Monday, July 6, 2009

Sexuality, Disability & Teaching

I'm teaching a class at the College of Mount Saint Vincent this summer called Women, Art & Culture. I'm super excited to teach this class again because I get to share and discuss topics I love. Also, I get to have my students interact with dynamic media, and phenomenal women. Guest speaker line up includes: Maegan "La Mamita Mala" Ortiz, Sofia Quintero aka "Black Artemis" and my homegirls from DC who focus on mestizaje identity and women in jazz music.

In researching videos to include in my syllabus, which is interdisciplinary and incorporates intersectional theories, I will be using the following videos throughout the class to highlight the connection of gender, race, age, ethnicity, national origin, disability, citizenship status, sexuality, sexual orientation, and other aspects of our identity. I think it is important to share resources. These three videos will be used in my class. They are created by The Empowered Fe Fes, a group of young women ages 13-24 who "all different kinds of disabilities and come from different racial and ethnic communities."

The first one is called Why The Got To Do Me Like That? Here's what the film is about from the website, Beyond Media, where you can purchase them:
(The Empowered Fe Fes Take On Bullying) was produced in a workshop with the junior group of the Empowered Fe Fes, a project of Access Living in Chicago. In this film, 13 young women with disabilities explore school-based bullying by interviewing people on why bullying happens and how they respond, then acting out common experiences with new solutions. The Empowered Fe Fes demand viewers to consider bullying as a serious issue of discrimination, letting us know that we can work together to both understand the stop the problem.

Why They Gotta Do Me Like That? from Beyondmedia Education on Vimeo.

The next video is called Beyond Disability and is about:
The Empowered Fe Fes (slang for female), a group of young women with disabilities, hit the streets of Chicago on a quest to discover the difference between how they see themselves and how others see them. Their revelations are humorous, thought provoking and surprising. As the young women grapple with issues as diverse as access, education, employment, sexuality and growing up with disabilities, they address their audience with a sense of urgency, as if to say, "I need to tell you so you'll see me differently."

Beyond Disability Trailer from Beyondmedia Education on Vimeo.

This last video is called Doin' It: Sex, Disability & Videotape

The Empowered Fe Fes, a peer group of young women aged 16 to 24 with different disabilities, strike again with their second video production, an insightful investigation into the truths about sex and disability. In the video, the Fe Fes educate themselves about sex from many angles by talking with activists and scholars. The viewer tags along on a date between a woman with a disability and her able-bodied boyfriend, exploring relationship issues of dating with a disability over a candle-lit dinner.

Doin' It: Sex, Disability and Videotape Trailer from Beyondmedia Education on Vimeo.

You may buy all these videos at Beyond Media.

I hope it goes without saying that having a "disability week" in a syllabus is condescending and inappropriate, just like a "lesbian week" or "Latino week" would be.

Here's My Plan:
Currently, I plan to introduce the topic of disability and how it intersects with our multiple identities on the first day of class. Students will complete a social identity profile/matrix and I have assigned a paper around this profile/matrix. My colleagues and disability activists have shared and suggested to me terminology, definitions, and statistics on people living with disabilities in the US especially among women, women of Color, working-class women, and youth. What I have discovered is that when disability is discussed with other aspects of our identity, able-bodied privilege is one of the most surprising privileges many able-bodied students rarely think about. It is often the only privilege that students openly talk about and admit to having (if they do) versus discussions of White privilege, privilege of citizenship, Anglophone privilege etc., which are usually met with more resistance and defense of such privileges.

I plan to use these videos throughout the class, on three different days, and showing them again (as they are all under 1 hour) at other times during the course when my students have learned media literacy skills (I think it's important for students to acquire the skills to then re-watch a film and actually see how their lenses have widened/shifted/become more informed). Usually, when discussing reproductive rights and health, I remind students that it was not just Puerto Rican, Haitian and poor women of Color who have been carelessly used as "guinea pigs" for birth control research in the US, but women with disabilities were included too and are still not protected or given the same rights/choices/agency.

When we discuss violence against women, where we watch NO! The Rape Documentary, I remind students of how women with disabilities are also survivors of assault and rape. When we discuss pornography and watch the Frontline documentary American Porn, we also read Helen Ryles' piece "Pornography" in the book Tales From The Clit: A Female Experience of Pornography, where she shares her experience as a blind and deaf woman reading erotica in Braille. Those are just a few examples of the media I use and how I facilitate a discussion that can utilize intersectional approaches with students.

I hope this post can begin conversations on what we as educators use in our classrooms and with one another. I want to challenge the ideas that we learn the best and most useful knowledge from a "book." Incorporating films, poetry, testimonios, sculpture, cartoons, photography, and TV (to name a few) are what I enjoy included in my classes. What are some other resources you use? Do you have thoughts on using these resources? Please share!

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