On Blue Light Bulbs

I’ll never forget that moment.

We entered a major home improvement store as we always seemed to be doing as homeowners. It was early spring and the Autism Awareness campaigns were in full swing. My then pre-adolescent son saw it first. It was a sign encouraging customers to “Light it Up Blue” by purchasing blue light bulbs.

He said, “Look, Mom! They are celebrating Autism.”

His face changed as he continued to read on. The sign said autism was a “crisis.” It explained how proceeds would benefit Autism Speaks search for cures and prevention of autism.

My son understood the word cure enough to know it implied he was sick. He looked at me despairingly and asked why they thought he was sick. I told him what I believe – Autism Speaks is absolutely clueless about the life of an autistic person and people are fearful of what they don’t understand. He looked puzzled. He wanted to know why they didn’t just ask autistic people. I explained how Autism Speaks refused to allow autistic people to have a voice in the organization. He shook his head and said how wrong that was.

Then he asked me the question I feared. What did they mean by prevention? Why would they prevent autism? My head was spinning. How could I explain this to my beautiful, perfect child? I blurted out that they cannot prevent autism because it is not a disease, that this was just a way to get more money.

Though not the full story, I could not bear to tell him the rest – that Autism Speaks was heavily funding research that would encourage families to terminate pregnancies. That they were hell-bent on discovering genetic clues so as to advise families against becoming pregnant. That this heavily funded organization wanted to eliminate people like my son from existence through eugenics. That this billion dollar organization intended to find a magic pill that would change my son into something less than, not him.

My heart sank like a rock into the pit of my soul. My son was devastated and deeply hurt and once again, I could not protect him. We left the store that day without what we came for. And we left with a little less hope for the future of humankind.

An Open Letter to a “Feminist” Blogger

Dear Feminist Blogger,

I couldn’t help but notice you posted a very public Facebook status that sarcastically criticized a marginalized group of people. I couldn’t quite look away when you said that people advocating for their own rights was called “jumping the advocacy shark.” And I certainly couldn’t walk away when you continued to denounce a civil rights movement to which you do not belong.

No feminist ever said that men know better to determine what women need. That’s outrageous to a feminist. But here’s the thing…if you say that “you,” as a woman (mother, grandmother, etc), know what’s best for a group to which you do not belong (even if your own flesh and blood belongs to that group), you have played the part of oppressor – like the sexist who knows what’s “best” for you. You don’t get to decide who is worthy of human rights. That’s what sexists do.

As women, we belong to more than just ourselves. We intersect with LGBT, racial minorities, those with disabilities, and more. Women will never be treated equally as long as other groups are oppressed.

“Women will never be
treated equally as long as
other groups are oppressed.”

If you decide to join the oppressors by claiming to speak on behalf of a marginalized group, well, you’re not really a feminist after all. Please take your toys of privilege elsewhere because we, in the feminist sandbox, have a lot of work to do.

Sincerely,
Feminism

Feminism

  • is not about burning your bra.
  • is not about refusing to shave your legs or wear makeup
  • is not about encouraging women to be pro-abortion
  • is not about ruling over man

Feminism

  • is about autonomy and equality
    is about leaving decisions about our own bodies up to the individual
  • is about equal rights for all people, not just women
    having the same rights as the most privileged group

My April Vow

This April, I vow not to make Autism Awareness about me. I vow instead to make Autism Acceptance about Autistics, like my son. 

I am allistic, a parent, an observer, a bystander. 

I will not “light it up blue.”
I will not promote “puzzle pieces.”

I will let the people who wear the autistic label define their disability. Nothing about them without them.

Let April be about truly supporting people with disabilities instead of advocating for the families – the parents. 

This has never really been about me. 

Join me and take the pledge to only attend, speak at or otherwise participate in autism panels, conferences and events that meaningfully involve Autistic people. 
http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/pledge/

I Stand With Henry

On the tails of my last entry – how functioning labels are harmful, comes young nonverbal autistic, Henry. Henry wants to be treated like a human being. He wants people to stop talking in front of him – about him – like he’s not there. He wants to go to his neighborhood school. Not in some self contained segregated classroom. He is smart and wants to be treated with dignity and respect. Henry is not an anomaly and we must stop thinking that he is. Many autistic people with communication differences are labeled with low IQ and lack of potential –  inappropriately so. We must STOP. NOW.

I stand with Henry because every student and every human should be afforded equal rights and respect no matter. Only when society stops sorting and valuing people based on labels will society truly be free.

Fighting the War on Women with Facebook and Philosophy

Within the past week, I have been privileged to be part of a growing movement. Facebook can be a wonderful thing for organizing political movements. And this week, I have seen it in action.

The National March Against the War on Women is currently a Facebook initiative that can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/300397393356744/

Women and men all over the United States are banding together for Statewide marches on Saturday, April 28, 2012. We are mad as hell about the current agenda to reduce women to second class citizenry by denying us civil rights – our liberty. Please click the link and join us!

Coincidentally, I had an ethics paper due this week and found a way to work in the subject of employer paid contraception insurance coverage. Below is why the argument on Religious Freedom, doesn’t fly. Enjoy.

Contraception and the Liberty of Society

The United States is now embroiled in a battle over government mandated health insurance coverage for contraception. On one side are conservative religious employers claiming a breach in constitutional religious freedom. On the other side is a majority who believe free contraception will benefit society. Both sides claim the opposing stance will cause harm. In his work, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill explains that a person’s behaviors and actions should be allowed so long as they do not cause harm to anyone but the individual, themselves. The problem, however, seems to be determining whom, if anyone, will be harmed. Who, in the battle over contraception, stands to be harmed the most should either side prevail? Using Mill’s argument of a person’s right to act on their own accord, it is clear that society is at most risk for harm, should the religious employers prevail.

Catholic and conservative religious leaders assert that paying for employee health insurance, that includes free contraceptive services, goes against constitutionally granted freedom of religion. They claim that offering contraceptive coverage to their employees is  against churches’ stance on the use of contraception. On the other side, proponents argue that mandated insurance coverage does not equal mandated use. Furthermore, they state that offering free contraception will have positive social consequences. Proponents cite that increased accessibility will help prevent unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortions. In addition, they posit that free contraception will decrease the number of children unintentionally born into poverty. Both issues have extreme social costs.

John Stuart Mill affirms that liberal freedoms are central to achieving happiness. Mill’s reflections propose society must allow individuals to make personal decisions, even if the decisions cause self-harm. “The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself” (Mill 5.2). Mill further expresses that we may counsel or advise against behaviors, but that ultimately, society should not impose restrictions or inflict punishment on the behaviors. “Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct” (Mill 5.2). In the case of the insurance contraception coverage, it would seem the proponents perspective on free contraception leaves conduct up to the individual, which is in line with Mill’s thinking. On the other hand, the religious employers cite that governmental force to offer coverage would cause harm by limiting religious freedoms. Using Mill’s thinking, one must determine how freedom to practice religion is limited or harmed by this mandate. Would an individual following conservative religious beliefs be forced to use contraception if their employer paid health insurance offered it? Would religious employers and their staff be limited in any way from practicing personal religious freedoms should their insurance coverage change?

When it comes to arguments such as this, we must decide if harm is imminent. Mill says we should look to “… distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter” (Mill 4.2). This suggests we must determine which option has the potential to provide the most good and which has the potential to cause the most harm. In the case of contraception coverage, the task is to determine which decision will ultimately be better for the good of society. Mill also states that we must be certain not to impose our values on others behaviors, no matter how immoral they may seem. “But neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it” (Mill 4.2). It seems Mill has given us clear guidelines on individual behavior and conduct that does not harm others. We must decide if the churches’ followers, including employers, stand to be harmed by a coverage mandate, as they lay claim. Will conservative church members (some of which are likely employees) be inclined to go against churches’ and their own belief systems? Will otherwise devout people be forced to relinquish moral principles because of health insurance coverage? Mill also says we must decide which act stands to do the most good. We next must then resolve whether free contraception will benefit society. Will reductions in national abortion rates and children born to poverty be good for society? Likewise, will society benefit by allowing religious conservatives to opt out of this coverage mandate? Finally, we must decide which option provides the greatest potential to do the most good for society.

Who, in the battle over contraception, stands to be harmed the most, should either side prevail? It seems clear, using Mill’s rationalization. When one looks at the conservative religious stance, it is difficult to comprehend how anyone could be harmed by a coverage mandate. The mandate does not order people to use contraception. It does not ask religious employers or persons to judge contraception as morally correct. On the other hand, society has nothing to gain and potentially much to lose by allowing employers to opt out. This could set a very dangerous precedent for limiting any medical coverage based on employers’ belief systems. An employer, who believes that only prayer can cure cancer, could eliminate cancer treatment coverage. An employer, who believes immunizations are immoral, could refuse coverage causing eradicated diseases, like polio, to become commonplace. The options to limit health insurance coverage based on personal belief systems, are nearly endless.

It is obvious that society will receive the most benefit from free contraceptive coverage. By offering free contraception through employer paid health insurance, fewer burdens are placed on public welfare systems, thus reducing government costs. Rates of children born into poverty, which contribute to many future costs including public welfare, penal systems, and long-term health issues, will decline. Abortion rates will decrease due to better accessibility of contraceptives – a valuable benefit for religious conservatives who speak out against abortion. It appears that conservative religious employers against coverage are merely attempting to impose their own morality on others. Even if the person who chooses to use contraceptives is morally harming themselves, according to Mill, the conservative employers should only attempt to counsel or express dislike for the behavior. If Mill was part of the conversation today, he most certainly would agree; conservative religious employers should not attempt to limit a person’s liberty when the choices clearly only affect the individual, themselves.

Works Cited
Mill, John Stuart. “Chapters 4 and 5.” On Liberty. 4th ed. London: Roberts & Green, 1869. Web. Retrieved: Feb. 24, 2012.