Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How much empathy do we need anyway?

When I was at school, we had to do a history coursework project entitled Empathy. We had to write three essays on What should happen at the Treaty of Versailles from the point of view of a British Tommy, a German politician and a French washerwoman (it should have been - I think it was a French General, but I can't remember exactly) in 1919. Most of us objected to what amounted to a creative writing exercise for history coursework, but hey, it was a creative writing exercise so I loved it.

My Tommy was a open-hearted poetry-reading Cockney who, despite the lurid flashbacks he experienced mid-sentence, saw that the Germans were a broken people and shouldn't be treated too Hackney Marsh. The Frenchman insisted that there was greater danger in creating a future German aggressor through massive sanctions and huge reparations, and after all, what was the point of Alsace and Loraine apart from dogs (German Shepherd Dogs after all) and quiche? The German politician was a Marxist and felt that if the war had proven anything, there no point in nations anyway. 

This wasn't what you were supposed to do. The naive point of the exercise was to imagine how particular individuals felt about the aftermath of the First World War (blissfully ignorant of the word First in its title) in order to understand why the Treaty of Versailles and its consequences were inevitable; the British were angry, the French were afraid and the Germans were a proud nation in shock. But not all British felt the same, not all of France felt the same and Germany was in a state of revolution, so there were certainly some diverse views in that quarter. Some people argued at the time that the Treaty was setting up plot lines for the sequel, twenty years later. The Treaty of Versailles happened because certain individuals - lots of them, mind - had particular points of view. And those points of view makes sense too. I don't think there's anything in history that you can't even begin to understand, even if you're reasonably sure (and occasionally certain) you could never have made those choices yourself. You don't need to get into anyone's head. In fact, when you look at any big group of people, you have to acknowledge that there are many different things going on in many different heads. 

I was thinking of this because of an interesting post by Emma, The Denial Barrier and Its Effects on Activism. Emma writes about the problems with getting people to think about disability inequality:
Becoming seriously sick (like developing cancer) or being maimed (loosing the use of limb(s), organ(s) or whole sections of ones body) is not a pleasant thought for most people. For many it mentally equates with being given a death sentence. As a result people's minds minimise the likelihood of it happening to them. The same seems to happen with other illnesses and serious accidents that could lead to disablement. People just don't want to think about it. Not because they are callous or uncaring, but because, in many way they are wired that way. It's the force that tells people disability is sad, just too depressing to think about.
Over the years, lots of Disability Awareness raising has been based on a principle that the problem of disablism would end if only everyone could imagine what it was like to be disabled. So there are awareness campaigns where folk describe what their day is like in detail, all the problems they encounter, all the symptoms they experiences, so that folk will finally understand. And there are the awareness exercises where folk put on blindfolds or sit down in a wheelchair for an hour or two, so they know exactly what it would be like to be blind or a wheelchair-user. Philippa wrote about this kind of thing recently in the context of a campaign asking people to pretend to be poor for a week.

Emma makes a very true point. Most people's lives will be touched by disability (although most people will never personally identify as disabled) and yet folk often talk about disability as if it is an extraordinary experience, confined to cute but poorly children or strapping but injured war heroes on the telly. Meanwhile, people frequently misinterpret information about life's inevitable risk-taking and health to mean that people who get sick brought it on themselves, as opposed to watch out - you might get sick too!

However, is this kind of denial a central barrier to getting people to oppose disability discrimination?

Well, I am white. Unless I emigrate, I will never be a member of an ethnic minority. There are common experiences of racism which don't come close to anything I ever have or will experience. I know it must hurt, because I am human. But it's so long since anti-racism was based on compassion for people of colour, that nobody asks me to imagine how it must feel. Occasionally, I see an American movie which makes this demand, before soothing me with some ebony and ivory, don't worry whitey ending and that makes me very uncomfortable. I object to racism because it is wrong; it is illogical and it is very dangerous. I don't object to racism because I have sat down and imagined what it would be like not to be white.

Disability politics does still involve demands on our compassion. There's still a huge element of playing on the heart-strings at the same time as demanding fundamental human rights and this frequently misfires. People read a newspaper account of what it is like to have the Dreaded Lurgy and think, "Poor thing! If that was me, I would be miserable!"  People sit for an hour in a wheelchair and think, "If I was a wheelchair user, my life would be terrible! Poor people!"

And there's another big problem with this emphasis on empathy, that Emma touches on when she talks about the mechanism of denial in feminism:
I regularly read blog posts from feminists telling of their shock when they were abused by someone close to them and that being a feminist didn't serve as a shield/radar. Many of these stories all have an uncomfortable touch of "I behaved in 'x' manner so I thought it wouldn't happen to me". These people were familiar with the statistics and the forms abuse can take but on some level didn't think it was ever going to happen to them. I'm not going to list all the ways denial makes getting the message out about gendered abuse, harassment, assault and horrid acts like Female Genital Mutilation difficult.
Even when people have direct experience of disability, abuse or any other form of oppression or discrimination, that's still no Get Out Of Fail Free card. Many disabled people express prejudice towards other disabled people. Many women who have experienced abuse or rape will hone in on a single mistake they imagine they made, or play down what happened or even make excuses for their abusers. It's not about abuse, but only today, there's an article on the BBC News website about the lack of women in top jobs entitled Are women their own worst enemy when it comes to the race to to the top? jam-packed with accounts from successful women talking about how useless women are at pursuing high-status careers. (For a much better read on the same subject, see The pseudo-science and pseudo-feminism of Women Don't Ask)

This is all still about comforting ourselves. In the past couple of years, when I've talked to folk about the cuts to disability benefits and social care, many people, including disabled people, have stated that the cuts are justified. Not for people like me, of course, or people like themselves, or people like the other disabled people in their lives - oh no, we deserve more than what we get! However, there simply must be droves of fakers and scroungers out there who need a kick up the proverbial. They simply must exist. The world isn't so unfair as to allow the government to cut benefits where 99.5% of claimants are legit.

Shiney, shiney, shiney boot of leather.
So part of the problem is definitely a Just World Hypothesis, but neither its root nor its solution lies in personal empathy. Given that the Earth is trodden by such a massive variety of shoes, some of which don't make a pair, we can't ask everyone to walk in everyone else's. It's not necessary, but neither would it be sufficient. Every pair of shoes and every lone shoe feel different. Some people don't wear shoes. Walking in a pair of size 7 cherry red patent leather twenty-eight hole Doc Martens, as I do, only gives me some limited insight into what it is like to walk in other pairs of stylish boots. It tells me little of Crocs or Jimmy Choos. But I do know that other human beings wear Crocs and Jimmy Choos and so I respect them and acknowledge that their rights are the same as my own.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Femininity and Feminism: A Ramble

My niece raises her fist against the patriarchy (possibly):
an ultrasound image of a fetus around twenty weeks.
I've known for a couple of months now that, all being well, come August, I'm going to get my very first niece. In terms of baby conversations, this is fairly significant information to have so early on. When any child is born, everyone talks endlessly about the new arrival when there's really only three pieces of information available; its assigned gender, its name and its weight. The weight is only relevant if it is especially low (concern for the baby) or especially high (sympathy for the mother). I find names fascinating, genuinely, and I think the influence of a name on a child's life is underestimated.

Most people think that assigned gender is vitally important (sometimes this is described as biological sex although that's rather inaccurate). I guarantee that, from the word go, my niece will exist in a world of pink, of flowers, frills, fairies and princesses. Then if when she can makes choices for herself, she chooses pink, flowers, frills, fairies and princesses, her parents will say that she has proven folk science correct: her femininity is innate.

And you know what? That shouldn't be a problem. Who cares if my niece decides, age three, that she wants to be princess and live in a fuschia pink plastic castle with powder pink ponies pulling a rose pink carriage for her? Pink is a lovely colour. I have pink shoes! Pink is the colour of many beautiful flowers. It is the colour of some lovely sunsets. It is the colour of some people's cheeks and lips and genitals.  It is the colour of worms, which play a vital role in keeping the soil healthy and aerated.

A fabulous pair of pink canvas Mary Jane shoes.
And three years olds are no good at planning their future careers. Alex was not so unrealistic but had wanted to belong to every emergency service all at once. Age five, he has decided he wants to be a lazy troll, and sit on the sofa all day with an iPad. When asked where he would get the money to support such a lifestyle, he said, "My wife will earn money."  I guess this may be a slightly more pragmatic version of the princess fantasy.

The trouble is that other people will judge my niece if she is overcome by the Pink Spectre, just as the photo of Alex dressed up as a fairy to attend a birthday party a few years back was considered as either a source of hilarity or concern by different family members. The world in which we live regards femininity as deeply inferior.

Femininity is a very complex thing which, being a social construct, varies from culture to culture and changes over time - the expectations of femininity placed on me through my lifetime have been quite different from those placed on my mother. But some things are always the same; femininity is a set of behaviours roughly approved of in women, but it is still what makes us inferior.

Alex as a "Fairy": A 3 year old child
with short blond hair in a pink dress.
His friend was having a "Princess Party"
and he wanted to be a fairy instead.
Sexists sometimes try to defend femininity as as different but equal kind of deal. This is usually framed by the unlikely assumption at any given time, all adults are part of a heterosexual couple who have dependent young children and where the woman is, at best, some kind of essential Lieutenant to the General Chap. This is the natural state of things, and yet laws need to be passed or kept in place to force people to behave according to their nature, as the Archbishop of York outlined this week whilst clutching at straws in the defense of marriage inequality:
"...what sort of society would we have if we came to see all family relationships primarily in terms of human rights? The family is designed to meet the different needs of its different members in different ways."
It's a weirdly common argument, given that this is a watered-down version of the one which denies girls education and women basic legal rights elsewhere in the world and in our own past. At best, femininity is seen as complementing masculinity, and of tremendous value to men, whereas men and masculinity just are. The masculine role is to be and to do, to fulfill ambitions, to use talents, to strive and succeed. The feminine role is to help take care of everybody else, which is understood to be a secondary role.

Nature overcame every attempt by the world to mold me into a feminine little girl. I wasn't massively boyish, but I was made to feel it for being good at maths and science, for wanting to run around, climb trees, play football or wander off by myself, for having no interest in baby dolls and skipping games (although frankly, that may have been my ropey co-ordination - ha ha, ropey!). Tragically, almost criminally, I even shunned books by female authors.

As a child, I hated femininity. I considered it pathetic, shallow, passive, bitchy and vane. As a small child, I imagined you could choose to be a man or a woman just as you could choose to be a doctor or a firefighter, and to me, that was a no-brainer. When I realised my mistake, I simply longed to be a boy. I even had a phase of peculiar transvestism (I say peculiar; as it involved wearing a bow-tie all the time). I hated my body when, at the age of around eight or nine, it began to sprout breasts and broad hips. When trans people describe a sense of their body's betrayal on hitting puberty, I empathise. I empathise so much that as a younger woman, I imagined that trans men were girls just like me who thought a physical change would help.

But my problem didn't involve any deep identification with masculinity, it was simply a resistance to femininity as I understood it.

I was teased for doing masculine things, but I was also respected. A tomboy isn't pretty or necessarily very nice, but she is miles above her masculine counterpart; the nancy-boy, pussy or jessie. There are no shortage of fictional and historical tomboy role models; girls who invent things, fight battles or go exploring. I don't know of any children's fiction which represents a boy who likes grows his hair long and spends his time making clothes for dolls. (In fairness, I also made clothes for my dolls - neither of my Ken dolls came with suitable outfits for outsmarting the shifty-eyed Action Man - what crime-fighting duo go around in Bermuda shorts and a pink tuxedo?)

I grew up in a culture where the hatred of femininity is endemic. Newspaper columnists and women's magazines (including those predominantly read by teenagers) inform us every day about the ways that femininity makes for false friends, jealous, back-stabbing and bitchy, that as mothers we stunt the development of our sons and envy our daughters, that as that as mother-in-laws, we hold dominion over unhappy Christmases and that as wives or girlfriends we must constantly trick our lovers into the commitment that completes us but which scares and stifles them.

Many great women boast that they are unladylike, because they dare to express opinions, cut their own hair, swear when cross, enjoy sex and other normal things. Many women assert that their women friends are the exceptions to their general experience of not liking women - I've known many men whose closest friends are women, but I've never heard one say that he doesn't like blokes. On learning he was going to have a daughter, a friend of my brother-in-law lamented the complexity of girls and how they all turn weird and bitchy when they hit adolescence.

But this doesn't make it acceptable for women to be not feminine. Studies into women at work and in academia (there are new ones at Feminist Philosophers every week), as well as the way women are treated by the media and in fiction, repeatedly demonstrate the great double-bind: feminine women are taken less seriously, seen as less intelligent, less solid, less dynamic, whereas unfeminine women are disliked and mistrusted. It is an unwinnable battle; there's no magic degree of feminine presentation, no point half-way between bimbo and bull-dyke where neither your programming, nor the people around you, have any problem with your femininity or lack thereof.

And disastrously, this penetrates feminism. Some feminists also hate femininity.

Femininity is a social construct, but the nature of this construct is that things that are not one thing are the other. So there's no escaping it. If I dressed in not-at-all feminine clothes and behaved in not-at-all feminine ways, I would be living as a odd-shaped man. It is possible to subvert gender, it is possible to identify as non-binary and demand a gender-neutral pronoun, but you're merely mixing up the masculine and feminine (not that that's not radical - it is). Gender is, sociologically, linguistically, like black and white - you simply can't throw them out of the paint box.

Feminism is concerned with power and oppression, so it's entirely right that feminism discusses the matter of performing femininity - the things that many or most women feel they simply have to do in order to be acceptable, from shaving one's armpits to marriage and motherhood. But clearly, the problem lies with obligation and coercion - there's nothing inherently negative about most feminine behaviours; there's no right or wrong about armpit hair and the rights and wrongs around motherhood rest on the individuals involved. Some of the silliest discussions in feminism (and philosophy in general) arise when a person insists that her choices are a choice when someone else's choices are an illusion. Blame Marx. Or possibly Engels. One of those two, either way it was definitely a man with a beard who harped on a lot about False Consciousness.

It is wrong to play into sexist hands by declaring that things that are regarded as feminine - given that gender is all nonsense anyway - are a problem just because they're feminine. Pretty clothes are essential. Everyone should wear pretty clothes, absolutely everyone; it makes the world look nicer! Empathy, compassion, patience and the ability to listen are absolutely vital for all human relationships as well as civilised societies. Everyone should aspire to be feminine in these ways. Everyone should also seek to be courageous, resilient and honourable. Everyone should seek to understand the world, apply reason to life's problems and wear comfortable shoes (yes, they can have a heel on if you like, but your feet are so important). Everyone should aspire to be masculine in those ways.

And I think this is why a noisy minority of feminists are so bilious about trans women (and I've never come across any anti-trans rhetoric which wasn't hateful - nobody ever starts off "trans women are people too"). It's this idea that trans women may have chosen femininity, without the programming (although obviously, as children they did get programming about what femininity is - everyone learns what it is to be a boy or a girl, regardless of their pants parts, only some of us get subjected to those horrible elastic bands with the great big plastic bobbles on them that get tangled up and pull half our hair out.)

Being trans gender isn't a choice, but (apart from unpleasant physical complications), should it matter if it were? Is femininity such an abhorrent gender that it should only be endured by those it has been foisted upon since birth? As I said, feminism is concerned with discussions of power, but it is abundantly clear whether trans women are people whose gender gives them power.

Do we have to accept the diktats of yet another man with an abundance of facial hair? When Freud said, "Anatomy is destiny," he was speaking against everything that women and queer people of all stripes have since sought to overturn. Our goal is a world in which everyone can be true to themselves in how they present themselves, how they behave and to whom and how they give their love. This is what I will tell my niece, whether or not she wants to be a princess or follow her aunt's footsteps in becoming a writer-explorer ukelele-playing superhero with pink shoes. Or indeed, if it turns out that she was a nephew after all.

See also, The F-Word:  There's Nothing Radical About Transphobia. This ramble was partly provoked by a Radical Feminist Conference in London which invited only "Women born women" (their poor mothers!) on the same day as the International Day against Transphobia & Homophobia

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Domestic Violence & Why Zero Tolerance Is So Tough

The most common piece of advice given about domestic violence is to exercise zero-tolerance. When a competent adult assaults you, they demonstrate a dangerous disregard for your physical comfort and safety. They are dangerous. You need to leave straight away. This is good simple advice.

I wanted to explore why people very often don't, partly because I think it's a good thing for people to understand and partly in the hope that anyone who is in that situation will find it useful. This has become epic, but I wanted to put it in one place. I've framed it as if all these adult violent relationships are romantic in nature - this isn't the case, but it is most commonly the case and it is the dynamic I know most about.

1. Love is the Most Determined Defense Lawyer in the World.

When you are in love, especially if you are heavily invested in that love for your self-esteem, then you're going to find any excuse, any extenuating circumstance to convince yourself that:
  • (a) your beloved really does love you (even when that looks ropey)
  • (b) your beloved is worthy of your love (even when they're definitely not)
  • (c) everything is going to be all right (even when things are bad and likely to get worse)
Meanwhile, our culture tends to value romantic love above all other relationships without having strong expectations for what it should be like. There's this general idea that we should put up with more from our romantic partner than we would ever put up with from our colleagues, our friends, other family members, even our own children. Lots of us have been taught that a successful relationship is, above all things, an enduring one and that good loyal loving people stick the distance, no matter how unrewarding it may be.

This is a terrific mistake. If you're going to give more of your love, time and energy to a particular person, then they absolutely have to be worthy of that. There is absolutely no virtue in wasting your life on someone who abuses you. You can't even pretend that you're sacrificing your happiness for theirs. There are millions of people on our planet who would benefit much much more from your kindness, compassion, energy and love and would never dream of assaulting you in return. Some may even love you as much as you love them. Which is lovely.

2. Shock!

Until it becomes a regular feature of domestic life, violence is a very shocking experience. Once it has happened, you don't get to be alone for the day to think things over, talk to your friends about it and work out how best to respond. In fact, you have to respond there and then, while you're still hurting, sometimes while you're still on the floor. And usually, you have to respond to a person who is either sobbing with remorse or still in a terrifying rage.

It takes a very gutsy person to declare it's over, then and there - and I don't necessarily recommend that. But the other shocking thing is how very quickly things can go back to normal. So quickly that there's a small part of you which doubts that it ever happened, and if it did, was it really as bad as you thought at the time?  Normal is nice. Normal is a massive relief! It can be extraordinarily tempting to put it all down to a horrible blip in your otherwise happy existence.

And when you think like that, the next time is just as shocking as the first.

3. Violence is on a Spectrum.

There are lots of other behaviours whose effects feel very much like physical violence, which are not so universally condemned. Things like shouting and swearing in someone's face, insults, accusations, violence towards furniture or other objects, interfering with someone's ability to relax, sleep, eat or exercise, humiliating someone in public, stopping someone leaving the room or ranting at someone about how completely useless and worthless they are.

If you've experienced this sort of thing and then your partner punches you, it doesn't necessary feel as if a terrible line has been crossed.  That's because none of this stuff is okay. Physical violence takes it onto a different level because it's so very dangerous - even a push in the wrong direction could seriously hurt or kill you - and it is an unambiguous criminal act. But you shouldn't have to put up with any kind of abuse from anyone. You wouldn't take that from a stranger; you certainly shouldn't take it from someone who professes to love you.

4. Is it really Violence?

Re-enter that corrupt but tenacious defense lawyer, stage left. To me, real violence meant punching and kicking. I wouldn't have said that had I witnessed other kinds of violence or indeed if I had been assaulted in any other context. But for some reason, the first time I felt that something had gone really wrong was after my ex punched me in the back.  It is hard to explain why I didn't quite count being elbowed in the ribs, being groped, being grabbed by the arm, by the throat and having it squeezed, being knocked down and pinned to the floor, among other things, as violence - even though some of those things were much scarier than a single punch.

I suppose this was chiefly because I was in denial and in all previous cases, I felt I had said or done something wrong whilst in close proximity of my ex-husband, and it was hard for him not to lash out. Punching someone in the back can't really be about snapping in the heat of an argument (not that all previous violence involved an argument, but still). He punched me in the back simply because he wanted to.

People who are the victims of women abusers often struggle to recognise their experience of violence as violence. In the movies, women slap men round the face all the time, sometimes for comic effect (in older movies, both parties of a straight romantic couple would slap each other almost constantly and nobody ever bruised or seemed to mind). Men who are abused by women can feel (as they are sometimes told) that it's not violence if you're bigger and stronger than the person attacking you. This is nonsense. It's all violence.

5. Is it really Domestic Abuse?

The first thing to say about this is that it doesn't matter what words you use. If you feel hurt, humiliated or scared within a relationship, then it doesn't really matter. You shouldn't have to feel like that.

Domestic violence or domestic abuse are, quite rightly, seen as very serious things. However, along with words and phrases like rape, sexual abuse, child abuse and many others, we tend to perceive these experiences as meaning the worst possible manifestation; the calculated crimes of unremitting monsters against unwitting innocents. Abuse, ongoing and mixed up with love, guilt, compassion and a sense of duty, rarely feels like that at the time.

This is one huge reason why victims of all kinds of abuse often struggle to put a name on what they've been through - even though they'd generally have no trouble identifying it as abuse if they saw it happening to someone else.

When challenged, abusers will invariably differentiate between what they do - snapping, lashing out, losing their temper - and real abuse. They will argue that there is a difference in intention; an abuser carefully plans his actions to control and manipulate, whereas they just get frustrated or jealous and don't really mean to hurt you at all.  This is nonsense. Outside questions of self-defence and insanity, the law only ever differentiates between violent crimes according to what a person did.

After I left, I often wondered how conscious my ex was about what he was doing. To what extent he really meant to control me, to make me feel so bad about myself, or whether that was all an accident of his anger and arrogance. My conclusion was that it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. In morality, all that matters is what we do to one another.

6. They are unwell/ under a lot of stress.

Everyone has stress in their lives. One in four of us will experience a mental illness of some kind during our life time and almost everyone who lives to adulthood will experience bereavement, romantic problems, employment or money worries, illness, anxiety about friends and family. Lots of marriages endure tension and conflict over matters as diverse as sexual jealousy, debt, problems with children or the matter of who left the toilet roll holder with no toilet roll on it. Life is sometimes very tough.

The good news is that the vast majority of people, including those under immense stress, including those with severe mental illnesses, have never been violent towards a loved-one. This isn't part of the normal ups and downs of things.

This includes men. The vast majority of men manage not to be violent towards loved ones ever. Some men will try to argue that testosterone makes them impulsive, while women have magic powers of self-control. Of course, it's generally a very convenient impulse that only takes over in the presence of people who are smaller, physically weaker and very unlikely to hit them back.

People are violent because they want to be. The physical act of violence releases endorphins; it feels good, it relieves tension. It makes you feel powerful to physically dominate another person. It makes you feel powerful to be feared, to exact pleas and apologies. And it feels good when you have so much temporary power over a person that they forgive you or blame themselves and choose to stay with you and keep on loving you, even though you don't deserve to touch the cloth that shines their shoes.

This is why domestic violence always gets worse; even though it involves getting angry, it feels good, so there will be more and more of it and it will be more extreme and more dangerous and eventually deadly. The only clear causal connection between mental health and domestic violence is that being or having been a victim of domestic violence is a major risk factor for various mental illnesses.

7. Guilt and Shame.

The easiest way to reassure yourself that you are loved, that your beloved is worthy of your love and that everything is going to be all right, is to imagine that you are the one who screwed up, that this is your shame. This is made easier by the fact that abuser's violence is rarely completely random - you've generally just said or done something that has upset them, however unwittingly - and they're generally very happy for you to take the blame. They may well insist upon it.

I dreaded the day I'd have to visit my folks or see my friends with a black-eye - or hide away pretending to be ill until it healed. Whenever something in the house got broken, it was me who primed my ex on the innocent explanation we would give to anyone who asked. I frequently apologised after he assaulted me.

I wasn't merely afraid that someone would realise what was going on and apply pressure on me to leave. I was afraid of being found out. I didn't want people to think I was that kind of woman. I was strong, I was opinionated, I was a feminist. I didn't want people to think I was some kind of victim. A victim is helpless, hopeless, dependent on others.

My capacity for guilt about the violence was so great that, when I was leaving my marriage, having realised how utterly unacceptable my situation had been, I actually apologised to my husband for letting him be like that. I had shifted from thinking that I had provoked him to thinking that I had harmed him by putting up with it.

Don't worry; both the guilt and shame will go away. The biggest aid by far for me was reading and listening to the stories of other survivors of domestic violence. None of them fit a stereotype. None of them were weak people. All of them were loving people and most of them had been vulnerable in some way when they'd entered these relationships. But apart from that, all they had in common was experience.

8. The Complicated Business of Forgiveness and Redemption.

Unless you can do something productive with it and especially when it is directed towards someone you care about, anger is an extremely ugly, uncomfortable, intrusive emotion which you want shot of as soon as possible. For this reason, good people often try to forgive crimes against them very quickly, simply to make the negative feeling go away. It feels like the right thing to do, the big thing to do, the loving thing to do. It can make you feel like a good person, especially at a time when someone else has made you feel rotten about yourself. But it's very complicated.

First off, it could be that all things may be forgiven, but not all things should be tolerated. If you tolerate someone hitting you, then you are holding them to a much lower moral standard than you would ever hold yourself. Are you a better person than them? Definitely! Should you treat them according to different standards? Well, no. That won't make the world a better place for anyone.

The other major complication is that true forgiveness - for something that has caused real harm - takes a long time.  I forgave my ex-husband everything he did, I tried to wipe the slate shiny clean as soon as possible, until one day I realised my own value and all that forgiveness crumbled away.

It's not supposed to work like that. Then I got angry, far angrier than I had ever been in my life and that was fairly horrible. Eventually I seemed to recover from the anger, and maybe this recovery can be described as genuine forgiveness. I don't know. Perhaps it's just indifference. I really don't care.

The third complication is that there simply must be some people who strike a loved one, feel terrible and manage to sort themselves out and never do it again, which leads us to...

9. It won't happen again. They promised.

It is impossible to say that anyone who assaults a loved-one is, to a man, irredeemable. I think it is very likely that those relationships are irredeemable and the most helpful thing a person can do in aid of their partner's redemption is to leave them. However, people are people and people sometimes do make good with a second chance. But honestly, a third? Love is worth all kinds of sacrifices, but that's just not love.

So, if your partner has been violent towards you for the first time ever, some useful questions to ask yourself:
  • Do you feel like a good person who is deserving of love, respect and care? Not just attractive, sexy or useful to have around - a good person who deserves a lot lot better than what just happened?
  • Do both you and your partner believe that they are fully responsible for what they did, or do you or your partner think there are factors which took the matter out of their control?
  • Is it normal or exceptional for your partner to behave aggressively towards you, like shouting and swearing, throwing things, etc.? 
  • Does your partner's idea of making good consist of material gifts, an increase in romantic gestures or physical affection, helping more around the house and granting more freedom for you?
  • Have they taken definite action to prevent this happening again, e.g. counselling, an anger-management course or giving up alcohol? 
  • If you decided to leave them, do you imagine that nobody else would have you?
  • If you decided to leave them, would you be afraid about what they would do?
My ex-husband once said to me (roughly), "There won't be any more violence now. I think we both know how to avoid that. You've got much better at not provoking me and I've got much better at walking away from those situations."  This was only half true; I had become more submissive, more subservient, there were dozens of topics which I knew never to speak about, there were clothes I never wore and people I never spoke to and there were all kinds of household tasks which I carried out in a perverse, inefficient way because it was his way. My ex, on the other hand, never learnt to walk away. Thankfully, I did.

10. Fear.

People are afraid to leave abusive relationships for various reasons. Many of them are just the same reasons as those effecting people in ordinarily unhappy relationships, but often exaggerated. For example, the fear of being alone and unloved is made worse when someone has repeatedly told you that you are unlovable and nobody else would put up with you. The fear of being lonely is made worse when you have been isolated from your friends and made to feel that nobody else really cares about you. The fear of being unable to cope by yourself is made worse when you have been told that you are profoundly incompetent.

There's also fear of what the other person will do. This is not an unfounded fear; the most dangerous time in a violent relationship is just before, during or just after an attempt to leave. However, staying doesn't keep you safe either and there is support to help you get away unharmed:

Refuge for women and their children.
Men's Advice Line for men in straight and same-sex relationships.
Broken Rainbow for lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans gender people.

There's also the police. The police have specialist domestic violence officers who can help keep you safe and get you the help you need. Personally, if you have good friends and family, I would suggest placing yourself in their physical presence and telling everyone what has been going on, as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012Welcome to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012!

Thanks very much to everyone who helped to spread the word and to everyone who blogged against disablism, ableism and disability discrimination.

If you have a post for Blogging Against Disablism, please leave a comment including the URL (web address) of your post and the catergory your post best belongs to.

We'll be updating this post throughout the day to create an archive of all the posts. We'll also try to post links to every blog using the Twitter stream @BADDtweets

The amazing Stephen has helped me this year, but even with two people, there are bound to be typos, so please be patient and let us know if you notice any mistakes.

If you happen to have a round-up post of your favourite blogs from the day, please let us know.  Claire from OT on Wheels put together Archives of tweets for the hashtags #BADD12 / #BADD / #BADD2012  whilst @spiegelmama created a Storify of the day

Blogging Against Disablism 2012

(Disability discrimination in the workplace, recruitment issues and unemployment). 

The 19th Floor: Advocacy Works
Anytime Yoga: Scared to Ask
ATOS Stories: Work Hurts
Benefit Scrounging Scum: Do You Know What You're Asking?
College and Disability: Why are so many people with disabilities unemployed?

Crip_tic: Disabling farming barriers
Honour your Inner Magpie: Yeah, but would you burn?
Jennifer Sommerness: Untitled
Kate Bennell @ Sightsavers: Untitled
Legal Aware: My experience
The Ramblings of Me: The Irony of Coping
This Ain't Livin': The Exploitation of Home Health Workers
This is my Blog: That's not a compliment

(Attitudes and practical issues effecting disabled people and the discussion of disability in education, from preschool to university and workplace training.)

It's my life: Barriers to Education
Radical Neurodivergence Speaking: Update on the fights we fight from last year
Sunshine, been keeping me up for days: Untitled
The Notes which do not fit: Memories of a Special Education
Teaching All Students: Blending In
Urbania to Stoneheads: Deaf experience of higher education

Technology and Web Accessibility

Assistive Technology: Fire safety for the deaf
Indigo Jo Blogs: Mobile Accessibility
King's Learning Institute TEL Blog: The sharp edge of Technology Enhanced Learning: Science and Technology and Disability Studies
Pretty Simple: Complicit disablism and the power of reason
UK Web Focus: Aversive Disablism, Web Accessibility and the Web Developer

Other Access Issues
(Posts about any kind of access issue in the built environment, shops, services and various organisations. By "access issues" I mean anything which enables or disenables a person from doing what everyone else is able to do.)

Abailin: On Self-Injury, Autism, and Behavioral Therapy
AWTS Blog: Driven Round The Bend By Motability Myths
Dannilion.com: Being Accessible Doesn’t Just Mean Ramps
Disabled Medic: My Sunday Church Experience 
eTenerife: Able-Bodied Assumptions and Tenerife Toilets
Fix My Transport Journal: Disability and Me #1
Gimp 'Tude: No Crips Allowed
Intractable/Implacable: Segregation and the invisible ones...
l’azile: if you build it, they will come: making co-working spaces accessible
lounalune: Accessibility of the minds
Madison Claire Foundation: Inclusive Playgrounds: Accessibility for All
Normal is Overrated: Accessibility: One Size Doesn't Fit All
Radically Queer: Rethinking Access
Rolling Around In My Head: My BADD

Definition and Analysis of Disablism/ Ableism

Facial Expression is Overrated: Reaction piece
Grace Quantock: Untitled
Nordic Network on Disability Research: Blogging Against Disablism Day
SpeEdChange: Toppliing Transactionalism

The Language of Disablism(Posts about the language which surrounds disability and the way that it may empower or disempower us.)

Abailin: A Few Words on Language
Accessiblog.fr: Being disabled: a matter of context
Adrienne: Why ‘wingnut’ is a poor word choice
Bethlehem Blogger: What 'retards' have taught me about peace work (and people)
CynthiaParkhill: I edit for people-first language
The F-Word: Calling out disablist language
I am not a nutter: I am not a nutter
Square 8: Connecting Dots

Disablism Interacting with Other 'Isms'
(Posts about the way in which various discriminations interact; the way that the prejudice experienced as a disabled person may be compounded by race, gender, age, sexuality etc..)

Diceytillerman: FAT CRIP! Random Thoughts Where Fatness and Disability Intersect
transabled.org: Objecting to Walking is Discrimination

Disablism in Literature, Culture and the Media

The Haps: Here’s What We Should Keep Doing 
Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind: Holding the Media to Account…
Single Lens Reflections: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 - Intro
Single Lens Reflections: Clippity Cloppity Goat and the Troll
Where's the Benefit (Guest Post): Disability benefits and the self-made mouth


Disability Studies, Temple U.: History is still happening

Relationships, Love and Sex

After Gadget: Service Dogs & Friends: Familiarity Breeds... Confusion?
Ballastexistenz: Caregiver abuse takes many forms
Crippled, Queer, Anglo-European Ranter: Sexual Eunuchs? 
Gin and Lemonade: This is how I Roll
Nick's Crusade: The Path of the Disabled Man
Pretty Pancreas: Disability Tango
Sensible Susan & The Ladylike Punk: Sex & Disability (a.k.a Dissertation Fun Time
TGStoneButch: Pain and sadism, and a bit about how they intertwine in my life 

AthletesFirst: Blogging Against Disasblism Day 2012
Youth - Fit to Lead: A Viewer’s Guide to the Paralympics


Ephemeradical: Linkpost for BADD 2012

Poetry against Disablism

Same Difference: Listen to the Silence

Art and Photography Against Disablism

Challenge Ableism: Photo Campaign
General Thoughts on Disablism

Accessible Insights Blog: Your Ingenious Life
Angelikitten: I'm sure that there's a point to this entry...
Anonymous: Shout Out
A Room Of My Own: We're All Different and that's OK
Are Women Human? (Guest Post): It Gets Inside Our Heads
Ask A Wheeler: Assumptions About Disability.
Diary of a Goldfish: Recall To Pride
F&*£ Yeah Fibromyalgia: Untitled
Girl with the Cane: Untitled
Happy, smiley and chronically ill: Reality versus Perception
Just Stimming: Truth Is
Low Visionary: Dismantling Disablism: Three Powerful Tools.
Mardahl.dk: Pain and Respect
Moiread: Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012
Not Your Teachable Moment: Where HAS the day gone?
People Aren't Broken: Disability Has A P.R. Problem
Plato's Nightmare / Aesop's Dream: But these things are monsters
Ruth Madison: Us v.s. Them
Sanabitur Anima Mea: I’ve Never Met Anybody Who Wasn’t Important Before
This Brain is Barking: Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day.
Thoughts of Nothing: Untitled
We Can Do: Why Fight Disablism? A Global Perspective
Wordthings Of Jon: I'm sorry, but I do actually have a life

Parenting Issues(whether disabled parents or the parents of a disabled child.)

Children with Special Needs: Making Inclusion a Two-Way Street
Gavin's Gear: Parenting Rights
Ruled by paws: The Questions

Healthcare Issues(For example, the provision of healthcare, institutionalistaion of disabled people, reproductive ethics and euthanasia)

20 Commandments for MentalHealth workers: Untitled
Ballastexistenz: Pulling Back Curtains
Nightengale of Samarkand: Double Standards

Impairment-Specific Prejudice

Bruce Lawson: Untitled
Diceytillerman: Can We ReName CFIDS Already? My Proposal for Our New Name
Virginia Tremor: I'm not Drunk
Words of Wood: I Belong To Myself

Personal Journeys

Posts about learning experiences and realisations authors have had about the nature of disability discrimination and the impact on their lives.

Adventures of a Part-Time Wheeler: Ambivalence
Believe in Who You Are: Just get over it 
Cats and Chocolate: Role Models
The Cat's Lair: Untitled
Coffee and Chaos: Open your Eyes
Cracked Mirror in Shalott: Something
Intractable/Implacable: Segregation and the invisible ones... 
Midlife and Treachery: Do you let them know?
Never that Easy: My Years of Magical Thinking... 
OT on wheels: Untitled
Painting: Discrimination 2 May Oneth

Pseudo-living: 24 Hours In My Life
TAL9000:  Facade-Keeping
Thoughts of Nothing: Living with Chronic Back Pain
tiintax.com: Untitled
Traveling Show: The BADD Post
The Wandering Monster: All too Familiar
A Writer In A Wheelchair: I don’t wanna fight no more

Disablism and Politics
(For example, the political currency of disability, anti-discrimination legislation, etc.)

From a nest of sticks and yarn: When disableism starts with us
Gilded Cage: The Myth of "Survival of the Fittest."
A Latent Existence: If you can tweet, you can work
Lisybabe's Blog: ♫...I'm going underground, (going underground)...♫ 
louisebolotin.com: No longer disabled enough: Cameron's brave new world
Maijan ilmestykset: On the ownership of bodies
Makulatur: Thoughts on the subject (Also posted here)
Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind:  How is an Activist Born…
Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind (Guest Post): Spartacus and Me
Rolling with the Punches: You can type, therefore you can work
Short Cuts in Wakefield: Blogging abouts Disabilism and the Cuts
Stand Tall Through Everything: Rest Insured
Where's the Benefit?: The Price of Hate

Bullying, Harassment and Hate Crime

Funky Mango's Musings: Dead Happy, Derek, and disablism
Tune into Radio Carly: Untitled
You dont look sick!: Blue Badge Vigilante's

My Dis/Abled Body Belongs to Me, Not You, so Back Off!

Honour Your Inner Magpie: dis/abilism and the suddenly huggy lady

List of Participating Blogs
Outside the bubble in an eggshell, SpeEdChange, Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind, The F-Word, Kimberley Tew, Children with Special Needs,Happy, smiley and chronically ill, Pseudo-Living, Gavin's Gear, Stand Tall Through Everything, Disability Studies,  Temple U, Tune into Radio Carly, Unusual Suspects, Ask a Wheeler, Tiintax, A Room of my Own, Indigo Jo Blogs, Makulatur, There's a Botticelli Angel Inside, Snapping Beans, Welcome Spoken Here, Butterfly Dreams, Low Visionary, You dont look sick!, Social Welfare Union, Kate's blog, Crippled, Queer, Anglo-European Ranter, Librarian on Wheeeeels, Disabled Medic, Plato's Nightmare / Aesop's Dream, ATOS Stories, It's My Life, Anytime Yoga, Madison Claire Foundation, Angelkitten, Rolling Around In My Head, Intractable/ImplacableLounalune, Against It, Stories and Research from an Epilepsy Sufferer, Crip_tic, Slewth Press, Gilbert and Me, UK Web Focus, Accessiblog.fr, This Ain't Living, People Aren't Broken, Accessible Insights Blog, Never that Easy, Gimp 'Tude, Painting, College and Disability, Ruth Madison, Urbania to Stoneheads, A Pretty Simple Blog, Benefit Scrounging Scum, Disabled and Employed, Sunny Dreamer, AWTS blog, Funky Mango's Musings, Single Lens Reflections

Recall To Pride - Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

For Blogging Against Disablism Day
There are closed captions (click the CC button) but if you have trouble playing the video, here's a transcript:

The disability movement saved my life.

In my hour of despair (a little more than an hour) the disability movement taught me that my problem had two parts. One part was my illness, the suffering that causes and the things that stops me doing. The other part was people's attitudes and the way our society is set-up. Only one of those was something I had to deal with on my own.

Before then, whenever I met prejudice or poor access, I thought it was because I was broken. Whenever I read something in a newspaper condemning people like me or reducing people like me to a set of negative experiences, I thought it was because I was broken. I thought that I owed the world an explanation. I thought I had to explain why I couldn't do certain things, and explain how much I wanted to, and how I really really couldn't help it. Honest. I thought I had to constantly explain about being broken.

I am not broken. I am just not very well.

In recent years, the disability movement in the UK has been on the defensive. Being denied the financial and practical means to live a full and meaningful life, people have been scared. Some have been scared to death. There's nothing wrong with talking about suffering, about poverty. There's nothing wrong about the things we've lost and the things we're going to lose. There's nothing wrong with people who are in fear of their lives expressing that fear. Sometimes, we owe it to ourselves to be honest with the world about what we're going through.

But essential benefits and services are not a matter of compassion. We don't need to persuade anyone that we're all good people who suffer dreadfully and are therefore deserving of charity. We don't need to express gratitude that we are allowed to exist. We don't need to constantly refer to ourselves as genuinely disabled, as if there's any other kind. These things only play into the hands of people who think that there are deserving and undeserving disabled people and no matter what happens, the most needy people are bound to be looked after.

Cuts to essential benefits and services are a matter of social justice. Whoever we are, whatever the nature of our impairments, whether or not we are good patients, whether or not we were ever hard-workers, tax-payers, whether or not we are suffering or actually get a lot of pleasure out of life, or both, we are entitled to respect and dignity and the means to survive.

Disability pride is not about saying, “Hooray, I'm disabled!” It is not about saying, I don't suffer or I wouldn't change this about my life.

Disability pride is about saying, we're often up against it but

I am proud of who I am.
I am proud of my friends.
I am proud of the disabled community, which like any family has a few eccentric aunts and that half-brother we must never ever speak about.

It's about saying,

I will not apologise.
I won't apologise for having these limitations.
I won't apologise for the medical events that happen to me.
I won't apologise if my presence embarrasses you
I won't apologise if you don't understand my situation. I don't need you to. I don't understand yours either, but you have my respect.

Disabled people never got anywhere by begging. Disabled people changed the world in which we live by recognising our own inherrent value. This is why, collectively, we mustn't despair, however bleak things get. Because having equal or equivalent opportunities, having the dignity of being clean and fed and sheltered even if we need help from others, being treated with respect rather than abuse or condescension. These things are not a prize we won in a draw.

That's social justice. It's what everyone has a right to. And it's what we have a right to too. Too.

Which isn't always easy to recognise. And that's why, when we do...

We should be proud.