Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

 The intersection of invisible disability and gender studies is still a forming field of study. Illustrated through the work of forerunners such as Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson and Karen Depauw. And more clearly developed through the more recent voices of Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe.  Mental illness within women, especially eating disorders, is a subset of invisible disabilities studies that demonstrated a strong link with gender studies and show how physically bound the subjects are. These authors analyze the difficulties of invisible disability, particularly disclosure, and how society oppresses people with hidden disabilities.

In the article “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson address specific difficulties of women with invisible disabilities. Published in 1995 at the forefront of gender studies in intersection with disability, “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self-relates many of the challenges women with invisible disabilities face in contemporary times. Easiest to relate is the ever present question of disclosure and consequences with both informing people of invisible disability and hiding it. This ties directly to analysis, of identity which is grounded within the studies of women with invisible disability. By focusing in on two case studies where women from Hawaii and women from Australia were compared. These two groups of women with invisible disabilities, the women from Australia with hidden Multiple Sclerosis(MS) and the women from Hawaii with Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome(TMJ), are able to convey the ways in which invisible disability affects certain ways beyond a case by case basis. One problem the women from this study face, as others with an invisible disability do, is the issue of legitimizing disability. Because invisible disability is generally not apparent to others it can be difficult to get recognition for the really impacts a condition has on an individual’s life. In the case of one woman who was deaf but did not seem that way she began carrying a white pole, not because she needed it but rather because people would not accept that she was deaf. There is a possible weight in revealing a disability, a weight on identity-based on people’s reactions to disability. Many women from this study hide the level of pain they are in and the symptoms they have for various reasons. But this isolation of themselves comes at a cost while being interviewed, many of the women admitted that they were not as happy or as fit as they used to be. There is a negative correlation between invisible disability and self-worth. This study ends with a need for invisible disability to be taken seriously so that people with them don’t have to emphasize them as much for valid assistance.

Karen Depauw constructs the significance of space in the context of the society in  “Space: The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies.” Through analyzing the breadth of subjects that gender studies encapsulate within intersectionality Karen Depauw noticed a lack of solid research in disability and how it connects to women, gender and identity. Published in 1996 Space: “The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is at the forefront of disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson. By narrowing her view to the lens of space Karen Depauw is better able to articulate how disability dictates movement through space, also how disability can alter perceptions of space. Perception of space can be integral parts of identity and gender.  In working with space in relation to invisible disability she explains the ways in which spaces can differ based on interpretation. Her focus, particularly on mental disorders, illuminates how societies categorization of things and people can give stifling identities. Because of the individuality of invisibility disabilities, not to mention the different severities, it is limiting to categorize and clump disabled people. Furthermore to marginalize people because they do not fit into a normative format cramps them to the margins of society, into boxes that confine them. People with hidden disabilities are presented with two boxes, one in which they hide their differences and the other in which they may emphasise their differences in order to be believed and categorized as disabled.  Though there is more room for nuance than those two categories the exceptions are limited and never fully void of the decision that the individual with hidden disabilities makes about disclosure.  

The struggle of middle-aged women with chronic invisible disabilities who also work full time are argued by Margaret Vickers in “Unseen Chronic Illness and Work: Authentic Stories from “Women-Inbetween.”” Published in 2001 this article helps show many facets of being a woman and having an invisible disability. The eight women in this study explain some of the different difficulties. Like finding time for a doctor’s appointment, being assumed healthy at work, and trying to juggle a full-time career and caregiving. By adding in occupational difficulties Margaret Vickers shows another dimension of invisible disabilities effects. The added weight of gender is shown by the caregiver position that women are expected to fill, these mothers not only work full-time jobs but run households. Margaret Vickers explains how these roles stack up to burdens that leave these women not fully attending to themselves and struggling to show other people how much they are handling. Because hidden disabilities are not visible it adds to the dimensionality of whether people chose to believe in the legitimacy of these disabilities. Simple recognition of invisible disability would help in easing the weight of these women but in order to better understand their burdens society, gender roles, and other intersections must be scrutinized.

“My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” by Ellen Samuels gives a more recent commentary on invisible disability. Published in 2003 this article focuses on disclosure of invisible disability. The approach of “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” is slightly unorthodox in its comparison of coming out in terms of sexuality and revealing an invisible disability. Through juxtaposing the two narratives “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” articulates the nuances of disclosure around invisible disability. Ellen Samuels explains how coming out keeps intact the binary that assumes heterosexuality and able-bodiedness are the norms and that it is necessary to reveal yourself as other if you are not strictly within those loosely defined boxes. One piece that is particularly addressed in revealing invisibility is the assumption with disabling that people are placed under but don’t necessarily want. In several people’s accounts disclosing an invisible disability are more about explaining it to others and less about accepting it yourself.  As addressed in “The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is a pioneering article on disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson the accusation of fraud around invisible disability is still an issue that keeps some people from disclosing at all. Ellen Samuels does an excellent job of explaining the weight and privilege that invisible disability holds: “Like racial, gender, and queer passing, the option of passing as nondisabled provides both a certain level of privilege and a profound sense of misrecognition and internal dissonance”(Samuels) Because invisible disabilities, in most circumstances, can be hidden there is consistent choice of disclosure. Unfortunately, both revealing and covering disability can have burdens. In elaborating on the issue of disclosure Ellen Samuels states a few times that people with invisible disabilities can “pass” as abled. However, even within just that word, she is still showing how disjointed they are from society and othered. People with hidden disabilities are in a weird in-between that fluctuates greatly by disclosure and can fluctuate with the severity of conditions on a day to day basis. Because hidden disabilities are a case by case dependent they have real tolls on people’s sense of identity and self-worth.

Specifically addressing mental disorders with the sector of invisible disability “Gender differences in mental health” address societal impacts on health. Through sharp analysis of statistics regarding men and women’s mental health, there are direct correlations to gender, particularly with anorexia and eating disorders. “Gender differences in mental health” show that not only is society ignoring mental illness they are often promoting it. The research, though published in 2007, holds many insights particularly in how gender relates to these illnesses. Mental disorder studies reflect how oppression can cause more people in a minority to develop them. Rooted in intersectionality, minorities are more vulnerable to mental instability and disorders. Another factor that affects mental disorders is the location, developing Arab countries women are more vulnerable and more likely to have mental instability. There is not one cause of mental illness or invisible disability and they can remain out of people’s perceptions. This can make invisible disability dangerous and endorse harmful societal norms. There needs to be recognition of invisible disability and wholesome approaches that don’t leave those with hidden disability awkwardly marginalized.

Identity is tightly associated with ability and disability. “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology” by Aimee Valera’s constructs the weight of hidden physical disability and explains the mental toll that it takes as well. By looking at the lives of six different people and their non-obvious physical disabilities, her study and analysis were written in 2010 provides insight into the complex layer of identity in relation to invisible disability. Core to Aimee Valeras’ argument like those of Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson, and Ellen Samuels is the pressure of disclosure. As framed in Aimee Valera’s study the six adults she picked chose to assimilate and push against the label disabled. Aimee Valera’s also takes the time to explain how intersectionality is essential to how people’s invisible disabilities affect their lives and identities. Researcher Aimee Valeras found about adolescent development of self-worth in conjunction with visible compared to invisible disability. One of the more recent and reliable studies showed that students with invisible disabilities had more emotional distress because of anxiety around possible exposure. To have an invisible disability takes people out of the obvious binary of able or disable: “The hidden disability experience, thus, falls in the misunderstood gap between the dominant disability paradigms, the medical model and the social model” (Valeras).

Much like the article “Gender differences in mental health,” “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” reveals the specific impact society, especially social media, has on the mental conditions of college-aged women. Reviewing at this very specific study in 2013 of invisible disability in the form of mental illness it is easy to see how gender and white patriarchal society tie into the analysis of invisible disability. Kendyl Klein’s research show how unrealistic beauty standards have disproportionately affected young women. Additionally, her psychoanalysis provides insight into the direct ways in which social media harms women’s mental self-worth and mental stability. There are facts too that show the presence of eating disorders in college-aged women: “between 4% and 9% of college women have diagnosable eating disorders, but more frightening, 34% to 67% experience disordered eating at sub-threshold levels” (Klein). What Kendyl Klein articulates also is the endorsement of these unhealthy standards within America’s culture. The severity of eating disorders and mental illness have been dismissed by parts of society and the beauty industry. One particularly striking paragraphs of Kendyl Klein is the increased depression and suicide rates of those with eating disorders. This level of body dissatisfaction shows just how toxified societal views have become. In a personal account of Kendyl Klein, when she was struggling with body image, it is clear that her mental illness was spurred on by the media and society. Gender studies and invisible disability are tightly bound at the point of mental illness.  

Samantha Bassler constructs an argument that correlates music therapy with hidden disabilities in  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” By first presenting invisibly and music therapy separately she is able to give a solid basis of both before connecting them. Similarly to many of the previous articles published before hers, published in 2014, Samantha Bassler explains the intricate issue of disclosure around hidden disability. Her article grapples with the impact that people’s disbelief around hidden disability has on people who struggle with them. What makes this article stand out is Samantha Bassler’s inclusion of music therapy as a potential avenue to help those with hidden disabilities. Samantha Bassler’s presentation of healing through music is that the music can not cure but rather helps the patient in dealing with their disability. Her final words on the matter of invisible disability tie it to feminism through looking at the normalization of society.

Tying feminism and a modern tone into the analysis of hidden disability Denarii Monroe explain the effects her own invisible disability has had on her life in her article “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life.” Written this year, Denarii Monroe explains the intricacies of living with an invisible disability.  One thing she addresses is the stigma people still have around disability and an avoidance to reveal her condition. Particularly focusing on the workplace she explains how revealing disability can cause discrimination, less pay or just not getting hired in the first place. Elaborating on occupational effects hidden disability can have she also explains the opposing argument that understanding can make a huge difference and communicating disability can relieve bad dynamics. Essentially reiterating that disclosure around invisible disability is really an individual decision and can help or hurt depending on the situation. Intersecting invisible disability to feminism Denarii Monroe argues that feminists are working for the equality of people and that people with invisible disabilities are among the marginalized. She creates an even stronger argument for intersectionality in her criticism of capitalism, patriarchy and the way in which conformity is institutionalized. The intersections minority people have are layers of oppression and greatly affects a person’s privilege. Truly intersectionality is at the core of starting to understand the complexities with individuals and even within invisible disability. Because there are many forms and accumulations of oppression that go unseen and acknowledged. Denarii Monroe explains the weight invisible disability can have on self-worth and confidence. Hiding disability and openly sharing it both come with their own burden. With sharing the information of invisible disability people sometimes doubt it’s legitimacy, categorizing the person as disabled or at least associating the condition with the person. To conceal the disability leaves the person open to the risk and vulnerability of exposure. Denarii Monroe concludes with the need to deconstruct societal boxes and embrace differences.

Intersectionality is core to understanding marginalization and different oppressions of society. Invisible disability and gender studies are better understood in the context of each other. The articles by Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson Karen Depauw, Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe provide a small window into an intersection of health and gender that is often overlooked. By focusing in on mental illness within the intersection of invisible disability and gender studies it is clear the influences society has.  

Sources:

Bassler, Samantha. (2014).  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies, and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” Voices: A World Form for Music Therapy.

Depauw, K. P. (1996). “”Space: The final frontier”: The invisibility of disability on the landscape of women’s studies.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 17(3), 19- 23.

(2007) “Gender differences in mental health” Singapore Med Journal.

Image Fitzgerald, M.H., & Paterson, K.A. (1995). “The hidden disability dilemma for the preservation of self”. Journal of Occupational Science, 2, 13-21.

Klein, Kendyl M. (2013) “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” Claremont McKenna College.

Megan Jones, “‘Gee, You Don’t Look Handicapped. .’: Why I Use a White Cane to Tell People That I’m Deaf,” Electric Edge, July-August 1997

Monroe, Denarii. (2016) “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life” Everyday Feminism.

Samuels, E.J (2003). “My body, my closet: Invisible disability and the limits of coming-out discourse.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9, 233- 255

Valeras, A. B. (2010). “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3), 1- 23.

Vickers, M. (2001). “Unseen chronic illness and work: authentic stories from “women in-between””. Gender in Management, 16(2), 62-74.

Redefining Sovereignty

The Erotics of Sovereignty by Mark Rifkin interprets native american writers by illustrating the clear impacts of heteronormative white society on indigenous ways of life. The constraints of white society are best shown through the interpersonal lives of native americans. By closely working with excerpts of writings by: Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos — Mark Rifkin reveals the extent of native america suppression and explains one form of liberation from conservatism through homosexual erotica. Mark Rifkin explores the intersection of sexuality and controlling power.  

The Erotics of Sovereignty illuminates how white patriarchal society has systematically denigrated and infiltrated indigenous society. This monograph particularly focuses on erotica and intimacy as a lens that reveals the extent of suppression within native tribes. The Erotics of Sovereignty expresses empowerment, specifically of queer native american women, through pushing away  homophobic western society. The physicality of this monograph is all about taking back the sovereignty over one’s own body.  Mark Rifkin deconstructs the writings of Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos to articulate different specific ways white society has infiltrated native society and identity. In the first chapter “the Somatics of Haunting: Embodied Peoplehood in Qwo-Li Driskill’s Walking with Ghosts” Mark Rifkin addresses how the Cherokee have dispelled non heterosexual couples and African Americans, who were former slaves, within their communities. These exclusionary actions were pressured by the American government, they were pressured to keep a pure blood line for continued government recognition. Governmental pressure to prove native heritage is an overarching theme that ties into Native American self identity. Within the last chapter Chrystos writes about trying to maintain her identity even in an urban white society. She shows some of the real social damages American society and government have caused. Also revealing some of this suppression is Deborah Miranda who focuses on the displacement in place because even though her people are still on their land, emotionally they have become disconnected with each other and the earth. Mark Rifkin explores Deborah Miranda’s expelling of white normative constructs in his second chapter  “Landscapes of Desire: Melancholy, Memory, and Fantasy in Deborah Miranda’s The Zen of La Llorona,”.  Mark Rifkin interprets her words about nature and homoerotic sexs as her way to combat the heteronormative society constructed during colonialism. In Mark Rifkin’s chapter “Genealogies of Indianness: The Errancies of Peoplehood in Greg Sarris’s Watermelon Night” he investigates how white governmental suppression has shaped modern native society, particularly the Pomos. Focusing on the constraints and violence that were brought by white American pressures. Mark Rikin’s view of those encapsulates how the laws and formation of society have effected there tribals people’s identities, mental states, protection for those who are vulnerable and their tribes connection with the earth. However, he also shows that by breaking the societal sexual boundary some native americans are able to feel empowered.

Mark Rifkin has a PHD from the university of Pennsylvania and is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Greensboro. He is well known for his books Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space, When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty, The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-Determination and other essays in the area of Native american suppression. Through Mark Rifkin’s extensive work in the intersective fields of gender and sexuality and native american culture, he has established the background to delve into complicated issues of identity and sexuality in The Erotics of Sovereignty.

Mark  Rifkin’s uses the words of Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Greg Sarris and Chrystos in their personal accounts to support his concept of native american suppression. Excerpts from Walking with Ghosts, The Zen of La Llorona, Watermelon Nights, and Chrystos’s Poetry provide a structure for Mark Rifkin to drape his arguments upon. Also pulling from legal and state documents he is able to provide historical background in an introduction that grounded the true atrocities committed against native people.

One Clear strength of Mark Rifkin’s work is how he found different elements of native society to consider the extent of native suppression. Through the text of four native american writers his is able to add additional dimension to each of their writing styles and perspectives. Through deconstructing small portions of text at a time he is able to articulate and bring finesse to each of his arguments with grace. Even the organizational method of his monograph is well founded. By giving historical background and a thorough introduction Mark Rifkin’s is able to present his argument well, before even diving into the details of his analysis. Even stronger still is his premise for the book that holds the intersection between the interpersonal realm of sexuality and the external power realm of society. By framing personal with societal Mark Rikins is able to imbue The Erotics of Sovereignty with just how deeply white heterosexuality society has been ingrained in current native american lives, all the way down to the erotic itself. By intertwining the two he is able to show how native american women reclaiming their sexuality is a form in which they reclaim their power.

The only weakness that Mark Rifkin’s work holds is that some pieces of his argument are speculative. The inclusion of speculation in The Erotics of Sovereignty is because this monograph is at the forefront of exploring native american society through the lens of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Mark Rifkin has framed this exploration by looking into queer writers personal experiences of suppression. Though immaculately framed and structured there is a strong basis in metaphor and interpretation that goes along with the inclusion of the interpersonal.

Mark Rifkin brings to light the true severity of american laws and societal pressures. By working with the text of four queer native american writers, he is able to examine independence of native culture and sexuality. One element addressed in the introduction is the loss of land and continual violation of promises by the government around rights, even just reconnection, if these indigenous people. Because native americans have such strong ties to the earth it would be interesting to examining how conservative western society effects health and healing practices, especially in relation to women’s health. Honing in on native americans disconnect from the earth, I would be fascinated to understand other ways, beyond sexuality, that native americans have been able to reconnect with the earth and find interpersonal empowerment. Nature is more than aesthetic value, it is what sustains, heals and provides context for an indigenous way of life.

Work Cited

Rifkin, Mark. The Erotics of Sovereignty: Queer Native Writing in the Era of Self-determination. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print.

The Gender Binary in Relation to Dance

The music video Sergei Polunin in “Take Me to Church” by Hozier is able to reveal assumptions commonly held in dance around gender.

The camera work is steady. The video starts with a shot of the ceiling and then descends down to Sergei Polunin. For most of the video the camera is a short ways away, however, it’s focus is on him intermittently adding to the intensity of emotion in certain moments. For some shots the camera is close up and filming from almost beneath Sergei Polunin, this interesting style adds a dimension into how he is presented.

The white wooden church like structure Sergei Polunin is dancing in is expansive. The space is simple, there is a loft in a small portion of the second story but beyond that the space is open. The walls are incomplete, the frames showing, and the windows appear to be large holes in the walls. The floor is solid stone tiles of a light gray color, slightly dirty. The light beaming in is bright and glows in white fog that is rolling over the floor.

Sergei Polunin is dressed plainly in tight skin tone shorts and dirtied ballet shoes. He is wearing less than is generally worn for classical ballet. Additionally he is showing a multitude of tattoos. The tattoos are bold and dark on his stomach and sides. Sergei Polunin also has tattoos on his arms, wrist, hand, foot and chest. His hair is dark strait and growing out to be a little shaggy.

The song Sergei Polunin is dancing to, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, has deep emotionality and is a great coupling with Sergei Polunin’s style of dance. Within the song there is variation of intensity that compliments the burst of action in the choreography.  

There is a dichotomy between his fully controlled spins and the moments where Sergei Polunin holds his head, his body seeming to break down. Sergei Polunin demonstrates an opposition and union of movement, one example of this is his ability to collapse all the way to the floor with grace. His movements are decisive and even as he is incorporating modern dance into ballet there is still form and structure to his movements. The motion of Sergei Polunin starts slow, tensioned and then unfurls into ballet spins and flashier choreography. Always returning back to ballet dance he is able to add emotionally charged moments that are almost theatrical in nature. There is an emotionality in his moves, particularly when there is a softer moment in the music.

In ballet there are many contrasts between classic female form and classic male form. The way Sergei Polunin holds his head is loose. He begins the piece with his hands on his hair bending his head down. His head is lifted but not tensioned. The way his head moves adds to the burst of motion he has and the emotionality. This contrasts greatly with the way female ballet dancers hold their heads which are generally very poised and tilted slightly up at the chin. The feminine head position is held with grace and firm ease.

The hands are important in ballet. In feminine form they are held softy with the second finger extended out just slightly. They remain smooth, slow changing and delicate. However in male classical ballet the hands are interrupted from delicacy often by lifting a women or focusing on quick burst of muscularity. Sergei Polunin has some form to his fingers during specific ballet moves but he also has flat hands for catching himself on the ground and curled finger pushing through his hair. He also at one point makes a fists with his hands which is something not often done by classically trained female ballerinas.  

The way Sergei Polunin expands his limbs through the space is mostly in quick fast points of movement where he is expanding and contracting often. There is a focus on concentrated muscular feats. He has a looseness of his limbs as certain points. Feminine classical ballet is different, the movements are generally supposed to be slow deliberate extensions that show off flexibility and endurance. The motion through space is graceful and full of very structured form.

Sergei Polunin’s movements come in explosive bursts, the focus on agility and strength. The motions are an embodiment of masculinity, protruding, angular and quick. This assertive action can easily tie into gender stereotypes in general and the conception that our contemporary society still holds about gender. In the gender binary men are noted for strength, assertive attitudes and loud demeanors. Differing from this, women are noted for grace, delicacy and consideration. Women have been expected to uphold this smooth action and water-like nature. Considering the role society has placed on women it is no surprise that femininity in dance is associated with smooth graceful movements. There is an emphasis on posture, detail, fluidity and rounding of the body.

Sergei Polunin’s movements, to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, uncovers some of the gender bias and associations that are so deeply ingrained in our society, that are reflected in the form, movement and posture of dance.