Monday, June 15, 2009

Using Lame As A Descriptor Is Always Ableist

This past weekend there was much conversation about a post at Bitch magazine image entitled, “We Got Lame.”  There has been a fair amount of criticism on Twitter and in the comment section of the post in question, without any response from either the author or Bitch Magazine editors. 

Much of the commentary concerns the etymology of the word lame. 

I don't know the history of the etymology of lame. If you do, i'd love to see some references (not being sarcastic - i'm interested) but i do know that one definition of lame is weak and not effective and that is the first understanding I had of the word and I am not going to throw a perfectly good word out the window because there is another meaning to the word which does not apply anyway in the context used.

Lame is not a perfectly good word, if it offends a section of the population.  Those who insist on its usage do so from a position of privilege.  It is so much more than the straw person “PC Speech” argument;  it is about respecting another human beings life experience and physicality.

image Regardless of the fact that lame is seldom used to describe a differently abled person today.  It is a term that originates as a descriptor for those whose bodies  do not function in a manner that society has deemed “normal”.  It matters very little what the word has come to mean to some today; its connection with the differently abled cannot be severed as a matter of convenience.

Just like nigger or tar baby, there are some words that cannot be reconditioned because of a legacy of privilege and pain.  It does no real damage to the speaker to refrain from using terms that are known to be reductive.  The only reason to continue to use ableist language, is because one has purposefully chosen to express power coercively to maintain the hierarchal social positioning that we have become accustomed to.

As Apostate states quite brilliantly in her post, it is not always possible to maintain a trigger free space, however there are some terms that are image obviously unacceptable in an area dedicated to social justice.   What kind of message does it send to differently abled feminists when they see their conditions purposefully used as a descriptor?  What does it say about what voices matter in feminist discourse? 

I was astounded that some even had the nerve to argue as to whether or not the term used in this way constituted an offense.  The oppressor does not get to tell the oppressed what is and is not offensive.  It is a very basic concept to understand and yet because we are intent on asserting the idea that certain bodies are worth less, we continually revert to language and or actions that are harmful.

image Last September, Bitch magazine was begging for donations to forestall having to close down.  Feminists from various backgrounds joined together and pledged their precious disposable income to keep Bitch afloat based in the idea that it would create a space of progressive discourse in line with feminist principles.  “We Got Lame”, is how we have been rewarded for our efforts.

If this had been an action based in ignorance it would be upsetting but somewhat understandable, however even after repeated request for change citing the offense, the editors and the author have remained silent.  Silence is a prerogative of privilege; it sends the message that not only can the differently abled be publicly mocked but that their concerns about said actions are unimportant.

While Bitch editors may feel that their issues with economic stability have to do with marketing feminist work, I would suggest that their issues stem from their continued lack of inclusivity.  WOC have complained about the lack of attention to our issues and now to compound upon that, Bitch has decided that ableist language is appropriate.  Last September women stood up and did their part and Bitch has now clearly breached their end of the agreement.  The next time you need a quick influx in cash, it might not be as readily as forthcoming.  Surprise, surprise Bitch editors, ensuring that no one is “othered,” is very much a feminist issue.