Tag Archives: Feminist Disability Studies

Reading “The Clocks” Possible Subtitle: “Those Blind Devils”?

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Spoiler Alert: Turns out, the clocks were just a red herring after all!

Let me preface this post by proclaiming my literary love of Agatha Christie. I’ve read nearly everything she’s written (yes, my devotion runs that deep) and am continually impressed by rich character development, complex plotlines, and remarkable ability to compete with the most prominent male mystery writers of her (or any) age.

Let me then introduce my beef with The Clocks. While arguably one of her most complexly layered novels (largely due to the fact that murders and spies abound in this tale), it’s received mixed reviews by critics (largely due to the slightly disappointing conclusion about the mysterious clock business).  My critique lies in the portrayal of the blind Miss Millicent Pebmarsh.

Here’s a quick and dirty summary of the story, just so we can situate her character within the larger narrative. Sheila Webb, a typist for-hire, arrives at the home of Miss Pebmarsh one afternoon to do some secretarial work. Instead, she discovers the corpse of a well-dressed man in the sitting room. Miss Pebmarsh arrives home and, because she is blind, almost steps on the man. Sheila screams at her not to tread on him, runs out of the house, and into the arms of Colin Lamb, a private investigator of sorts, who was in the neighborhood following the clues of an espionage case. (The intriguing business with the clocks is that four were added to the sitting room, all stopped at 4:13—coincidence? The investigators think not.)

The case unfolds interestingly enough, with more dead bodies piling up and romance developing between Sheila and Colin. After many twists and turns, the murder investigation is solved… but what of Colin’s case of espionage? Hercule Poirot (who has taken a very hands-off approach to the investigations) inspires Colin to think of his investigation in a different light, and he again arrives at the home of Miss Pebmarsh.

When we are first introduced to Miss Pebmarsh, she tells the investigators, “I am—was—a schoolmistress by profession. When I was told nothing could be done about my failing eyesight and that I should shortly go blind, I applied myself to become a specialist in Braille and various techniques for helping the blind. I have a job here at the Aaronberg Institute for Blind and Handicapped children” (14). While her postion could have been one of woe misery due to her disability, she instead decided to help others. She lives independently and constantly astonishes the investigative team with her self-sufficiency and ability to keep a cool head in the face of the disturbing murder at her residence.

But when Colin returns to the home of Miss Pebmarsh he realizes she is the traitor who is leaking intelligence to “other side” during the Cold War, who he was originally searching for. He gives her credit that her “cover is very good. You’re blind, you work at an institute for disabled children, you keep children’s books in Braille in your house as is only natural—you are a woman of unusual intelligence and personality” (293). In a bizarre turn of events, Colin realizes Miss Pebmarsh is also Sheila’s biological mother and, gentleman that he is, offers her a two head start to outrun the “special agents” who he has alerted to the situation. Instead, Miss Pebmarsh tries to stab him with a “small very deadly knife” (295). She refuses his head start saying, “there are always opportunities—even in prison” (295).

Wow. So what’s the message here? That people with disabilities are somehow “not what they seem,” are “faking it,” or are “benefitting” from their disability in some way that most able-bodied citizens have yet to realize? That people with disabilities will take advantage of you in every conceivable way (down to the point of stabbing the man who came to warn you)? That we, the able-bodied public, need to be very, very wary of differences and the seemingly benign motivations of the disabled?

Some may say that the book’s publication date of 1963 excuses it for the stereotypical portrayals of disability… I would disagree.  I think Christie fell subject to the prevailing opinions and anxieties of the day. I was shocked by the conclusion, especially after the fairly progressive initial portrayal of Miss Pebmarsh. But again, this conclusion upholds the notion that women with disabilities who are “too masculine,” in their independence and education are a threat, and that the cultural anxieties surrounding them are valid.

Overall, a disappointing end to a novel that I had much higher hopes for.

Citation: Christie, Agatha. The Clocks. New York: Harper Collins, 1963.

Hello Again!

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Hello_My_Name_Is_Sticker_by_trexwebHello Disability blogging community, it’s been a while!

It’s been about year since my last post, which is just too long! I wanted to take a moment to update everyone before I get back on that blogging horse.

As many of you know, I started this blog last year, during my final year of course work for my M.A. After graduation I didn’t continue with it because I didn’t think it was something that many other people, aside from myself, were interested in—how wrong I was! I’ve recently gotten quite a few followers, some extremely stimulating comments, and more views that I could have imagined… so here I am again.

After working outside the academy for the past year, I’m heading back to what I know and love…Feminist Disability Studies…and back to the land of the bloggers. I’m looking forward to commenting on popular culture from a Feminist Disability Studies lens with you, the reader in mind. With that being said, talk to me! Let’s start a conversation and keep that conversation going. I’ll let you know what I’m thinking… and please know that I want to know what you’re thinking too.

Much love, fellow enthusiasts—I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

 

 

A Brief Response to Alison Kafer’s “Debating Feminist Futures”

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I recently finished reading Kim Q. Hall’s Feminist Disability Studies, which is basically a collection of groundbreaking work that is being done at the intersections of feminism and disability studies. Before you go getting your dander up at me not having read this work sooner, know that it was very recently published (2011) and while I had not read most of the pieces in the volume, I have read nearly every work or author/theorist that the pieces are about. This is the case of Alison Kafer’s piece, “Debating Feminist Futures: Slippery Slopes, Cultural Anxiety, and the Case of the Deaf Lesbians.” While seemingly disparate at first, Kafer utilizes Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time to talk about assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and the selection for particular traits like deafness. While I found Kafer’s piece very engaging and her examples to be intricately connected, I found a serious flaw in the way in which she used evidence out of context from Piercy’s work.

While I agree that a feminist disability studies analysis of the novel is in order, the way that Kafer does so is problematic. Having recently read the novel, I can firmly state that I do believe that Piercy engages with the “Mixers vs. Shapers” debate very well for the time at which she wrote. It is certainly a disappointment that no one in the utopic Mattapoisett has a physical disability, but Piercy does introduce a meaningful debate for both the time in which she wrote as well as the time in which Kafer and I are reading her. As Kafer points out, a dystopic future also exists within the novel—one that emphasizes the conformity of genetically engineered men and women. It seems then that Mattapoisett is engaging in the debate regarding human diversity, but the dystopic society has already made this decision—to the detriment of their population.

My final critique of the piece centers around the way in which Kafer describes the way that some members of Mattapoisett leave for unspecified amounts of time to deal with their own mental and emotional needs. While Kafer describes this action as a way of segregating these mentally “unstable” individuals from the community, in the context of the novel it can be juxtaposed to the way that Connie and her fellow mental patients are dealt with in New York City in the 1970s. Here, decisions about mental health are made for these women by “medical professionals,” leaving no room for self-care. This was a common anxiety for feminists of the 1970s; hence, the publication and wide-spread popularity of Our Bodies, Ourselves (first published in 1971). Therefore, in the context of the novel’s themes and well as the social and political climate in which it was written, Mattapoisett’s encouragement for individuals to leave and reestablish their own mental health without impositions from other members of the community can be viewed as a liberatory feminist practice.

It is with these critiques in mind that I accept some of Kafer’s analysis and also harbor a desire for her to engage with a more nuanced interpretation of the text.

Feminist Disability Studies ♥

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I just wrote my M.A. exams this past weekend, so please excuse the recent wane in my blogging. I feel like I’ve dedicated nearly every moment of “free time” I’ve had in recent weeks preparing for them by reading new material, organizing notes, etc. Now that it’s over I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I’m proud of the work I produced and my examination of feminist disability studies (my “specialty”).

So here’s what I wanted to say after going through this process and writing four essays in three days. I love feminist disability studies. I think if I can go through this process and emerge from it feeling not only “whole” as a scholar, but reinvigorated about the work that I’m doing is very telling. I loved braiding together not only the concepts offered by different contributors to the field, but also developing my arguments based upon their groundbreaking contributions.

I’m completely exhausted right now and am going to grab a quick coffee (which I never drink because caffeine makes me extremely jiggery, but I’m going to put up with the side effects to stay awake for a few more hours) because I have to teach a class in an hour and a half… but I wanted to quickly reassert my commitment to this fabulous burgeoning field. After teaching, I’m planning to sleep for the next 18 hours or so, but then it’s back to reading, writing, and doing what I can to contribute to academic, political, and social change.

Getting My Feet Wet

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Lightning StrikeI sit here contemplating what it is I want to say to you, dear reader, to introduce you to my blog. Perhaps I should start with the fundamentals. I’m a Master’s Student in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at a Big 10 University, specializing in Disability Studies. I’m rounding the curve and graduating soon, so this is my last hurrah.

I thought it could be a fun exercise for the next 10 weeks to keep a blog where I’ll share some of my reflections on Feminist Disability Studies. I’m taking a course on Disability in Language and Literature, so likely much of the content will be inspired by my experiences in it. I’m anticipating reflecting on readings, screenings, and discussions. But I’d also like to make some comments from my own life and daily experiences.

So here’s my first go at it. While reading some Mary Oliver this afternoon, who is one of my most favorite poets and someone who I turn to for inspiration, I stumbled upon “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does it End.” I’ll be honest, I’ve read it before without much excitement; I never had that “oh wow” reaction to it. But when reading it with disability theory still swimming around in the back of my mind, I had a whole take on it.

What if the whole poem was a metaphor for people with disabilities? Is it possible to read it that way, even if Oliver didn’t write it with that intention? If I can press my students to read Sex and the City through a queer theory lens, why not this poem through a disability theory lens? So, here goes.

First stanza: Don’t view people (especially children) with disabilities as some “special,” “adorable” object – as they often are depicted through the charity model. We are all multidimensional, including people with disabilities. A disability isn’t inherently good or bad, but a natural occurrence, and those affected by a disability are striking in their individuality.

Second stanza: And the world continues, just as it should. The ebb and flow of the natural world is something to embrace because it allows for us all to enjoy the diversity all around us.

Third stanza: Don’t think that people with disabilities are here to “teach” you something special or explain something from your past. That is too much pressure to put on anyone. We’re are all just here, establishing relationships with others and forging connections, but not with some master plan in mind.

Fourth, fifth, and sixth stanza: Should we only look at what’s on the surface or can we dig a little deeper and analyze what is underneath it all that we should strive to embrace?

Perhaps my interpretation is too far left-afield or perhaps too simplistic, but so it goes. Below is the original poem. Enjoy peeps!

‘Til next time!

-RubiaRose

Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does it End? – Mary Oliver

Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.
It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?

Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,

as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?