I am a disabled woman and I feel like feminism leaves me out in the cold.I have never been catcalled, whistled at, told to smile more. No one, man or woman, has ever shamed me for how I dress. It’s not just because of my disability or the presence of my wheelchair. I know several wheelchair using women who have faced these things. I brought this up to my mom and she said that sometimes my default expression is one that some might call a resting bitch face and it was entirely possible that I intimidate them.
Before anyone chimes in with how lucky I am not to have experienced these things let me stop you. I am aware of my good fortune, being told to smile, being shamed for how you dress. Being catcalled and leered at by men just because they can is awful and shouldn’t be tolerated. Let me explain to you some things that I have gone through. Because of my disability and the wheelchair that it necessitates I am some people’s fetish fantasy. Let me repeat that again. A stranger who I had just met upon finding out that I was is able and use a wheelchair immediately wanted to date me just because of my chair. He wanted to date me because I would be dependent on him for a lot of things. My worth as a person began and ended with my disability. On another occasion, a guy in a grocery store struck up a conversation with me and without so much as bothering to learn my name casually asked if I was capable of having sex. He asked me this in a grocery store. Media does its best to pretend that disabled bodies don’t exist. I will watch a show simply for the presence of a disabled person in the story. The character doesn’t even have to have my disability, In fact, I can think of only three movies or television shows which had major characters with Cerebral Palsy. The characters are all men.
The disabled female body is minimized almost to the point of being erased. If I happen to be out without Gideon, my service dog, people bump into or trip over my chair all the time. When I was in high school classmates who sat behind me used to casually prop their feet up on my chair. These were always young men.
These extremes are not uncommon. Either strangers insist on trying to have ridiculously inappropriate conversations with me or they refuse to acknowledge I am a person at all. I have tried several times to bring the extreme dichotomy only to be told many times that I should be grateful for not having to endure the things that so many women deal with every day or I am told that many invading my personal space and treating me as furniture or an obstacle to be dismissed is not a conversation about feminism but an entirely different issue. It is a feminist issue because I experience these things while also being a woman. Don’t tell me that I’m lucky if I’m ignored by men. I would argue that being ignored does just as much damage as more overt forms of misogyny. You, who are supposed to be my sisters, deny my voice, tell me those are “problems” you wish you had. I have listened, shouldered your worries, fought beside you in battles that are not my own. I have done this because I have grown up believing that women have a responsibility to lift each other up whenever possible in a society that would often rather muffle a woman’s voice or deny it altogether. Just because my story doesn’t look like the story of an able-bodied woman doesn’t mean it’s not a part of the feminist narrative. I hear the phrase intersectional feminism used a lot lately. Ladies, it is time to show up and put your money where your mouth is, disabled women are women too and we deserve to have our voices heard in the feminist conversation.