I own my disability. It’s a part of my feminism. It is part of how I believe I came to be a feminist– and sometimes this part of my feminism gets me into trouble because I want more intersection in my life.
Last week I read an interview with Kathleen Hanna in which she said: ” I am not Lyme disease, that’s not who I am, I’m still a feminist artist, but this is a part of my story too, and I’m not going to keep it out to look cooler. [laughs] I mean, how can I look any cooler?”
And I had my kneejerk reaction. And I think that kneejerk reaction was right. No, she’s not Lyme disease in the same way that I’m not congenital rubella. The fact that she thought about the idea that having lyme disease would make her less cool was obvious, I felt like her comment made it sound like being a person with an illness didn’t make her a feminist artist… and these are the things I struggle against. In order to be seen as a whole person I have to own my disabilities. I want to stand up and say that they are a part of me just as much as they are a part of my feminism. Just as much as my queer upbringing. I can’t help but be who I am. Disability isn’t something we choose, and often I fear that people don’t identify with it because they’re afraid of looking weak. Personally, I think the women I know with disabilities are stronger than any I have known. I’m slowly amassing a network of women with disabilities, strong fierce women who make my feminism stronger, because they inspire me to work harder for us.
Many of these women don’t identify as feminists because mainstream feminism hasn’t included us yet – the fight for minorities to be recognized as feminist entities has always been contentious.
But owning that disability and that illness I think is what makes the intersectionality of feminism and disability activism important. Feminism is about being strong in our womanhood. About being equal. Hearing that women with disabilities don’t feel like they are feminists reminds me that the general perception of us is weak. People with disabilities can be artists and feminists and strong and noble and they can BE without just being their disease or ailment.
Instead of allowing my disability to be diminished or my disability to own me, I’m putting disabled feminism into practice. And every day I push just a little harder. It’s hard work to have a disability, to live with it, and to fight with it. It’s awesome to beat your limitations and surpass what people believe you’re capable of.
Today I heard about a woman in a manual wheelchair who wheeled herself up and down a hill every day at school. That is power. There are examples of strong women with disabilities in history, like Helen Keller, who fought for her ability to communicate. Like Harriet Tubman, who went blind while helping slaves escape to freedom. Both of these women were introduced to me as a child as feminist icons. So why is it so hard for women with disabilities to find themselves included in feminism? We need intersectionality. We need it to live in that world. The perception of weakness leaves us without agency, adrift in a sea of theory. Instead of giving in to that perception, I’m putting disabled feminism into practice. And every day I push just a little harder. To have a disability, to live with it, and to fight with it is a strength. It’s the very essence of how I live my life to surpass expectations of those around me. And I know that I am not alone.
This is what my feminism looks like.