Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Relating to Roosevelt's Sister

My recent change of self-perception and awakening to the disability rights movement has set me on a learning spree. All of a sudden I'm discovering some of the best blogs on disability, activists, writers and scholars (not only online but also few I am finding myself reaching out to) dealing with disability issues, and a new interest (not just interest, facination as well) in the field of disability studies. I want to do M.A. in it, preferably from TISS because they are one of the few universities in India that offer the course, they seem to be more accommodating of PWDs and it's worth. I'm actually relieved that the passion to do something for others like me is building up more than the fear of likely resistance I will have to deal with when presenting the wish to my parents. In a rather obvious yet strange way, I'm discovering myself. And seeing everything about me or what I've been through, finally, from a different angle - my side. The side of silenced voices, the 'special' children, the intitutionalised 'threats', the receivers of 'be exceptional or be dead' attitudes...and those challenging the status quo.

So when I read Rosmarie Garland Thomson's essay "Roosevelt's Sister: Why We Need Disability Studies in the Humanities", it was something that I could relate to in many places. Taking Judith Shakespeare from Virginia Woolf's famous book A Room of One's Own, she creates a similiar character, Judith Roosevelt, who has cerebral palsy and is the sister of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In a clear and realistic way, her life is narrated both in the traditional setting and contemporary period.

Virginia Woolf is probably our greatest modernist writer and our most creative feminist thinker. In Woolf's 1928 collection of feminist essays, A Room of One's Own she, invents a character she calls Judith Shakespeare, the imaginary sister of the famous playwright, who is equally creative and ambitious as her brother. In her amusing, but instructive essay, Woolf uses the figure of Judith Shakespeare to show the social constrictions women who wanted to write faced. Woolf invents Judith, who as Woolf has it, must stay home to care for the family while her ambitious brother Will goes off to school and then to London to try his hand at theater, and the rest is history for him. Dutifully, Judith obeys until her father plans to marry her to an odious neighbor. When she refuses, he beats her, and she runs away to the London stage door to offer her talents, where they are rejected. She becomes pregnant by a charming fellow actor she meets that first day. Disgraced, Judith dies alone in childbirth and is buried in an unmarked grave.
I'll offer here another figure to think through the social constrictions facing disabled women. Following Woolf, my heroine will be Judith as well. But this is not Judith Shakespeare; rather this is Judith... Roosevelt, the younger sister of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
continue reading here..

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