The Silence of Our Friends

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pain and Judgment

I went and did it again. I took two vicodin so I could write a post. I am going to be so sorry when I run low before I can get another months supply. So I better get on with it before my pain creeps back up on me and I have to go lie down.

Okay I want to know something, here Renee at Womanist Musings writes for Blogging Against Disablism Day:
To talk about our pain is construed as whining. Someone will always come up with a story about a friend of a friend who had a disease similar to yours who took this herbal pill from Tibet or some mountain that you have never heard of and suddenly was cured and got on with their lives. More likely than not this friend of friend just finally got the message that talking about their illness was not cool and decided to be silent. You see we can talk about pain but only in terms of what we are doing constructively to get better and not about how much it hurts or hard it is emotionally. It makes people uncomfortable and so it is understood as easier for all if we would just be quiet. I know this to be correct because the moment you answer truthfully about how you feel the subject is quickly changed or silence ends the conversation.

I want to know why someone would be wrong to say to her:
WOC are born fighting and we die fighting. Acknowledge your pain and get the hell up. We cannot even afford to have one sister down for the count when there is work to be done.
Seriously full of shit...
and you are completely hell bent in wallowing in pain...
So 40 years from now when you are still telling the world about your hurt what will you have accomplished? What proactive action will you have taken? Playing victim does not make anyone powerful...

Would it be okay for me to tell her she is curling into a fetal position and sucking her thumb in defeat? Should I tell her that she should refuse to be the eternal victim? Maybe she needs to put on her big girl panties?

Honestly, I agree with everything Renee says in her post about disability. I also suffer from chronic pain and my disability is invisible. So I don't actually want to say any of those things to her. What I am doing is repeating her own words to BlackAmazon. Here are the posts where I got the quotes from:
I started something really inflammatory
Big Girl Panties and the Cycle of Victimology

And recently Renee did this to someone again, Step It Up, Wimp!

This is the problem I am having, this is what I hate, not Renee, but the fact that it's okay for her to feel pain, write about her pain, expect sympathy and empathy instead of judgment, expect commiseration and understanding, make her own decisions about what is best for her, including resting, bowing out, taking care of herself first, but she is quick to judge others without knowing their circumstances or even very much about them at all. I really just don't understand why it's okay for her to decide whose pain is valid, when they have suffered and discussed it long enough, when they need to get up and fight, and choose their battles and priorities for them.

I did want to note something interesting, most of the people who agreed and were moved by the Big Girl Panties post were white, not all, but most. And again those who disagreed were POC, not all, but most. This goes to how white women are viewed vs. WOC. The stereotypical white woman is a weak delicate flower, white feminists are fighting against this stereotype, so a post telling them they are strong warriors will resonate. WOC on the other hand are stereotyped as super strong beasts of burden whose feelings don't matter, so being told quit bitching and keep on marching will grate.

And I want to note something else, about the post referenced by whirlwitch at Womanist Musings, Walking Away: The Luxury of an Ally. Walking away CAN be a sign of privilege. But there is a huge difference between someone telling you they are suffering, stressed, have too much on their plate, etc as the reason they walk away and someone who says, "I'm cis, transphobia and transmisogyny don't affect me, so why should I care? I'm walking away from this."

Also Renee states multiple times that trans people can't just walk away, she's both right and wrong. For one thing vriane, the woman she is castigating, can't escape transphobia and transmisogyny since she is a trans woman and the target of those oppressions, so Renee is right that she can't walk away from that...BUT vriane is talking about limiting her exposure to certain websites and news sources that are triggering her because she can't deal with that right now. That is what she is walking away from. This is very similar to what BlackAmazon was trying to explain to Renee. Since BA is a woman she can't hide from sexism or walk away from it, but she can walk away from useless white middle class feminism, and find better ways to spend her time, and other WOC to work with.

15 comment(s):

thank you for articulating so much of what i felt reading whirlwind's post and having read some of renee's posts being referenced. i haven't even finished reading whirlwind's actually, because it made me so angry to see a transperson referred to by renee as "s/he" - that's not ally behavior, it's not basic decency. and this is a perfect example of what i, in my "privilege" have walked away from in the blogosphere. as a muslim woman of color who cannot "walk away" from sexism, from racism, and from islamophobia (of which renee is, again, a perfect example), i find it even less tolerable to have to explain my disabilities, quantify and qualify them because they are invisible, and be told to suck it up. yes, it is a "privilege" to be able to throw one's hands up and walk away from certain conversations. but as you said, there is a whole different type of privilege at play between someone who, because it is about their very lives, takes temporary breaks from known-problemmatic "company" and sites, versus someone who just decides they don't have to and don't want to deal with the issue(s), especially if they are being told they are the problem. i will never be able to truly walk away from racism, from sexism, from islamophobia, from ableism, etc. but i CAN choose to not go into the den of hatred. i CAN choose to avoid people that i know are not safe to me. i, and everyone else, need to be able to find safe spaces and ways to avoid the jerks out there when we can. i'm wearing my big girl panties right now, and i'm telling renee to mind her own damn business and stop telling other women how to cope with their own lives.

By Anonymous Aaminah Hernandez, at 5/02/2009 6:27 PM  

I hope you start to feel better soon, Donna.

I really appreciate what you're saying here, Donna, but I also take Renee's point. Sometimes we cannot stop to lick our wounds or heal ourselves; we have to keep going.

In reality what happens when we 'pull our socks up and get on with it', at least in my experience, isn't that there's a sudden burst of energy that makes you capable of anything. It's that sometimes pain/suffering gets to be too much, and you end up making compromises and trying to accommodate it rather than completely stopping and switching to heal/recover/relax mode. You work around it. Stay longer at work but take longer breaks. Reorganise priorities for more recovery time. Play music, burn oils, eat better. But you keep going.

I think that the model of healing where you stop completely to recover is not right for everyone all the time. I know that the medical advice for some ailments is to keep going and not modify your activity too much...

I think, for all its problems, the concept of radical love can help us here. In organising, we do sometimes need to keep going when we're suffering. But we don't need to do it in a militaristic, austere kind of way where suffering = moral weakness.

Someone once explained this to me with an analogy of a large choir: every voice is important, but the song keeps going if one needs to bow out for a time. Our task is to accommodate that by creating movements that allow for it, are big enough not to rely on a single person in some kind of activist assembly-line that, if one point breaks down, will grind to a halt. We don't need to organise ourselves in a way so that happens. And we don't need to put pressure on each other in ablist, manipulative, judgemental and guilt-inducing ways.

I also think that some kinds of activism are healing for some people. I know a lot of people who move from one project to another when the first project becomes too much and they can't handle it, or it upsets/stresses them out too much. Productive work can be a self-care activity and it can be healing; especially in western culture where women of colour are treated as never needing time for themselves, as animalistic pack mules, it can be hard to overcome the internalised pressure to work all the time -- it can be hard work to break out of those pressures to just take care of yourself!

So the upshot, I guess, is that I think the rest/work dichotomy that all these judgements are playing off is really not something everyone lives in, and it stops us from looking at what we can do to survive, liberate ourselves, and take care of each other.

By Blogger Fire Fly, at 5/03/2009 4:26 AM  

"I know that the medical advice for some ailments is to keep going and not modify your activity too much"

And sometimes, the medical world have that completely, completely _wrong_, and that particular mindset becomes dangerously abusive to some PWD. And hearing "just push through it" over and over and over is grindingly tiresome in itself.

I agree that some people find action healing and energising (and sometimes some types of action, some of the time), but the main point here - for me - is that it's not up to other people to determine when that will be, or worse, to yell at and shame people, drill-sergeant style, when they are self-determining their own needs.

By Blogger lauredhel, at 5/03/2009 5:21 AM  

I agree with Donna and lauredhel. One thing is judging a so-called ally for getting bored with a cause and leaving it alone, another is to accuse people of not doing enough, when in fact they may well be doing all they can.

My main point in such conversations have always been: how can you help anyone else if you die from exhaustion before you're done helping?

Because that is essentially what Renee wants from allies and victims alike. It's like telling a woman who was raped that she has to go to court and testify against her attacker, even if that may cause her such great trauma that she'll end up suicidal. It's like telling a single-mom with 5 kids and two jobs that she should totally have time to get on the streets and march and rally - even if that'll mean her kids will grow up without a parent and will never be properly socialised, and the mom herself might go down with stress.

You cannot help others until you can help yourself. There's a reason my local woman's shelter will refuse volunteers who are not mentally 'balanced' <-- the word they used. They know that if you have problems of your own it can break you to take on those of others. And we need to remember that what may seem a tiny problem to some can be insurmountable to others - because our minds do not work the same way. We do not think alike.

I posted the same sentiments on Renee's post about Allies' privilege to walk away. And I stand by them. We don't all have the same energy reserved to draw upon, we don't all have the same resources to apply to our activism, and no one deserves t be judged for something they cannot help. End of story.

By Anonymous Jemima Aslana, at 5/03/2009 8:29 AM  

YES! Aaminah, this is what I mean. I am a target for racism and sexism and if someone says or does something to me then of course there is no avoiding that, but I don't have to go places where I know the people are racist and sexist and try to teach them or anything. Or like what vriane was saying, sometimes you have to avoid just hearing about the awful things humans do to other humans. Sometimes it's triggering past trauma or otherwise causing mental damage with the overload.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/03/2009 11:34 AM  

Oh I agree, Fire Fly, that there are multiple ways that people heal. I'm not about to tell someone who says that it works for her to push through the pain and keep going, "No no, you must stop." I also think it would be unfair for her to tell me to keep going when I tell her I must stop. I think that we must trust people to know themselves and how far they can push forward.

What I do like about what you are saying is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing if we learn to look at it different ways. My family did this on vacation. They wanted to go to City Walk at Universal, but I have a walking disability. I can not walk for long periods without pain. So I wanted to be left behind. They said no, we wouldn't have fun without you, so we will only go as far as you think you can go. We will take frequent rest breaks. If you are comfortable with the idea we will get you a wheelchair. So it wasn't, you alone must push through the pain, but rather we will find ways to move forward together. BUT...this takes love and understanding to do, not judgment and criticism.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/03/2009 12:00 PM  

Yup, Lauredhel, that's exactly what I mean about trusting people to know their own abilities and limitations. I think especially with disability that we have to do this, unless we are so close to the person that we know what their doctor(s) have advised and we know their condition well. It's a much different thing when my husband makes suggestions for me to try, knowing my full history and being there at some of my appointments; compared to someone online who tells me I'm a thumb sucking crybaby who is letting down the movement.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/03/2009 12:15 PM  

Jemima Aslana, I think also no one deserves to be judged by my standards, or her standards, or his standards. It's what you were saying about how each of us are different. There are things you may be able do do that I am unable and vice versa. People don't think of that, they think because they can do A B and C that everyone can. There is just too many unknowns online about people and their circumstances that makes it near impossible to make those judgments.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/03/2009 12:23 PM  

Exactly. I'll reserve the right to judge an 'ally' for leaving with the reason "y'all are so lame!" But you know, I've yet to see that happen. Generally it's my impression that if people (victims of the -isms and their allies alike) take a leave of absence it's usually for very good reasons, but it seems Renee would have us all skip our grand-mother's funeral to come to a rally, because no excuse is okay. We must fight all the time! [sic]


I've though about what you said about how commenters on Renee's post seemed to be divided racially, in whites wanting to be warriors and WOC wanting to have their humanity (ie. weaknesses) acknowledged. I think the reason I fall into the latter part is my mental disability. I have had to learn the hard way, and have had to acknowledge much to my dismay that I cannot do all the things I'd like.

Especially I've found that whereas I can stand up for others I often find extremely intimidating and sometimes completely impossible to stand up for myself. This has left me with some serious problems socially and administratively in our 'system', problems that are now fucking me over real efficiently. Imagine if I were to take a break from blogging, advocacy, etc. it wouldn't be because I got bored or lazy, it'd be to save my own sanity (literally) without which I wouldn't be much help anyway.

I see no reason to engage in arguments about whether graphic depictions of rape makes a book realistic or merely disgusting. I've stated my opinion once, and if even guys who presume to call me friend cannot accept that as a woman I feel disrespected by those depiction then I've nothing more to do in that discussion. But I guess Renee would want me to stay and shout myself hoarse. Real life, example btw, I withdrew and intended to go back, but the longer I stayed away the more I realised it'd be futile and all it'd accomplish was more grief on my part.

I'll just go embrace my wimpyness, shall I? :-P

By Anonymous Jemima Aslana, at 5/04/2009 7:11 AM  

allies can leave because of privilege - "bored now", can' thandle being called out, etc. i can be pretty harsh on those people.

but they can also leave because they have there own problems. that problem might be their own oppressions that they face - if someone is in severe chronic pain and exhausted as a result, i can hardly expect them to be running here and there and everywhere for me. if all sie can do is wave at me once every few days, that's enough.

or maybe that just have a personal issue - death in the family, job loss, etc, and just simply need to put some attention on that in order to be able to put energy into being an ally at a later point, rather than crash and burn.

i think these two circumstances - "sie's bored now" vs. "overwhelmed with hir own problems" are pretty easy to distinguish, and i don't understand why renee is unable to do so.

By Blogger GallingGalla, at 5/05/2009 12:48 AM  

WRT the two previous comments -- I think that assuming that all allies should ignore their own needs and perhaps the ways they're oppressed to deal with someone else's oppression is a fundamentally bad rendering of intersectionality.

The point of intersectionality is that we have a stake in each others' liberation, the point is solidarity. And solidarity can't be about who's better at being a martyr. Sometimes it needs to go both ways.

By Blogger Fire Fly, at 5/05/2009 4:49 AM  

Thanks for the bashing session that is just what I needed today.

By Anonymous Renee, at 5/09/2009 10:46 AM  

Oh for the record you forget to mention that I added an editors note to the piece saying I did not know Virane was a trans woman when I wrote the piece.

By Anonymous Renee, at 5/09/2009 11:06 AM  

I bet when you call people out you don't call it a bashing session. That's only when anyone disagrees with you, right?

I didn't write down every detail possible, instead I linked. Anyone who wants to know exactly what you said can go to Womanist Musings. They can see anything I left out, anything they think I misinterpreted, anything I might be lying about or making shit up.

And when I wrote this, honestly, it didn't matter to me if vriane is trans or cis. Only she gets to decide when she has had enough, if her life is overwhelming, and when she needs a break. That's right...even if she is an ally. So the post was wrong anyway and if you actually read what I wrote you would understand that.

Try for once to actually see what other people are saying instead of getting indignant because how dare anyone question you ever. That's what I am angry about, that you are so damned quick to judge with the barest of knowledge about other people, but hellfire rains down on anyone who has the temerity to question or judge your words and actions.

By Blogger Donna, at 5/09/2009 2:29 PM  

Check out Renee's. It seems she's thought things over and has now posted something exactly opposite of her call-out post to Vriane. It seems she's suddenly remembered that giving 100% varies for each of us, what with having certain limitations herself.

Interesting how she seems to have made a 180 degree turn.

By Anonymous Jemima Aslana, at 5/16/2009 5:44 AM  

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