Tag Archive for media

A Letter Advocating for Disability Rights

by Laurens R. Hunt

I have been a long time feminist activist. As a person with a disability I have been working closely with disability rights groups to become more involved in feminism. I think that more people with disabilities being involved puts a different face on this movement. My inspiration came from the former National NOW (National Organization for Women) President Patricia Ireland. Ms. Ireland was among one of the first feminists to extensively focus on people with disabilities. My diagnosis is cerebral palsy.

Very often in past generations people with disabilities had not been discussed at all. Going forward I intend to broaden the involvement of women with disabilities. Having more women and men with disabilities involved in the feminist movement will add to strength in numbers for women. Also, having more women and men involved in politics who have disabilities can help shape a better health care system and more realistic portrayals of women who are not exceptionally tall and thin as depicted by countless advertisements. This is equally true of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans-Gender, and Queer Communities.

I am mentioning the LGBTQ Community because I try to educate them about the plight of people with disabilities. The most salient organization is PFLAG (Parents of Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG has been very active in promoting the Safer Schools Initiative. When I attend their support group meetings I mention the similarity about bullying people with disabilities. I speak with experience for generational reasons. Just 2 weeks ago I turned 37 years old.

Some of the most hostile and vile language was most accepted when I was attending grammar school. In June 1986 I completed the sixth grade. In those days it was considered fashionable and almost en vogue to refer to people with disabilities as “retarded” and “crippled,” but it did not stop there. It was common to refer to a student who wore glasses as “four eyes”. The joke for people with epilepsy was “hold my milk, I want a milkshake”. I experienced another layer of this.

A decade earlier I underwent a nearly life ending ear operation. In August 1976 when I turned 3 years old I had part of my right middle ear removed. The correct medical term is known as mastoid. It is easy to confuse a mastoid removal with tumor growth, which more than thankfully I did not have. Anyone seeing my right ear will know that this part is missing. I have known some students later on in high school refer to this as a car garage. Two years later was my left leg operation also during August in 1978 when I turned 5 years old.

My left heel chord had been lengthened. This was because I had been successfully walking as a toddler, but my left heel was a few inches off the ground. With much more sophisticated studies known over 30 years later the imbalances of ones weight on each leg leads to many kinds of hip and even back problems. Thankfully this was corrected early on when I was very young. Just like my right ear jokes had been made about the way I walk, and that was when I would hear “What are you a cripple (or retard)?” Again many of these epithets came during high school. In later years much of this same treatment emanated not so much from these harsh comments but more from abusive professional decisions.

Nowadays these words are not heard nearly as often. There is extensive outreach in the community of people with disabilities to stamp out the word retarded. I can say that use of the word “retarded” can be accurate when referring to Downs-Syndrome and similar diagnosis. What has become lost is that it is better to stop the use of certain words instead of training people with disabilities to be self-reliant. The job that I currently have working at the Hudson County Government is clerical and considered sheltered employment.

The belief is that people with disabilities cannot function and serve in management. The labor malpractice laws make words such as “retarded” and “cripple” considered as harassment because of their harshness. However, the thinking has changed very little. The people I see with disabilities have clerical and secretarial roles, not managerial and supervisory positions. The gist that I am getting at is that in lieu of the name calling is the job discrimination. I have been denied multiple promotions after having completed a dual MBA from the Baruch CUNY Zicklin School of Business in May 2006. The areas of studies were in Finance and Human Resources Management.

I have been unable to get any cooperation from my local union while being required to pay annual dues of 2 % of my salary. The job that I have has no advancement potential. There are vocational centers, but they are fixated on placing people with disabilities in clerical and secretarial roles. They focus more on promoting their agenda rather than helping place clients. The only exception I will make to some of these observations is that some of the counselors have had disabilities themselves. I did know one vocational worker nearly a decade ago who has cerebral palsy as I do. Still the senior management is operated by people without disabilities.

During this period the Lilly Ledbetter Act has been passed. Lead women’s groups have accurately complained that even now women make less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. In fact, in some professions women still make closer to 60 cents on the dollar. For people with disabilities, the percentage tends to often be closer to half of this 60 or 80 cents on the dollar. The rate of unemployment is the highest for people with disabilities during both economic recessions and expansions alike. During the 8 years of Bill Clinton’s Presidency the rate of employment for people with disabilities climaxed at only 25%, and this was considered a good reason to celebrate for many in the non-disabled community who were oblivious to this egregiously low percentage. As most of the voting citizenry knows, this was touted as the United States’ longest peacetime expansion ever.

Another major issue is the media portrayal of people with disabilities. Respective disability rights activists groups tend to be very isolated with low attendance. The issues hence receive less focus and attention, and therefore those of us who have disabilities get less positive and less frequent media coverage. The perception for many of the clients and members in these organizations is that we are feeble, uneducated, uneducable, and non-ambulatory. Therefore it is automatically accepted that we are in need of help and we can’t think for ourselves. This is just as slanderous as the bombardment of emaciated female model photos used in all forms of marketing media for a different set of reasons. This behavioral pattern creates a vicious cycle for two main reasons. Many of the vocational counselors without disabilities inexorably claim they are helping clients in their career goals but in fact are hindering them. What’s worse is that they get angry and defensive when those of us with the disabilities complain and point to the fact that we are being hurt, not helped by these actions.

In conclusion, name calling is always painful. The important life lesson is that actions always speak louder than words. Abusive language is never acceptable, but actions are what have the greatest and longest lasting impact. Because women, people with disabilities, the LBGTQ communities, and people of color know this all too well, we have to command respect and equitable treatment from our elected officials and service agencies. The same thing is true for media representation. Unfortunately this professionalism will not happen without insisting on it. Each one of us is a taxpayer and voter, and we cannot afford to forget that we pay for our public services and the outside media.

Sex Work, Human Rights, & Feminism Series Part 2: The Image of a Sex Worker

This series of posts from the community is in preparation for Paradigm Shift’s next event, “Sex Work and Human Rights: Feminist Advocacy Strategies” A panel discussion and screening on TUES, March 30th, 7pm, NYC. We want to hear your stories! View call for submissions- deadline 3/28-

by Morgan Boecher

Sex work is a divisive issue among contemporary feminists. Is it a job that enables independence and empowerment or is it a compromised position for women that reiterates sexist roles? The heated debate from various sides indicates that the answer is not simple. Sex work has had a decidedly positive impact on some women’s lives, while other women have never known the meaning of empowerment through sex work. The myriad experiences of those involved with and affected by sex work cannot add up to a sum total of “sex work = good” or “sex work = bad.” However, patterns emerge and sex work begins to mean something.

For me, sex work means danger. There is someone very close to me who is a sex worker, and she is not empowered. She is not free or independent. She is controlled by boyfriends and drugs and insecurities. She hurts herself and those around her all the time. Her idea of what a woman should be like – sexy, fashionable, cute, rich – is a cocktail of TV stereotypes. It’s as though she consumed the most literal hourglass-shaped template from mainstream media.

But to say that the poor thing had no choices is terribly condescending. Of course she had choices, even though they were embedded within a culture that partially promotes the glamorous porn-star-gangster image. Out of many options, she chose to focus on that one image of what a woman can be in American society.

This is where I get caught up in the idea that sex work is dangerous for women. The media portrays a specific, one-sided, degraded image of what a sex worker is, despite the vast diversity in individual experience and personhood among sex workers. This misogynist portrayal incites people to copy it, thus producing a pattern that gets us no closer to a feminist future. Of course there are sex workers who are aware of the messages that are propagated by the media, and actively decide how to respond. No sex worker is without choice, but the invasive effects of the media cannot be ignored either.

So is sex work inherently more dangerous than other businesswoman-customer interactions? Besides the physical and emotional complications that are usually involved with intercourse, no. But within the context of a sexist society that naturalizes sex work as something that women were meant to do (how many times have I heard that lame “it’s the oldest profession!” excuse?), well, that’s another matter.

I question whether sex work in any form can be a way to empower women as a whole. I feel like I can be convinced otherwise, but right now I am doubtful that it can. I have seen the heinous ways in which the one I care about was violated, and how that violation led to her downward spiral of which sex work is a part. If anything is to change, though, sex workers must be the ones to define themselves, not the misogynist media. And the sex workers who have the well-being of women in mind, namely feminist sex workers, will be the ones to redefine the trade for the better.

Feministing.com Interviews PShift Co-Founder & Director, Meredith Villano

Feministing.com Interview!

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