As feminists, we more often tend to talk about intersectionality in ways of race, sexual orientation, or even gender expression. Intersectionality is such an important area of understanding feminism because you have to check your privilege and bias as the door. For example, I understand my white, heterosexual privilege when looking as issues involving race and sexuality because it is necessary in order to even attempt to understand other women’s experiences. However, one area of privilege that often gets overlooked is checking our able-bodied privilege.
Now as I talk about disability through the post, I do want to clarify that I am referring to physical disability. Women with disabilities cognitively or with mental illness are also important to include in the conversation, but for the sake of this post (and to not rant for 86 pages) I will just be focusing on perceptions of women with physical disabilities.
Some people within the disability community claim they “often feel ostracized by mainstream feminist media, which seems almost exclusively focused on the experiences of able-bodied people.” Others believe it stems from the idea of capability. Part of feminism is proving that women are just as capable as men, but in regard to women who are physically disabled- are we still allowing them to join that sentiment? Blogger Neurodiverget K explains, “Worth and capability are not, or should not, be synonymous. All people, regardless of gender or ability status or race or sexuality or any other thing, should be seen as worthy of respect and rights. Our worth is not, or at least should not, be determined by what our capabilities are.”
Often, disability comes as an afterthought, as an identity not as prevalent so it can linger in the realm of invisibility in feminist thought. Many people may respond to this thought negatively, saying they are very conscious of others marginalizations and they would never actively ignore someone’s oppression. I felt the same way at first thinking about this, but the more I honestly examined my opinion I realized I had not created room for people with disabilities in my perception of women’s issues; it had never crossed my mind. The culture we live in though supports these exclusionary thoughts and creates spaces for us to throw the invisibility cloak over women with disabilities problems.
“The fact that women have been historically discriminated against doesn’t give able-bodied women the right to discount the feelings of people with disabilities.”
It is when we can take the cloak off and reach levels of visibility that we can begin discussing these issues and start including women with disabilities voices in the conversation. I was so thrilled when I found out about the reality show Push Girls on the Sundance channel that premiered last year. Push Girls features four women who are living in a wheelchair as either paraplegics or quadriplegics, and provides commentary on the struggles of being a female with disabilities. Many television shows depict the disabled community as incompetent or as a “token” minority featured to make a show more diverse, as they have become one of the last minority groups to get social status on television. However, Push Girls breaks this barrier and focuses on the lives of the four women, specifically their sex and love lives. Each woman faces challenges concerning female sexuality and the expectations of womanhood that people commonly assume that women with disabilities do not participate in, such as relationships, sex or motherhood.
Push Girls portrays women with disabilities as sexual beings that are not devoid of love and affection from others, but women who are sexy and confident, oh and then who happen to be in a wheelchair. One of the women Mia explains, “Being in a wheelchair does create an image in other people’s minds. So it is nice to show them someone who has taken an effort in their appearance. I think most people haven’t seen sexy in a wheelchair so that’s why they can’t fathom it. Being yourself and confidence is sexy.” Another woman on the show Tiphany agrees saying, “the common misconception of people in wheelchairs is that they sit at home in dirty sweats, with food on their shirt, playing some kind of video game all day long and are just stinky and gross.” The women then defy these cultural stereotypes of the community by instead embracing their sexuality, navigating relationships, and discussing sex and pregnancy. They even highlight one of Tiphany’s relationships with another woman because Tiphany is bisexual. Highlighting Miyoko and Tiphany’s relationship demonstrates not only a lesbian relationship- something definitely worth representing on television for LGBT visibility- but the relationship between the able bodied and disabled person increasing that visibility as well.
We need more shows like Push Girls to help show others what the reality of women with disabilities looks like. Also, if you feel as if you don’t even know how to navigate conversations about disability, do some research. Look for things that you can do to check your privilege and create a closer bond with all of our sisters- whether they walk or roll up to the conversation.