Lily Mae’s Response to Feminism in Disability Studies

Feminist and disability studies will often go hand in hand when discussing intersectionality and often the lack of representation that is accurately given to both feminism and disability either connected or on their own. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s piece, Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory gives the reader background information on the topics of feminism and disability studies including the past and present practices dedicated to the two theories. Sheila Black’s piece, What You Mourn is a powerful poem about how women with disabilities are often seen and looked down upon based on certain stereotypes and expectations of women that are far from current feminist ideals and practices. Arguments regarding theories in feminist disability, the current systems of ability vs. disability as well as the representation of both theories, can be formed in response to the need of equality and integration that is still lacking within current society as well as strives still needed to be made in order to better reach the intersectionality of both topics. 

Garland-Thomson introduces the idea of feminist disability theory as a way of thinking that encompasses the practices of feminism through the lens of disability where intersectionality can often be found. When understanding the teachings of both feminism and disability studies one must open their eyes to the larger picture that encompasses both the cultural and personal aspects of individuals rather than focusing on just one piece of a person whether feminism or disability theories are present. “By considering the ability/disability system, feminist disability theory goes beyond explicit disability topics such as illness, health, beauty, genetics, eugenics, aging, reproductive technologies, prosthetics, and access issues. Feminist disability theory address such broad feminist concerns as the unity of the category ‘woman’,…” (Garland-Thomson 258), while many topics may fall under the umbrella of disability, 

being able to connect the feminist theory into said topics is what makes the theory so vital in understanding and representing women, particularly women who have disabilities. While this wave of feminism is indeed reaching more of the public through media and the discussions being had towards feminist ideals, it is still evident that work must still be made in relation to the gender based biases that are still being taught and believed by current and past generations. In Black’s poem, the stereotypes of women in relation to their wedding day is tied to the disability where walking is difficult and the thought that this disability would certainly interrupt the “perfect” wedding; “The year they straightened my legs, the young doctor said, meaning to be kind, Now you will walk straight on your wedding day, but what he could not imagine is how even on my wedding day I would arch back and wonder about that body I had before I was changed,…” (Black lines 1-7). The expectations placed on women for generations is exactly what feminism theories have begun trying to shine light upon as well as how damaging these stereotypes can become on women who often will not fit perfectly into such expectations.  The same can be said for those with disabilities where the stereotypes and expectations should simply be eradicated due to the loss of individuality that is caused when such cookie-cutter mentalities are the only ones being practiced. 

The topic of disability is often one that is found to be difficult and awkward for some to talk about but, nevertheless it is still a topic that requires much discussion in order for the equality needed to be found and put into motion. Over the past several decades the field of disability theory and study has developed into a nation conversation while the inequality is unfortunately still in practice. Those with disabilities are often looked down upon or even pitied while seen as “less than” individuals who are “normal”. Whether it be mental or physical disabilities that one has this should be no excuse why they should not receive the same opportunities and respect that their able-bodied peers are receiving. Disability is often a term that is used to describe a number of different ailments rather than focusing on the individual and more so on the disability itself, “Moreover, disability is a broad term within which cluster ideological categories as varied as sick, deformed, abnormal, crazy, ugly old, feebleminded, maimed, afflicted, mad, or debilitated- all of which disadvantage people by devaluing bodies that do not conform to cultural standards” (Garland-Thomson 260). This quote outlines the exact themes of Black’s piece of the crooked legs of the speaker being seen as an obstacle that must be overcome in order to better conform to the image society has in their minds of what a bride should look like on her wedding day; while also playing into the ideas of feminist theory that stem back to the beginning of marriage where brides are placed in a very specific role. When these roles and expectations are not met these individuals are seen as unusual and “upsetting” when individuality is tossed to the side and forgotten because they are now seen as an object that should be ridiculed or pitied for not fitting the predetermined image that is expected. The ability and disability system within this current day and age is still considered so problematic because individuals with disabilities are given the umbrella term of “disabled” and thus treated in a certain manner which is not conducive to encouraging independence and equal treatment of those given this label. 

Representation in both the feminist and disability realms has been something that people have been fighting for spanning over generations. While representation can be be a difficult topic for argumentation, due to the fact that representation should be unique and individualized, the broad generalizations of certain groups of people can be more detrimental than no representation at all. When overgeneralization are placed on groups of people it can be difficult to view these individuals in any other light creating a negative environment for those with disabilities and those with feminist ideals in particular. Garland-Thomson breaks down several of the common stereotypes in her writing and how intersectionality can be harmful when not used correctly, “Female, disabled, and dark bodies are supposed to be dependent, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies. Femininity and race are the performance of disability. Women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependent, weak, vulnerable, and incapable bodies” (Garland-Thomson 261). Representation, when accurate, is difficult to come by in all meanings but especially representation for those who have been so stereotyped and overgeneralized it is difficult to remove those labels from someone standing directly in front of us. While it is true that the individualized aspect of representation can be difficult because everyone has their own wants and their preferred identification, the answer is not going to be found in throwing around umbrella terms. In Black’s poem, she speaks to the notion of labeling and the language associated with those with disabilities calling to attention the wide variety of terms that can be used when talking about disabilities. Individuals with disabilities will of course have their own preferred language in regards to how they would like to be identified, “Crippled they called us when I was young later the word disabled and then differently abled, but those were all names given by outsiders, none of who could imagine that the crooked body they spoke of, the body which made walking difficult and running practically impossible,…” (Black lines 16-22).  Representation and language are often closely related when talking about feminist and disability theory as it has changed greatly over the years while at the same time being problematic still for those who the ones being labeled. 

Discussing feminist theory as well as disability studies can at times seem to be daunting and can feel awkward for some with the fear that the wrong phrase or misguided interpretations may be use but these are not things that should be used as excuses to completely ignore these topics. Being an active questioner to the systems in place is what makes a more rounded individual as well as a better informed ally to those around us who are faced with the battle everyday of negative stereotypes and must fight the overgeneralization pointed towards subsets of the population. Within the disability community the act of overgeneralization and the use of umbrella labeling can be incredibly damaging when looking at individual cases where those with disabilities are often pitied or looked down upon simply due to the fact that they have some sort of disability. When a topic is found to be difficult to discuss it is often the case that it is difficult because it forces individuals to take a look inside themselves and their fear of either those who are different from themselves or because they believe that they must treat those different from themselves in a unique or unusual way. Toxic ways of thinking in regards to feminism or disability is long overdue for an upgrade where treating people differently just because they are “different” from our own selves is no longer the appropriate way to think. Remaining open minded and questioning the current systems in place are the only true ways that change will be able to occur where the hope is that one day people will not be treated so differently just because they are their own unique versions of themselves. 

Small Group Notes 3/25

Danielle, Lily (note taker), Shane, Nathalie, Nicholas 

Nicholas- On page four when sign language is mentioned but there is no mention of why this was detrimental to use in terms of the deaf community and was a bit shocking to read- the rational behind this thinking would be interesting to read more about

Lily- There are so many variations within the deaf community in terms of what is preferred or how people chose to be involved so it was interesting reading this point of view especially since everyone has such a different perspective 

Nicholas- Can anyone think of any more current acts of xenophobia that are rooted in the fear or suspicious fear of spread of illness?

Nathalie- Recently there is certainly an outbreak of xenophobia towards Asians and Asian Americans in response to Covid-19 and is unfortunately the reasoning behind a great deal of violence and discrimination within our own country 

Shane- Part of the “fear” towards immigration is the sheer cost of the situation, with the amount of immigrants that are moving into any given society those with xenophobic ideas are more worried about possible crime outbreaks and the toll it will take on the society with the introduction of more individuals

Lily- There is no doubt that many of the so called “fears” are rooted deeply in racism and xenophobia where people are just grasping at straws for reasons they can bring to the table in order to keep immigrants out of our society, which is disgusting in it of itself that these individuals are discriminated against so harshly and looked down upon based solely on their immigration status 

Shane- The term “otherness” can be described in categories as small as accents, different clothing styles or mannerisms…

Dr. Foss- Even their taste in music 

Shane- I think it may even be harder for immigrants to find a sense of community in a new place when they are leaving all that they know and everything they are familiar with behind in order to start a new life in a new area 

Small Group Notes 3/11

Participants: Lily Sportsman (note taker), Daniella Colon-Cosme, Brianna Fridriksson, Arden Jones

Arden- Arthur Radley is portrayed as a hero within the story but his only rule in the story seems to be an advocate for the disabled and to bring this into conversations throughout the town but fades into the background when he is finished

Brianna- I am glad he was not killed off within the story as being a disabled character, it is easy as a reader to develop a “softness” for Arthur such as how one would feel towards Scout as a character (almost like a protagonist), Arthur seems more as a misunderstood character but more so than Scout being misunderstood 

Arden- People treat Arthur relatively better than if he was say, black and disabled but is treated more with a certain amount of respect being from what family he belongs to

Brianna- If Tom Robinson was treated like Arthur was the story itself would have taken a whole other route

Arden- If Tom was in the place of Arthur he still would have taken the fall for many of the consequences within the story just because he was a black individual

Brianna- Everyone would have just assumed that Tom was a dangerous character even if he had been playing out the same roles that Arthur was taking on throughout the story 

Lily- The fact that Arthur comes from a prominent, well respected and white family of the town gives him an automatic sense of respect even as a misunderstood character who is the unfortunate victim of many horror gossip stories that are created around him 

Arden- I’m not entirely sure what disability Bibi had but it sounded maybe like epilepsy? There could be some type of triggers that those around her may not be familiar with

Brianna- I’m in the same boat about not being too sure about what disability she may have but in the first paragraph telling us about what she went through made me a little nervous to find out about what we were about to read

Lily- The fact that exorcisms are still the number one choice for some people, even now in modern times instead of looking into other avenues of help is incredibly eye opening but also incredibly sad that certain forms of disabilities could be viewed as some sort of devil possession 

Arden- During the time period of the reading it makes more sense for the exorcism just because of how little information was available about certain disabilities and the skewed beliefs towards certain types of possessions

Brianna- Even within the last two years the amount of knowledge that has been gathered is incredible in terms of understanding certain disabilities, and the strides made towards making disabilities into less of a scary and taboo subject- it’s not something to be ashamed of anymore

Arden- The fact that the reading made it seem like disabilities could be “passed on” or “caught” from someone who has a disability was so aggravating while I was reading it and the lack of information surrounding the topic 

Lily- It’s incredibly obvious of the cultural aspects that have influence over Bibi’s experiences and how different the thought processes can be based on which culture you personally come from and those you are most familiar with

Lily Mae’s Response to Jay Timothy Dolmage’s Introduction from “Academic Ablesim; Disability and Higher”


In the academic piece, Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher, Dolmage
introduces the reader to the world of disability and provides the reader with some of
the history surrounding early disability movements. Dolmage gives an insight into the
struggles students with disabilities are still facing within higher education communities
and after reading through Dolmage’s introduction, I chose to focus on the section titled
Snapshot of Exclusion, in order to provide a passage analysis for this assignment. The
key points within this section include the difficult road in acquiring the correct
accommodations those with disabilities may need within universities, as well as, the
higher student debt accrued by students with disabilities in comparison to students
without disabilities.
Schools and universities across the country have accommodations that are
included in their programs for students with certain disabilities to have access to in
order to help them in their road of education. Although the idea behind
accommodations is wonderful, finding the correct accommodations for a student with
disabilities, without help, is a long and often difficult road. Finding the correct
accommodations alone may be difficult for students especially when they are not given
the whole story, “For most students who seek accommodations for our classes, they
aren’t allowed to know what the actual range of accommodations might be” (Dolmage
18). While the practice of offering accommodations in the world of academics is
certainly a big step in the right direction in helping students with disabilities achieve
their degrees, there is certainly more work that should be completed. In order for

students with disabilities to be able to achieve their success in a less complicated
manner there should be more training for those in positions of guidance, as well as,
students should have the opportunity to receive all the information regarding
accommodations.
Dolmage also speaks of the issues of student debt and the financial strain that
are often placed on students with disabilities and how these numbers correspond to
students without disabilities. In this paper, Dolmage explains that students with
disabilities, by the time they graduate, have almost sixty percent more student debt in
comparison to the students without disabilities (Dolmage 15). Dolmage states, “debt is
particularly onerous for students with disabilities who consequently require more time
to complete their degree or diploma and this is a major contributing factor to person
with disabilities having lower application, admission, and graduation rates…” (Dolmage
15). Thusly, students with disabilities often take longer to graduate which means that
their student debt numbers are significantly higher by the time they are able to
graduate. Students with disabilities should not feel so impacted by the student debt
that they may accrue that it steers them away completely from higher education.

There is no doubt that after reading Dolamge’s piece that there is a certain
ableist dynamic in the world of higher education. Students with or without disabilities
should have the same path to their college degree and significant student debt
experienced by some students with disabilities should not be a deterrent from
accomplishing their educational goals. Certain relief programs and scholarships placed
for students with disabilities to receive them would certainly be a step in order to help
make these degrees more attainable because in the world of education there should

certainly not be an ableist dynamic on the road to achieving higher education. College
degrees should be equally as attainable to students with or without disabilities; this
could also aide in the stigma toward disabilities. The inadvertent exclusionary practices
within some universities certainly can be improved upon for students with disabilities
ensuring the same opportunities that those without disabilities have.

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