Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Three strikes, yerrrrrrrr out!!!

My post for the November Disability Blog Carnival. Enjoy!

Our society is very rigid in its expectations of a "normal" person. A "normal" person is white, male, straight/comfortable in their own gender and able-bodied, and very little deviance from this Norm is tolerated. It's when someone deviates from two or more of these standards that we get intersection theory - where, in a nutshell, you get treated differently the more "strikes" you have against you in society. So for instance, a lower class black woman would have three strikes against her, where as a man in the same situation would only have two.

Disability can definitely count as a strike against you. Do women with disabilities get treated differently than men with disabilities? Hell yeah!!! Women are still regarded in our society as weaker and often less capable then men - disability just adds an extra layer onto that. We have this image of a "gentleman" always helping the ladies and saving the "damsels in distress". And who is more "in distress" then a poor crippled girl? I say "girl" because I believe women with disabilities often have trouble with getting people to acknowledge their femininity, more than men and masculinity. Now, I may be biased because I am a woman with a disability; I acknowledge that. But let's face it, the stereotypical image of disability is a man using a manual wheelchair with a perfectly functional upper body. And that's so because men who have big muscles from pushing themselves around are regarded as more masculine because big muscles are a symbol of masculinity in our society. Masculinity doesn't depend so much on the lower body as femininity does. The "ideal man" is tall, dark and handsome, and has big muscles. The legs don't matter so much (as long as they're clad in a pair of sleek, form-fitting blue jeans). Whereas with women, the "ideal woman" has to be thin and beautiful, with lots of makeup, big boobs, long legs and high heels. You don't think high heels are instrumental for the "perfect woman"? Try finding a pair of shoes for senior prom that don't have any heel whatsoever and then talk to me. This "ideal man/woman" concept is also part of the reason why we have a hierarchy of disability. The image of the man using a manual chair is a lot more respected in our society then, say, a man with CP who uses a powerchair, drools, and has slurred speech. It's all about presentabiliity. As long as your legs are all that's "wrong" with you, it's a lot easier for people to accept. But move up the body, and the higher you get, the less accepted the impairment is, especially when it involves more than one part of the body. Throw gender into the mix and this hierarchy is amplified tenfold.

And what about race? I know there are a few crip bloggers out there who blog about being black or another race/ethnicity and disabled - Wheelchair Dancer comes to mind. People definitely treat black and disabled people differently then white, disabled people. Again, it doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a disabled person. Also, especially with black, disabled men, there are a lot of assumptions and misconceptions about gang violence. As Keith Jones puts it so nicely in the documentary Including Samuel, "People say, '...When did you get shot?' Black man in a wheelchair, had to be an act of violence." So being of a different race/ethnicity and disabled is definitely another "strike" against you.

Being gay/lesbian/trans/bi and disabled is an interesting intersection, I think. Because being GBLTQ strays so far from our image of the typical, "normal" person, man or woman, to begin with, and then disability is another "strike", so to speak. Also, I think the GBLTQ community and the disability community have a lot in common. GBLTQ people are still fighting so hard for the rights they deserve, and so are disabled people. GBLTQ people are also regarded as more "freakish" than other minorities and so are disabled people. The intersection of being queer and disabled was explored a little bit in one of my favorite crip documentaries, Shameless: The Art of Disability. There are also a couple of great queer/disabled bloggers out there. There's one blog that I read recently that's two lesbian lovers that are both physically disabled and live far from each other writing letters back and forth. I'm pretty sure the womens' names were Stacy and Mia but I could be wrong. Can't find it again for the life of me. This is why I favorite things.....but then the favorites list gets too long and I can never find anything! Anyway. Getting off track.

The point is disability is an interesting enough societal issue as it is, when it's combined with other "strikes", so to speak, it becomes even more interesting. Intersection theory, as we learned in sociology, explores the meeting point between social class, gender, race, etc. Of course disability was nowhere mentioned, but then again, that's our job as disability bloggers, to bring disability out of the woodwork. We're highlighting disability as a unique sociological issue, an issue as important as social class, gender, and race. We are shedding light on one of the experiences most feared by society - and providing insight into a striking new world.