Buying Ableism and Shit During the Pandemic

On social media, on TV, in the mainstream press, etc. endless reports have appeared about people “hoarding” toilet paper, getting into physical altercations in Costco stores over packages of toilet paper, searching for hours online to purchase toilet paper, driving around their deserted cities to find a package, and so on.

I’ve also seen a great deal written on social media especially about how ridiculous this behaviour is; that it vividly highlights the consumer-driven, consumption-driven character of our contemporary societies; is embarrassingly uninformed given that COVID-19 doesn’t typically cause diarrhea; etc.

Yet, I don’t think that these sorts of reactions to our current situation should be so easily dismissed. I think in fact that this phenomenon says *a lot* about the apparatus of disability, its reproduction, and the constitution of widespread ableism.

Consider that, in a state of emergency, one of many people’s primary concerns, apparently, is how to keep their bottoms clean. What does this growing concern indicate about what we think of each other and about what we think is required to live together? Indeed, I think that the observations about consumerism and capitalism are only part of the story, a story that actually isn’t very funny.

Our indoctrination into feelings of disgust and fear about excrement and ideas about cleanliness contribute to ableist societal practices that lead many people to put their adult disabled relatives and elderly family members in nursing homes; sends the message to many people that they have something called a “low quality of life” if they need assistance to wipe their bottom; tells disabled people to think that if they can’t wipe their own bottom, they have “lost” their “dignity”; and induces disabled and elderly people to think that if they have lost their dignity in this way and have furthermore become a “burden” for this reason, they should consider themselves good candidates for medically-assisted suicide.

Because shit is regarded with such disgust and fear and the practice of wiping one’s own bottom properly is both socially disparaged and socially required, the people who provide elderly people and adult disabled people (among others) with this kind of assistance professionally are drastically underpaid and usually marginalized members of society, especially women of colour, black women, and immigrant women.

So, I don’t think that hoarding toilet paper is a laughing matter at all.

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