Notes on Deconstructing Privilege

seventhvoice:

This is a fantastic post exploring what privilege is, how it is accrued and what it brings with it. I agree with it’s writer that we all have to take our turn at disrupting the train of privilege so that we might lessen the perpetual gap between the ‘heard’ and the ‘unheard’ in our society.

Originally posted on Cellar Door:

What is Privilege?

Access to information, social networks, time and money. Access to human and civil rights, legal protection and safety. This access can vary from slight to enormous.

Being seen as an individual, even if our group status strongly influences some factor about us. Having our experiences be validated as “authentic, normal or natural” by the media, the mainstream narrative and popular discourse.

Having privilege does not (necessarily) mean you are a terrible, oppressive person. It does however, mean that you have a stake in allowing your own privileged system of oppression to continue — whether that system is racism, classism, casteism, transphobia, homophobia, communalism, colonialism, islamophobia, ableism, anti-immigrant, anti-femininity, fat-phobia, anti-sex work or sexism — you gain from its continuing existence and power.

Having privilege does not mean having no pain in life. We all struggle, we all suffer. However privilege ensures a soft, foamy surface when we do…

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Parents of the Past

One thing that strikes me as being  so very wrong within the disability community is the overwhelming lack of recognition and respect afforded  to the parents of the past.

Over the past 4 decades inclusion has been achieved primarily through  the efforts of multitudes of parents, who have turned their hearts and  their minds, to the task of creating social and educational equity both for and on behalf of their children.

These brave parents of the past battled against levels of discrimination and prejudice that thankfully we can now only imagine.

They were the first to call for the recognition of their children’s basic human rights.

They were the first to confront the lack of knowledge, awareness and acceptance of their children within mainstream society.

They were the first to throw their shoulders against the walls of segregated education.

They were the first to rally around and raise awareness of the need for greater educational support, teacher aides  and social skills learning programs in schools.

The parents of the past were the ones who knocked down the very first walls.

They are the ones who  have  constructed the gateway to the  social and educational inclusion that so  many of us now gratefully walk our children through.

Over the last 4 decades they have been joined by successive waves of parents equally as committed to  taking on the challenge  of creating open hearts and minds.

Yet these parents of the past, to whom we owe so much, are rarely acknowledged or even mentioned within either the disability community or  society as a whole.

It’s time we paid homage to those who have gone before us.

Our generation did not begin the process of inclusion.

We were not there at the start of the fight.

We need to acknowledge that our current successes in gaining support and understanding for our children simply, would never have happened, without the courage, persistence and strength of the parents of the past.

So if you know an older parent of an adult with a disability, please do not disregard them as if they are irrelevant because they may be no longer in the fight…..

Instead, take the time to thank them for their contribution to the laying of the  path, you are now fortunate enough to be walking on.

 

‘Dog, Fox, Field’ The History Lesson Behind Australian Poet Les Murray’s Powerful Poem on Disability

Australian poet Les Murray’s poem ‘Dog, Fox, Field’ revolves around the  confessions of those in the Nuremberg trials who stated that under Hitler’s regime,  the criteria applied for assessing the right to life of children and adults with disabilities had been based entirely on their ability to make a sentence using the three specific words, dog, fox, field.

Those who could not make a sentence using all three words became the first victims of the wave of eugenics that not long after swept through Germany creating the now infamous  death camps.  Here is the poem.

Dog Fox Field

These were no leaders, but they were first

into the dark on Dog Fox Field:

Anna who rocked her head, and Paul

who grew big and yet giggled small,

Irma who looked Chinese, and Hans

who knew his world as a fox knows a field.

Hunted with needles, exposed, unfed,

this time in their thousands they bore sad cuts

for having gazed, and shuffled, and failed

to field the lore of prey and hound

they then had to thump and cry in the vans

that ran while stopped in Dog Fox Field.

Our sentries, whose holocaust does not end,

they show us when we cross into Dog Fox Field.

 Les Murray

The knowledge that in a time of immense persecution it was the disabled who were the first to be targeted , provides me with several unwelcome, shocking and sobering thoughts.

Especially given the current attempts by global governments to cut funding and support to those with disabilities in our communities.

Isn’t it time our society recognized that in times of crisis, leaders have a proven propensity for first scapegoating those  who are defined as different, before they move on to everyone else?

Isn’t it time we took on board this painful history lesson and changed the way our governments are doing things?

Please don’t stand quietly by while my son and all those who stand along side him risk being forced  to cross  into this new economic version of  dog, fox, field.

 

“The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” – Ghandi

The Social Welfare Union blog recently posted a very thought provoking  article highlighting the rising level of “Hatred of those on Benefits” within the UK.

The union made the very powerful statement that English politicians have effectively applied spin to transform the  “crisis of capitalism into a crisis of public spending”.

I think this is an incredibly astute evaluation of the way in which western societies, underpinned by capitalist intent, routinely undervalue and attempt to negate those who are deemed ‘unable’ to participate in the work force.

So perhaps all of us need to be questioning just why it is that we expect  those who are already the most  vulnerable in our society to continuously make  “the biggest sacrifices” in terms of financial cut backs whenever global economic frameworks collapse?

Perhaps we  also need to question just why it is that we, as a society, have  become so enamored  with the ideals of capitalism, that we  routinely view those who are not “earning their own way” in society as some kind of burden?

Surely the quality of a persons life should  be viewed as  more than just a commodity that politicians can choose to “cut back” on whenever they declare the need arises?

Ghandi once said that  “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

Accordingly it would appear that money, in the form of economic assistance, is increasingly becoming the measure by which our society acknowledges or denies the most vulnerable members in our  society.

Is this really the path that we want go down?

The Techniques of Bias

Everything we read and take in has been shaped by a writers own bias.

This is true regardless of whether or not we are reading fiction, an article in a popular magazine or scholarly academic research.

As readers it’s up to us to spot the techniques of bias being applied and to recognize that our views are at times being carefully shaped by the language choices of authors.

For instance, if I were to present an academic article under the guise of being an “objective researcher”, I would still be choosing the language I use to frame certain elements within my article to either reflect, designate, or support both my research hypothesis and quite possibly subconsciously, my own unspoken opinion.

But….. research is meant to be objective…. Isn’t it?

These word tricks are not supposed to be part of the deal in academic papers,  are they?

Well the simple truth is, regardless of whether or its intentional not, writers of academic papers can be just as guilty of employing  the power of language in order  to sway their audiences toward their own perspectives, as any other writers are.

This became apparent to me two years ago when, whilst researching my thesis, I came across a book filled with academic studies on the state of  disability rights  within Australia.

For the most part this book held many outstanding and thought-provoking arguments.

However there was one chapter that stopped me  dead in my tracks.

A chapter concerning the bodily human rights of those with severe disabilities as presented through the linguistic lens of  the authors.

Sounds pretty straight forward right????

Most of us agree that disability or not, there are certain human rights that are, or at the very least should be, considered mandatory.

However this chapter championed the rights of those outside of the families of young adults with severe disabilities, ( basically strangers), to decide what’s best for the young adults concerned.

This point of view means essentially that the families who are providing  their young adults day-to-day care, will in certain instances  literallybe having the conditions under which they live and care for their teenagers, effectively dictated to them by those who hold potentially  little to no general awareness of the realities of their day-to-day life.

One of the issues being “studied” surrounded  the practice of sterilizing  teenage girls with severe disabilities without their express consent.

When phrased liked that, many of us would declare that no one should have the right to have these young women sterilized against their will.

Let alone their families.

But lets take a look at the language being used here.

Firstly, no where within the research was there any evidence provided that the young women discussed were either  cognitively able to give their consent or had indeed refused to do so.

Secondly, they failed to disclose that some of the severe cognitive disabilities experienced by  the young women they were championing  involved being not only entirely non-verbal but also entirely unaware  or scared of their own bodily functions.

Thirdly, the term used by the authors, that of sterilisation not only provided their readers with  a clinical, cold, medical and detached description of  an operation that is, under any other circumstances, and in any other section of the community,  considered a valid  personal right for a female to have her internal reproductive organs altered or removed for either health reasons or in extreme cases for reasons of convenience to prevent conception and menstruation.

Normally we’d call such an operation a hysterectomy.

I’m not sure about you but I can’t recall the last time a friend said to me that she was going in to hospital to be sterilized rather than saying  she was going in “to have hysterectomy”.

So as you can see,  the difference between the imagery that the two words conjure up are quiet  significantly distinct.

Sterilization = bad, enforced,  a violation of human rights.

Hysterectomy= good, personal health choice, a validation of human rights.

As you can see, the chapter concerned stated quiet plainly that the authors were against sterilization,  but not because it may not be the right decision for the person concerned, but rather solely because they felt that parent’s  should not have the right to choose sterilization on behalf of their severely disabled daughters.

Now if I had read this study without applying an analytical eye, if I’d have taken it purely on word value alone,  I would  have whole heartedly agreed with the authors, if not on their initial premise that at least on their argument.

Who wouldn’t?

But….. then they went one step further and used a very particular case study to hammer their message home.

Nothing wrong with that in and of itself as it is often a tactic academic writers apply. It’s done so often that it’s almost formulaic in many academic circles.

It’s pretty simple really, pick one specific case study that expediently allows you to apply all of your theories in one nice neat little package in order to demonstrate  the correctness of you conclusions (AKA- showing how right you are).

And if I didn’t know better, I probably would have bought the whole hypothesis, lock stock and barrel.

Except I did know better.

At least in this case.

It turned out that I personally knew the family being held up and crucified as the epitome of why parents should not be able to decide on a hysterectomy for their daughters.

Only in this instance, I knew that all of  the researchers suppositions were wrong and that the idea of sterilization for sterilization’s sake was the last thing that this family wished to engage in.

Instead, they wanted nothing but the best quality of life for their severely autistic, 6 foot tall and incredibly physically mobile 16-year-old daughter whose level of  cognitive acuity hovered somewhere around that of  a 2-year-old that they could possibly attain for her.

They had told me that she became so highly distressed by her periods that she regularly engaged in acts of self harm whenever she menstruated.

These acts included throwing herself at walls, bashing her head repeatedly against the toilet bowl at the sight of her own menstural blood, and becoming so hysterical that medication was required to calm her down.

Her family, though absolutely exhausted were also completely dedicated to ensuring that all those around their daughter upheld her human rights to be treated with care and dignity at all times.

For them, this included doing their best to alleviate what they considered to be a great  source of both  physical and psychological suffering which their daughter did not medically need to continue to be endure.

They were not asking for a hysterectomy for their daughter for their own convenience or because they believed she didn’t have the right to have children.

They were asking for a hysterectomy for their daughter based purely on her own destructive and distressed state when ever menstruation occurred.

And they had tried other avenues but their daughter had experienced significantly life threatening reactions to some of the  previous medications they had tried to prevent her menstruation.

These parents were stuck between a rock and a hard place and were fighting against the idea of having a stranger, with possibly no prior knowledge and very little understanding of  either their daughters condition or her reaction to her own menstruation, dictate to them what they could and could not do to alleviate their daughters suffering and discomfort.

Not such a straight forward proposition is it anymore? This idea that parents shouldn’t have the right to choose what’s best for their disabled daughters medically.

This case study, as abhorant as I found it to be,  allowed me to fully perceive the disparity that had occurred  between that which  had been academically studied and written about, and that which I knew to be  the true  lived reality for the family.

As a result of this I began to more fully understand just how carefully  my opinions on the entire issue had been shaped by the unique mix of language and specific logic applied by the authors.

The other very clear point this laid out for me was that these authors had an audience who would undoubtedly follow in their potentially logical,  though ignorantly biased, understandings of the complexities involved for such families.

It also struck me as significant that the family concerned in this instance, had no one to speak for them within the academic field.

They were given no voice and no right of reply within the context of either the study or the assertions made about them by its authors.

They weren’t even aware that their personal struggle to choose the best outcome for their daughter had been used in such a publicly disparaging way against them.

I view this situation as not just biased and unfair, but also as being in itself, a violation of the families basic human rights to be treated with honesty, integrity and dignity.

I feel that the researcher’s involved fell down horribly in their responsibility to treat both the issues at hand and the family discussed with the honesty and respect they deserved.

What’s your view on this topic?

Can we really say the women’s movements to blame for the lack of male clarity in today’s society?

One of the symbols of German Women's movement ...

 

I have just read one of the most interesting  and thought provoking posts on Seasons Change, and Change.

 

This bold blogger suggests that the women’s movement is to blame for the fact that men no longer know how to behave like men in today’s society.

 

So is this true?

 

Are strong, independent women really to blame for the overwhelming degree of male lethargy sweeping the nation?

 

Have women stolen from men their ability to behave in a responsible manner, support their families, work decent jobs, and generally be civilized human beings, all by demanding equality?

 

I think not and here’s why….

 

The women’s movement was a response to the high level of female oppression occurring within society at that time.I won’t ramble on about the litany of injustices such as the inability to divorce, the inability to work for anything even resembling a fair wage etc etc….

 

I’m sure that once the rose colored glasses of nostalgia  and the longing for a mystical time when women voluntarily stayed at home in white picketed bliss (yes really they did)  and raised the sort of children that can only ever be found in black and white, G, rated American sitcoms…..have been removed we might fairly quickly see that  no woman in their right mind would want to go back to an era in which they were forced to submit and comply on such disproportionately one sided terms.

 

I’m all for women making the choice to to do this, but I am and will always be, against women being forced to do this.

 

I do however agree with the blogger that the women’s movement created too much change too quickly and that in many ways society can be viewed as still reeling from that sudden change in equilibrium….

 

but…..

 

I don’t so much see the resulting consequences of  societies inability to fully adapt to those changes as being  women’s faults….

 

Individual male power  back  then was much like philosophy’s  proverbial “straw dog”…..A well constructed illusion that created the image of individual men as being all powerful while the real power status lay in the  male collectives control of society.

 

Individual men were, for all intents and purposes,  all straw with no real substance.

 

Why?

 

Because individual men didn’t need to have substance…

 

They had the law on their side, they had religion on their side, they had the powers that be in society on their side.

 

They had no need for individual substance when they had a collective substance.

 

Having established that….

 

It can not be seen as women’s fault that when they scratched beneath the surface of individual male authority all they found were little boys playing dress ups…….

 

Which leads me to question whether or not the true reason that men are perceived as loosing their maleness might be because individually, with out the power of the collective for artificial support, they never really had any to begin with.

 

Could it be that the vast majority of men have never actually been your step up to the plate, take charge types in the first place?

 

Perhaps it is in this misinterpretation of the power of collective maleness as opposed to individual maleness, where the problem lies…..

 

Just a thought….