Sunday, January 22, 2012

Feminism 101 - Spoons as a concept…

Before we start, head over to Christine Miserandino’s piece from which the “spoon theory” has stemmed. It’s a brilliant piece, and the depth of understanding about what it is to have a disability that she managed to convey with her explanation is wonderful.

When I first started reading feminist blogs it wasn’t long before I started hearing about “spoons”
“I haven’t got the spoons”
“Urgh, I’m getting low on spoons”
“Anyone got the spoons to help me out with this jerk?”
And so-on.
I ended up asking a feminist friend to find out WTF people were talking about, because when you Google “spoon theory” you are more likely to read about the “silver spoon” sort of thing.
The overwhelming understanding in feminist circles appears to be that we only have limited resources to deal with our daily battles, whether they are personal, professional, or online. At times when there are heated debates on topics which may trigger us, those resources get depleted at a higher rate than usual.
Christine’s writing equated resources with spoons in relation to her Lupus, and the fact that those who live with Lupus have a constant struggle to maintain their lives while their condition deteriorates.
When people on the feminist blogs talk about “not having enough spoons” it may mean that they feel like they can’t deal with whatever it is that has been happening, do not have the energy to continue to debate, or just cannot find it in themselves to explain for what feels like the millionth time a concept to someone who may or may not actually want to learn.
Sometimes it is used among friends to ask for help. i.e. “I’m running out of spoons – can you come help deal with this troll?”
Sometimes to display distain at someone asking stupid questions, or repeating the same points. i.e. “I really don’t have the spoons to deal with you anymore.”

What is important to realise is that the Spoons concept was driven by someone with a long term debilitating illness. It is much loved by squillions of people who also struggle with limited spoons.
Go to twitter and use the hash tag #spoonies and you will find a reel of men and women all trying to cope with a myriad of disabilities daily and nightly. Their spoons are so much more valued than mine, just simply because I have more to start with, and do (usually) not have to truly economise with them.
It is for this reason that I don’t use the term “spoons”, because I feel like it isn’t really mine to use. I like the phrase, and I sure as hell think that it is relevant to everyone at some point in time, but it just feels a little like I’m undermining the original meaning now that I am in the fullness of health.

Tea-spoons is another phrasing that is less commonly used (as I have noticed), and the origions of this seem to be Florynce Kennedy. Check out the lovely Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville who uses the term regularly.

Just by nobody doing nothing the old bullshit mountain just grows and grows. Chocolate-covered, of course. We must take our little teaspoons and get to work. We can't wait for shovels."

I hope that this helps out people looking to find out what the heck is being talked about on the blogs when someone refers to “spoons”. Let's grab our tea-spoons and start shoveling hey?

Below I have included what spoons mean to other people, because there seems to be a slightly wider range than just what I thought.

“spoons” is just such a nice, succinct way of expressing “a finite, slowly-renewable resource I have to consciously think about allocating.”

I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness.

Maya of “capitalism bad”
“Something that you might like to be aware of is that the person who wrote it, and others who have similar health issues (she has Lupus) are very critical of the way that it has been used much more broadly than originally intended...
There is an argument that the wide adoption of the metaphor for the lives of people under very different circumstances is a form of appropriation."

I always thought it referred to having the patience to spoon-feed information in small and easily digestible chunks. But I think that was an assumption or I made it up-recently read the spoon-theory some1 linked to on THM & it's very different.
I should've made it "patience, time & ability" I realise it's more than just about getting frustrated with newbies sometimes.

1. We, the community of people with invisible chronic illnesses, need a terminology that describes just our experiences to use amongst each other and with the outside world.
2. That terminology, so far, is mostly The Spoon Theory.
3. The spoon theory has been great in getting the message across that our pain and fatigue and other symptoms make our daily lives very different from people who don't have invisible chronic illnesses.
4. People have taken the terminology and run with it.
5. This is great when it's being used to describe the experiences of people with invisible chronic illnesses.
6. This is problematic when it gets used for other things.
8. Thank you.

I think of #spoons as an inverse of harmful culture, which is created by millions of small actions, each on their own trivial but collectively add up to something monstrous. #Spoons is the neutralizing of harmful culture in the same way - in tiny steps.
And the great benefit of #spoons is that the big problem is too big to comprehend fully, or to try to address. Whereas #spoons allows us to deal with small actions, one isn't overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.

there's this, though it doesn't add anything. :)

Can't find the post, but short answer: pick the fights that are worth winning, and self-care is really important. No point trying to be any kind of activist if you're too tired for the fight.

There's another spoon concept, of using a teaspoon to empty an ocean, of misogyny usually. A huge and impossible task for one person, but little bit by little bit, as feminists from all over the world work on a issue, each wielding a teaspoon, the ocean is lowered.

NB: I have found Christine Miserandino very approachable and there may well be a response from her updated to this page in the next few days... fingers and toes crossed :)


  1. I very consciously avoid using the concept, because I am not living with disabilities, and I really don't want to appropriate it. I do sometimes find myself running short of time and energy to blog, but only in the ordinary context of my family and my job. I just get very, very busy elsewhere, and there goes the time and energy needed for blogging. So be it.

    There's another spoon concept, of using a teaspoon to empty an ocean, of misogyny usually. A huge and impossible task for one person, but little bit by little bit, as feminists from all over the world work on a issue, each wielding a teaspoon, the ocean is lowered.

  2. just saying:

    Thanks Scuba Nurse. I have an invisible disability, and when I finally found out what spoon theory was, well it was a revelation, and I was delighted to pass it on to others in my disability network (some of whom were already aware of it).

    No-one has unlimited resources, so I can quite understand how such a wonderful theory has been adopted by the wider feminist community. But I can understand how it being generalised could undermine its original purpose.

    I tried to google it and look it up in urban dictionaries to no avail. Maybe if I'd googled "spoon theory" and not just "spoons".

    I don't think I'm the only THM reader who was unsure of the meaning. I had several working theories about what it meant, but none quite fitted the wide range of contexts I'd seen it used in. I suspect many who thought they understood were unaware of the specific disability context the theory arose from.

  3. thanks guys, Deborah - Ive added your quote to both of the blog postings, it is great!

  4. Thanks for providing a welcoming 101 space. I'm really excited to learn more.


  5. Great to see/learn of a shared vocab for the limited human energy resource.
    I've dealt with aches and pains earlier than my years should have allowed. Many of the ouches stemmed from back injuries sustained in military service. Episodes would limit the number of times I could bend over; to pick something p, weed, ties my shoes, etc. After years of over spending the ability to bend I learned a way to describe the limit - for myself and for folks who depended on me for things.
    I thought of the local fairs where we bought tickets to ride Ferris Wheels and roller casters. Each ride cost a certain number of tickets. Kiddie rides were simple and cheap on tickets. Thrillers cost more tickets and were a bigger experience overall.
    I started to refer to "bend-over tickets" as a way to define my healthy limits, desire to participate and the worth of any activity that was going to use my resource of "bending over."
    Spoons is just as good a term and it comes with your well researched post about its origins and usage.
    Thanks for expanding my vocab and my ability to communicate with the able-er folks I deal with.

  6. I came across the spoon theory just before my accident. My much more socially aware husband explained it, I thought it sounded like a great way to impart the information, but I did point out I felt like I had more than enough spoons on any given day, I had a healthy spoon amount.
    Then I had my accident at work.
    It is difficult when someone who is used to being the "head of the household" and "bringer of the money" suddenly cannot get dressed unaided into their normal clothes. I think the most difficult bit for me was not being able to drive my car, followed by not being able to work.
    Then came the dealing with the work insurance people (How many hours had you slept? How heavy was the object that fell on you -sorry didn't think to weigh it- How bad is your pain? How bad is your pain really? Why can't your (non-driving) husband drive the family around?), and management (You will report to head office tomorrow, 250kms away). Then our landlord issued a notice to leave as he was selling the property in a few weeks, and everything just became overwhelming.

    And although I do not have a chronic illness. Although my injuries are progressing slowly but surely towards better. I now use spoons.
    Instead of just announcing to the world I am at the end of my tether when I get there, I can let people know I am making conscious choices where to expend myself.

    I feel sad when people with bad chronic conditions tell me I cannot use spoons. It is their's alone apparently.


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