Awakening to the Intersection of Disability and Gender Violence

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy” notably lacked any intersections with disability. We’re correcting that problem here.

Co-author: Jillian Weise

Banner image of original Chronicle of Higher Education media modified and used under U.S. Fair Use Law. Alt Text: Artistic rendering of a woman draped in ivy and clutching a book to her chest. The heading “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy” appears at the bottom, and the banner of The Chronicle of Higher Education appears at the top. Atop this image, the original image of the Chronicle “The Awakening” piece, is a blue and white handicap symbol covering nearly one-quarter of the image.

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a massive, gorgeous, multi-vocal, intersectional, multimedia piece on gender, power, and the academy. Titled “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy,” the piece featured thirty-one authors and artists who contributed pieces on sexual harassment, sexual violence, gender oppression, and more.

The pieces are, as a rule, well written. They draw attention to the problem of gender discrimination in higher education across a variety of intersections such as race, parental status, job title (e.g., tenured vs. contingent/adjunct), and more. We are glad that the Chronicle put this piece together. We are sad that they overlooked a significant intersection. That’s why we’re writing today. You will hear from each of us about our own thoughts about disability, gender, and power. Then, we will present a call to action—including a reading list we are compiling in response to the exclusion by the Chronicle.

Katie Pryal

When I saw first the piece, I was pleased that the Chronicle had finally brought the #MeToo Movement to its pages, especially in such a prominent fashion. But my pleasure was short-lived. I quickly received an email from a fellow disability rights writer and activist, Jillian Weise (my co-author here). Jillian pointed out to me that one intersection was markedly missing. I admit I was embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed it myself. That’s how accustomed I am to being excluded. Jillian noted that not a single person writing for “The Awakening,” not a single one of the 31 authors, identified as disabled or was writing from a disabled perspective. For the Chronicle, disability was an intersection that did not merit attention.

What is remarkable of course is that disability and violence—especially sexual violence—go hand-in-hand. Disabled women are more likely than normates to be victims of sexual violence. We are far less likely to be believed when we report sexual violence; we are accused of fantasizing, of hallucinating, of any number of things, because of our disabilities.

When I was raped in graduate school, my disability contributed to my victimization, and later, my disability was one of the reasons I chose not to report being raped. I’ve written about my decision matrix before. At the time, I’d already attended law school and passed the bar; I knew that a woman with bipolar disorder would make a terrible witness for the prosecution.

To exclude disabled women from the conversation about gender, power, violence, and the academy is to exclude one of the populations most vulnerable to that abuse of power, to that violence.

Jillian Weise

As Time Magazine reported, “Women with disabilities are three times as likely to be raped, physically abused or sexually assaulted, according to Human Rights Watch.”

Given that we are more at risk for assault, how the eff is it possible that The Chronicle of Higher Education excludes us from “The Awakening”?

Is The Chronicle asleep when it comes to disability + women + power in academia?

Does The Chronicle just not know any disabled women in academia? If so, permit me to introduce the Editors to some of their writers — Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Katie Rose Guest Pryal, and Ashley Shew. That’s just from a quick search in my hotel room.

Or is something more sinister going on here?

Does The Chronicle, as a megaphone for academia, have an inherently ableist agenda? They seem to prefer two kinds of articles involving disability: (1) classic ableism rebranded as a new and exciting thing; (2) disability is OK insofar as it refers to students, access, and accommodations—not faculty. Let’s look at both of these.

Classic Ableism Rebranded as a New & Exciting Thing. In February of 2018, the Chronicle published “Arguments That Harm & Why We Need Them” by Elizabeth Barnes. The caption for the article was this: “[Philosopher] Peter Singer’s ideas are offensive. Perhaps we should be grateful for his brutal honesty.”

Back in 2003, Peter Singer debated disabled writer and lawyer Harriet McBryde Johnson on whether her life was worth living Any article that proposes we should re-consider Peter Singer should also, henceforth, propose that we re-consider Harriet McBryde Johnson. Her essay “Unspeakable Conversations” in The New York Times reflects on her conversation with Singer:

He insists he doesn’t want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.

Disability Is OK If It Is About Students. In November of 2017, the CHE published “Should Laptops Be Banned in Class? An Op-Ed Fires Up the Debate” by Beth McMurtrie. The caption for the article read: “The distraction of technology is a major driver of such bans. But some academics say that technology can be a force for good.”

In the article, no disabled students weigh in. No disabled academics weigh in. Consider if the article was titled “Should French Be Banned in France” and The Chronicle spoke to no French people. For many disabled people, our technology is part of us. The tech may be how we learn, or how we speak (RIP Stephen Hawking). It is absurd to not consult us.

Finally, why do so many articles on disability in The Chronicle concern students and not faculty/staff? It is as though The Chronicle prefers to keep disability elementary.

This has to change. Until disabled women’s stories are included in conversations about power, gender, and violence, we will remain more at risk and erased by our very profession. Please join us in telling these stories.

Our Call to Action

But there are many stories to tell of sexual harassment and sexual violence in academia where that violence intersects with disability.

In fact, many of those stories have already been told.

Our project is not to reinvent, but instead to gather: here we present a growing reading list to supplement the Chronicle piece.

Because the Chronicle did not see fit to include our stories about the intersection of disability, gender, and power, we are going to to do create a place for those stories ourselves. Thus, the statement you are reading now is both an introduction and the call for submissions. If you are a disabled writer and you have told your intersectional #metoo story, we want to feature it here. We’ve started with our own. We want yours.

To submit: share a link to your piece with Katie Pryal on Twitter @krgpryal, and she will add them below. We are not limiting these stories to those based in higher education.

We want to shine a light on the massive intersection of disability and sexual harassment and violence. Disabled people are part of the #metoo movement—even if sometimes we are forgotten.

A #MeToo Disability Reading List

Authors’ Note: This is an ever-expanding list. We first started curating it on April 8, 2018. We will note when we have stopped updating it. To contribute your writing, tweet links to Katie Rose Guest Pryal @krgpryal. We are not limiting these stories to those based in higher education. Please send us links to items that can be read or engaged with online—if you have a novel, a link to an excerpt works great.

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. “Still Screaming, But Not Over Nothing.” Chronicle Vitae. August 2017.

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. “Why I Didn’t Report Being Raped in College.” Huffington Post. July 2015.

Weise, Jillian. “Why I Own a Gun.” Tin House. Fall 2015 Issue (PDF download).

Weise, Jillian. “How to Rush the Academic Job Market.” September 2016. (Video Performance).

Higgins, Karrie. “A Tape Doesn’t Change a Goddamned Thing.” Full Grown People. October 2016.

Leebron, Cade. “Late.” Deaf Poets Society. 2017. (Poem).

Leebron, Cade. “A Fault Line.” Entropy. March 2017.

Leebron, Cade. “Fuck Us Harder.” The Manifest-Station. March 2015.

Hamilton, Jane Eaton. Weekend. 2016. (Novel Excerpt).

Hamilton, Jane Eaton. “Skinning the Rabbit.” The Sun. July 2017.

Hamilton, Anna. “My Color Is F-You Fuchsia, Or, Why I Decided To Leave Women’s Studies and Academia.” Disability Intersections. January 2014.

Price, Margaret. “Not That Girl.” Visible: A Femmethology. Ed. Jennifer Clare Burke. Vol. 1. Ypsilanti, MI: Homofactus Press, 2009. 102–109.

More links to come.


Learn more about Katie Rose Guest Pryal at katieroseguestpryal.com or support her by buying her books. Tip Katie to support her free writing at paypal.me/krgpryal or become a Patron at patreon.com/krgpryal (hint: that’s another way to get her books).

Learn more about poetry and multimedia artist Jillian Weise at jillianweise.com, and support her by buying her books.

Please “clap” below so that more people on Medium will see this story, not just those of us who already believe in disability rights. Thank you.

-Katie and Jillian