Content warning: this post contains discussion of ableist, cissexist, and homophobic rhetoric.
Thursday, a group of Virginia feminists slipped in on the tail-end of the summer’s “Call Me Maybe” parodies. The video, from the organization Cooch Watch 2012, immediately went viral in the feminist blogosphere, including here on Feministing. It was a clever, timely piece that helped draw attention to some dangerous anti-choice policies going down in the land o’ Jefferson. As a fellow pro-choice Virginian, I appreciated its purpose and its sense of humor and wanted (badly) to share it.
Except that it continually described Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as “crazy” — which (as the disability justice movement is forever explaining) is no better than denigrating him for being “gay,” “retarded,” or “lame.” “Crazy” is a slur launched at people who suffer mental illness, especially those whose diagnoses include delusional or psychotic symptoms. When people without these symptoms use this word, we alienate feminists with these specific disabilities. We also appropriate the experience of another oppressed group to describe behavior we don’t understand. And when we use “crazy” to describe our opponents, we play into cultural messages claiming “crazy” people harm us. That they are Other — and they are dangerous.
The ableism that Cooch Watch carried over from Jepsen’s tune was problematic enough, but it was not the only bit of rhetoric that kept me from reblogging their catchy little earworm. They also reproduced cissexist rhetoric that abortion rights — and other reproductive justice issues — have been tied for decades. Policies like Cuccinelli’s, we’re told, are part of a “war on women”; they attack a “woman’s right to choose.” Now, it’s absolutely true that anti-choice policies attack women’s rights. But they also attack the rights of people who do not identify as women. People who have the capacity to become pregnant, but identify (for instance) as genderqueer, intersex, bigender, agender, or trans men. If we are going to make real progress at inclusion, if we are going to genuinely embrace intersectional feminism, then we need to stop conflating attacks on vaginas with attacks on women.
But this is getting heavy. And maybe it’d all make a little more sense in song:
(For full lyrics, or if the embedded video is not working, please click here.)
It’s easy, when we have privilege, to write the use of these words off as trivial. But the truth is that they’re no more trivial than “mankind” or the generic “he.” Words matter to us when the people they represent matter to us.
So, let’s start making it a priority to revise. Our movement will read better for it.