Why is feminism so successful? Traditional sex roles

By Robert Franklin

On reading my last post, I realized that I’d glossed over an issue that I should have addressed.  So, dear reader, mea culpa.

I too hastily said that feminism, from its origins in the mid-19th century to today, has urged the abandonment of sex roles.  That’s not completely accurate.  Feminism has always urged society to grant women the freedom to step outside of their traditional role, but has been less enthusiastic about men’s doing so.  At least until recently.

Feminism has been astonishing successful; it’s achieved far, far beyond anything its intellectual underpinnings merited.  Feminist analysis of society, power and male/female relationships has always been at odds with basic facts and should long ago have been laughed out of serious public discourse.  But that hasn’t happened and, to the contrary, basic articles of feminist faith have been incorporated into everything from statute law to our “understanding” of sex, the workplace, much of history and more.

So how did something so intellectually bankrupt come to have such a powerful influence on our society?

The answer is traditional sex roles.  Metaphorically, when women screamed “Help!”, men came running to their rescue. Feminism has always relied on men, particularly members of dominant male hierarchies, a.k.a. power elites, to play the role of the knight on the white charger, St. George versus the dragon.  So feminists have always played the maiden in distress, the better to recruit male power to their cause.  That explains why feminists so often describe women as helpless victims of the most minor, everyday events and practices, a phenomenon remarked on by countless commentators.  Why appear strong, when the appearance of weakness works so well?

Why has it worked?

Females have always been the protected sex.  That was appropriate as long as human survival was in question, as it was for countless millennia.  So men took on that role and do so to this day; evolved biology powerfully shapes behavior, so the mere fact that we no longer live in a world fraught with the perils faced by hunter-gatherer societies doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned the behaviors on which we relied for so long to survive.  Remember the YouTube videos from several years ago showing a man in a public place loudly berating his female companion?  Complete strangers – all of them men – intervened to make sure the woman wasn’t hurt.  But when the same couple, both of them actors, switched roles and it was the woman not only shouting at the man, but hitting him, no one lifted a finger.  Passersby barely glanced at the scene.

The journalist Dorothy Dix understood the dynamic perfectly.  She agitated for women to be allowed to serve on juries.  Her reason?  Because all-male juries, when faced with a lachrymose female defendant accused of murdering her husband, too often voted to acquit.  Dix understood that female jurors wouldn’t be so easily manipulated, so justice for male victims demanded that women participate in judging female defendants.

Feminism’s dark genius was and is to harness that male protective instinct for its own goals.  So the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 was, among other things, one long cry for help – help with rights, marriage, divorce, property, etc.  So was the demand for the vote and later the Tender Years Doctrine, obtaining credit in a woman’s name, and the like.

Needless to say, many of the goals of feminism were, certainly by the standards of today, perfectly legitimate.  Male-dominated power structures were right to accede to many of their demands.  But, whether the demands were legitimate (e.g. the vote) or not (exemption from military conscription, the Tender Years Doctrine), the dynamic was the same.  Women cried “Help!” and men “rode to their rescue.”

More recent events make that dynamic painfully clear.  Indeed, it’s informative to view today’s feminism as simply testing the limits of the male inclination to protect. Perhaps air-conditioning in office buildings constitutes patriarchal oppression that “the Patriarchy” needs to change.  That garnered ridicule, but little traction.  What about “free bleeding,” i.e. abandoning tampons as more masculine oppression?  A non-starter.

Those “issues” may seem trivial, but nevertheless illustrate that the dynamic, i.e. testing to see if male power will respond to a cry for help with corrective action, continues.  Non-trivial issues demonstrate the same.

For example, we’ve known for decades that women are at least as likely as men to commit domestic violence and, since the 1970s, the male powers that be have lavished attention and money on female victims.  But that same male power has always turned a blind eye to male suffering and female perpetration.

Likewise, due process of law has been gravely compromised in response to feminists’ demand that more men go to prison when women cry “Rape!”  Every acquittal of a man accused of sexual wrongdoing is greeted with feminist outrage, regardless of the weakness of the case against him (see, e.g. the case of Gian Ghomeshi).  And academic institutions and male-dominated businesses rush to fire powerful men on the mere accusation by a woman of even minor sexual impropriety.  When writer Stephen Galloway was hounded out of his tenured position at the University of British Columbia, women levelled the accusations and men in the university’s power structure kicked him off campus and shunned him socially long before it was revealed that he’d done nothing wrong.

In short, the helpless woman/knight on the white horse dynamic is alive and well and feminists know it.  Feminist success depends on it and always has.

Therefore, the fight to turn back the worst depredations of feminism is simultaneously a fight to turn men from their traditional ways of thinking about and acting toward women.  As long as men in power respond to feminist complaints like chivalrous knights, feminists will continue to push for more and more and more.  Why wouldn’t they?

Until then, intellectual distortions blight the landscape of public discourse. When feminists don the mask of the helpless, victimized woman in order to stimulate the savior response in men, while also arguing that gender is a societal construct that must be abolished, cognitive dissonance is born.  I strongly suspect that the former cannot beget the latter, that using sex roles to abolish sex roles will never succeed.  Perhaps it’s not intended to.   Perhaps Little Nell and her rescuer are perfectly happy with their roles.

After all, as I established several posts back, feminism has always been about “more for us,” i.e. more power, more money, more rights, more privileges for women.  If traditional sex roles provide that “more,” and they do, then feminists would be foolish to do anything but continue the drama that pays so well, until someone mercifully brings the curtain down.

In the meantime, the ironies pour on us like a biblical flood.

Men and disability – Part 3: Self respect

Men and disability – Part 1
Men and disability – Part 2
Men and disability – Part 3

Hephestus blacksmith

Hephaestus – Greek God of The Forge

In part one of this series we looked at men with disabilities who achieved greatness. In part two we looked at an emerging culture of gynocentrism in the disability sector, along with the impoverished and at times hostile “support” extended to men in need of assistance. In this third and final part we look at a new kind of man with a disability – a man who says “No” to bigotry and other forms of mistreatment, and who gears his life toward the cultivation of self-respect.

To illustrate this new kind of man we will turn to the Greek myth of the goddess Hera and her disabled son Hephaestus – a son who has to challenge his mother’s ableism and bigotry before he can take his rightful place in the Olympian society. In this myth Hephaestus plays a role not unlike the hero Perseus who must stop Medusa’s hostilities before men can go about their lives again in safety and dignity.

The son of Hera and Zeus, Hephaestus was born parthenogenically – ie. from Hera alone and not from the result of a sex act with Zeus. We are told that she planed to give birth to a son after Zeus went and gave birth to Bright Eyed Athena who became a golden child of the gods. Hera was incensed that Zeus would give birth to Athena without her sexual aid, and her creation of Hephaestus was carried out in revenge. Hera’s message was essentially “You give birth without me, well I can do that too!”

Some myths suggest her son was born disabled, and others say he became disabled after his mother (or father) threw him from Mt. Olympus whereupon he landed hard on the earth and damaged his legs. In any case the dominant legend is that Hera gave birth to him already disabled, for which she was mightily disgusted in his lack of perfection.

Hera was angry and spoke thus among the assembled gods:

 “Hear from me, all gods and goddesses… my son Hephaestus whom I bore was weakly among all the blessed gods and shrivelled of foot, a shame and a disgrace to me in heaven, whom I myself took in my hands and cast out so that he fell in the great sea. But silver-shod Thetis the daughter of Nereus took and cared for him with her sisters: would that she had done other service to the blessed gods!”

Relief stone

Zeus gestures to his daughter Athena, while Hera hurls her disabled son from Mt. Olympus circa 200-150 B.C.

Hera was ashamed of her son’s disability, one which caused him to limp on both feet since the soles and heels were turned back to front and were not fitted for walking but only for a forward-rolling motion of the whole body.4 This ‘difference’ made Hephaestus a fringe person on Olympus, and threatened to put his mother on the fringes too, so she hid the secret by throwing her son to what she assumed would be his death. Fortunately he was saved by some kindly goddesses who nurtured him back to health.

After his fall from the heavens Hephaestus grew up on a secluded island and there learned the art of blacksmithing. He devoted himself to the task with such discipline that his artisan skills became the finest in the world. Despite the pride he took in these achievements he would not forget the cruel treatment of Hera who dismissed him as ugly and lacking in usefulness. Like so many men today who wish to be seen as something other than utilities for women and society, Hephaestus remains angry;

Hephaestus says: “Thetis saved me when I suffered much at the time of my great fall through the will of my own brazen-faced mother, who wanted to hide me for being lame. Then my soul would have taken much suffering had not Eurynome and Thetis caught me and held me… With them I worked nine years as a smith, and wrought many intricate things; pins that bend back, curved clasps, cups, necklaces, working there in the hollow of the cave, and the stream of Okeanos around us went on forever with its foam and its murmur.” 2

Classical sociologist Philip Slater suggests that Hera despises her son’s masculinity and his disability, preferring instead to have a son of heroic proportions who could provide her with utility and glory. Hera’s attitude provokes, in later myths, a kind of self-abasing buffoonery from Hephaestus that Slater interprets as “an appropriate response to his mother’s narcissistic resentment of males–she cannot deflate him if he is already deflated–but it is therefore all the more inappropriate for dealing with her contrary desire for him to be a display piece and an agent for the expression of her masculine strivings. It is for this reason, after all, that she threw him down from Olympus.”3

Like Hephaestus, many men with disabilities are angry. They realize that they are being doubly marginalized due to the curse of having a penis yet being unable, or perhaps unwilling, to perform as utilities for women and society – they know they are being negatively judged for it.

In her mythos Hera provides the quintessential example of gynocentric feminism, along with ableist and misandrist attitudes to boot. Her attitude represents much that is wrong with the disability sector today – an underlying bigotry that men must reject if they are to enjoy freedom, dignity and self-respect.

Challenging that bigotry is precisely what Hephaestus does. He gains redress against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical golden throne which, when she sat on it, did not allow her to stand up. None of the other gods could release her and they begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let his mother go, but he refused, saying “I have no mother.”4

The gods were impressed with his rebuke of Hera and agree accept him back into Olympian society as one of their own. This may be viewed as a positive reappraisal of his disability – Hephaestus possesses previously unrecognized skills, is sharp of mind, humbles Hera, and is accepted by the other Olympians. Here is a synopsis of the story thus far;

After his abandonment, Thetis found him and took him to her underwater grotto and raised him as her own son.

Hephaestus had a happy childhood with dolphins as his playmates and pearls as his toys. Late in his childhood, he found the remains of a fisherman’s fire on the beach and became fascinated with an unextinguished coal, still red-hot and glowing.

Hephaestus carefully shut this precious coal in a clamshell, took it back to his underwater grotto, and made a fire with it. On the first day after that, Hephaestus stared at this fire for hours on end. On the second day, he discovered that when he made the fire hotter with bellows, certain stones sweated iron, silver or gold. On the third day he beat the cooled metal into shapes: bracelets, chains, swords and shields. Hephaestus made pearl-handled knives and spoons for his foster mother, and for himself he made a silver chariot with bridles so that seahorses could transport him quickly. He even made slave-girls of gold to wait on him and do his bidding.

Later, Thetis left her underwater grotto to attend a dinner party on Mount Olympus wearing a beautiful necklace of silver and sapphires that Hephaestus had made for her. Hera admired the necklace and asked where she could get one. Thetis became flustered, causing Hera to become suspicious; and, at last, the queen god discovered the truth: the baby she had once rejected had grown into a talented blacksmith.

Hera was furious and demanded that Hephaestus return home, a demand that he refused. However he did send Hera a beautifully constructed chair made of silver and gold, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Hera was delighted with this gift but, as soon as she sat in it her weight triggered hidden springs and metal bands sprung forth to hold her fast. The more she shrieked and struggled the more firmly the mechanical throne gripped her; the chair was a cleverly designed trap.

For three days Hera sat fuming, still trapped in Hephaestus’s chair; she could not sleep, she could not stretch, she could not eat. It was Zeus who finally saved the day: he promised that if Hephaestus released Hera he would give him a wife, Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty. Hephaestus agreed and married Aphrodite.5

After his mother rejects him for having a mobility impairment he becomes angry and he ensures that her mobility is impaired by trapping her in a throne. The gesture can be read as forcing Hera to experience a mobility challenge that she seemed utterly unable or unwilling to sympathize with.

Commenting on the story, disability advocate William Ebenstein states;

In the Hephaestus myth we can discern a positive psychology of anger that is grounded in the experience of disability. The disabled deity refuses to play the role of the passive victim. Instead he is an active creator in forging his future place in society. Hephaestus’ revenge is accomplished in such a clever and artful way that, in the end, it is enriching for the entire Olympian community.

In Hephaestus we find a character who is motivated by his anger to confront a world that has discarded him. He stages what amounts to a non-violent demonstration, an act of civil disobedience that completely shuts down Olympus. His stubborn anger does not lead to acceptance, adjustment or passivity. On the contrary it lifts him up to reclaim his dignity and civil rights. The story depicts a community that must adjust to someone who has been stigmatized, segregated, and discriminated against. It is the disabled character himself who creates the humorous situation as an effective tool to confront his oppression and challenge the existing order.6

Hephaestus’ anger energizes his expression of outrage in place of squashing it as a male character flaw. The problems he sees are in the world and Hephaestus takes action there, where it counts. His demonstration of outrage in response to an ugly world, or over acts of mistreatment, is mental health at its finest and similar expression needs to be encouraged and supported for all people with disabilities. In fact, speaking out of one’s anger is a perfect example of what is intended by the disability-related term self-advocacy.

Like our mythical protagonist, the ?Hephaestus man’ understands where the problem lies and will not have his concerns silenced.

Too often we see psychotherapists and rehabilitation counsellors engage in gender stereotyping, viewing positive anger as ‘male aggression,’ ‘patriarchy,’ or ‘toxic masculinity’ that in disabled and nondisabled men supposedly needs correcting. However killing the outrage is a misandric move, one that leads to a loss of personal agency in the world for men.

Thus far Hephaestus’ story has been one of rejection and redress. However the story is far more than a one-dimensional recounting of an “angrycrip” who ends up exacting revenge against his tormentors. It involves the larger vision of forging self-respect, the beginnings of which were long stirring before he sought to challenge the ableist culture among the gods.

Following his story from beginning to end we see the goal of self-respect is something Hephaestus cultivates quite independently from the respect he has won from the gods.7 After rejoining the Olympian hierarchy as dignified contributor – craftsman of the gods – he continues the inner work he started as a child when he located value in his own eyes, and not in the shallow eyes of others.

The key principle, one given in an incisive article by Paul Elam, is “self-respect isn’t earned, it’s taken.”8 When Hephaestus engages with the Olympian community, he doesn’t need to wait around for their validation, he has already wrested it by his own self-assessment.

The Hephaestus man is the one who expresses his outrage at offensive behavior, and who chooses to cultivate self-respect. By respecting himself and demanding the same from others, Hephaestus demonstrates exactly what these things mean for men in today’s world, disabled or not.


[1] Evelyn-White translation, Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo (1914)
[2] Richmond Lattimore translation, The Iliad by Homer (1951)
[3] Philip E. Slater, The Glory of Hera: Greek Mythology and The Greek Family (1968)
[4] Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, pp.155-158 (1951)
[5] Wikipedia, Greek myths of Hephaestus, (Roman name Vulcan changed to Hephaestus above)
[6] William Ebenstein, Toward an Archetypal Psychology of Disability Based on the Hephaestus Myth (2006)
[7] Murray Stein, Hephaistos: A pattern of introversion, in The Selected Works of Murray Stein (1973).
[8] Paul Elam, Self-respect isn’t earned, it’s taken (2015)

Men and disability – Part 2: Institutional gynocentrism

Men and disability – Part 1
Men and disability – Part 2
Men and disability – Part 3

double bladey

As with parenting and school education, the disability sector is overwhelmingly managed and staffed by women. They are the nurses, community support workers, personal care assistants, physiotherapists, guidance counselors and so on. That domination ensures women’s views about gender govern the provision of services for most disabled men. Before discussing the problems created by this skewed situation, let’s begin with a look at the rise of the disability rights movement.

Although disability issues received varying levels of attention throughout history, they became an international cause célèbre from 1960s, this on the tail of the black civil rights movement in America, and coinciding with the rise of second wave feminism. This generated nothing short of a revolution in awareness about the lives and needs of people with disabilities.

The disability rights movement helped to secure greater access to the social and physical environment, as well as opportunities for independent living, employment, education, and housing. It also promoted freedom from abuse, neglect, and other violations, and the establishment of civil rights legislation to secure these opportunities and rights.

So far so good. However in recent years the movement has suffered mission-creep into the arena of gender politics. We are now more likely to hear about domestic violence and sexual assault against disabled women, their wage discrimination and other forms of double-disadvantage, while contrasting them with the depravity, privilege, rapiness and violence-proneness of disabled men — a narrative fostering denial of vulnerabilities men may face along with a demonizing of men to boot.

It’s a growing problem that needs to be stopped.

I’m not suggesting we should stop paying attention to issues like sexual assault and abuse against women, which absolutely must be addressed for this vulnerable demographic. But we needn’t demonize men and boys as the default perpetrator class, nor discriminate against them which we do by refusing to recognize males as victims of abuse and by dismissing or silencing those who might speak about it.

I know dozens of disabled men who have suffered serious violence or sexual abuse who have been afraid to tell someone for fear of being disbelieved, blamed or ridiculed. Marginalizing the issues of disabled men in the service of a one-sided gendered approach ultimately undermines the good work of the disability rights movement during the last 50 years – it shifts the focus from a humanitarian movement to a largely sexist one from within its own culture.

The gynocentric approach is compounded by the fact that most workers in the sector are women, who understandably have a more empathic appreciation of women’s concerns than men’s. The existence of female bias in the disability sector can be stressed in the following way: many women possess an inadequate understanding of the experiences and concerns of men with disabilities.

Poorly educated female workers, ie. those providing most of the frontline services, tend to rely on male stereotypes to guide their understandings of clientele, imposing the usual boilerplate images of males as utilitarian, rough, insensitive, sport obsessed, sex-obsessed, and so on. That vision is devoid of deeper knowledge of men generally, is at variance to the individuality of males specifically, and it tends to dictate the tone of care.

At this point readers may feel I’m being a little hard on female disability workers, which is correct. More accurately I’m being hard on the current culture of disability services because of the growing gynocentric trend, and pointing to an area of potential improvement in service provision. To be fair, I have no hesitation in admitting the existence of excellent female disability workers who do understand men’s issues and provide a very high quality of support, but these are more often the exception rather than the rule. This article however is attempting to show where disability services are failing in their duty of care for men, and the increasing gynocentric culture is, at least to my thinking, the area of greatest failure.

Having worked in the disability field for 30 years, I’ve had more opportunity than most to observe the provision of services to men. The following are six areas where gender stereotyping is failing men with disabilities.

1. Men do, women are
In a recent article I described how men are considered utilities or ‘action men’ expected to be of service to others.1 The expectation is sadly no different for disabled men, and one of the first things female support workers often do is put him to work doing odd jobs and showing him how to be ‘useful’ to women and society. A woman with an identical disability will often get asked a different set of questions – like what do you want to do to have fun.

2. Male aggression or violence is an attempt to dominate
Both men and women with disabilities sometimes find life frustrating and lash out in anger. Typically males are lectured about how their aggression upsets other people, causes damage to the wider world, and are instructed on how to control their anger – while the disabled woman who lashes out in the same manner is calmed and asked what or who is bothering her and perhaps how the world might be rearranged so that it doesn’t upset her again. Disability support workers are less likely to consider the real distress or powerlessness that causes men to lash out.

3. Males are rarely victims of violence
Government media campaigns focusing solely on “violence against women” have encouraged the assumption that men are default perpetrators who don’t suffer violence. The belief among support workers that disabled men are safe from violence has created an environment in which abused men are less likely to speak up and seek help… there is no encouragement to do otherwise. Despite the fact that U.S. Department of Justice has reported violence crimes against disabled men and women at roughly equal rates,2 a Google search for information delivers the following disparity of awareness:

4. Males are unlikely to suffer sexual abuse or rape
As with men in prisons who experience high levels of sexual assault, disabled males are four times more likely than nondisabled men to be sexually assaulted or raped.3 The researchers of that study found that more than 5 percent of disabled men reported experiencing sexual assault during the past year, about equal to sexual assaults against disabled women.3

If ‘rape culture’ is based in social invisibility and voicelessness of a victim group, then disabled men are dealing with a legitimate rape culture – one entrenched by the people who receive a weekly pay-cheque to help lift that silence. Again a Google search speaks volumes:

5. Men are less in need of assistance than women

wheelchair stairs

Patriarchy makes climbing stairs in a wheelchair easy?

As addressed in part one, disabled men are deemed privileged by patriarchy while women with disabilities are considered doubly disadvantaged by the same. The gynocentric privileges historically afforded to women have not yet entered the discourse – such as being recipients of living expenses drawn from male labor, or receiving greater provision and protection generally. Gynocentric prioritization is further underlined in phrases like “damsel in distress,” “ladies before gentlemen,” “girls before boys” or “ladies first,”, which are codes of chivalric and gentlemanly behavior that place disabled men in second place on the basis of their sex.

The stereotype of the cigar-smoking, brandy swilling patriarch, in combination with the custom of “ladies first,” sees that men are at a disadvantage to women in the fight for limited disability services.

6. Male sexual needs are socially unacceptable
Men’s sexual desires are gross and in need of suppressing or civilizing, so think some individuals charged with supporting men with disabilities. Cultural narratives characterizing male sexuality as dirty, violent and oppressive are clearly toxic to male self-image, however some among the mostly female workforce have adopted that negative mindset and with it created barriers to men’s attempts to enjoy healthy sexual expression.

When a disabled man desires a woman, or masturbates, or perhaps decides to hire a prostitute – all natural behaviors – female support workers tend to be unsupportive, believing sexual desires must be tamed in the service of something more civilized such as nonsexual dating and romantic love.

I have observed female staff match-make male and female clientele — treating them like Barbie & Ken in a child’s dolls house — while also instructing men in the arts of non-sexual chivalry, such as bringing gifts and flowers for a potential girlfriend or perhaps taking her to a romantic restaurant while the support worker plays hostess. While perhaps well meaning, my reading of such intervention is that it leaves out many aspects of male nature, especially male sexual needs, in favor of gynocentric themes which is ultimately an insult to the men in question.

. . .

These are just a few examples of biases men with disabilities face. Problems generated by gynocentrism and misandry within the disability sector (and beyond) are sometimes blatant and at other times subtle, but in either case they are mostly unrecognized and unquestioned by those on the front lines of service provision.

Men with disabilities receive little more empathy than their able-bodied counterparts – and in some respects they receive less. As with all men’s issues, from health funding to prostate cancer, birth control options, or homelessness, men are going to have to speak up – in fact they are going to have to shout up. Those in power might not see men’s pain, but they will hear men’s anger.

This leads to the next article in this series where we will look at a new kind of man with a disability – he is the one who says “No” to gynocentrism and other forms of mistreatment, and acts decisively to shut them down.


[1] Peter Wright, Don’t just do something, SIT THERE (June 2015)
[2] Harrell, E., Rand, M., Crime Against People with Disabilities, U.S. Department of Justice (2008)
[3] Mitra, Monika, Vera E. Mouradian, and Marci Diamond. Sexual Violence Victimization Against Men with Disabilities, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2011)

Feature image: Cpl. Anthony McDaniel

Men and disability – Part 1: The Supercrip

Men and disability – Part 1
Men and disability – Part 2
Men and disability – Part 3


Stephen Hawking

Throughout history men with disabilities have reached the heights of human achievement in personal and cultural terms, and they did so without the help of social justice warriors or modern reforms to laws, community access, or improved social attitudes toward disability.

Think of the presidents, artists, scientists, blade runners and the Everest-scaling amputees who reached for greatness, along with their less visible counterparts who went about their daily lives in less grandiose but nevertheless competent ways while living with a disability.

Disability always poses limitations on a person’s physical or mental abilities, but the disability never encompasses the entire person – there remain competencies that deserve equal recognition in the mix.

Said differently a person is never completely disabled, just as there is no such thing as a person without a disability, however mild; eg. asthma, eczema, or gluten allergy can likewise interfere with daily functioning, forcing you to buy special creams and soaps or having to skip lunch with friends because you can’t eat the food at that restaurant.

A study of high achievers illustrates the point of competency existing alongside disability. Franklin D. Roosevelt had post-polio paralysis, Ray Charles was blind, Christopher Reeve had a spinal injury, George Washington had dyslexia, Ludwig van Beethoven went deaf, Albert Einstein had Aspergers, Leonardo Da Vinci was epileptic, and the cosmologist Stephen Hawking has advanced motor neurone disease. Yet all of these men reached the top of their fields of interest.

Admiration of such men is today frowned upon by social justice warriors (SJWs) who believe the achievements misrepresent the common man with a disability and lead him to feel inferior by comparison. Referred to disparagingly as “supercrips” (super cripples), SJWs disparage high achievers as tall poppies who disrupt the level playing field, traitors who promote ableism instead of accepting their lot as sufferers without talents or abilities.

In a more reasonable use of the term, supercrip is sometimes employed as a reference to fanciful caricatures; eg. exaggerated claims about men on the autism spectrum as genius savants; or that the deaf have the sight of an eagle; or that the blind possess sonic radar abilities like dolphins or bats that help them move around the physical environment. There is no doubt, however, that the supercrip slur is also aimed at men with disabilities who genuinely achieved great things, but who are perceived as succeeding due to an unfair degree of male privilege.

Sound familiar? Most would have heard this criticism before, after 50 years of feminism’s attempts to tear down every man who has had the drive and discipline to reach the top of his field. Even our disabled heroes are not spared by feminists who refer to them as ‘privileged by patriarchy’ and thus less handicapped than disabled women:

“It will be argued in this paper that disability is a more severely handicapping condition for women than for men… [men] are relatively advantaged in that they can observe and may aspire to the advantaged place of males in today’s society. Women with disabilities are perceived as inadequate to fulfill either the economically productive roles traditionally considered appropriate for males.

“In research conducted by Mauer disabled females were more likely than disabled males to identify with a disabled storybook character; the disabled males were more likely to identify with the able-bodied character (1979). Disabled men may have a choice between a role of advantage (male) and a role of disadvantage (disability). Their decision is frequently a strategic identification with males.1

Feminist scholars refer to this as a ‘double disadvantage’ experienced by disabled women because they suffer from both disability and sexism, while their male counterparts are presumably being served up with caviar in their patriarchally privileged, gold-plated wheelchairs. Referring to the intersectional model, many feminists would go further and talk of multiple disadvantages such as triple, quadruple, or quintuple handicaps as would be the case for a black, transgendered, albino woman with a disability….. but I digress.

Indeed, a survey of feminist-inspired literature reveals a disturbing emphasis on what is lacking in comparison to what is good in the lives of disabled individuals, with that fixation coming at the expense of recognizing the multiple competencies or abilities that disabled individuals might possess. Moreover, the practice of gender stereotyping obscures the uniqueness of the individual, as underscored by sociologist Tom Shakespeare who states, “Disabled people’s gender identity is more complex and more varied than this stereotypical view indicates. Some women feel liberated from social expectation as a result of impairment; some men feel doubly inferior.”2


Sgt. Jerrod Fields, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete

The double-disadvantage meme has led to the widespread view that disabled men gain privilege at women’s expense, an advantage apparently in need of restricting in order to give disabled women a head start. In order to bring women forward we are led to believe we must push men back and downplay their extraordinary achievements.

Ridding the world of tall poppies, however, results in having no one to look up to. It forces us to lower our vision to a mean-average of attainment where social justice warriors seem bent on placing us – including those with disabilities. Some of us may be content with day-to-day existing and are not interested in pushing our personal limits, but there are others who want more. By honoring the achievements of exceptional people we understand a greater range of possibility, and can set our goals as high as we choose.


[1] Michelle Fine, ‘Disabled women: Sexism Without the Pedestal’ Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare (1977)
[2] Tom Shakespeare, ‘When is a man not a man? When he’s disabled,’ in Working with Men for Change, p.49 (1999)

Feature image of Stephen Hawking by Lwp Kommunikáció