Thursday, April 29, 2010

But it rhymes!: ridiculing marginalized groups in articles about their concerns

Trigger warning for terrible language.

In San Francisco, the city government is facing budget cuts:
Part of the proposal considered Thursday at the Human Services Commission called for cutting $239,000 from the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, a pioneering transgender employment program, and another $200,000 from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, which treats severely disturbed children and supports relatives -- often grandmothers -- caring for kids who would otherwise find themselves in the foster care system or worse.
I'm glad this is being reported on, because it's crap. Budget cuts for what look to be necessary programs will limit resources for those whose resources are already limited. Trans people are constantly assaulted, physically, verbally, and legally – they are subject to being legally fired because of their bodies at any time. The caretakers specifically covered by this bill face ageism – older folks, particularly women, are devalued and judged as incompetent.

However, the caretakers and those being cared for (whom are barely mentioned in this article) are described with ableist language:
Advocates for both centers said the cuts would be crippling.
Children with mental disabilities face an intersection: they are marginalized by their disability, and they have little legal right to their own identities and bodies. Ableist language like “crippling” further ingrains the dismissal of their concerns.

I don’t know which is more necessary, and ultimately, cuts were not approved for either. Good for the commission on making the difficult decision to prioritize these programs.

Unfortunately, this article and especially the title have decided to play this serious situation for laughs. Here’s the title of the article:

Photo: A header with a capital building reading "City Insider: the people, politics, and places of San Francisco". Below, the headline "Trannies vs. grannies?". Below that is the following passage: "Budget cuts are serious stuff, but as Trent Rhorer, the head of the city's Human Services Agency put it, this was definitely one of those "only in San Francisco" moments."
Framing a difficult decision on budget cuts in this binary, in the language of hate speech is not the way to introduce this story. This is a straightforward story about budget cuts. This kind of language makes both of these problematized, marginalized groups into a trivial joke, a funny juxtaposition. It’s not a serious repercussion, an illustration of how the economic downturn further marginalizes already oppressed groups. It’s a quip. From the last line of the short article:
But not before one speaker had this uniquely San Franciscan line of the day, relayed by those in attendance: "In the end, it shouldn't come down to pitting the trannies against the grannies."
Hilarious! Glad to know that hate speech is so uniquely of the area! I don’t even know how this is funny or interesting or revealing without the hate speech. Are there not trans people and older caretakers in areas that are not San Francisco?

Tr*nny and all variations thereof are hate speech (which is why I, a cis person, am using an asterisk to censor the word in my analysis). I’m hoping you know that. If you don’t, here’s an explanation from Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia (and if you don’t know why tr*nny is a vile word, you should go and peruse the hell out of their archives):
See, the word “tranny” gets used with alarming regularity in the media, and I’m not sure it actually registers that it is a slur. It’s always so jolly, like it’s a whimsical, fun term that cis people can throw around with abandon. Always with the implication that trans people are laughably pathetic. Because my identity, our history, of itself is a joke.

What is missing is that in my personal experience as a trans woman, “tranny” is a form of hate speech. The last person who called me it literally spat on me. It’s frequently paired with “faggot”–yet no-one sprays that word liberally around the media. When someone spits a word at you, the implication is clear– you’re disgusting, barely even human. And that disgust is worked out violently against the bodies of trans people.

So why is it not that bad, why is this word qualifies as appropriate for use on ... apparently “liberal” newspapers? ... I mean, is it all this massive power we have in society? The general societal reverence and esteem trans people get? Now there’s a joke. If it’s not appropriate to use other hateful words, why does “tranny” get a pass?

Oh I forgot. I mean, we’re all post PC here, no-one gets really offended just because they’re constantly insulted, having their identity positioned between hilarious and disgusting? Hur hur.
Granny isn’t necessarily or usually a pejorative. However, when used in conjunction with a violent slur, the marginalization of older folks is also emphasized. This is not just cissexist - it's ageist.

Just because tr*nny rhymes with granny does not excuse the use of a hateful, vile slur. It’s effectively announcing to trans & older folks who might be interested in reading the content of this article - in reading about the issues facing their community - that the article is a hostile and unsafe space that does not cares about them beyond mockery. Both groups are made into a joke in an article that is about their concerns.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hello from Faye!

Image Description: A portrait photograph of a girl (Faye). She wears a black and grey striped sweater with a green ribbon backing to the buttonholes, has dyed light blonde hair in a faux-hawk, and green eyes.

Hello Deeply Problematic readers! (DPers? We need a group name, you guys. We've gotta keep up with Shakesville! ;D)

My name's Faye, and as you may have heard from RMJ, I'm coming on board as your comments mod. I was asked to introduce myself, and although I'm always a little awkward with that "tell me a little about yourself" part of the profile page, I'll do my best here (bear with me) because I think you deserve to know who this new person sticking her nose in the comment section is.

I graduated around a year ago (I attended the same school that RMJ did: we met there, although we've become closer friends over the internet, I think) with a degree in English and a few credits shy of a double major in women's studies; if you'd looked at my transcript closely you could probably tell I basically took an interdisciplinary major's worth of queer studies. Which wouldn't be getting me any more jobs right now ;D, but does tell you something about where some of my interests lie.

From a feminist perspective I'm very interested in queer politics and the fluidity/spectrum of gender sexuality. Other things that are important to me are agency/choice (in all aspects of lifestyle, from the right to have children and be a housewife, to sex worker's rights, to abortion rights) and body positivity (in all forms, from loving yourself, to body modification, to health care and mental health advocacy). ...Basically, I'm interested in a lot of things.

The body positivity movement has become particularly important to me in the last year, and I run my own body positive blog over at twitter at The Size Issue [--NSFW for occasional nudity]. I'm trying to blog more than RE-blog, which can become habitual on Tumblr; right now The Size Issue is sort of an outpost for pictures, news, studies and all sorts of things relevant to body!love.

I am lacking breadth in some areas, for example I'll be the first to admit my privilege when it comes to race. I'm a white (Jewish) girl and I have it pretty easy in that regard. So in discussions about the marginalization of women of color, I'll probably step back and listen rather than reply to comments. On the other hand, I DO have experience with disability and ablism, but that's a topic with such a range of differing experiences, that I don't know if I'll EVER be properly knowledgable about all of it! There are many issues like this that are sure to come up, things that I'm interested in, passionate about and a fighter for but that I may step back and listen instead of chattering with you guys after Rachel's post. These aren't areas I lack interest in, simply areas I don't know enough about or haven't the experience to share-- and I'm excited to hear from the people who do.

So, where were we? Outside of ramblings on the internet, I...try to pay the bills, mostly! :) I'm working retail right now, and trying to get to a place where I can freelance doing web design as a regular thing (for example, Deeply Problematic's design is something I put together from RMJ's concept). I have a wonderful girlfriend of almost 7 years who I'm engaged to (and someday might actually legally marry, even!) and we both live with our bff in an apartment in Chicago. I love writing, music of all kinds, art and traveling. I'm a huge geek and I like science fiction and fantasy in most types of media, and I love discussions about literature (see also: English major).

As a comment mod, I won't always agree with you, but I will always be fair. If you're breaking a straightup policy, even if I totally agree with the sentiment (eg, "Rush Limbaugh can go die in a fire"), it's not getting through. If you disagree, that's something that'll always be open for a good thoughtful conversation.

And expect to see me commenting back! I love talking. (Um, obviously.)

Athletes with Disabilities: Arm-Wrestlers as Exceptions and Inspirations

Crossposted at FWD/Forward

Athletes with physical disabilities (hereafter AWPD) are a problematized group. Their accomplishments are questioned and devalued as less valid or challenging than those of able-privileged athletes. They are not party to the often problematic veneration of athletes in today’s society, nor are they permitted to participate in generalized sporting events.

Arm-wrestling is a sport, though, that seems to both accommodate and welcomes athletes with disabilities into their ranks. There is a specific subset of arm wrestling for athletes with disabilities that seem to be a regular part of official arm-wrestling tournaments. I don’t know much about the sport and I’m not currently physically disabled, so my perspective on this is far from authoritative. But my tentative reaction to this is positive, particularly since athletes with disabilities can and do succeed in general competition.

Larry Feezor is an athlete with disabilities who competed recently in the 3rd Annual U.S. Open Armwrestling Championship. He has used a mobility aid since a motorcycle accident paralyzed him from the waist down. This story from an Oregon television station makes Feezor the focal point of the championship. The story is pretty short and context is important to my analysis, so I’m going to reproduce it here in full:

FLORENCE, Ore. – The Third Annual U.S. Open Arm Wrestling Championship wrapped up in Florence Sunday, as amateur wrestlers took to the ring to battle it out.

One competitor stood out for beating the odds: Larry Feezor.

He has been arm wrestling for 18 years, traveling from Weaverville, Calif., to Oregon to participate in the competition. This sport is his outlet since he became disabled.

“I was involved in a motorcycle accident and a drunk driver ran me off the road,” Feezor tells KVAL. “I hit a bank at about 70 miles per hour, [and] was paralyzed from the chest down.”

Feezor received roaring applause when he beat his first opponent.

On Sunday he arm wrestled some of the strongest competitors at The Three Rivers Casino. And he wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Right after my accident,” Feezor said, “I told my father that I would fight, as hard as I could, for as long as I could.”

Feezor isn’t letting his disability bring him down. As a former athlete, he said his body may not be like it used to be, but his mind is stronger than ever.

“I am out here just like these other guys,” Feezor said. “I just happen to be in a wheelchair.”

Before I break this article down, I should mention its good points. It is wonderful that athletes with disabilities recognized. It’s fantastic that Feezor’s achievements are reported on in a positive fashion. Feezor is ostensibly framed as normative. The newspaper is using Feezor’s words and Feezor’s voice, rather than, say, his father’s.

However. Feezor’s participation is the only aspect of the tournament that’s detailed, and his accomplishments are not well-articulated. The singling-out of Feezor and complete erasure of any other athletes in competition is problematic because it trivializes Feezor’s competition in a sport. It implies that the sport is only notable for the inclusion of a person with disabilities – Feezor is not in a competition, but instead someone to be cooed over and patted on the head simply for participating. He’s not being applauded for his accomplishments, he’s being singled out because he “beats the odds”, whatever that means. If this were an angle in a story that clearly reported on the events of the tournament, it would be significantly less problematic. Feezor would be presented in the context of other athletes, and not just othered because of his disability and his marginalized sport.

An example of this is Joby Matthew, an Indian arm-wrestler, who has underdeveloped legs due to Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency. Matthew seems to be higher-profile than Feezor, but increased coverage also means increased problems, particularly since it’s from the Daily Mail:

Who needs legs? Meet Joby, the 3ft 5in world champion arm wrestler who can bring down opponents twice his size

Instead of bemoaning what he lacks, Joby Matthew is using what he’s got.

Matthew’s accomplishments are not notable in this article: only his disabilities. I’m not quoting or going through the whole article because the able privilege is so dense. The first line is indicative of the attitude taken in the article: Matthew doesn’t “bemoan”, unlike those other people with disabilities who would surely be champion athletes if they just tried. The construction is an ableist implication that other folks with disabilities are lazy whiners. Throughout the article, every reference to barriers Matthew faced is immediately matched by emphasis on how he overcame this disability. The focus is not on his exceptional effort and achievements, but on the “heartwarming” “good cripple”.

There are a few good aspects of the article. It’s composed largely of quotes from Matthew, and it does make note of his many medals and of his training regiment (though that, of course, is as much focused on what he can’t do as what he can’t.) Matthew’s childhood athleticism is made a major point of focus, particularly his struggles in playing with other children. While I appreciate that the authors focused on quotes from Matthew, the focus on competition with currently able-bodied athletes frames participation in sports against currently able-bodied (CAB) athletes as the standard for athletic accomplishment for AWPD.

While I do not love the article, I loved these pictures of Matthew and am quite impressed with his accomplishments and his goal of climbing Mount Everest. Though the exceptionalist attitude makes the context problematic, these pictures are awesome:

Joby Matthew holds himself up with one hand while giving the  thumbs-up with another. He is on the bank of the Periyar river on the  outskirts of Ernakulam. He and his fantastic mustache smile broadly at  the camera.

Photo: Joby Matthew holds himself up with one hand while giving the thumbs-up with another. He is on the bank of the Periyar river on the outskirts of Ernakulam. He and his fantastic mustache smile broadly at the camera.

Joby Matthew and an unidentified man arm-wrestle on a weight bench.  The unidentified man, who has a beard and fully developed legs, grips  the far side of the weight bench.  Both men are grimacing and neither  appears to be winning.

Photo: Joby Matthew and an unidentified man arm-wrestle on a weight bench. The unidentified man, who has a beard and fully developed legs, grips the far side of the weight bench. Both men are grimacing and neither appears to be winning.

These photos highlight his exceptional abilities, and while his disability is present and visible, it’s a part of his athleticism. However, there are only two pictures in the eleven-part picture post that actually show him competing. Training and physical strength are interesting and relevant, but this is about sports: as with the article, the focus should be on his achievements as an athlete, not on OMG HOW DOES HE DO THAT? or OMG HE BEATS NORMAL ATHLETES?

The accomplishments of athletes with disabilities face a double bind. In most cases, they are ignored and erased; they are thought to be impossibility and a contradiction. When AWPD are covered in the media, it’s rarely a positive, normed framing of them as accomplished athletes with valid bodies. They are objects instead of curiosity; they are heartwarming inspirations for the currently able-bodied; they are not quite freak shows.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hello again!

So, I’m back!

Why was I gone? There are a few reasons!

I work in education. Thus, I am a lot lot busier from September to May! Working fifty plus hours a week busy! But then, suddenly, summer arrives, and I am working zero to twenty hours a week. So, I have a lot more time during the summer. And hey, guess what? In the US, it is almost summer!

I was also not able to write publicly for a while. I have OCD and generalized anxiety, and it got way worse in October. The emotional load got to be too much. Blogging is hard, and reading critique of my work, my feelings, my words on a daily basis can get to be too much. My anxiety was interfering with my life. Though the blog was more of a contributing factor than a deciding factor, I got out of the habit of writing daily, and lost my nerve. I lost my ability to post regularly in front of a critical audience.

Right now, I’m okay, and I have enough time to manage my disability and devote time to writing.

I also have a lot of projects coming up. More on that later.

So, I am back! It might be just for the summer, though I hope not. I will probably be posting here about 3ish times a week, and finishing up 50 Books for Problematic Times. It is nice to be back. I missed this, and I’m excited to continue with this little adventure. Thank you for reading, for coming back.


I’m using this return post for another important announcement: Faye will be joining Deeply Problematic as a moderator and occasional contributor!

Faye is a friend of mine from school: a person I trust to be a smart, articulate, fair feminist. I’ve asked her because a) I trust her b) I know her to be smart and knowledgeable and c) she is willing and able to disagree with me.

Faye is here because I am not awesome at reading reactions to my work. I’m never sure what contributes to the conversation and what doesn’t, what I should respond to and what I should let stand as constructive critique, what I should reject and what I should publish. Not only was I not particularly competent, it was giving me tons of anxiety! Trouble eating, trouble sleeping, trouble writing. You know. Bad stuff as far as I'm concerned.

So, Faye is going to be acting as moderator – reading and choosing which comments to publish, responding to commentary and engaging in the community, and letting me know about particularly helpful comments and privilege checks. She will also be writing here on occasion, including a weekly feature in which she picks the best comments of the week. I will not be engaging in the comments very often.

Accordingly, the comments policy has been updated. Please check it out.

Though I’m sad to start missing the lovely things most of y’all had to say, I am very excited to have Faye around! She is making it possible for me to return.
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