I read this interesting article on Buzzfeed “The 1970s Feminist Who Warned Against Leaning In” promoting a reissue of Sheila Rowbotham’s book ‘Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World’.
Whilst I found it interesting with some excellent points made I couldn’t help but feel the lack of any discussion about disability was a glaring omission. The issue of work, what is work and who is valued for working are important feminist issues, they are also important disability issues. Just as feminism has highlighted the repression of women as their unpaid labour is undervalued and exploited under capitalism we need to highlight how disabled people are written off as ‘scroungers’ as we are often unable to work and become ‘economically productive’ (and therefore ‘productive members of society’) in an abled society that makes no or little adaptations to our needs. Feminism has highlighted the importance of women doing the vast majority of care work, such as looking after children and elderly and disabled relatives. But what about those of us who are the ‘looked after’? After all so many of us are women too.
For feminism to be truly intersectional we must consider disability issues, disability is a feminist issue. Many women are disabled. Many chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities affect greater numbers of women and are not taken seriously because of this. Women with disabilities are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse and violence, disabled people are routinely ‘desexualised’ and this has effects on issues such as pregnancy and parenthood. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, the way disabled people are expected to be passive, grateful and mostly silent in a role that echoes the restrictive ‘feminine’ role pushed onto women for example.
But back to work, in a climate where benefit ‘reforms’ and spending cuts are disproportionally harming both women and disabled people, disabled women are at high risk. When our very humanity and right to access basic support is debated every day, when we are cast as scroungers for accessing the support we are entitled to, when we are assumed to be faking it and have to jump through an ever increasing number of hoops to prove we aren’t the issue of work and disability is really important. When all this causes a massive rise in disability hate crime, It’s a matter of life and death, yet I can’t honestly remember the last time I saw a general or feminist discussion on capitalism and work which included disability as anything more than a footnote, if that.
I have written previously on how ‘leaning in’ in impossible for many women, including disabled women, and I still remain pretty much constantly disappointed by the lack of inclusion of disabled voices within feminism, even supposedly ‘intersectional’ feminism. Feminism is about giving women a voice, yet why are we leaving disabled women voiceless? We are rightly critical of the idea that women be ‘looked after’ by their husbands and not afforded any independence but where are the loud, critical voices when disabled women are becoming ever more reliant on being ‘looked after’ when our support allowing us independence is being cut? Where are the voices of those who cannot work in this society when we are discussing work, labour and class analysis? If the ability to get out the house and work has been so important to feminism and women’s ‘freedom’ then what about those of us who can’t ? I am a young woman who is intelligent, well educated and capable yet I am far from independent, I rely so much on my family because with chronic illness I am unable to work enough to support myself.