Disability is a Feminist Issue

Until recently, I would never have considered disability a feminist topic, probably because I had never really considered disability at all. I believed I was as tolerant as any able-bodied individual could be. I tried to avoid using retarded as a descriptor; I never parked in handicap slots; I always supported building renovations aimed at better accessibility. I even once had to use a wheelchair and then crutches for an entire two months when I broke my ankle in elementary school, so I knew I was completely qualified to empathize with the disabled. Really, what more could anyone ask of me?

As I found out a few Google searches later, a lot more. I explored a couple blogs written about the intersection between feminism and disability [For those looking for more information, I suggest starting with Forward: FWD (feminist with disabilities) for a way forward], and quickly understood why disability issues deserve full feminist support. I believe, and I feel most other feminist do too, that feminism is about fighting social constructs that impede women’s full and equal inclusion in society. Activist for the disabled aim to do the exact same thing except for a different segment of the population. Allow me to show you through a few particularly striking parallels:

  • Do all women want the same things? Do we all have the same goals? Of course not because we are individuals first, then women. Many feminist fight against the mass generalizations made against women, so why then is it ok to group all the disabled together when disabilities range from minor cognition issues to serious physical handicaps?
  • Does it make you angry when people throw the word bitch around? Unless you have some pretty rad third-wave friends, then I’m assuming it probably does. Maybe you even go as far as to confront people when they use that word? Now, be honest with your self, do you ever correct people for using retarded to describe things they dislike or find stupid? Maybe you’ve even caught yourself saying it; I know I have. Using bitch as an insult perpetuates the idea that powerful women are unacceptable. Using retarded as a negative adjective supports assumptions that those who learn differently are unintelligent. How then can a feminist condone the use of retarded when she cannot condone bitch?
  • Have you ever felt as if you have to work twice as hard to have others take you seriously just because you’re a woman? Why is that? The answer is simple because men currently have the dominant position in society. Easy follow-up question: who dominates societally, the able-bodied or the disabled? The able-bodied, obviously. Having been discriminated against for being female, how can we turn our backs on another section of society that also faces instantaneous and unfair judgments based not on qualifications, but categorizations?

The connections between feminism and disability activism don’t stop there. Even if they did, wouldn’t you feel compelled to show some support with such strong fundamental ties between the two? If we want our issues to be taken seriously, we need to learn to take other similar causes seriously. So please, next time you hear someone describe something as retarded, interject as if they had said bitch. Force people to discuss disability issues and when you talk about them, try to consider them with the same sincerity as you would feminism.

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