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.

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Inspired by Reni Edo-Lodge’s excellent piece on Feminist Times and the backlash/’debate’ on twitter (I cba to link to it, esp as a lot appears to be ganging up on one woman so fuck ‘impartiality’)  I’m going to share my thoughts on this whole ‘shared girlhood’ and ‘common experience of woman-ness’ ideology that’s been going around.

Yes there are many common experiences many women across all backgrounds face; but do we ALL face them? And do we all face them in the same way? No. I am all for solidarity, I think it is vital women can talk about their shared experiences, I feel there is power in what you could call ‘consciousness raising’ BUT when that gets turned into a reluctance to acknowledge all the experiences facing women, especially those that intersect with other oppressions such as race, gender identity, disability and sexuality, it feels less like solidarity and more like being picked on for being the ‘odd one out. those with experiences outside the white-cis-abled-hetero-middle class experience are shouted down and effectively told we’re not ‘normal’ so our experiences ‘don’t count’ towards the magical ‘shared girlhood’.  It must also be noted that much of the ‘shared girlhood’ and talk of ‘safe spaces’ has been engineered to specifically exclude trans women and comes from a place of transphobic hate, yet in addition to this there are other issues with the concept of ‘shared female experience’ that exclude many women on the grounds of race, sexuality, disability , class etc.

I’ve been questioning the idea of some universal ‘shared girlhood’ from my personal perspectives due to disability etc for a while and acknowledge that different women experience different things or experience the same things in a different way due to various intersecting oppressions yet not once has it ever, EVER been a case of my ‘denying solidarity’ or whatever crap excuse for being racist, transphobic, disablist gets trotted out. It’s just the way I have experienced things.

In my own experience many of those ‘milestones’ of ‘shared experience’ happened very differently for me. Take periods, which are far from a ‘universal female experience’ anyway, in addition to the whole getting used to this weird new thing happening I had speculation about my health; would I be OK now I had my periods? Was my (as yet undiagnosed) M.E ‘just puberty’ and would it be OK now I’d started menstruating? I remember the overheard whispers about it all adding to the weird psychological stuff going along with all the ‘mysterious illness’ stuff.

Likewise street harassment and sexual harassment has been off and on for me, I have experienced it at times as a white cis woman who can pass as abled, yet I haven’t experienced the years or it happening on a constant level or those early interactions through your teens when you’re discovering sexuality, in my teens when I was supposed to be going out partying and ‘discovering’ boys or girls or whatever I was stuck at home. I have also had periods of being visibly disabled due to using aids such as a stick or wheelchair; believe me you don’t get the same experience if you’re being pushed along by your parents. In fact due to disability a helluva lot of my ‘shared girlhood’ or ‘universal female experience’ has been pretty solitary, I didn’t really enter ‘womanhood’ or whatever you want to call adolescence and early adulthood sharing anything much, a lot of that formative ‘shared experience’ for me consisted of being alone.

In talking about the ‘shared female experience’ we need to acknowledge that a ‘shared experience’ may not be universal and it is likely to be experienced in vastly different ways. We cannot assume a baseline of familiarity that is the same of everyone and discussions and shared spaces that assume this are by their very nature exclusive and unwelcoming, besides the fact that many can’t even access them in the first place for whatever reason.  They become vastly more exclusive and unwelcoming when women are harassed, insulted and told they are being ‘divisive’ or that they don’t care about ‘unity’ for questioning the universality of these experiences and demanding their own experiences are allowed space to be shared and discussed too. WE cannot assume that ‘women’s issues’ are  universal for all women; for instance I feel a lot of mainstream feminism and discussions around women in work are as relevant to me, a woman who cannot work full time and will probably never have a ‘career’, as a discussion on the merits of what tent is best to pack for an arctic expedition or a discussion on the place of women in the world of sky diving. Yet I have no problem with women discussing these issues as they are relevant to many women, my problem is when certain issues become seen as ‘universal’ when they are not and when other issues get sidelined and when women do want to discuss other issues  many make it clear that they DO have a problem with this.

I suppose what I’m trying to suggest is that ‘shared’ does not have to equal ‘the same’ and it is ok if we don’t all share everything. A safe space makes space for different experiences, listens and is willing to face up to the flaws of itself and those within it. It does not insist on silence and repression for the sake of ‘unity’. It does not recreate the hierarchies of the systems it claims to be against. Safe does not mean comfortable, and comfort for those with privilege should not come at the expense of those without, and all of us should be willing to acknowledge that we can be privileged and oppressed at the same time; for example asking that we acknowledge cis privilege does not negate or seek to ignore the oppression suffered by women at the hands of patriarchy, it just acknowledges the oppression of transphobia. I don’t have any instant solutions for a magical pop up safe shared space of wonder, these things take work.

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Some vague, messy thoughts in response to some shit being thrown around the twitter and blogosphere.

In the original blog post by Glosswatch (which has been edited to remove some remarks but no apology or note that it’s been edited has been posted) White women who identify as disabled, especially those with mental illness, were accused of using their disabilities and MH problems to ‘score points’ in some sort of oppression bingo,  of leverage in a battle to become ‘the best intersectional white feminist’. This is reminiscent of the ‘queerio’ bullshit spouted by TERFs on twitter . The ‘smugsexual’ stuff.  How Women of Colour have been accused of ‘not looking like a WoC’ and ‘making it up to further your agenda’.  All these examples use women’s identities against them in an attempt to discredit their arguments. They are prejudiced bullshit. They attempt to tell women that their lived experience isn’t valid or that it’s only worth is to be used as some sort of cheat code in an argument or game of oppression olympics.

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This has been an awakening, realising I am nothing, that I have to beg , to plead my case for existence, it hurts, it fucking hurts. To see your right to access society on an equal basis, or even to access it at all, debated as a money saving issue by people who remain unaffected by any of the changes they wreak on others lives. This a barely coherent rant taking on disability, feminism, intersectionality and the festering pile of bullshit that is neo-liberal capitalist society.

My thoughts are still somewhat muddled, I am not well versed in political writings, I cannot quote any great thinkers on these matters but I have seen  how those of us who are ‘economically inactive’, or who cost more than we earn are portrayed, how we are demonised.

To say I have ‘no value’ or even a ‘negative value’ may seem harsh, but it is true. It’s a realisation thats been rather painful, after all we’re all fed this bullshit that we’re   all kind and caring and we aren’t like those barbaric other places we bomb. We’re fed this individualist bullshit from our youth, this ‘work hard and you’ll prosper’ nonsense. That if you are a good person you will be treated well, that only those who do wrong or ‘have something to hide’ will be punished.

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