’t matter” — suffers from similar problems when it comes to including and welcoming people with disabilities, as Neurodivergent K outlined in this excellent post at Feminist Hivemind. The old second-wave canard that women are physically strong is an unquestioned assumption in many modern feminist circles — and has the effect, unintended or not, of leaving out women with disabilities who are not strong or whose health conditions prevent them from being physical dynamos. The idea that chronic illnesses and disabilities like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and related pain/fatigue conditions are bad for the feminist movement–because women with these conditions apparently fulfill the stereotype of women as “weak” and fragile–has also gained some traction in feminist theory, most notably from feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter, who wrote a book in the late 1990s positing that CFS, Gulf War Syndrome and other “controversial” illnesses were media-spread, hysteria-driven epidemics comparable to alien abduction. Add to this the blithe unconcern that mainstream feminism has with disabilities of all kinds–and with women who have disabilities–and you’ve got a fairly unsafe environment for feminists of all genders who happen to have disabilities, or who think that (GASP) disability, chronic pain, and illness are feminist issues! After a while, it starts to look like current online “feminism” is only concerned about fighting for the rights of abled women–those without chronic pain, illness(es), physical disabilities, mental health conditions or who are neuroatypical. Thanks, feminism!

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My Color is F-You Fuchsia, or, Why I Decided to Leave Women’s Studies and Academia

[Note: All names and identifying characteristics have been changed.]

The exact moment that I knew I was finished with academia–and, more specifically, Women’s and Gender Studies, which I had once adored and wanted to pursue a PhD in–was in 2010, during a graduate Women’s Studies seminar at a rather middling-tier state university where I was enrolled as an M.A. student. I distinctly remember shoving my sunglasses on my cried-out, red eyes before going to class, sitting down, and then hunching over to make myself appear smaller. It was a month before the end of the semester. Right before class, the instructor–also the head of the department at that time–had called me in for a meeting because she was “concerned” about my attendance. The first week of the term, I had met with her to discuss my accessibility needs, and give her advance notice that my ongoing chronic pain and fatigue caused by fibromyalgia would sometimes prevent me from making it to class.

She seemed okay with this in the abstract, and mentioned that she’d worked with several students with special accommodation needs. Until this health issue actually (SHOCK/HORROR) got in the way of my making it to her class three times in a 16-week semester, I figured we were okay. There was even an accessibility statement on her syllabus!

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Access Denied: Crisis Centers and Disabled People

You’ve just been severely beaten by your partner, and you want to call the local crisis line for help; you’ve seen their number around town, so you dial it, only to discover that they don’t support TTY. Your caregiver has been subjecting you to recurrent sexual assaults, but when you roll up to the women’s centre to ask for counseling and help, their front door is up a flight of stairs, and the counselor who comes out to the sidewalk says they don’t have services for ‘people like you.’ Your partner, who is also your caregiver, is depriving you of medication and necessary care, but when you try to ask for help, people say they don’t know what to do. You want to learn more about your options for finding a shelter, but none of the materials are available in audio or Braille.

Welcome to the world of being disabled and in need. Domestic violence and sexual assault services around the world are supposed to be available to assist people in crisis as well as those who are undergoing long term abuse and are ready to seek help. Yet, all facilities are not created equal, and the amount of help available to you very much depends on who you are; discrimination against trans women, for example, is a recurring problem, but so is discrimination against disabled people, who may find services inaccessible or actively hostile.

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