Sunday 4 December 2011

You're frightening me

It started with a blog post, where David Gillon challenged 38 degrees about why, despite a disability benefit cuts campaign receiving lots of votes, it never reached the 'call to action' stage.

Then there was an article (now amended) which described an athlete's move from Paralympic to Olympic competition as a "move up".

I then read in Jezebel about a sex worker who is awesome because she works with disabled clients, which apparently makes her intriguing.

And I started to wonder, what do you think of us? Of me? In these three stages, the mainstream, and the left-wing, tell me that I am inferior, and I am other. So very, very other.

Then Lisa Egan wrote a post (trigger warning) about suicide, and her despair at the lack of support from even campaigning organisations, and I still, somehow, didn't cry.

Then, finally, the article that did make me cry, in which I learned that 2/3 of people avoid disabled people because they don't know how to act around us. In addition,
A third of those questioned demonstrated hardened negative attitudes towards the disabled. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).
It went on,
Some 60% of Britons admit to staring at disabled people because they are different, with more than half of people (51%) admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time, with more men (54%) admitting to being uncomfortable compared to women (50%).
At a time when cuts are actually killing disabled people, we are also experiencing more negative attitudes, perceptions of being a burden, an additional cost, especially during a recession. How very inconsiderate of us to not wait to attain crippled status until the economy is fixed.

If you're questioning whether this is a feminist issue, then the point is being missed. I am a woman who 38% of people polled consider to be a burden. I am a woman who 2/3 of people polled admit to avoiding for reasons of prejudice. I am a woman who 50% of women polled admitted to being uncomfortable to meet. I am a woman who is witnessing her friends become more and more afraid to leave the house, for fear of government- and Daily Mail-inspired abuse in the street. I've experienced it myself.

There are so many issues at the moment which are putting us all into a state of crisis. This is one of many: people are starting to frighten me. Is the person I'm talking to one of the 38%? Or the 50% Or the 65%?

Given that women are the hardest hit by spending cuts, and disabled people are the hardest hit by spending cuts, disabled women are being overlooked, avoided, resented, marginalised and othered. It takes non-disabled people, at this stage, to make some of the changes that need to happen.

This post is cross-posted from The F-Word, so it was originally written for a feminist audience, from a feminist perspective. I don't underestimate, or mean to downplay, the impact of cuts on men. However, in the context in which this was written, I was focused on women. Also posted at incurable hippie blog.

[The image is a photograph of handmade print next to one of the stencils. They read "FEAR MORE HOPE LESS". The photograph and artwork are by Ben Murphy and are used under a Creative Commons Licence]


  1. Brilliant article! You would expect a civilized society to have compassion and empathy for a section of society who are genuinely unable to work due to disability or sickness. In reality we are being depicted by society as burdens and this is iniquitous. I am due for assessment and migration from incapacity to ESA next year and, like several of my disabled friends, I feel complete dread. The way this coalition habitually moves the goalpoasts makes me wonder whether the appeals and tribunal process will even exist next year!

  2. This weekend was a sharp reminder to me that the disabled are indeed viewed as different, weird, odd and in the case if the mentally ill, who contemplate suicide - just downright despised by a large portion of our society.

    I blogged on the buject of Jeremy Clarkson and his comments on the One Show this week about rail suicides, and received over 2000 hits on that day alone, I also received some of the vilest comments ever, including one telling me to "hang myself" and suggestions that the mentally ill should be sterilised and locked up.

    I am a woman who has a mental illness. I didn't ask for it or go on a hunt for it. I have contemplated and attempted suicide, and the knowledge that people like me, and like you are so vilified is just too shocking to bear.

    I set up a petition, thinking it would attract signatures horrified by Clarkson and his 'hate insoiring' comments. Only just over 100 (remarkable) people signed, amazing when you consider the loss by suicide of Gary Spped and the huge outpouring of public grief.

    Fear and stigma of mental illness, despite national campaigns such as Time To Change, is not going away and will not whilst we are treated as shameful or worse, invisible.

    Great post!!

    Thank you.

    Dawn Willis

  3. I completely agree,the government and public's view of the disabled and the mentally ill is spiteful, unjust and irrational. In the instance of mental illness this is exacerbated by the sensationalist tabloid media that regularly depicts the sufferers as freaks that are a danger to society. Furthermore, the generally invisible nature of mental illness makes many people view sufferers as simply workshy benefit scroungers.
    I have suffered from serious mental illness for decades and feel that the the widespread view of service users really hasn't improved over time. In fact it has actually deteriorated because the government and media represent the mentally ill and disabled as burdensome benefit scroungers.

  4. {sigh} I am so NEVER going to get laid... :-(

  5. Deux, I chuckled...and yet agreed. Disabled foreigner single mother. Thank feck for batteries.

  6. I started the original campaign suggestion to resist the abolition of DLA on the 38 Degrees site. In the end I came to the conclusion that they deliberately undermined it. I never went back to 38 Degrees. Smug and self satisfied about sums them up.