Follow Up on Disability Rights Dialogue

As many of you know, a group of disability rights activists organized to call us out on our lack of coverage on disability issues and ongoing problem with ableist language at Feministing (sometimes on the part of editors, but mostly popping up in the comments sections). Some ableist language that I used in this post was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I apologized, pointing out that I really don’t know enough about the field of disability rights and activism and want to learn more. And Miriam jumped on board to serve as another representative of Feministing who was interested in forwarding the dialogue about this intersection and it’s presence or lack there of on our site and in feminism at large.
We moved forward by scheduling an online chat between these activists, who meanwhile started their own blog (their abelist word profiles are really enlightening, as are their regular recommended readings, and fantastic general content), Miriam, and myself. It was a productive and affirming experience for me personally. This group of activists and bloggers communicated their suggestions with incredible clarity and coordination, and as it turns out, most of their ideas were things that Miriam and I were either already discussing or open to implementing. The summary of the suggestions appear after the jump.
One of our problems, related to this issue and others, is capacity. We continue to maintain Feministing without enough time or money to realize our full vision of what it should be. Nevertheless, it was empowering, for lack of a less overused word, to go through this process of being called out on my own ignorance, widening the frame to the larger issue of the intersection between feminism and disability rights activism, dialoguing with a bunch of awesome activists, and now I’m excited to implement and learn more.
The crew is following up with some suggested resources (readings and the like), so I’ll definitely communicate about that to the larger Feministing community. Meanwhile, we’re excited to have a model of how to deal with criticism that makes us a better blog, makes each of us individually better thinkers/activists, and moves the movement forward. Thanks so much to the crew of folks from all over the world who are engaging with us in this process. You, in a word, rock.
In terms of addressing the capacity issues that this (and other situations in the past) have brought up, we’re working hard at finding new solutions to deal with the volume and vibrancy of the Feministing community. A big part of this is comment moderation, which we’ll be talking more about new ways to strengthen our ability to do this. We implemented a new policy this summer, in direct response to similar feedback about comment sections, and we’re still evolving that policy. We’ll make sure to keep folks updated as changes happen, but you should expect to see more posts with pre-approved comments as one way for us to better moderate.
The other main thing that this particular engagement brought up is our ability to be a truly intersectional feminist website. It’s something we’ve struggled with before as we all bring different identities and expertise to the table. One way we open this up is the community blog, but we realize that’s not enough. We’re committed to continuing these dialogues to develop how all sorts of important issues that intersect with feminism are represented at Feministing.
The full summary of the suggestions from the group we engaged with appear after the jump. You can also see the transcript of our chat here.

And here’s a quick recap of our substantive suggestions:
* A concrete statement of the site’s commitment to intersectionality issues, to address what seems to be a popular feeling among commenters that the site is “Feministing, not SocialJusticeing.” Whether a joint post for site authors or another mechanism turns out to be the best way to make this statement was undecided during the chat.
* Guest posts from people with disabilities focusing on a wide range of disability issues. Talks with Patty Berne had begun before these issues were raised and she may do more guest posts or potentially contribute to the site. We clarified our desire to see a wider range of issues addressed than have been in the past 2 years or so, when the only explicit focus on people with disabilities has been about performance art groups. Other potential areas to cover include political issues, health issues, employment issues, etc.
* Increased accessibility of the site itself. Miriam mentioned a current site redesign is in process, so it would be an excellent time to incorporate some increased accessibility. We suggested using this site to identify accessibility barriers and suggestions for fixes:
* A clear and reliable mechanism for user flagging abusive comments and getting a response – currently it’s unclear where those go, what criteria is used to determine whether it stays or not, with no feedback on criteria. We have noticed that the “report abuse” button now seems to direct emails to the author of the original post, rather than a general email. Miriam also mentioned plans to focus more on comment moderation, including creating a community editor/moderator position and incorporating community members in comment moderation.
* Current and updated contact information for all authors.
We also agreed that getting back together in about 3 months to discuss the interim progress would be a good idea.

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  1. Gopher
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I cant help but feel you have taken my comments out of order. I dont want you to feel overwhelmed and feel like you have to leave. I have not made any anti-feminist comments nor have I made any bigoted ableist comments. I have merely criticised some former posters from the first thread about this topic who claimed ‘stupid,’ ‘irrational,’ ‘rational,’ and ‘idiotic’ were bigoted words. I claim that its not. I have never used the word lame, the ‘r’ word or invalid in any of my posts and do not know how you could accuse me of that? If you feel up to it dont hesitate to debate. I wouldnt want any poster to feel overwhelmed, exasperated or at all like I’m being bigoted. Were all feminists!

  2. Gopher
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Right on.

  3. Gopher
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Right on.

  4. Courtney
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    This kind of back and forth is not leading to anything constructive, as far as I can tell. You’ve made your point Gopher. Energy elsewhere please.

  5. goldengirl2
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I stopped reading Feministing years ago, but I have been following this particular dust-up, and checking the site regularly to see your response, and just… wow.
    What the hell, y’all?
    As if the actual conversation weren’t bad enough, this post is a complete slap in the face. Why did it take Feministing so long to write up a follow-up post, anyway? The transcript of your conversation with added commentary was all over the disability blogs a week ago. In fact, Courtney, you didn’t even write a real post- you just co-opted and copy-pasted a bunch of suggestions without attributing them. And, of course, wrote almost entirely in the passive voice. And misspelled ‘ableist.’ I mean, seriously?
    On a similar note, where are the rest of the contributors on this? Why is all of the onus of solving Feministing’s insensitivity issues being dumped on Courtney?
    I wish I could say I expected more from Feministing, but really, with the site’s history, I don’t. This response is appalling, but sadly par for the course. Yes, I understand that safe spaces are a lot of work. But it’s up to you all to decide what kind of community you want to have here.

  6. alixana
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Since you’ve hit every other box on the silencing Bingo card (and you just basically added “I have a disabled friend” in your last comment), I figured you were just waiting to pull out the condescending language – and since you keep waving your feminism card, then of COURSE you know that calling women “sweetie” when you disagree with them is condescending.
    As for the rest of your comment, I’m not sure if you’re replying to me or Icca. For all you seem to be accusing her? me? of being too excited to read properly, you’re not doing so well yourself there. All I can say from your intense denial of your hurtfulness, when you have multiple people in multiple threads telling you to STOP, it might be time to ask yourself what’s going on and why people are suggesting your language towards disabled people might be mirroring the same oppressive language that misogynists use against women.

  7. Lily A
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes, namecalling.
    “They wouldnt stop and explain their views to me” — Yes they did. In multiple feministing posts, in multiple feministing comment threads, in an open letter to the feministing community, AND in their own public writings and speakings.
    “There was only one who remained level-headed enough to explain anything like a decent adult with an intellectual grounding.” — There were obviously many “level headed” “decent adults” in these discussions, so saying that there is only one is saying that most of us are not. That’s name calling.
    “Chill, then retype later.” — Very rude, talking to someone like a child or intoxicated person. Especially insensitive in a discussion about discriminatory language against people with disabilities.
    “What, are you a homophobe?” — Asked to someone who made absolutely no comments about homosexual people or homosexuality, or even implied anything to do with sexual orientation. And someone who has established a pretty clear record on this site that she’s not a homophobe.
    “excitable and irrational state” — this is how you describe the alternative, if alixiana is not a homophobe?
    “witch hunt” is how you describe… what exactly? This discussion? People telling you how to respect them? – the sarcasm in this entire post might have been intended lightly, but in the context of everything else you’ve said,it comes across as really harsh.
    “Isnt disability a ableist word? Bit of a hypocrite.” — You call someone a hypocrite, because you get to decide what’s offensive to people with disabilities even though they disagree with you?
    you call another poster “hostile and paranoid” in a very condescending post —
    This entire comment —
    ” wild assertions and hateful ranting” and “Its the way of intellectual cowards” is how you describe people who disagree with you on the thread.
    These comment before the mods had to remove for policy violation —

  8. Lily A
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Oops, was writing my reply to Gopher before I saw yours.

  9. Molly
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    You really, really, really, really, really, really have.
    -A TAB lurker

  10. Molly
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    “I have not made any anti-feminist comments nor have I made any bigoted ableist comments.”
    You really, really, really, really, really, really have.
    -A TAB lurker

  11. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you raise a really good point.
    I’m always quite comfortable speaking my mind in a classroom type setting, which is really not the norm. I didn’t think of this.
    I think what I was getting at is that people would not jump to call someone a rude name given that it is much more difficult to be callous and bold on in real life, and easy to forget the people behind the words. For instance, I’ve certainly said things on the internet that I would never say in real life, such as calling people names…but I suppose this works both ways, like you mention.
    thanks for your reply.

  12. Gopher
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    But I didnt call them sweetie. I wasnt being condescending, I was being serious. Posters on this topic jump to conclusions and make mountains out of ant hills. So yeah, taking a break and coming back would be more conducive to level headed debate. The poster didnt even read my post but jumped to conclusions and the posters post didnt even make sense. When people do that its because they need to cool off. It IS condescending and offensive when someone who is being bigoted tells the ‘little lady’ to calm down, but I wasnt being bigoted and the poster wouldve known that had they had a cooler head. You wouldnt jump to that conclusion either if you would quite being so rash in your conclusions. But whateves, the moderator is telling me to go elsewhere, so I will. This topic is getting boring anyways. End result: nothing.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    is it possible for you to acknowledge in some way that you have read the comments asking for your personal response (to say nothing of a blogwide response)? And, hopefully, acknowledge that you will respond to them soon?

  14. nestra
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    It is obvious that the issue is simply not a priority to feministing. The editors dance around it by saying that they don’t have time to deal with it. Amanda brought attention to it (and got a tone silencing) by reminding them that they find the time to deal with other issues that come up on the board.
    The feministing editors should be authentic enough to just admit that disabled rights just isn’t a big enough priority for them to take resources away from other topics. Everyone has limited time, money, and energy and has to make decisions about where to spend them. People will understand. Just be honest about it so that the people for whom it is important know that they will have to look somewhere else to see this topic discussed.

  15. Athenia
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I think feministing needs to either make some unilateral rules on words i.e.lame and they are automatically deleted or we need to tackle disability issues from another angle.
    The energy that goes into policing words such as idoit, dumb, stupid, lame needs to change. I don’t see how we can have constructive dialogue with new and oblivious commenters when all people are arguing about is the word “idoit.” Don’t get me wrong, I think language is important…..but no one is going to understand the intersectionality of disability rights and gender if we can’t get passed the name-calling (ironically).
    Those who think about disability issues every day need to help everyone who comes to the site to reframe the discussion—-feministing commenters do this everyday when they comment.
    And honestly. It’s not hard. See post. Read post. Does it include a disability perspective? No? Make comment.
    See? Easy.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Easy. Make other people do the work for you. And tell them that it’s a waste of energy to do things which would make their life less difficult. Because it doesn’t affect you, therefore it can’t be important at all, right?

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    BTW, PWD have been talking about disability for a long time. Many left this site and community because of the hostility they experienced and the tacit approval of it by the mods.
    And now they’re being told “Well, things would be better if you commented to do all our thinking for us!”
    We’ve been writing. Elsewhere. If you can’t be bothered to look elsewhere, well, that’s your own fault. You don’t get to turn around and tell people who have been chased away from a community they *wanted* to be a part of that it’s their fault the community is so hostile to them because they aren’t in it.
    Do your own reading. Don’t demand other people do your learning for you. That’s your responsibility as the privileged party. Other people can offer education as much as they like, but because of the culture here, it is likely to be in places other than Feministing. So if you want it, try looking on your own. Don’t declare our absence in the community that accepted you and excluded us to be our fault.

  18. tomorrowshorizon
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I understand that it is frustrating to have your concerns ignored. You are completely right to continue to criticize Feministing for its failure to cover disability, trans, class, or any other intersectional set of issues. I also understand that there is a history of frustration that inflects your comments, and I recognize that frustration and its expression as valid.
    However, I was taken aback by the personal nature of your comments to Courtney. Why can’t you assume a little bit more good faith? Yep, her actions may fall extremely short of what you want to see, but maybe from her place she’s trying. The fact that she’s trying doesn’t mean she’s right, and that’s why you’re right to continue to criticize, but why do you call her out by name so often and with such explicit derision for all of her motives? I feel that I personally have a hard time trying to engage people when my privilege is attacked – I can only imagine how much harder it would be to fight down that immediate response when I was being told that I was disingenuous. Trying to imagine being in someone else’s place is important to being able to convince them to actually change other people’s minds and persuade them to become genuine advocates of their cause. Courtney is just a person, like anyone else. She IS probably really busy – she has a full career in addition to writing blogs for this website, and this website is big and full of comments and community posts – it is a massive demand on her time to ask her to reply personally to all comments personally addressed to her. Give her some time to catch up.
    In case I haven’t made this clear enough: This is not about tone – I’m not objecting to the strong *wording* of your statements. I’m objecting to the presumption that peoples’ failure to implement your suggestions must necessarily imply that they’re haters and won’t ever come around.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    See my comment further below. Women with disabilities and their allies have been contacting feministing for years about this matter. And we have presumed good faith throughout the entire process up to and including the chat. Is it wrong to show some frustration when the response is, again: ignore, ignore, ignore, then deny, dismiss, excuse?
    See comment here.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I couldn’t believe it when I saw to tone argument smack in middle of that chat. Ya’ll are better people than me.

    Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    I’m glad your psyched and all, but this shouldn’t have taken this long. I am hoping that this will be more than an empty gesture, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
    Feministing was the first step on my feminist journey, but I pretty much left when I realized how little recognition of intersections of oppression and privilege this site had.
    I realize that being a Black, trans racially adopted, queer, service dog handling, person with disabling mental illness is not the most common combination, but the judgmental, ism loaded tones of some of the post on here very nearly pushed me away from feminism.
    Ain’t I a woman?
    I leave you with just one word, intersections. You need to deal with them.

  22. fsu
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Ok, I just read through the thread at the “Open Letter” post.
    Wow. The hostility there really blew me away. Granted, I don’t read comments threads that often, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such nastiness here on Feministing.
    To those who really care about learning about the intersection of feminism and disability rights/acceptance, let me recommend the blog, FWD/Foward . It is a new blog, but a really useful one for those new to disability theory (IMO, a good one to add to the Feministing Blog Roll). Do read the comments policy before you comment though.

  23. pan
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    After a few days of reading through all of these posts, transcripts, and other blogs, I finally understand feel like I have a grasp of the issue.
    For what it’s worth, I now feel a lot more committed to understanding and accounting for issues of disability in the feminist community.
    I have to say that without understanding all of the context of this thread, I was confused, and hence my previous posts that I now understand as defensive.
    What has happened in the community over time is just sad, and now, after trying to report an offensive post, I see how difficult and problematic it actually is.
    The strange thing is that the concerns presented by many critics could have been addressed with relative ease. Even hiring one feminist with a disability as a consultant would have probably helped.
    I still hope that feministing does all it can to remedy this rift. In the meantime, I would like to apologize for my own ignorance in the few comments that I left in this post. I would like everyone to know that, if anything, it has led me to rethink the entire issue.

    Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    thank you so much for coming back with this.

  25. ethifem
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry that my preference for in-person debate has offended you.

  26. MomTFH
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I was also really surprised by the “tone” argument when I read the transcripts of the chat. I actually scrolled up and tried to see what it was a response to and if there was any context to it – I could only see that Courtney was responding to amandaw saying they already knew it was a busy site.
    I am appalled that this thread has been up for three days with only two very brief replies from Courtney.
    I don’t care how busy the authors of the post and blog are. I am in medical school. When someone complains about something offensive on my blog or in the comments, I reply within three days. Consciously deciding to have a blog with interactive comments on social justice issues means there is some sort of responsibility.
    Especially if one is going to author a post on a sensitive topic with a history of problems in comment sections. Especially if the post is full of optimism and euphemism about working with these nameless people, and then these nameless people show up in the comments with names and some direct points and requests for answers.

  27. ethifem
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, now I understand why you were confused about my comment. When I was talking about everyone being mroe respectful, I didn’t make it clear enough that I was not saying that oppressed people would be more respectful, at all. I see how it came off that way, though. I meant to imply everyone, and that a situation wouldn’t escalate in the ways that it often does online. There would be more automatic politeness all around and in the end, opinions that were shared would be better received by everyone.

  28. fsu
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I’d also like to register my astonishment at the use of the “Tone Argument” by a feminist.

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