The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Hello, Goodbye

The time has come for the Transcontinental Disability Choir to say farewell, with a rousing thank you to Bitch for hosting us, and to the Bitch commenters who engaged with our posts and had such interesting thoughts and comments to add.

We've certainly had an interesting time at Bitch. The response to some of our posts was pretty explosive, and highlighted a great deal of the disconnect between disability rights and feminism. The very idea that disability rights should be addressed in a feminist venue seems deeply troubling to many people; the Bitch editors were even told on Facebook that they shouldn't have hosted us, and one commenter threatened to cancel her subscription because of us.

On a website dedicated to "the feminist response to pop culture," we were on occasion told that disability-focused critiques of pop culture were not welcome. That, in fact, critiquing the depiction of disability has no value or meaning, or is even a "waste of time." Over at Racialicious, the editors recently covered this very issue, highlighting a discussion of the fact that media critique is a valid form of media consumption. I also discussed this issue on FWD/Forward in my introductory post to a series on Glee, saying: "We absorb messages from all the media we interact with, and we have an obligation to think about these messages."

Many feminists agree that some of the depictions of women in the media and pop culture are deeply harmful. Relying on troped stereotypes about women perpetuates misogynistic attitudes in society in general, because people really do absorb the things they see on television, read in books, hear in music. Examples of positive depictions of women are deemed empowering and celebrated, with people arguing that such depictions show that it is possible to contribute to pop culture without needing to be antifeminist.

The same does not seem to hold true for disability, in the eyes of many observers. Negative depictions of disability hurt people with disabilities just like troped depictions of women hurt women, but able people seem to have trouble accepting this. People with disabilities are always excited to see positive, fully realized, complex portrayals of disabled characters, pointing to these as examples which demonstrate that it is possible to do disability well, just as feminists hold up good depictions of women as an example of the things that are possible. That, indeed, one does not need to rely on stale caricatures to tell a story. Yet, the same tired themes keep coming up again and again when it comes to disability in pop culture, which suggests that we're talking, but no one's listening.

Why is there such a deep disconnect between mainstream feminism and disability rights? Between mainstream feminism and racial issues? Trans issues? Class issues?

The dominant voices of mainstream feminism are pretty homogeneous. That's something that will only change by centering different voices, as Bitch Magazine did when they invited us to guest blog for them about disability issues. But centering those voices is only effective when people are ready and willing to listen. I'm not sure that mainstream feminism is ready for that yet, and it hasn't been ready for a long time, despite the fact that women of color, people with disabilities, the trans community, and many other communities living on the margins have been knocking on the door for quite a while. Individuals within the movement as a whole may be ready to engage, but it can be challenging to connect with individuals while being marginalized by the movement.

Disability-centered critiques seem to be viewed as almost threatening by some people active in mainstream feminism. I think it's worth pondering why that is as we leave you; if feminism is about advancing the cause of equality and furthering all women, why is it that keeping women down is acceptable in some feminist circles? Why are pushes for equality from an intersectional perspective so troubling for many mainstream feminists?

I don't have answers to any of these questions. But, as a new year dawns, I'd like to invite you to think about what feminism means to you.

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by s.e. smith
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s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California.

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20 Comments Have Been Posted

Bravo and thankyou. I've

Bravo and thankyou.

I've always considered myself fairly proactive and engaged in feminist and minority dialogue. This series of posts made me realise that statement is true only so far as my personal experience stretches. Womens rights, let me get my soap box. Queer rights is the same. Disability rights is not an issue I had been confronted with in my personal experience so it was easy to sideline it. You made me think, you widened my perspective and now I'm changing my behaviours.

So have a happy new year. I'm sure I'm not the only person you reached.

I hope that disability

I hope that disability issues can still be part of the discussion at Bitch, even without the Transcontinental Disability Choir as a regular column.

First She Pop, now the

First She Pop, now the Transcontinental Disability Choir. It's as though my mere interest in a thing is enough to get it pulled off of Bitch. Wonder what that's about.

Either way, I'm suddenly feeling drunk with power: what shall I dispose of (by way of developing an interest in it) next?

Thank you for this series of

Thank you for this series of posts. It opened my eyes to the politics of disability. I'd never considered before how certain stereotypes of disabled people, even ones that seem positive, can be damaging.

These posts were incredible

Thank you so much for sharing these ideas. Your contribution came at the best time for me, as I was in the middle of a course on disability. Your insights on media were shared with my class nearly every week and sparked great discussion. Your ideas on Glee helped me show my friends and family exactly what the issues with disability in media are.

I was a temporary wheelchair user over the summer while awaiting heart surgery. The way I was treated as a wheelchair using woman was definitely a feminist issue, as people asked whomever happened to be pushing the chair anything from what size shirt I wore to the flavour of bagel I'd like to eat, while I was sitting there completely capable of telling them what they needed to know. This is unacceptable, and your posts helped me understand why people acted this way and how it related to disability in the media.

Your posts were enlightening, entertaining... and will be sorely missed. You lit up my RSS reader. BRAVO!

I'm sorry your posts have

I'm sorry your posts have had such a shaky response here at Bitch. In the last year I have been delving more into what it means to have ability privilege (thanks to Allan G. Johnson actually, for being so vocal about his difficulty in accepting ability as a form of privilege) and your posts have certainly helped. As someone else already stated, I hope that disability and its representations in our pop culture landscape continue to be discussed here.

Thank you!

I have loved this series of posts. I have shared perhaps every single one with my friends because they have been great articulations of major problems with representations of disability. I hope these discussions can continue here even without the regular column.

I do not pose this

I do not pose this rhetorically. I truly hope to receive a thoughtful reply.

This series of posts has inspired reaction in my every time I saw them (I'm a Bitch RSS subscriber.) I opted not to comment, you know, nothing constructive to say so I didn't say anything at all. I understand the need to discuss the issues addressed in the series, and reading the series did indeed enrich my life and education. I am still struggling with idea that the disability issues have a rightful permanent place on feminist blogs. Issues specifically effecting women with disabilities, yes, as we include issues specific to black women, single woman, poor women, etc. It seems to me that feminisim gets more exposure and discussion.

Was this a guest stint, just something to enrich our views and help us to become aware?

The feminist response to ableism issues would be to be aware and sensitive. I guess I just answered my own question.

Aw, thanks for all the

Aw, thanks for all the comment love, y'all! I'm glad to read that people were thinking thinky thoughts in response to our posts.

In answer to the questions asked by a few, yes, this was arranged as a guest blogging stint, rather than a regular column.

However. *coughs* Those who would like to lobby Bitch for a regular column, please feel free to do so!

Meanwhile, if you're looking for more feminism and disability, may I recommend <a href="">FWD/Forward</a>? (Not like I haven't plugged us enough! And you can also find links to the personal sites of the Transcontinental Disability Choir members on FWD if you're interested in following a specific writer.)


I LOVE this site. (a radical physician friend of mine writes there) and I (my personal blog) have this site linked. It is brilliant!

And yes, I will lobby. :)


Like everyone else so far, I've really enjoyed the Transcontinental Disability Choir posts. Thank you for introducing these ideas and issues!

Thank you!

I like this: Why is there such a deep disconnect between mainstream feminism and disability rights? Between mainstream feminism and racial issues? Trans issues? Class issues?

THANK YOU! Exactly! I know many people are either trans, mothers, on welfare, of color, kids, etc etc that refuse to identify as a feminist because the mainstream feminist movement is tailored to white, middle to upper class, educated, able-bodied, female-bodied womyn ... while I am aware of the things that say, liberal feminism has brought womyn (and others!), they still need to address these other issues.

While I identify as a feminist, I am also a single mother, queer, and in recovery, these issues are not spoke of often in the feminist movement. My white privilege also is not discussed. It's discouraging at times.

Like, one of the first comments: I hope this or at least wish this was a regular posting because I think it needs to be.

You will be missed!

Thanks so much for a great guest-blogging term (which is two months, dear readers), we'd love to have members of the choir back in the future! Kelsey and I will stay in touch. I've enjoyed TCDC posts very much personally and have learned so much.

For our upcoming Art/See podcast, I did an interview with two women at Davidson college who have organized two art shows at the school addressing disability studies: <a href="</a> on the intersection of women and disabilities, and a more recent exhibition, <a href="">STARING</a>, based off of Rosmarie Garland-Thomson's <a href=" book</a>. It was a great conversation and will be posted soon! Keep reading the blog or subscribe to our podcast on <a href="">iTunes</a> to hear it.

Guest Bloggin'

Thanks to all of you TCDC bloggers for your excellent work! While I know that not every response in this space has been positive, I do think we as feminists are progressing when it comes to realizing that disability rights are a feminist issue (at least I hope we are), and your blog has greatly contributed to that!

In response to the comments regarding the conclusion of this column, our web budget only allows us to pay guest bloggers for eight weeks at a time. That's why excellent columns like She Pop and TCDC (among others) are currently on hiatus. Please believe that we would hire these bloggers on for longer amounts of time if we had the resources, because we love their work as much as you do! As we rotate the guest bloggers, we will most certainly ask them to come back in the future.

Thanks again TCDC!


As a disabled feminist (I born without a left hand), these posts really resonated with me in a deeply personal way. Thank you for sharing your insights and challenging all of us— able-bodied and disabled alike— to combat ableism.

What!? You're leaving

What!? You're leaving already? I mean, I knew it would come, but so soon?

I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed this blog-- my only experience with disability was a chapter or two in my college Women's Studies course, and unfortunately, it ended there. I LOVE how your blog opened my eyes, pointed things out, and helped me see things from a completely different perspective. I love having my viewpoints challenged and to learn new things, and you did an outstanding job. I can't thank you enough.

I hope Bitch hosts you again, repeatedly and often.

Loved this series! Lots to

Loved this series! Lots to think about

thank you so much for

thank you so much for bringing such great disability analysis to bitch. not only did you present some seriously solid lenses through which to examine the way people with disabilities are represented in glee and lady gaga videos (and pop culture in general, obvs), but you added a new and extremely prolific blog to my rss feeds. i heart FWD. thanks TCDC!

But I just found you!

YIKES! I read this post and was disappointed to see that your blog would be ending. I guess it's one of those "but i just FOUND you" moments! Anyways, does this mean you will no longer be writing ANY blogs? It was so crucial to find a blog like this in a "mainstream" publication (read: NON-DISABILITY publication), regardless of the flack Bitch Magazine may have gotten from its inclusion. If you are to continue writing, please let me know.

Another person enlightened by your words

As someone with an invisible disability, I am able-bodied until suddenly I'm not, wash, rinse, repeat. I still struggle with (sometimes internalized) ableism and am always looking to improve my knowledge and understanding. Thank you for your insightful posts.

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