The Simone D story has gained some traction in the feminist blogosphere. I would like to breathe a sigh of hope, but I can’t, something else is going on that always goes on and makes us lose whatever allies we pick up. By allies I don’t mean the unshakable Scientologists, and the somethiing else going on is not the knee-jerk discrediting of allies as such. Not yet.
If progressives are to take up psychiatric rights it’s the stakeholder’s job to meet them halfway. We have to be directive, and “on message.” Maybe I’m kidding myself and there is no real c/s/x community, but for the sake of argument, let’s say we have something going on. How do we get out of the ghetto? What can we do? What are we doing?
It’s tricky to urge social activists to take up yet another cause, and when people with no stake in a battle do their homework, give it time and attention, promulgate the scholarship and rally around in agreement, it is to celebrate. Strength in numbers, the consolidation of power, hope and possibility springs up.
Then I read Crazy Tracy’s outburst regarding Philip’s post on ECT, and have been immoblilized ever since. This post is a first attempt to shake myself out of it.
I’m basically a social worker, whose feminism is rooted in the Ethics of Care tradition, which is where I learned about standpoint theory, what I read up on today to try to figure this shit out. Just to be clear for the nitpicking trolls, I got this from studies in social work, not Marxist or Women’s Studies, so it’s highly abbreviated, but what I got to tackle this mess.
Standpoint theorists maintain that people in the same social group will share the same perspective.
Generally true, except when it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with generalizing experience, the question is what to do with the fly in the ointment. There’s one in every crowd.
According to standpoint, your opinion on ECT would be mediated by your relationship to it, and carry corresponding weight. A psychiatrist has a standpoint, as does a parent, husband, scholar, feminist, law-maker, etc. The privileged standpoint belongs to those best equipped to understand what ECT is actually about. Who is that, seriously? Is the patient receiving electroshock the ultimate authority? My heart and mind don’t agree on this. Because not all patients will agree with this:
[Many women] have testified that the real purpose of the electroshock was social control. Cognitive impairment or memory loss is frequently identified as the means. The rationale is: What cannot be remembered cannot be acted on.
ECT is effective in the way abuse is always effective — by inspiring fear of further violation. Additionally, a vicious cycle sets in, with ECT used to stop women from complaining about the effects of ECT. Significantly, many women have testified that when they spoke of the treatments making them worse, they were chastised and warned that continued complaints would be interpreted as illness and result in further “treatment.” Not surprisingly, women in turn reported protecting themselves by obeying. What is also telling, women psychiatric survivors who have not been shocked describe the very witnessing of shock in the institution as both traumatizing and an ever-present threat.
Women are subjected to electroshock two to three times as often as men. Approximately 95 per cent of all shock doctors are male.
ECT constitutes state-sponsored violence against women.
Any woman undergoing shock owes it to herself to read that paper, from the standpoint of a woman. Not to side with the abolitionists, but to understand what we’re on about.
I’m reading the Feministing thread. Lots of talk over there about voluntary choice. Pro-shock I tell you, “as a woman, and a med student.” No, you can’t combine them, choose one standpoint or let me guess. And throwing words around — consent, informed, choice, self-determination. As if to be a mental patient was about unmitigated agency now, calling your own shots. It’s not.
Shock damages brains, there’s no dispute about it. When someone chooses that which damages them, how do you proceed? “Respect their autonomy.” You know what that leads to. It’s an alibi, “honoring boundaries”, highminded talk for what boils down to self-serving disengagement.
It’s easy to stay respectful, interested, invested and connected when we agree. But this isn’t how the world works. Sometimes we have to watch people self-destruct, disagreeing all the way. We push through conflicts for the sake of relationship, because we’re here to help each other out, and we can’t do that when we drive people away.
I wish all women subjected to electroshock spoke in one voice, but I now know of at least 2 in the liberal blogosphere who defend it as a best practice for them, personally. There goes the vision thing. One of them is angry, and I don’t blame her for feeling threatened, if I was using ECT I’d go hellcat on your ass, there’s enough loss in my life as it is.
I don’t know if there’s a meaningful way to support someone’s choice of a practice I want abolished. I’m conflicted with all of it, all psychiatric treatments are questionable. But I have my little stash of killer Seroquel for when my mind begins to break. It’s a world of ambiguity. The one certainty is polarization, and patients splintering into factions is a step backwards. No wonder we can’t gain a foothold in the national discourse. Just keeping up with our stances is exhausting.
We’re a minority population, many have criminal justice histories, psychiatric abuse is below the radar, and engaging the material makes people uncomfortable. These are givens, what we have to work with. Our issues are esoteric and un-inviting; ECT, polypharmacy, involuntary committment, dominant therapies, jail diversion? Why should people care about this again? And when something monstrous happens inside established mental health and allies start to get involved, we run them off with our internal bickering.
I’ve read Crazy Tracy’s blog, it is not easily dismissible from a feminist, advocate or patient standpoint. And I know what it’s like to live without hope, then discover an intervention that rescues you from what would otherwise be a life of madness. Prognosis still guarded but you’re not a lost cause, the experience of yourself before and after treatment is night and day. We become champions of what works for us, and speaking out itself commands my respect. Survival breeds zealotry, best respect that too, breathing is the first rule of recovery.
I’m trying. We don’t always speak with one voice. But if we don’t speak to each other we’re doomed. Maintaining connection without silencing our differences is both psychologically sound and politically expedient. Difference is fearsome, but we have more similarites than differences. What we don’t have is the luxury to fragment. There are not enough of us to form tribes within our own community.