A friend of mine posted about her frustration with the etiquette of coats yesterday. She is able bodied.
The women who stick their arms out, waiting for a man to put her coat on her. The expectation of courtesy, when a woman can put on her own coat.
And she made the caveat that of course, she leaves the door open for acceptability when it comes to mobility issues.
For the able bodied (whose company I have never been a part), I suspect these things are easy. I suspect that it can be hard to imagine a world in which sometimes it is harder to tie your shoes than to do rocket science. I think this is where the assumptions of ability come from, it’s not that they hate people with disabilities, it’s merely that imagining what that like is like is beyond their immediate capacity. Often, the experience of disability is through wheelchairs, or guide dogs. The intricacies and subtle nuances of disability are lost on those who have not had the experience of living with one – in the same way that I cannot imagine what it’s like to get up in the morning and be able to just get going, others may not understand why it is so hard for me to stick my feet into my shoes.
The only people who have lived in both worlds are those who have lived with temporary disabilities, and they are the ones who can sometimes bridge that gap between understanding.
But as with all things, the situation is more complicated than that. For me, I let my husband help me with my coat because of chronic pain in my shoulders. I sometimes struggle to find my left armhole because of my peripheral vision. Some people live with such bad chronic pain that they cannot raise their arms above their head.
When we identify as feminists, we must draw the line between acceptable surface “patriarchy” in the service of disability. Yes, the image of a woman being helped with her coat by a man hearkens back to ages where that was expected courtesy. When a man opens a car door, to some that signals an inability to do it for herself. Because it’s a man’s job.
I wait for my husband to open the car door because without depth perception, I don’t know if I will hit the car next to us in a parking lot. I would do the same in a friend’s car if the driver were a woman.
Opening doors? Sometimes I can’t see them, sometimes it is too dark. Glass doors and I do not get along.
Is it patriarichial or anti-feminist because my laundry delivery guy carries my laundry up the stairs for me? He’s not doing it because I’m a woman. He’s doing it because I told him I have chronic back pain.
We have to stop making the assumption that everyone is doing things just because they’ve been told to by social convention.
I’m sure that people assume my husband and I have a traditional relationship because of the ways in which we interact. But they can’t tell until I snap out my white cane, that perhaps things aren’t quite so simple.
Invisible disabilities are also lumped into the “bad feminist” image, because perhaps there is no indication that a woman cannot get on her coat, cannot push open a heavy door.
These gestures which are labeled as antiquated, anti feminist, and inappropriate are also ones which can be the difference between someone being cold and carrying their coat, or not being able to get into a building. These considerations should be taken into account before the snap judgement of able bodied feminism comes into play.