On autism, feminism, and human value

Bridget Allen

Of all the things I’ve learned from working alongside and reading the work of amazing disability justice activists, one of my biggest ah-hah moments was when they helped me make connections between the ways bodies are valued (or aren’t) and their ability to produce capital. It’s a very common trope, that of the good, “productive” person – with “productive” having very specific meanings under capitalism. This piece by Bridget Allen hits on those themes and particularly connects the ways some feminisms have been complicit in this narrative:

My childhood was infused with a popular feminist theme. I was taught that a Real Woman is financially independent. She doesn’t need a man be it a husband or larger entity (The Man) to support her basic needs or the needs of her offspring. A Real Woman knows children are an accessory to a career, not something one builds a life around. I regularly heard the words “housewife” and “brood mare” used interchangeably. I am loathe to believe this is real feminism, because empowerment that exists on the denigration and neglect of other’s needs empowers no one.

Growing up, I was also told over and over again my worth was tied to doing Great Things. That lesser people lived ordinary lives, and that for me to live an ordinary life would be tantamount to complete failure. In order to be a worthy human, I needed to be financially independent while actively improving society. Nothing less would do.

This pervasive narrative around people’s value being tied to how much they can produce has implications beyond perceptions of ourselves and each other, or personal definitions of success or failure. It shapes policy debates, legislation, and thus actual material conditions for folks with disabilities.

Think of the recent conversations around immigration reform: both current immigration policy and the reforms being debated include systems for the exclusion of people who could become a “public charge,” i.e. requiring benefits from the state (such as disability). Similarly, welfare reform in the 90s added stringent work requirements for benefit recipients. These are just a couple examples of a pervasive thread in policies, especially those that serve low-income folks.

For these reasons and more, Bridget’s piece is super powerful. Go read the rest of it here!

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfullVeronica is an immigrant queer writer, domestic artist, and music video enthusiast.

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  1. Posted November 25, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    This piece is so important because it is really giving a voice to women that are often neglected by the feminist eye. Her line about seeing women as needing to be financially independent to be “real women” is so true. There is something about being dependent on someone else (whether it is disability in her case or any other) that almost seems to make them “unworthy” by the majority option. I think its important we take this shift toward embracing choice for women- including the choice to stay home.

  2. Posted November 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m really glad to see this here. I have hopes that Feministing will get better on addressing issues with disability. I have a disabling mental illness and have almost stopped coming to the site because of the alienation I’ve felt, particularly when I see terms such as ‘nut jobs’ or talk of how committing suicide is cowardice. With posts like this, it gives me hope because I know this site can do better than that.

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