Philippa Willitts presents her first guest post, talking about disability and the Spoon Theory in relation to feminist activism.
You may not have heard of the Spoon Theory, but it is worth a read.
A woman called Christine Miserandino was trying to think of a way to explain to her best friend exactly what it was like to live with a chronic illness, and came up with the Spoon Theory to give her an idea of what her life was like.
I find myself quite regularly using it, e.g. “I was planning to do that, but I don’t have enough spoons”. It is also becoming more well-known and well-used by other disabled people I know. It’s very simplified, yes, but it gets the message across, as long as the person you are mentioning it to knows what you are talking about.
Friends and family are aware enough of my health problems to understand when I have to cancel things, or rearrange them. But these days, I am much less involved in feminist activism than I ever have been.
This is definitely spoon-related, and also directly related to my main local feminist group meeting in an inaccessible venue for so long that I gave up arguing with them about it. (They now meet somewhere which may be accessible, but they’re not sure. I feel so thoroughly disenamoured with them that I’m not willing to test it out).
But I have also found that while individual feminists can be very understanding with my lack of spoons on a day-to-day basis, it sometimes seems less acceptable when it interferes with my ability to attend actions, protests and meetings.
I have it when there is a feminist action going on which I am not well enough to get to. I think of little else the whole time I should be there, I berate myself and feel thoroughly miserable. It then doesn’t help when it is implied at a later date that those who did not attend were not committed enough, didn’t care enough, aren’t good enough.
This is far from universal, and many, many feminists have, or are developing, a really good understanding of disabled politics and the issues affecting disabled women. It is also not unique to feminism. The same attitudes can prevail in general lefty politics, the peace movement and more.
But historically, a lot of feminism has failed to address disabled issues. To quote from a blog post I wrote many moons ago,
Feminism needs to integrate disability politics, needs to embrace disabled women and our experiences, to be fully feminist. Excluding disabled women from feminist academia, analysis, activism and community not only is crap for the disabled woman, it prevents feminism from becoming all it needs to be to liberate women.
While I wrote that in fury about a particular situation, it still stands. It’s not just about making sure we can get into the building! It’s about understanding that without addressing issues affecting disabled women, feminism can never be fully representative of women, nor can it adequately support us, campaign for us or understand our lives.