Feminist Perspectives on Evidence (Feminist Perspectives)

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Subscriber sign in. A socially imposed allegiance to sexual dualism demands they be submitted to medical intervention that usually through amputation presses their bodies into one or the other sexual mold. Yet having a woman's body does not necessarily suit a person for feminine roles, nor do all those with men's bodies find themselves fitting comfortably into masculine roles. The materiality of sexual characteristics does not make them unbreachable constants.

There are individuals who adapt with facility to gendered roles that are not traditional for their particular bodily configurations.

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Others, however, find their sexual characteristics too restricting for the roles they adopt and consequently seek to change these elements of their bodies through surgical and chemical intervention. The way transgendered people see themselves in the world indicates that the body's limitations cannot always be discounted. While some people do not think their corporeal alteration is required to comfortably fit into opposite gendered roles, others seek medical intervention to facilitate their transgendering.

Thus, the experiences of transgendered people suggest that there are circumstances in which altering one's body to better execute preferred social roles can be an affirming, rather than a degrading, choice. These considerations show not only the error in supposing that the natural and social dimensions of embodiment can be cleanly dichotomized, but also the superficiality of thinking that we always should take bodies as they come.


Extrapolating this insight to disability helps us to see the over-simplification in condemning medical transformations of the body as being expressions of self-hatred. There is no phenomenological firewall separating our awareness of our biological properties from our social experiences. How our own bodies feel to us is shaped by social discourse. In a documentary film presenting conversations with leading philosophers, feminist theorist Judith Butler learns about the social model of disability from artist and disability activist Sunaura Taylor Taylor, The social model is compatible with Butler's own theory of embodiment.

Butler observes that everyone, whether or not disabled, requires support for bodily activities from various kinds of things that are external to their bodies. Every body is permeable in the sense of being vulnerable to being impinged upon by others. People who violently target and victimize the disabled are managing their own permeability by abusing individuals who appear to be more dependent than most and thus more vulnerable.

Violent acts against the disabled foreground their permeability and thereby, according to Butler, give the perpetrators the illusion of being themselves exempt from permeability. Applying Butler's ideas about embodiment, which emphasize the inconstancy of conceptualizations of bodily kinds, feminist legal scholar Kathryn Abrams contends that one reason the Americans with Disabilities Act ADA has had trouble in the courts, with most plaintiffs losing their cases at least under Title I - Employment , is because the social model disrupts a premise of mainstream jurisprudence.

The legal norm presumes that human bodies are biological objects of fixed kinds, whereas on Butler's theory bodies are contingently constituted by transient social interactions Abrams However, not all judicial thinking has been so narrow. For example, in a pre-surgery transexual individual's denial of employment suit was allowed to proceed, despite the defendant's claim that Title VII did not apply because the plaintiff was not a woman; in supporting the plaintiff, the court invoked the factual complexities that underlie human sexual identity and explained that these complexities are occasioned by how biological sexuality interacts with social, physiological, and legal conceptions of gender see Schroer v.

Billington , Our bodies' responses and responsiveness inflect in turn the social as well as the solitary aspects of our experiences. Nor is social practice isolated from, or prior to, materiality. An individual's impairments are no more neutral than her sexual characteristics are, for they mediate much of the content of her consciousness of the world with which she interacts.

Performing major life functions such as mobilizing, hearing, seeing, communicating and understanding are such intimate elements of the fabric of our experience that what we view as within our reach in the world around us—and thereby what we take as the objects of our ambition—arises out of the scope and facility of our biological functioning. Considering whether the experiences of women are sufficiently acknowledged in disability studies, Susan Wendell points to masculinist influences on the field's standard model of disability Wendell offers a refreshing look at the disability politics of promoting an image of the healthy disabled, which is similar to the feminist politics of excluding disabled women altogether in an effort to advance more appealing and powerful icons.

She argues that the social model of disability, which until recently has been the preeminent theoretical inspiration for disability studies, tends to obscure the frequency with which disability is tied to illness Wendell This strategy also promotes self-reliance over dependence and replaces trust in the expertise of medical and social service professionals with strategies to let disabled people take control of their own lives.

The useful point of such emphasis for disabled individuals, Wendell acknowledges, is that by getting their political position about subordination to medicalization right, they affirm rather than devalue their own bodies. Yet, Wendell adds, political correctness will not always make people feel right about our bodies or make their bodies feel right.

Illness is itself disabling, and chronically ill individuals constitute a prominent part of the population considered to be disabled. Making healthy rather than ill disabled people paradigmatic of the disability category may obscure some disabled people's important differences.

Gina Heathcote

Worse, doing so may perpetuate our culture's devaluing of dependency and inflating of the value of self-sufficiency. Wendell argues for reforming disability studies through a more inclusive feminist approach to disablement, namely, one that does not exaggerate the value of strength and independence as she believes masculinist influenced theorizing tends to do Wendell Wendell also proposes that feminist disability politics consider the implications of chronic illnesses that mark the unhealthy disabled's experience of embodiment Wendell One such implication concerns the appropriate reaction to suffering.

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Many chronically ill people feel pain, fatigue, feebleness, and disorientation to a degree that forestalls productivity, saps self-sufficiency, and even may alienate them from their own bodies or minds. The social response in both mainstream society and disability circles is to support cures for chronic illnesses, as though the suffering caused by illnesses renders these conditions irrelevant to how disabled individuals form their identities. Yet some disabled individuals, at least, reject medical interventions aimed at a cure on the ground that they do not wish to become different from whom they are.

To the contrary, Wendell thinks, an adequate philosophical account of embodiment will appreciate identities inflected by suffering without glorifying or sugar-coating the debilitating dimensions of perpetual exhaustion and discomfort. A related implication concerns the reaction to emotional or psychiatric suffering. Unlike feminist literary scholarship, where studies of madness are well represented, feminist philosophers have shown comparatively little interest in addressing the phenomena of neurodiversity.

Feminist and disability studies theorists who are undermining the domination of paradigms of youth and health should extend their efforts so as to liberate psychiatrically disabled people from the idealization of the neurotypical mind. Andrea Nicki argues that feminists ordinarily do not think of anger and aggression as being valuable because they are emotions of competition rather than cooperation.

But, Nicki thinks, these feelings may serve as morally valuable—because liberating—expressions for some neurodiverse people, especially for emotionally abused individuals The powerfully negative meanings evoked by the prevailing conceptualization of disability may overwhelm both the equality of opportunity and the moral respect that disabled people's exercise of autonomy or independence should command. Thus, even healthy people with disabilities often are stigmatized because their embodied modes of functioning strike others as disruptive, however adeptly adaptive and independent these may be.

And individuals with genetic vulnerabilities that put them at more than species-typical risk for illness are also at risk of such stigmatization. People who test positive for alleles associated with disease may encounter discrimination in employment and other areas of civic and commercial life, even though they never become symptomatic Silvers and Stein Feminist and gender studies already have shown that atypical, and thereby transgressive, modes of corporeal functioning offer a rich resource for developing more adequate concepts of the materiality of human experience and of our personhood Clare Yet, whether in illness or in health, the lives of disabled people largely have been ignored when these concepts are explored, to the detriment of moral and political philosophy generally.

People who talk or read with their fingers, walk using their arms and hands, categorically recoil from other people's touches, or float through the day on analgesics that suppress waves of pain, often develop resilient and innovative approaches to fleshly function. Further, disabled people often are the first to incorporate adaptive technology into their lives. From machines that write typewriters were invented to permit blind people to write to machines that speak computerized speech output was invented to permit blind people to read , disabled people have piloted the use of mechanical devices that now are integral to so many lives.

Adaptive technology combines with fleshly effort to secure their basic capabilities: they hear with amplifiers, breath with respirators, mobilize in wheelchairs that they guard with more concern than the care they give their bodies. A supportive intimacy of machine with flesh thus is a feature of many disabled people's lives, but one that can distance them from the nondisabled. Alison Kafer criticizes ecofeminism for assuming that authentic engagements with nature are possible only through purely natural immersion experiences from which use of manufactured products, including the assistive and prosthetic devices that distinguish some disabled people's embodiment, are banned.

Ecofeminism remains bound by the traditional dualism of human artifice versus nature, Kafer argues, in part because of mistakenly equating species-typical bodies with naturalness. Species-typicality remains a presumption of feminism, she says Kafer Such a standard disregards or devalues people with disabilities whose functioning integrates their fleshly parts with mechanical components or other technologies.

See Kafer for a more general theory that intersects feminist, disability, and queer theory approached to embodiment. Although ordinarily considered unfit to participate in competitive schemes, when disabled people with prostheses function well, their supposed cyborgian advantages create another reason for their being shunned.

In a case that went to the United States Supreme Court, the Professional Golf Association unsuccessfully attempted to ban an otherwise qualified individual because a physical anomaly prevented him from walking for a full eighteen holes. The PGA invoked the specter of a Frankensteinian slippery slope: if an anomalous golfer could mobilize with a golf cart while normal golfers walked, what would prevent a future contender, an upper limb amputee, from strapping on a bionic arm that can drive a golf ball more than two miles PGA Tour, Inc.

Martin U. Lower leg amputees used to be excluded from competitive running because their prostheses made them run too slowly. Now new materials and designs have created specially springy sports feet that permit their wearers, when very skilled and talented, to run as fast as can be done with fleshly feet.

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A hit-and-run driver's victim, Dory Selinger now bicycles with a cleated peg replacing an amputated foot. Because it does not flex, the peg is more efficient at pedaling than a fleshly foot. The South African track star Oscar Pistorius, whose congenitally anomalous feet were amputated in childhood, uses modern alloy artificial feet that return almost as much energy as the runner's weight loads. Racing officials opposed Pistorius's competing against nondisabled athletes, invoking objections running from fears of his falling on other athletes, through his violating the rules because he has no fleshly foot to touch the starting block, to his very presence corrupting the purity of the sport, and the extravagantly dire prediction that able-bodied athletes would amputate their own fleshly feet to gain advantages derived from prosthetics.

Pistorius appears to use about one-fourth less lower leg energy when matched with runners with fleshly feet because his prosthetic ankles are more efficient than fleshly ankles, and initially he was banned from the Olympics due to the claim subsequently overturned by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport that his artificial feet gave him an unfair advantage.

See Silvers and Wasserman for a general discussion of fairness in regard to accommodating people with disabilities in competitive sport and Silvers in regard to enhanced embodiment. Arguably, it is unfair to exclude racers with disabilities on the ground that crude prosthetics render unable to be competitive, and then also to exclude them when better prosthetics make them highly competitive. Such a practice of limiting eligibility to typically embodied competitors narrows social opportunity for whoever does not conform to the conventional rules of embodiment.

And it is precisely because of the ease with which such rules of competition can be rigged to favor some so-called normal modes of functioning over other seemingly anomalous ones that feminists rightly have been suspicious of invoking rules derived from models of competitive recreation as relevant to and regulative of social justice. Traditional approaches to justice often take competition for resources or position to be fundamental to social and political relationships, which consequently puts an emphasis on fairly managing socially bestowed or artificially achieved advantage, somewhat as the rules of games control the deployment of inside information, equipment, pharmaceuticals and other such performance enhancers.

On the other hand, feminist theories of justice achieved through inclusiveness, such as Iris Young's and Martha Nussbaum's , cast interdependence rather than rivalry as the social and political relationship with which justice should be more concerned.


Learning from feminist approaches to evidence-based policy: the case of the Conflict Tactics Scale

In contrast to traditional justice theory's worries about disruptive embodiment's impact on practice, policy and principle for example, see Rawls's well-known exclusion of disabled people on this ground, p. In general, people with physical and mental disabilities have at least their experiences of social exclusion in common. Exclusion looms large in many disabled people's lives and shapes their expectations and aspirations. This is a familiar story in the life histories of many individuals who are identified with non-dominant groups.

Presumptions about biological unfitness and burdensomeness often have been invoked to engineer enforced segregation of parts of the population. The supposed benefits of biological separatism also have been cited to deny women employment that would place them in the company of men. For example, when a state law denying women the opportunity to be employed as bartenders was appealed to the U.

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  • Similarly, people with disabilities have been characterized as being biologically unfit to execute the responsibilities and thereby to enjoy the privileges of citizenship, to work and play with nondisabled people, and to be permitted reproductive freedom. For example, people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, blindness, and deafness all have suffered the state's sterilizing them, removing their children from their custody based only on their disability, denying them access to public education on the ground that their presence harmed other children, and institutionalizing them to protect citizens who function in species-typical ways from having to have contact with them Lombardo, Similar legally endorsed harm is a familiar theme in the history of women, racial minorities, native people, and gays and lesbians.

    Searching for ethical grounds to condemn the kinds of exclusions to which women have been subjected, feminist thinkers have been disappointed by traditional metaethical, moral and political analyses. Feminists have found traditional moral philosophy suspect for inflating typical male behaviors into paradigmatic moral actions and traditional political philosophy equally suspect for being bereft of remedies for the moral and political challenges posed by such biased and pretextual exclusion.

    Although standard ethical and political theorizing claims as a matter of principle to embrace everyone alike, feminist critiques have shown that their presumptions often exclude devalued kinds of people from significant moral, political and social roles for example, Putnam draws attention to Rawls' exclusion of people with serious disabilities from the basic level of formulation of principles of justice.

    Feminist theory - Wikipedia

    Consequently, feminist philosophers such as Annette Baier , , Eva Kittay , Martha Nussbaum , , and Iris Marion Young a; b have pioneered the exploration of more inclusive alternative theories to mention just a few leading feminists whose theories have been influenced by a concern to address the phenomena of disability adequately. They have relocated the search for an adequate center for moral and political philosophy to, for example, the ethics and politics of trust and care, the virtues of dependency, the sustenance of capabilities fundamental to human life, and the establishment of moralized interconnectedness among people who do not occupy similar positions in life.

    Albeit differing from one another in their approaches to feminist ethical and political theory, all build in concern for achieving adequate philosophical treatment to address problematic kinds of interactions between people with disabilities and the nondisabled, or to illuminate ways of framing distributive policies that are equal to the situations of both nondisabled and disabled individuals.

    For another explicitly feminist example of the former, see Mahowald in Silvers, Wasserman and Mahowald and for a feminism compatible example of the latter, see Becker Two main approaches to addressing the social exclusion of disabled people have surfaced in the philosophical literature that refers to them. Some writers focus foremost on procedural justice to open up disabled people's opportunities for social participation Young ; Silvers b; Anderson ; Silvers and Francis Anderson urges that everyone be guaranteed effective access to the social conditions of their freedom in virtue of their equality, not their inferiority.

    Silvers proposes a procedure called historical counterfactualizing to identify practices catering to the nondisabled majority that unjustly exclude people with disabilities Silvers b; Hoffman Others take the answer to lie first of all in distributive justice to increase provision of resources to the disabled and to families caring for the disabled Kittay ; Kittay ; Nussbaum Nussbaum, for example, begins with a comprehensive idea of the good to guide justice.

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