First off: don’t panic at the title. Discussions about feminism on the internet don’t have the best rep but I’m going to avoid putting anything in caps lock.
I recently found a 2014 blog post (and former Ms Wheelchair Florida!) who wrote about the hashtag #YesAllWomen and the inclusion of disabled women in modern feminism. The hashtag was intended to show that every woman faces daily harassment and discrimination but Woodward instead found something very different as she received hostile messages from fellow activists who scolded her for detracting from the real issue by making it about disability instead- because apparently women with disabilities don’t count as women…?
This is of course an exceptionally dangerous view point as women with disabilities are one of the most at-risk demographics in the world. Refuge, the domestic violence charity, reports that disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than non-disabled women (that equates to 50% of disabled women), that this abuse is likely to be over a longer period of time and to leave more severe injuries.
Which is a horribly upsetting fact so let’s move on to how awesome Intersectional Feminism is!
Feminism by itself advocates for women’s rights and equality between the sexes. However, it doesn’t consider that a woman may be disadvantaged on many levels due to her overlapping identities; whether that be race, class, religion, sexual orientation or disability.
Intersectionality as a feminist term was coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw pointed out that cultural patterns of oppression are bound together and interrelated- there can’t be a focus on just gender and thus exclude other levels or else risk repressing women for whom their gender is not their greatest source of subjugation. Intersectional feminism is therefore about appreciating and acknowledging the layers within privilege and oppression- even within the same groups. For instance, as someone with an invisible disability I have able-passing privilege (meaning that it isn’t always immediately obvious that I have a disability) although that can then transmute into discrimination when people don’t believe I have a disability.
Why does it matter?
Disabled activism is on the rise as the fight against the government’s cuts to budgets and benefits rolls on, however the fight against austerity has been mainly gender neutral. Clearly, from a disability solidarity standpoint gender neutrality is a good thing, yet we already know that women are hit harder by austerity < https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/19/austerity-women-men-low-income>. Yet intersectionally encourages us to think beyond just a person’s most obvious ‘disadvantage’ and consider instead the part of their identity they personally feel most impacts them. A disabled person who is wealthy will obviously have different life experiences to someone who has the same condition but very little money!
Disabled people are not just that one thing. We are instead the sum of our identities and whilst we cannot separate the strands our thoughts on each of them are valid.
The most important thing that Intersectional Feminism brings to the conversation is an insistence that marginalised voices be heard- that people should be allowed to speak for themselves and not be spoken for. Politicians and journalists who have no direct experience of disability all too often speak about issues that affect disabled people. Let’s instead have our voices be heard on all of the topics that impact us.