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Notes Towards Day 9: Feminist Disability Studies

Notes towards Day 9 of
Critical Feminist Studies

Reimagining Disability

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution

I. coursekeeping/announcements
For Thursday: read (as many as you can from the)
collection of theoretical essays about transgender
by Kessler, Butler, Bornstein, Stryker, Califia

Then post responses &/or questions on the forum
for Pemwrez2009, who will join us

say something about theoretical language of these essays
(yet another discourse, to add to the mythic, the literary, the medical...):
literary theory, gender theory,interdisciplinary work:
psychology (Kessler), philosophy (Butler), performance art (Bornstein), history (Stryker), activism (Califia)...
another one: "My Right Self," by Arthur Robinson Williams
what are your theoretical frames?

relevant question for Friday's project:
by 5 p.m. post 5-pp. paper on-line, in your blog
(tag it "Critical Feminist Studies Web Paper 1)
also drop off hard copy in English House...

reminder that I want to talk w/ you all before break....


able to do the whole room yet?
4 to the left of you, 4 to the right?

II. afterthoughts about Katie's visit?
mine were etymological:

[a. L. s{emac}men seed (of plants and animals), f. root *s{emac}- (:*sa-) of ser{ebreve}re to SOW.] The impregnating fluid of male animals; the seed or sperm.

[ad. L. s{emac}min{amac}rium seed-plot (also fig.), orig. neut. of s{emac}min{amac}rius SEMINARY a. Cf. F. séminaire, Sp., Pg., It. seminario, G. seminar.]

but cf. "semester":
[a. G. semester, ad. L. (cursus) s{emac}m{emac}stris (period) of six months, f. s{emac}-, sex six + m{emac}ns-is month.]
menses=a "female" term?

Reshaping, Rethinking, Redefining: Feminist Disabilities Studies
by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

"Feminist Disability Studies focuses on the singularity and perhaps
the immutability of the flesh,
and at the same time
questions the identity it supports..."

Ellen Stohl, a paraplegic actress who appeared as the nude
centerfold of Playboy magazine...
because "sexuality is the hardest thing for
disabled persons to hold onto."


"Disability demands a reckoning with the messiness of bodily variety... the unorthodox made flesh...

The strands of feminist thought most applicable to Disability Studies
...undertake a broad sociopolitical critique of systemic,
inequitable power relations based on social categories grounded in the body...
politicizing the materiality of bodies and rewriting the categories..."

Aimee of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People...
her public version of her career is that her disability has been a benefit--
she has several sets of legs, both cosmetic and functional,
and is able to choose how tall she wants to be.

disability is a culturally fabricated narrative of the body:
  • a system for interpreting bodily variations
  • a relationship between bodies and their environments
  • a set of practices that produce both the able-bodied and the disabled
  • a way of describing the inherent instability of the embodied self.

disability functions to preserve and validate privileged designations

--Cf. Culture as Disability and
On the Inevitability of Cultural Disabilities


the constituency for Disability Studies is all of us...
the "temporarilty able-bodied" (TAB)...serves as a reality check

disability becomes
a representational system rather than a medical problem,
a social construction instead of a personal misfortune or bodily flaw,
and a subject appropriate for wide-ranging intellectual inquiry.

The fundamental premises of feminist disability critical theory:

  • representation structures reality
  • the margins define the center
  • gender and disability are signifying relationships of power
  • human identity is multiple and unstable
  • all analysis and evalutation has political implications.
Feminist Disability Studies offers a counter logic for
current understandings of

(Politics of Medicalization
Politics of Appearance),

disability and gender are stories we tell about bodies...systemic ways of representing bodies
Women are tethered to materiality, to "immanence"....
our role as spectacles...the proper object of the stare...appropriating to-be-looked-atness....
bodies as objects not actors in the world
the disabled body as a visual assault, a shocking spectacle
Cheryl Wade, "The Woman with Juice"

The Politics of Medicalization
standardize bodies, eliminate any physical differences
treatment of conjoined twins and intersexed individuals...
both forms of embodiment are congential variations that spectacularly violate sacred ideologies....
our notion of the individual as discrete and autonomous...
and our insistence that biological gender is unequivocal.


Growing Up Intersex, Going on Oprah

The Politics of Appearance
critique of the value system of beauty, traditionally framed
as an aesthetic quality, free from political implications

disciminatory phenomenon of looks-ism

beauty expectations are systemic...a social fact


fantasy of the malleable body...a pliable and invulnerable instrument of agency...
that we can control and alter


moral dimensions of such plasticity...fantasy of self-improvement

Nancy Mairs
calling attention to the material reality of her crippledness...
the politics of self-naming...
"Perhaps I want them to wince...As a cripple, I swagger."

challenge to the unity of the category "woman"
(as exclusionary, essentialist, oppressive)
challenge to the primacy of gender
standpont theory: challenging the "view from nowhere"
the politics of self-naming: calling attention to material reality

challenging "rolelessness": social invisiblity, cancellation of femininity
the stare sculpting the disabled subject into a grotesque spectacle
academic activism: methodology of intellectual tolerance
(of what has been thought incoherence)
reveals identity as a fiction, seeking equality, claims difference
understanding what it is to be fully human


--the choice to abort fetuses with disabilities...a coercive form of genocide against the disabled....
a "eugenics of normalcy"?

--cosmetic surgery and prosthetics (breast implants/flaps for cancer survivors?)

--beauty as the last restrictive institution...
women have not been freed from the social mandate to pursue beauty

--the liberal ideology of autonomy and independence
(feminist practice often leaves no space for the needs and
accomodations that disabled women's bodies require)


--the exclusionary, essentialist oppressive aspects of the unity of the category 'woman'

what else?

Reporting back on some
provisional answers?