Martin Harty: Productivity Does Not Excuse Evil

March 13, 2011 § 3 Comments

by ADI

Update: Harty has resigned!

[TW for eliminationism, disablism]

It came out a few days ago, but this has still been eating at me. Apparently one of the Republican state representatives in New Hampshire has advocated shipping “defective people” like the homeless and “the crazy people” to Siberia (or the freezing-and-dying equivalent thereof in America) in order to combat “overpopulation.” The Huffington Post and a few other places have reported on it, but relatively few people seem to be calling him out on it, and the Republican House Speaker William O’Brian has gone on the record saying that although he should have chosen his words more carefully, the 91-year-old has basically earned the right to say what he wants.

Well, not really. Martin Harty, the representative in question, does not deny saying that “I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population.” I don’t care if you’ve fought Nazis–the enemy of my enemy is not my friend if they espouse basically the same beliefs (as well as those of Stalin, ironically enough.) The fact that you can say this without being immediately asked to resign is disgraceful.

I was thinking of writing a letter — a real, pen-and-paper letter — to this man. It was going to try to touch on all the basic measures of humanity–compassion, empathy, kindness. But honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Harty hasn’t shown an iota of these things, and it would be a waste of my time to attempt to reach the humanity of someone who doesn’t have any. Harty has every right to his hateful and frankly evil beliefs, and I doubt a heartfelt letter from anyone is going to change them. Harty is the real-life equivalent of the trolls who go on autism support boards and tell people to kill themselves. Engaging them on a personal level does nothing but give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve hurt you. Don’t feed the troll.

If we want any results, we’re going to have to go over his head. There’s a petition circulating right now to ask for his resignation — I don’t know how much difference an out-of-state signature like mine will make, but it can’t hurt to go sign it here. It might also be worth an email or letter to part of the Republican Party of New Hampshire, which can be reached at this page.

What’s strange to me, though, is that we’ve more or less begun advocating a kind of utilitarian works-righteousness in our measures of who does and does not deserve to live. Here’s the response from the other party in that conversation, Sharon Omand.

“[The mentally ill] are productive people,” she said. “You can’t throw them away.”

Omand runs a community mental health program, and I have nothing but respect for what she’s doing. But this response strikes me as playing by Harty’s rules–acknowledging that the only people who deserve to be supported are those who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, who can be “productive people.” This is the logic of the jungle, the Hobbesian state of nature. It’s not the logic of a country that has made a commitment to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for everyone–mentally ill or not. If we judge people only by their “productivity” (which, in this man’s terms, is dictated by how much money they’ve made), then what’s a social contract for?

What’s more, by doing so we accept the logic of people who have been defending him: If you make enough money, if you’re self-supporting enough, if you join the military, you have a free license to support any monstrous cause you wish. This is “might makes right” at its most basic level, and it’s loathsome. Productivity does not excuse evil.

A last note: Harty drags Isaac Asimov into this, claiming that he’s been influenced by his work on population explosion. Leaving aside the fact that this makes no sense — the American homeless and mentally ill are a laughably small part of the world population — it’s interesting to note that Asimov had a special note for people who believed in culling: Anyone who advocates a plague or other way of killing people to solve overpopulation, he said, must be the first to volunteer.

Boy With Disability Unable To Leave Apartment

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E.

due to a broken elevator.

Jaime Roman has missed 17 straight days of school. He can’t leave his apartment for anything. All due to the resistance of his apartment’s administration to “get the part ordered.”

This is blatant ableism. Why was the elevator not fixed ASAP? Why was the “part” not ordered as soon as it was reported? The leasing office had to be aware that had at least one person in a wheelchair in their building-not to mention considering people with non-evident disabilities who may have trouble with the stairs.

Denial of accessibility is a widespread issue for people with disabilities. Jaime’s education and right to leave his apartment is seen as trivial to the leasing office, but it is very, very important. Why should he be treated as a second-class citizen? Why don’t all people have a right to education?

Unfortunately, the article does not voice Jaime’s exact opinion on the situation-and it is obvious from the reference to his “I Love School” pictures that he has one. He is being denied a voice, something he deserves.

But, of course, he is disabled and a youth-i.e., his voice is seen as meaningless and unnecessary in a kyriarchal world. He’s reduced to a prop we’re supposed to simply feel awful for, instead of actually listening to him and taking action.

This story was published at the beginning of the month, and I have yet to find an update. If anyone has one or information about contacting the apartment, it would be greatly appreciated. This denial of basic human rights cannot keep happening.

Alberta Unveils I.D. Cards for Homeless People

October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E.

Via The Vancouver Sun.

I’m not going to lie and say that this is a huge step in the right direction. It may help some get jobs, but it does little to help the huge population of homeless people who simply can’t work due to disability, kyriarchal discrimination, trying to care for children or other family members, etc.

It will not directly provide food or shelter, and as Cara of  The Curvature put so eloquently the other day, “the corollary to this belief is that people with homes deserve to have them — and those without homes must have done something to make them undeserving of such a basic right as housing.” People should have a roof over their head because that’s a basic human right, not because they have a job or are searching for one.

However, I’m sure many homeless people who are capable of working and can’t find a job due to classist requirements will appreciate this. I don’t live under a rock-classism is classism, and it will still happen-but an I.D. is something many businesses require, and this small step will make a difference for at least a few homeless people who wouldn’t have received the opportunity otherwise.

We actively shame homeless people everyday for not having jobs, but we make it nearly impossible on those that are capable and willing to work to do so. I applaud the Alberta government for taking this step, and I hope they will take bigger measures soon.

The article also mentions that this is part of a ten year plan to end homelessness. I would be extremely curious to hear opinions on the plan overall, especially from any people from Alberta who’ve experienced poverty and/or classism.

Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

July 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

by KATIE E.

A new study has shown that women with fibromyalgia are ten times more likely to commit suicide than women without the chronic pain condition.

Researchers in Denmark followed death rates of men and women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and while the death rates overall for both genders were consistent, only the individual mortality causes of males were very similar to the rest of the population. Within the women followed, about 3.3% died through suicide, compared to less than 0.005% of the general female population.

The article notes that this is not truly brand new news, as many doctors, and, more likely, people with fibromyalgia, have been aware of this for years.

I suppose the article can be seen as somewhat of a good thing, because it calls attention to the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition that can have devastating consequences, which many people living in this ableist world don’t or refuse to understand. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of this, but all one has to do to read dozens of stories of misdiagnoses, accusations of lying about the condition, and years of chronic pain is to read the (surprisingly civil) comment section on the article. It is not a safe space by any means, and there are a few ableist comments that are definitely triggering, but all in all, it is one of the few mainstream sites I’ve seen people with fibromyalgia share their stories without excessive attacks, derailing, etc.

The article isn’t perfect, though. There is the obvious issue that this is something people with fibromyalgia and (good) medical professionals already know, but other parts of the article seemed to do nothing but erase the experiences of the exact same women that the article is written about, particularly a section where one of the researchers speculated on the exact causes of the suicides:

“Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s authors, said that other psychiatric illnesses that often occur in tandem with fibromyalgia might not be the only explanation for the high suicide rates.”

This leaves the reader to wonder if Dr. Danneskiold-Samse has actually talked to many women with fibromyalgia who may be suicidal, or if she, being the typical “expert,” just decided it must be true without sufficient evidence. The parts of the article detailing the study make no reference to asking women whether or not they had a diagnosed psychiatric condition, or even asking what their primary reason (the section frames it as a depression vs. physical pain issue, I’ll get to that in a moment) for contemplating suicide was.

Better yet, why not take the focus off the “experts” and actually interview some women with fibromyalgia who may have experienced suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric conditions who are willing to share their experiences? They’re the only real experts here, yet the article silences their voices.

“None of the patients in the study who committed suicide had a history of psychiatric illness before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”

Well, this is a huge, ableist fail. Believe it or not, so-called experts of the world, psychiatric conditions can change radically, especially after the diagnosis of the condition that you just said correlates with suicide. Shouldn’t that be blatantly obvious?

“The high suicide rate could still be linked to depression in these patients, or to anti-depressants that are known to carry risks of suicide, she told Reuters Health. But ‘many of these patients do not take anti-depressant medications because of the side effects, and because they do not feel depressed,’ she said. ‘My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.’”

So much assuming, silencing, and obviousness going on here. Apparently, this doctor knows everything about women with fibromyalgia who’ve committed suicide — why they don’t take anti-depressants, and exactly why they committed suicide. Never mind the fact that some people can’t take anti-depressants because of other conditions, some don’t believe in or see effects of them, and some can’t afford them, among other things. Don’t forget: “My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.”…really? Does she not notice that that is a huge assumption about all women with fibromyalgia? Some women with fibromyalgia take their lives solely because of the pain, some only because of depression that has nothing to do with their physical condition, some solely because of depression caused by pain, and many because of various combinations of the above, along with completely different reasons.

As stated before, the article does acknowledge fibromyalgia as a real condition that can create very severe problems for people, but it cannot effectively do its job while it silences the women affected by the condition everyday.

No, You Can’t “Slip” Fitness Into My Life

July 19, 2010 § 5 Comments

by KATIE E.

I was really disturbed to find this article on skirt.com, a website claiming to be pro-woman. The article, titled “5 Ways To Slip Fitness Into Your Daughter’s Life,” claims to be easy ways to encourage a pre-teen or teenage daughter to exercise, but it simply promotes the concept of a parent controlling all aspects of their child’s life. Not to mention the fact that it manages to be sexist, ageist, classist, ableist, and sizeist all in one short article.

The author states in her opening paragraph: “Startling new research has revealed that our kids are spending about eight hours a day in front of electronic devices like computers, TVs and cell phones. This most certainly is contributing to the 17 percent obesity rate for kids in the U.S.”

First of all, she perpetuates the idea that obesity always equals unhealthy, which, I’m sure you’re aware, is false and hateful. That needs to stop, especially in reference to children, as their self-image and self-esteem are often very fragile and still developing. Plenty of heavy children are healthy, and many skinny ones are not.

What really stood out to me, though, was the fact that while she talked about how kids don’t exercise and kids are obese, the article only focuses on females. To me, this seems like a subtle way of promoting the idea that women always need to work to stay skinny and sexy for men. I can also see it promoting the idea that daughters are property that you can do whatever you want with. Male children are not immune to this, of course, but things like purity balls/rings, parental consent for abortion laws, etc., show that females are generally worse off in this department.

The article doesn’t get much better from here. To take it point by point:

1. “Walk the talk.” Require that she pace or walk round the house for at least one hour of her phone or texting time. This can burn almost a calorie a minute.

Sounds nice. Unless you don’t have enough class privilege to afford a cell phone or have an hour of spare time between school and work. Or if your daughter is disabled. Or if *gasp* you have one of those teenage girls who actually has interests outside of texting, like we aren’t all stereotypes!

2. Replace her computer chair with a simple balance ball. It builds core strength and improves posture.

Because stealing the personal property of your children is totally different than stealing that of an adult! Again, note the classism-not everyone can afford a computer or a new balance ball-and the ageist stereotypes-teenage girls spend all their time on the computer.

3. “Plant” items in the TV room, like a mini trampoline, Bosu or hippity hop/balance ball – and require that kids use one of the items for an hour of their TV time. One hour can burn around 150 more calories than sitting.

Do I even need to say it? Classism, ableism, and ageism, right there.

4. Harness her inner entertainer and let her play “So You Wanna Be A Rock Star?” with her friends. She can make her own rock video by picking one by a favorite musician for inspiration and reenacting it. An hour of dancing and singing burns 123 calories.

Because micromanaging what your daughter does with her friends is so normal! And boys never want to be pop stars!

5. Let her give you a “halftime show.” Every time a commercial comes on TV, press the mute button and ask her to give you a floor show. She can sing, dance or act out what just happened in the show she was watching.

Translation: All teenage girls are out-going egoists and aspiring performing artists who love to have all eyes on them. They would never consider being forced to “perform” degrading or humiliating. Also, maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but does anyone else get the creeps reading “give you a floor show?” With the constant objectification of women in society, when I here “give you a show” I automatically think of a sexual performance of some kind. That could just be me, though.

Overall, I find the concept of forcing a daughter to exercise, especially through these ways, to be intrusive, and, as I stated before, promoting the idea of women and children as property. Girls and young women might actually have a good reason for not exercising, and they are capable enough to figure that out on their own. The daughter in question may have an invisible disability the parents don’t know about or fully understand, be too tired from work/school to exercise, or may simply not enjoy traditional exercise. It should be her decision, not something for parents to invade and change.

In Which I Masochistically Attempt to Understand Camille Paglia

July 6, 2010 § 8 Comments

QUESTION: What the fuck is this? That was my first thought when I came across Camille Paglia’s recent column, No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class. I looked her up on Wikipedia, which was a mistake. Lady is contro-fucking-versial and also slightly ridiculous.

The piece is — apparently — about a drug to counter low libido in women, for which there is significant demand. An advisory panel to the Food & Drug Administration recently voted against the approval of such a drug, but recommended further research. It seems the that possibility of providing non-hormonal medical help to women with this kind of sexual dysfunction might soon be a reality.

This is excellent! Agreed? Because women deserve an equal share of the power of modern medicine, we deserve a drug industry that responds to our concerns, we deserve good sex. Because men with sexual dysfunction are just regular guys with a bit of bad luck, but women with the same problems are alien cyborgs who should be quiet and shame-ridden. Because Viagra was covered by insurance before some kinds of birth control. (Erections are reimbursable, but preventing the unwanted potential products of said erections? Out of pocket, bitches. ERECTIONS!! We bow down to your almighty power! Or something.)

Unfortunately, Camille Paglia doesn’t agree. At least, I think that this is her position, though it’s difficult to discern why from the apalling above-linked collection of words and “ideas” that bears little resemblance to a coherent argument.

Below, for your reading pleasure, a selection of astoundingly ridiculous (published! And financially compensated!) excerpts from Paglia’s piece. (Real Paglia words in bold, followed by my own alternate, comparably illogical text.)

“A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class.” “Sometimes I see women of color in my local Victoria’s Secret. Lacy underwear = having sex. Therefore, the aforementioned ladies must be having more sex than white ladies. Therefore, they must never suffer from unpleasant sexual dysfunction, which the aforementioned pharmaceuticals might cure. Conclusion: white ladies are prudes! No lady-Viagra can cure that shit! VICTORIA’S SECRET FOR THE WIN!!!”

“Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.” “FACT: As soon as you get to know someone, it is automatically impossible for you to find them sexy. You’re like, ‘Oh hey, that guy over there is substantially attractive. Shall I go over and introduce myself, maybe acquire his name, maybe acquire his digits of phone?’ Ladies, I am here to say NO! Do NOT talk to the men, do not allow yourself to glimpse them wearing T-shirts, shorts, OR HEAVEN FORBID SNEAKERS, because the sexy will vanish. It will be GONE, and you won’t deserve any lady-Viagra to turn you on again.”

“In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.” “I, Camille Paglia, don’t find Lady Gaga sexually appealing. Since I, Camille Paglia, have recently been crowned The Very Important White Lady Who Is Also The World’s Sole Arbiter Concerning Who Is And Is Not Attractive, the previous statement obviously supports my thesis that white women have an incurable lack of lust, so incurable that not even the most testosterone-packed lady-Viagra can attempt to correct it.”

“In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.” “Because of stupid feminism, today’s poor, poor men sometimes work with their minds instead of their muscles, which is of course degrading and ridiculous. I would prefer if men were once more allowed to roam free in the wild, where they might enjoy a life of staring at their biceps, gnawing on beef jerky, never washing their hands, and impregnating women left and right. Men! MEN!!!”

Men must neuter themselves?! I am literally wondering aloud: what the fuck do these words mean? Is she saying that men have to suppress their masculinity, really? Really, they have to control their rapacious manliness in the unabashed boys’ club that is almost every single “white-collar realm” in this nation? Because 30% of female workers report harassment in their workplace, and men are almost always the perpetrators, dontcha know. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases go unreported, so that 30% estimate is likely far from accurate.)

And maybe some “ambitious women postpone procreation” not because they don’t like sex, as Paglia implies, but because…their lifetime ambitions simply don’t include children? Or because despite being inundated since birth with cultural messages about how they’d better-become-moms-or-else, many of their jobs offer shamefully stingy maternity leave? Or because they fear workplace discrimination based on pregnancy status?

Look, Paglia: I guess I can concede that I admire your attempt at a historical analysis of women’s sexuality in the United States. I live for that shit! Seriously, I love writing about sex and women. Because it is interesting, and complicated. Also, convoluted. A BRIEF AND REALISTICALLY CONFUSING PARAPHRASE OF WHAT WE TELL WOMEN: Everyone is having sex. Also, having sex is weird. Sex feels good. Also, feeling good is bad. Your sexuality is your only power and worth. Also, if you have sex your power and worth will vanish. You must want and be ready for sex all the time. Also, you can never have sex at any time.

Yes, this is what we do. We repeat over and over that women’s most potent power is sexual — which in some ways, unfortunately, is true, because we don’t hold equitable financial, or corporate, or political power — and then we don’t let women have sex!

So yes, I can agree with Paglia that the topic of women’s sexuality is ripe for analysis, and that a comprehensive understanding of such requires dissecting cultural norms. But what I cannot condone is her condescending dismissal of real womens’ sexual problems. Because female sexual dysfunction? Is not cultural. At least, it’s not any more cultural than breast cancer is cultural or fibromyalgia is cultural or any medical condition is cultural — which is, actually, somewhat (because the way we understand and interact with our bodies differs from culture to culture), but not entirely, as her writing supposes.

Paglia’s piece is a farcical charge against the logical and equitable notion that women, like men, sometimes suffer from sexual dysfunction. She betrays and mocks the 43% of this country’s women who will experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. These conditions are real. They are medical. And they are treatable — or will be, if the FDA will approve effective drugs, and if people like Camille Paglia will take seriously the right of women to enjoy fully the pleasure our bodies can provide.

Also see the Harpy Seminar on and Sungold’s takedown of Paglia’s article.

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