How Ableism in Philosophy Has Destroyed Me

About ten years ago, I wrote an email to Eva Kittay requesting a letter of reference for a job application. I wasn’t really expecting a response. In the last email I had received from Kittay a few years earlier, she had told me that she would not open future email from me. What had I done to deserve this sort of declaration from a nondisabled feminist philosopher of disability whose motto was “everyone is somebody’s child”? I pointed out publicly that she had organized a philosophy conference on disability that was populated almost entirely by nondisabled philosophers.

I was surprised when I did in fact receive a response from Kittay. In a long email, Kittay enumerated all of the putative reasons why I didn’t deserve a job. Having attacked me on public discussion lists when I tried to organize philosophers against the inaccessibility of the APA, Kittay now brought the message directly to me. Many feminist philosophers watched these public events unfold and didn’t challenge them; so, most of my previous remarks are not news. I could write a blog post that would provide a detailed analysis of Kittay’s ableism; however, my aim in this post is to address the ableism of philosophy more generally and what it has done to me.

Kittay got her wish. I have now received job rejections from every department to which I applied this year. I especially want to note that I received rejections from every one of the Canadian departments to which I applied: University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, Ryerson University, University of Toronto (2 jobs), Carleton University. In recent years, my applications have also been rejected by York University, Dalhousie University, University of Guelph, and Queen’s University (among others). As I have repeatedly pointed out here, none of these departments has a specialist in philosophy of disability. All of them have at least two nondisabled feminist philosophers on their rosters. Most of them have no disabled philosophers on their faculty rosters.

And yet, an increasing number of these departments have enrolled disabled graduate students who work on philosophy of disability, some in the process of writing dissertations on the subject. The other day, I asked a philosopher in one of these Canadian departments this question: “who is supervising the doctoral students in your department that are writing their dissertations on philosophy of disability?” Not surprisingly, he didn’t respond to me. Indeed, judging by who is downloading articles from my PhilPeople page, the assumption seems to be that nondisabled philosophers who work in other areas of philosophy, can become experts in philosophy of disability by reading a little bit of my work. Epistemic oppression.

In previous posts, I have pointed out that bioethics has shaped philosophy in Canada. (Almost) All of the feminist philosophers who have succeeded in Canadian philosophy have ties to this legacy. It will be a relief for them when I am gone. The Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy can continue to import disabled feminist philosophers for its annual conferences whose CFPs advertise an accessibility policy that is rarely implemented.

None of the more than 200 philosophers who committed their names to pledges to support victims of sexual harrassment has done anything to help me recover from the devastation exacted upon me when I implicated a harasser. Empty words. I sincerely wish that philosophers who leverage these sorts of actions would consider how they revictimize us when they don’t follow their words about us and promises to us with meaningful actions.

I will likely be forced to move on to the street in a few months. Somebody’s child. I will no longer be the advisor to the APA whose contributions are never acknowledged but rather are credited to other disabled philosophers who play the game. There will be no more of my cutting-edge philosophy of disability to raise the consciousness of any philosopher’s disabled students (or any philosophers themselves). I will no longer be available to mentor these disabled students free of charge because their advisors and supervisors, who assume that I am happy to do their work for them, don’t have the epistemic resources. For years, I have done this sort of service work upon request. Exploiting me in this way is apparently less egregious than Peter Singer’s requests for reading recommendations.

Why this frustrated and downtrodden post after my happy news earlier in the week? I have now received the rejection email that I dreaded from the remaining non-North American philosophy department to which I applied this year.

So, to the feminist philosophers who have called me “a big mouth,” “a bully,” and “a fucking bitch” (etc.) through emails; to the feminist philosophers who have denied me a living wage but have benefitted in some way from my work; and to the feminist philosophers who once attacked me on social media and feminist philosophy listservs but now present themselves to the latest generation of philosophers as critics of the discipline and protectors of the untenured, I hope you feel a great sense of achievement with my almost certain imminent departure.

Additional details to follow, perhaps.

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