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Dancing to the Ableist Revolution

awareness more important than cleansing of language

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 06/11/2002

On 06/11/02, "Daphne Patai" wrote:

I attended a feminist workshop at which a speaker used the classic metaphor of "seeing" for "understanding," and a woman in the audience interrupted her to point out that she'd used an "ablist" metaphor. The speaker apologized abjectly. I myself thought this a rather embarrassing example of an inability within feminism to distinguish serious and insignificant issues.

Actually, I feel that it is an embarrassing example of an inability within feminism to recognize our own inevitable complicity in the communication that is ableist as well as sexist, racist, etc. I do not think that the fact we say "see" when we mean "understand" and "blind" when we mean "unaware" in English language is insignificant; a blind person who rightfully registers her or his objection to this use and its implication deserves to be taken seriously. I do not feel good that the word "lame" is used in a derogatory context either. However I think it's more important to build an awareness of how our language inevitably reflects ableist (sexist, racist, etc.) culture which it came from, and that we are inevitably complicit in the linguistic construction of social order - than altering any specific term deemed ableist.

An anecdote: I was at the queer disability conference at San Francisco State University (Eli Clare was one of the conference chairs; I was one of the featured speakers), and after a long day of conferencing there was a dance for the participants. The music selection was not very good, and it was slow - until they started playing Bob Marley: "Get up, stand up - stand up for your rights!" Now, that's definitely an ableist song - and yet we all just danced, crips of all kinds. It is one thing to be aware that using "stand up" as a metaphor for political resistence has ableist ramifications - but if we can't dance, why be part of the revolution? ;-)

Emi Koyama <>

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.