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: http://wave.webaim.org/
* 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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128 Comments

  1. alixana
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for recapping.
    I think that a focus on intersectionality as a concept is important, because so far in my time here, I’ve seen the same conflict erupt over racial issues, trans issues, and now disability issues. Each conflict has been remarkably similar and remarkably frustrating. As feminists, we share a common language – we know all about how to talk about women’s oppression and the language that the patriarchy uses to silence and belittle us. We discuss that here everyday and most of the site’s visitors who are here in good faith understand it quite well. They’re affected by it.
    But then.
    Race, trans, or disability issues pop up, things that it seems the majority of the site’s visitors don’t have any personal knowledge of. Instead of recognizing the parallels that run between ALL dominant/oppressed groups, the feminists who suddenly have (cis/white/abled) privilege use the EXACT SAME LANGUAGE AND TECHNIQUES that they complain about the patriarchy using against women.
    It’s a mindfuck, it really is.
    Successful feminism HAS to identify these parallels and speak about them. We can’t do any good as social justice advocates without that hard work. Racism and disableism and transphobia and sexism and homophobia are not separate, isolated issues that can all be solved on their own. And Feministing cannot treat each issue like they’re separate.

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Though I have a disability, I must admit that I am largely ignorant of specific terminology regarding disabelism. One of the “blessings” as well as the curses of having a disease of the brain somewhat clumsily referred to as mental illness is that I often display no outward signs of limitation, except for those instances where I am either extremely depressed or extremely manic.
    My challenges normally involve people who fail to understand how anything they can’t physically see could be so debilitating and indeed, sometimes if I have a sustained period of relative stability, I almost discount it myself, that is, of course, until I have an episode and I can’t ignore it. If anything jumps out at me in writing this response, it’s that the rest of the world seems to see disabled as requiring a cane or a wheelchair, when disabilities come in all types, shapes, and sizes.
    Still, I take no serious offense to those who make the same old mistakes and resort to problematic language, since much of my waking existence is already dedicated to making a conscious decision of how much I should reveal and I have a whole laundry list of well-worn euphemisms at my disposal. If I’m not totally honest with whomever I’m speaking to, I can hardly expect them to respond in a correct fashion. I pray for the day where I can be 100% honest with everyone and I do optimistically believe that day is coming soon.

  3. Diana
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Having invisible disabilities can be uniquely challenging, as I know from my own experiences living with them. It seems as though I’m always trying to explain myself to the world and never finding the right language. I can relate to what you’ve said about honesty and expectations.

  4. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    might i also suggest more moderator involvement? i realize that this site is not most of the mods’ primary job, and that moderating needs to fit in around other life stuff.
    but, as someone who was reading that thread about ableist language (i didn’t comment because everyone else pretty much summed up what i had to say better than i could say it), i was pretty upset to see how long it took a moderator to respond. we can all call each other out all day long, but without knowing that you are all reading and responding, we have no means of enforcement, or even worse, the sense that *you all* are learning from *us*, just as we learn from you.

  5. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    i hear you on the challenges of “invisible” disability. the thing that i find so upsetting is that everyone assumes that they no longer have to watch what they say, because i don’t fit the stereotype of a disabled person. one of my professor was telling us on the first day of class about his disability (menieare’s disease—probably misspelled that), and how it he might have to lay down all of a sudden and how we should not worry and what we should do.
    then he said, “but don’t worry. it’s no big deal. it’s not like i have weird seizures or anything.” my head almost blew up.

  6. lauredhel
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    1. “And here’s a quick recap of our substantive suggestions:”
    These were our suggestions. Perhaps you could blockquote and attribute them more clearly?
    2. Spelling “ableist” correctly (that’s twice) would make your
    “excited” commitment a bit more credible.
    3. You have not named in this post a single one of the bloggers who were engaging so incredibly generously with you. Not one. They’re just faceless “activists”, a “crew”.
    4. Nothing is going to move forward for me personally until you demonstrate clearly that you can “deal with criticism’: a full-hearted apology from you to Amndaw would be the logical place to start.
    5. It might also be useful, in the interests of transparency, the to publish the list of suggestions that you are not going to bother with or that you find too hard; like, for example, the fact that straight after your last “Abelism” post, you published bare videos without descriptions or transcripts.

  7. Gopher
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    “3. You have not named in this post a single one of the bloggers who were engaging so incredibly generously with you. Not one. They’re just faceless “activists”, a “crew”.”
    Didnt know the blog was their personal PR agency?

  8. lauredhel
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    6. “empowering” is _really_ the wrong word for that process.
    Truly recognising, examining, and working on not throwing around your privilege so that you _stop hurting people with marginalised bodies_ so much doesn’t make you feel all squee-bouncy and and powerful; and it’s certainly not purely your happyfun personal growth experience. This consultation wasn’t Courtney-therapy. It was a request for you to recognise that you are arbitrarily assigned excess power by a community of people, that that has resulted in your unexamined privilege and ingrained prejudice, and that fixing the damage you’re doing is going to take work and a commitment to thinking outside of yourself and your personal needs and growth.
    (I reply as an individual, not a representative of the group.)

  9. lauredhel
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    No, they’ve just provided many hundreds of dollars worth of free media consulting, Gopher. Thanking them by name, like they’re actual humans, is well below the least that could be done in return.

  10. lauredhel
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    No, they’ve just provided many hundreds of dollars worth of free media consulting, Gopher. Thanking them by name, like they’re actual humans, is well below the least that could be done in return.

  11. https://me.yahoo.com/a/LXvce8dyifPoeFttNuukV_ml3RmUvc0-#a82ad
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    This consultation wasn’t Courtney-therapy.
    THIS.
    I would also like to know when Courtney is going to acknowledge that calling me by my full name like a first-grader and telling me, IN THESE WORDS, that: “I don’t appreciate your tone, FYI” is maybe just a little bit antifeminist, a little bit a silencing tactic, and if nothing else, completely inappropriate when speaking to an adult who is giving you firm but polite and constructive criticism.
    amandaw

  12. https://me.yahoo.com/a/LXvce8dyifPoeFttNuukV_ml3RmUvc0-#a82ad
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    This consultation wasn’t Courtney-therapy.
    THIS.
    I would also like to know when Courtney is going to acknowledge that calling me by my full name like a first-grader and telling me, IN THESE WORDS, that: “I don’t appreciate your tone, FYI” is maybe just a little bit antifeminist, a little bit a silencing tactic, a little bit disregarding of my personal safety, and if nothing else, completely inappropriate when speaking to an adult who is giving you firm but polite and constructive criticism.
    amandaw

  13. https://me.yahoo.com/a/LXvce8dyifPoeFttNuukV_ml3RmUvc0-#a82ad
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    moderator involvement is the main change I, personally (not speaking for the group) was hoping for. There is a huge need for control of the comments sections, and part of that is having a person there moderating, but part of it is the culture that the contributors encourage on the site (knowingly or not) that leads people to feel perfectly comfortable behaving in such awful and damaging ways. This drives away people who are disabled or have awareness of disability issues.
    Of course, I’m sure it would drive away more people to crack down on ableism in the community, but when you’re a big blogger you have to make decisions about the kind of community you want to have.
    It’s up to you, Feministing.
    amandaw

  14. Flowers
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Moderator involvement was something that I was hoping would be left out. I have found that the discussions about disabilities devolve into what SOME people with disabilities approve of. We are not all of one mind about issues. I, personally, believe that it IS my responsibility as a person with a mental illness to inform non-disabled people about mental illnesses. I hate it when someone who supposedly has the authority to speak for all disabled people (and oftentimes isn’t even disabled) decides that my beliefs are wrong, and then the moderator agrees, so there goes yet another disabled voice into the abyss.
    I have an invisible disability, and a very serious one at that, yet I have acheived a lot in life, and I believe that part of my responsibility as a social activist is to “out” myself to people, not be ashamed of who I am (because it’s an identity as much as an illness), and teach others about mental illnesses. Society already discounts what I say because of my illness — I don’t want Feministing dismissing what I say because it doesn’t fit into the narrative that their hand-picked disability rights activists have chosen as the correct one.

  15. OuyangDan
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    This is also what I (not the group, again, me personally) want to see from this consultation. By not being more concerned with comment moderation it pretty much says “Hey, we’re just fine with all the hateful language going on here”. Sometimes silence is louder than words. Inaction sometimes condones negative behavior.

  16. OuyangDan
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    This.
    I don’t feel, personally, that anything can go forward until this is addressed, because I have seen this before (see: Military Missives post where the “tone” argument was employed, pointed out, and then ignored). I expect more from feminists, at a basic level. It was incredibly disrespectful, hurtful and completely uncalled for.

  17. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    i get your point. i obviously need to clarify, though. when i talk about better moderation, i’m not talking about shutting down healthy debate. i’m talking about enforcing the same criteria they have for basic civility on the other threads. i am all for contrarian voices, but i’m not for playground insults and transparent thread derailment. i think there is probably a happy medium to be found in there.

  18. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    i get your point. i obviously need to clarify, though. when i talk about better moderation, i’m not talking about shutting down healthy debate. i’m talking about enforcing the same criteria they have for basic civility on the other threads. i am all for contrarian voices, but i’m not for playground insults and transparent thread derailment. i think there is probably a happy medium to be found in there.

  19. https://me.yahoo.com/a/LXvce8dyifPoeFttNuukV_ml3RmUvc0-#a82ad
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    … so because you are OK with something, no one should ever respond to someone whi isn’t OK with it? Also, people are free to do education and diplomacy (that is, after all, *what we are and were doing*) but what should not be done is privileged persons demanding it of PWD. No one has ever said you can’t do education. I’m glad you do. I try to, too. The problem is not that. The problem is the expectation that privileged people never do anything for themselves, just sit patiently and wait to be taught by PWD (who have limitations, you know?) which puts the burden on PWD to always be up for pointing out wrongs, explaining why they are wrong in a way that satisfies the privileged person, deal with the people who pick fights in an attempt to derail or dismiss…
    That should NEVER be demanded of PWD. Ever.

  20. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    oh, and just to be clear why i put quotes around “invisible”, when talking about my disability, because i want to be clear that i’m not mocking the term. it’s because, for the most part, no one outside of my family ever sees me when i have a seizure, so, for them, i look perfectly abled, even if i’m suffering from after-effects. however, it’s immediately visibly apparent with distinct, recognizable symptoms when i’m having one. i guess my disability is “semi-visible” or “translucent”.
    thus ends my derailment.

  21. annaham.livejournal.com
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I was going to put in a strongly-worded comment of my own in regards to the original post, but I agree with Lauredhel’s comment 110%.
    (Speaking for myself here, and not the whole of FWD.)

  22. EndersGames
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read feministing everyday for the past 3 years.
    I’ve always been very disappointed with the lack of coverage of disabilities issues as they relate to gender. I could count on one hand the number of posts relating to these issues.
    As a man who acquired a disability at age 19, it is became immediately to me that there are serious social consequences that you face when you are unable to fulfill your prescribed gender roles because of that disability.
    I know it can be hard for an able-bodied individual to understand. But millions of men and women, including young men and women, have disabilities. These disabilities effect how others treat us, the expectations they have for us, and our own views of our masculinity and femininity.
    For all the vitriol that was fired back and forth over this issue over the past few months, I am really glad the feministing is starting to take this issue seriously. I am looking forward to feministing help bring more awareness to the way that disabilty and feminist issues intersect.

  23. EndersGames
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Oops, second paragraph was nonsensical. Comment should have read:
    I’ve read feministing every day for the past 3 years.
    I’ve always been very disappointed with the lack of coverage of disability issues as they relate to gender. I could count on one hand the number of posts relating to these issues.
    As a man who acquired a disability at age 19, it is crystal clear to me that there are serious social consequences when you are unable to fulfill your prescribed gender roles because of that disability.
    I know it can be hard for an able-bodied individual to understand. But millions of men and women, including young men and women, have disabilities. These disabilities effect how others treat us, the expectations others have for us, and our own views of our masculinity and femininity.
    For all the vitriol that was fired back and forth over this issue over the past few months, I am really glad the feministing is starting to take this issue seriously. I am looking forward to feministing help bring more awareness to the way that disabilty and feminist issues intersect.

  24. Flowers
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I understand. But the thread derailment tends to come in the form of someone claiming to be the authoritative voice of disabled people saying “You should educate yourself! Stop asking me!” (See below.) I can see moderators stopping people from asking what I believe are legitimate questions because some disabled people don’t want to answer. I believe that if a person doesn’t want to answer a question, they don’t have to, but they shouldn’t derail the conversation into a long discussion regarding whose responsibility it is to answer the question instead of letting some of us other disabled feminists answer. Some of us do feel the responsibility to answer questions of privileged people. I want to make sure that my input is part of the process so that threads aren’t shut down by mods when someone cries “educate yourself!”

  25. Unequivocal
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this; I wish I could “like” this comment multiple times.

  26. Kris McN
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Wow. I’m kind of stuck on Courtney whipping out the tone smack down. It’s such a classic silencing maneuver, used on uppity women, among others, all the fucking time. Unless it was the driest joke in the history of humor, it which case I applaud Courtney’s commitment to comedy.
    I guess I’m glad to see some action from the Feministing bloggers in response to the concerns of disabled feminists, but I’m not that hopeful that much is going to change, given the history and this start.

  27. Quixotess
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    I too call for a public apology from Courtney to Amandaw for her incredibly rude tone argument. Is this call from feminists with disabilities going to be ignored?
    I’ll also note that feminists with disabilities have said repeatedly that “guest posts” are NOT GOOD ENOUGH. In framing your commitment to guest posts as a good-faith step to move the dialogue forward, the implicit refusal to commit (not just “maybe it’ll happen with this one woman”) to recruiting feminists with disabilities as CONTRIBUTORS is erased. This is a really disingenuous post.
    “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.”
    The erasure of your own agency here is interesting. Who is responsible for the poor coverage of people with disabilities? It’s you, isn’t it? You would like to “see” a wider range of issues addressed? Who is going to make that happen? Is it you? Or is it just something that will happen if you desire it enough?
    You are not taking responsibility in your very language. This is really telling about the direction your efforts, such as they are, and such as they are yours, are going to go.
    You MUST begin owning your actions if Feministing is going to end its complicity in the suffering of people with disabilities. You HAVE NOT DONE THIS with this post.
    I speak for myself–and it’s worth noting that it isn’t just the fwd at FWD/Forward who are objecting to this. I’m not a contributor. I speak for myself.

  28. Quixotess
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    LOL! I get used to being able to edit all my writing and I forget to sit on it for a while before posting.
    “Rude” is the wrong word (after all, Courtney thought amandaw was being rude.) I should have said “irresponsible,” “oppressive,” or “outrageous.”

  29. EndersGames
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    I have tremendous respect for Courtney. I actually use a number of her works in classes that I teach.
    That said, I agree with some of the general critiques that have been made on this thread.
    Courtney, I guess this would be my suggestion. Re-read the post you wrote, but imagine you were addressing a number of feminists of color, with whom you have likely had more interaction. Substitute race issues for disability issues. Some parts come off as a little self-serving.
    I’ve never really felt the kind of anger being expressed by some of the other posters regarding the exclusion of disability and gender issues on the site. More just disappointed. But I completely understand where they are coming from. Of all forums, a feminist forum should be strongly pushing an understanding of how disability issues shape gendered experiences.
    I’m hopeful at this point some people will step up and lead by example. Make some community posts about how they see disability and feminist issues and gender intersecting. Reflecting on their personal experiences. Commenting on links between domestic violence and disabilities. Connections between how one’s disability informed or enhanced their understanding of gender and patriarchy. Then promoting some of the most insightful ones onto the main page.

  30. Gular
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    So, the community gets another “we’re thinking about doing some stuff and our thoughts makes us jazzed!” post. We saw this after the Feministing summit this summer, when you took our suggestions, and then nothing really happened (the new posting options are rarely used and the moderation hasn’t, either).
    Until some concrete planning is laid out and some real changes are put in place, I’m going to assume the status quo.
    The trans gender boycott continues as well, are we going to just ignore them because a panel discussion couldn’t take place? Why aren’t the concerns of trans folk, which mind you are almost exactly the same as those with disabilities, as important to the staff as disability issues?
    We had a mass exodus of trans people from the site and nothing was done. I guess what needed to be done was some panel discussion so those folks could get a post about it.
    And, yes, I am bitter about it because the trans boycott is also important and trans issues are DIRECTLY gendered issues — no intersectionality explanation needed!

  31. Gular
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Why aren’t the concerns of trans folk, which mind you are almost exactly the same as those with disabilities, as important to the staff as disability issues?
    Upon a re-read I realize I was unclear.
    This is meant to say that the community here has caused a privilege issue with trans folks as it has with PWD. This is not to say that the issues facing PWD are the same as trans folk.
    The trans bloggers who have commented on Feministing’s lack of trans acceptance or ability to moderate for a lack of good-faith, bring up many of the same points (though from different posts, obviously) as the disability bloggers’ posts on their own blogs.
    This theme, it recurs and I’m left to wonder why, suddenly, it’s important. So much more important than a lot of the same, or similar, work that had been done by trans folks to try to initiate some change here for more trans inclusive dialogue.

  32. hoolissa
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Agh. I feel like i’ve missed something. I have been reading feministing for years now and i never noticed how left out the disabled community felt. I know it’s probably because of my own privileged body. Having said that, i am SO grateful that everyone is bringing it up. As a double major in Women & Gender studies and Latin American, Latino Studies, i feel extremely eloquent in issues of gender, race, sexuality and class. But just yesterday i was having dinner with some friends and we were talking about making our house more handicap accessible and i just didn’t have the language. These kinds of conversations are really educational and helpful for me. Thank you for all your thoughtful comments.
    I do feel for Courtney though, i missed whatever offensive thing she seems to have said outside of this post. And I know it must be really frustrating to deal with a website that is constantly letting you down, but you can’t just blame one person. I don’t think we should be attacking Courtney like this, even if it seems deserved.

  33. Quixotess
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I understand that it can be distasteful to see a pile-on on one person, especially when you’ve been unaware up till now of what the problem has been. Speaking for myself, let me explain why I don’t think it’s a pile-on.
    I think feminists with disabilities have been very clear from the start of the open letter that it’s not a Let’s Attack Courtney sort of thing. It can’t even be properly said that Courtney’s “invalid” post was the straw that broke the camel’s back; feminists with disabilities have been attempting to contact Feministing for years about the ableism they saw at Freministing. The open letter was simply the latest attempt–the reason it worked was because of COURTNEY’S choice to listen and respond THIS time. That is, it has never been about Courtney; this is simply the first time feminists with disabilities have been able to get a response from anyone at Feministing.
    I’ll acknowledge that that has brought her in for more pressure than it seems is proportionate to her role in Feministing’s ableism. However, feminists with disabilities have been very clear in several places (from the open letter, to the chat itself, to this very comment thread) that it is not an issue just with Courtney–feminists with disabilities would be THRILLED to have a chance to talk with Jessica and the otehr contributors. Whoever is making the decision that Courtney should handle all of the disability posts is someone at Feministing, and they are the ones who have ensured Courtney deals with this pressure.
    At this point I’m sure it would be taken as a positive step if other Feministing contributors were willing to engage with feminists with disabilities.

  34. Gnatalby
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I completely agree.
    It is *profoundly* unfeminist to take credit for other women’s ideas and work. It’s also remarkably unempathetic to deploy a tone argument without thinking about how it sounds. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was a parody.
    This post doesn’t fill me with hope, it seems like a band aid.

  35. forreal
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    As a longtime Feministing reader who happens to be blind, I’m excited about this new development! People with disabilities have been fighting for autonomy over our bodies, control over our lives, equal access to education, and non-discrimination in education and the workplace for decades. These issues very much intersect with tradition feminist issues of bodily autonomy, access to education and employment, etc.
    Though many of Feministing’s posts speak to me as a woman in general, I do look forward to reading more posts on Feministing that speak to my (and other women’s) particular experiences as women with disabilities.

  36. abby jean
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    i think this is an important point and, as one of the women involved in this discussion about disability issues, i wanted to echo these concerns. personally, i am a white/cis/middle-class woman with a disability, so felt comfortable speaking only about the representation of disability issues on the site. but i definitely feel the disability issues and the trans issues and the class issues that are going unadressed are all symptoms of the site’s overall failure to handle issues of intersectionality or identities beyond able-bodied white cis women who are relatively well off financially. i certainly do not want to prioritize disability issues at the expense of trans issues but would like to see more focus and attention paid to both, as well as other issues of intersectionality.
    i was very unclear why this particular conflict resulted in a chat and was directly addressed n the feministing front page when the trans issues were not. and if i honestly thought the discussion of disability issues was going to lead to a single change on the site, i’d definitely be concerned about ongoing exclusion of other groups, including trans women.
    from my perspective, however, this was a giant exercise in PR for feministing. and that’s because throughout the whole process – the open letter, the chat, the follow up, this post, and even private emails between feministing folks and the women involved in the chat – i have yet to hear any kind of recognition or acknowledgment of the pain and offense caused to PWDs (or members of any other excluded group). it’s been made very clear by members of these groups (with disabilities, trans women, etc) that they feel overlooked and excluded by the actions of the site. if the site cared about creating those feelings of exclusion or felt they were a problem, there would have been some kind of apology, even something as simple as “we are sorry that you felt excluded from the site – that is not our goal and we value your presence and participation.”
    of course, at this point, courtney has yet to demonstrate that she can spell “ableism” correctly – which would be an important first step in recognizing the existence of ableism or her/the site’s role in contributing to it. kind of like someone promising to fight “racistsim.” so perhaps the fact that the site can spell “trans” correctly is as significant a victory as any of us are going to get.

  37. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    god, I’m just so sick of the online feminist community — and I want to emphasize the word ONLINE. Honestly, I feel if we were all in a classroom together, looking at each other face to face, we would have productive, thoughtful, and empathetic replies to one another. We would understand each other’s opinions and shortcomings a little better, and we could actually get somewhere.
    I feel like almost every interesting post devolves into a completely unproductive yelling. Rarely is there dialogue, only accusation.
    Has the site lacked sensitivity on issues? Certainly. Are they trying to fix these issues? Yes. On the other hand, it feels like no one can win. Courtney is trying to make a change, and she is attacked for not acknowledging someone by name. Had she acknowledged the person by name, I think she would have been called out for exposing someone, and also inadvertedly blaming them. Inevitably, someone comes to the defense of a mod or someone who has been criticized, and that devolves into something else entirely, often saying that the initial critique is not valuable.
    I truly feel like this is lose lose, and I really feel that if we were all adults carrying out a conversation in real life, we would be a lot more careful with our attacks on people (and I really do mean this for both sides of whichever debates we are having).
    I’m very frustrated in general with the whole situation. Does anyone get sick of the unproductive debates? And in this sense, I don’t even mean this debate because I truly hope that we can progress from here.
    Perhaps this is just the result of impassioned people who are skilled in critical thinking and analysis. I understand this. But I often wish the bickering and rudeness could just stop.
    I am well aware that women are often accused of being bitchy. I really don’t want my post to come across as one which asks for women to be silent. I would just love to read the comments that were passionate, yet respectful. I’m often shocked by the venomous and personal attacks on posters. Certainly, I understand the frustration and anger that must result from the particularly ignorant and rude comments that I have seen on the site, but I hope that when this occurs, we can rally together and respectfully and firmly tell posters that what they have said is offensive for reasons x, y, and z. Again, I just wish we could see each other in person, as I think the internet often prevents us from empathizing with each other.

  38. orbitals
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I would like to add my voice to all those above who feel there are serious issues to be resolved.
    I was shocked to read the “tone” argument and I think serious kudos are due to Amanda and co for refraining from allowing such an insensitive remark to dominate the brief conversation.
    I also feel a lot of the, quite valid, points brought up about the overall tone of feministing were dismissed. The audience of feministing is very much skewed to the white, middleclass, college educated, cis-gender, TAB. It is lacking in self knowledge to deny this, and I think the tone and content of contributed posts, and the moderation of comments threads very much give the audience an idea of what is “allowed” and “not allowed”. Nobody expects the feministing crew to stop people thinking things, but they can stop people thinking things are appropriate in this supposedly safe space.
    I’m going to be overly optimistic and say I’m looking forward to seeing feministing respond to the issues brought up in these comments.

  39. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    was not the misspelling of ableism a typo? isn’t it a little harsh to deride someone for a typo. She spelled it correctly earlier in the post. This seems like an unnecessary criticism. If Courtney did not know how to spell it, I think the critique would be warranted, however, I truly think we should pick our battles, especially when the battle is over a typo.
    and what if courtney is a poor speller or has a learning disability? many dyslexic people have difficulty with spelling words. You may think I am being facetious, but I am not. Is it not cruel and unusual to critique a person’s position on an issue based on their inability to spell a word?
    One of my closest friends has dyslexia, and he is often embarrassed by his invisible disability. He has often been thought of as stupid because of it. Moreover, he does not mention it because he feels he should be able to handle it. So he writes the LSAT, does poorly, and on top of that, feels he cannot list his disability on his applications to law school.

  40. abby jean
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    her previous use of the term “abelist” was in the title of a post that also referred to people with disabilities as “disabled kids.” vocabulary is important. terminology is important. if she is invested in taking these issues seriously, she would have made sure she was spelling it correctly. if she cannot be bothered to spell it correctly in this post (after her incorrect spelling had already been brought to her attention in the previous post), that’s a disregard for getting the words right.
    put it this way: how seriously would you take someone who said he was committed to feminineism? another way: compare the time required to review a post (of which more than half was cut and pasted from our words, rather than drafted by her) to the time required to learn about an issue and think and write about it. if there’s not enough time/effort to check for typos, i don’t think that speaks well to what we can expect from the overall learning effort (especially as empowerment has already been achieved!)

  41. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I should really specify that I am not saying, boo for the critique that feministing is ableist. If it weren’t there we would be one big, happy family. Just wanted to make that clear.
    I am frustrated that every post turns into a disrespectful argument.
    I think that were we to have a forum, the moderators could close down offensive threads, give warnings, ban people, etc. I think much of the problem could be solved by having a well-moderated forum with moderators who can help spot address all issues that the feminist community should be addressing.
    I have faith that we can do it…if we don’t, I’ll just stop reading comments altogether.

  42. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I take your point, but I also think that proper spelling is sign of privilege — think about the people who might be well-served by this site, but feel they cannot post because they have poor spelling, this is an issue of ability, but also of class.
    Simply seeing proper spelling as an issue of respect is problematic because it assumes that the person has the ability and education to spell properly.
    Intersectional approaches to feminism really must address this because the inability to communicate in a way that people recognize as “respectful” means the inability to voice their concerns.

  43. abby jean
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    courtney introduces herself as a published author and co-author of another book. she has never identified as someone without the privilege to know how to spell or with a disability that prevents her from spelling. i don’t see how any of these issues could possibly apply to her.
    also, for someone talking about the negative tone in comments, i was surprised that you skipped over the substantive comment about how the lack of an apology or recognition of the pain and exclusion the site had caused in order to bicker about whether it’s discriminatory to expect courtney to spell correctly. i’m happy to debate the spelling issue but i think the apology issue is a much larger and more significant one.

  44. everybodyever
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree about the way Courtney’s post erases the editors’ sense of agency.
    Not that I’m surprised. In these posts that crop up every couple of months or so, the Feministing editors seem mostly to express this giant excitement over learning something new (as though acknowledging the site’s hostility to PWDs or anybody else is a lesson in self-discovery for the editors!) and to treat the entire process as one that just happens on its own, independent of themselves.
    Such shirking of responsibility for the site’s problems, especially by people as accomplished as Courtney and her crew, comes off as ridiculous, especially at this late date and after so many such posts and would-be epiphanies. How long have we been hearing that maintaining this Web site is a Big Job, that any systemic insensitivity is mostly the commenters’ fault and that the editors just can’t wait to learn more about XYZ field of intersectional rights activism?

  45. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    my point is that intersectional feminists must check their own privilege. It’s offensive to assume that respect is connected to proper spelling. I’m being nitpicky here, I know, but I truly think that if we are to progress, we have to address this kind of privilege related to learning as well.
    admittedly, my own frustration stems from my own math dyslexia and absolute inability to do standardized tests — an issue that is at the very forefront of my thoughts at the moment because I am studying for the GRE. It’s very hard for me to stomach the notion that a score on a standardized test has a significant impact on my future — perhaps more of an impact than having good grades, a good service record and a master’s degree. So, the idea that people should be able to do things, especially related to learning, reading comprehension, and math skills really sets me off. I don’t think I’m replying holistically to your argument, I just wish we wouldn’t critique spelling. I just dislike that aspect of the critique, and I wish we could let it go because it does negatively affect those who are particularly troubled by those ideas.
    I didn’t see it as bickering, I saw it as a very specific issue with significant epistemic consequences. I’m a little bit shocked that people who are supposed to be addressing the issue of ability/disability are 1) using ableist notions related spelling to further their arguments (frankly, Courtney may not have a learning disability, but hearing about spelling being related to respect is difficult for people with learning disorders to hear) and 2) that posters pointing out ableism in the posts of people rallying against ableism are not taken seriously or are seen as bickering.
    The fact that you see it as a small, inconsequential thing makes me think that you do not think this is a big deal. And that’s much like thinking that ability and race are secondary to gender. I think that makes little sense when we are talking about intersectionality. No issue is supposed to be insignificant.
    And last, I feel like I am generally confused about what is going on here between feministing contributors and who is calling for an apology — I do not know what is going on behind closed doors, or in these emails, for what duration, etc. etc. I don’t fully understand the history here, so I prefer to not comment on things that I don’t fully understand.

  46. Gular
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to be critical like I have an then rush to defend as I clearly have problems with how the issues of exclusion are being handled, but FWIW (phrase of the week for me?), I wasn’t sure if it was “abelism” “ablism” or “ableism” in spelling. The first I ruled out because it implied Cain and Abel and Abelism would be people against the slaughtered brother.
    Though, the other two I wasn’t sure about — it’s actually the reason I avoid the word altogether because I don’t want to spell it wrong as either are viable English-language normative options.

  47. abby jean
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    i am upset that courtney specifically, as an individual, mispelled the word. courtney has used the word incorrectly before and been corrected on it, so she clearly has the necessary information to know how the word should be spelled. courtney has also positioned herself as a professional writer. the general tone of the posts on this site is casual, but spelling and grammar is always correct. given this, i believe that holding courtney to standards of spelling this word correctly is not an unreasonable or privileged demand to make.
    i have and will not extend this standard to anyone other than the contributors to this site, who i have been led to believe in the chat itself are on board with the incorporation of disability rights and issues into the site. as they also position themselves (for the most part) as professional writers whose posts for this site have always had correct grammar and spelling, i feel it is not an unreasonable or privileged expectation to apply that expectation to them as well.
    this is especially true as courtney has consistently identified herself as able-bodied and neurotypical, so does not experience any of the disability-related issues that you have raised. i’m unclear why or if you feel those issues apply to my expectations for courtney as an individual. i do agree that holding others to those standards could be problematic for exactly the reasons you describe, but i’m not seeing how they could justify or excuse courtney’s continued use of an incorrect term.
    i do agree that i could have and should have been more specific that my problem with the spelling applied to courtney individually rather than being a blanket expectation for all those who participate in conversations about disability related issues. i apologize for implying that and recognize and agree that it could be hurtful and marginalizing for those with disability-related issues with spelling.
    i characterized it as bickering because of the initial statement that it was probably a typo, i should let it go, and should pick battles more substantial than typos. i did not mean to imply that the disability-related issues that became part of the discussion were irrelevant – i was responding specifically to the argument that this wasn’t a big deal enough to raise. again, i apologize for the way my words dismissed or marginalized the disability-related issues that are very much a part of expectations on spelling or formality of language.
    (and that’s exactly what i mean in terms of apology – i was able to recognize how my words affected you, even though that wasn’t my intention, and apologized for that effect. and i didn’t even make you organize a chat and send me lots of written material to do so! however, i’ve never seen a clear or explicit statement from the site that incorporating the views and participation of people with disabilities is important to them or that they recognize, much less regret, how people with disabilities have been affected and hurt by the site.)

  48. Gular
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I keep adding addendum to my original, but I feel the more I think about this the more I have to say.
    This same thing has happened with race issues, too. We’ve lost many POC because of privilege issues and insensitive language.
    I guess the more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to suspect that something else is going on here. I’m certainly happy for the disability community on this site because, to be honest, we all need more education in intersectionality and disability issues specifically, but I’m really starting to question why the mods started caring now.

  49. pan
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I understand. Thank you for your reply. This is what I mean by having a productive engagement. I definitely understand your perspective much better.

  50. Gopher
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    They wouldnt stop and explain their views to me, so how can you say they were that good? There was only one who remained level-headed enough to explain anything like a decent adult with an intellectual grounding. And I dont think that one was any of the main authors of the original post. For those who were interested in learning more and asked questions got shouted at and told that they were being trolls and were told off for doing so. Many of those told off as trolls are long time posters on this site and expressed themselves considerately and eloguently. Most wanted to kick anyone off who even used the word ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid.’ Now how am I going to describe Rush Limbaugh?

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