Sunday 8th March 2020 is International Women’s Day, & as I am one of the people being celebrated on this excellent day, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to launch Diary of a Disabled Feminist, a three-part mini-series on disability in women’s issues & feminism. The first part will focus on fashion, the second on diet & weight, & the final piece will be on feminism itself.
Of course, none of the issues I will discuss are limited to only women, with non-binary people & men often being affected by them too. However, as I will be talking mostly about personal experiences, the problems will be discussed in relation to my gender; female.
It’s no secret that I take great pride in my sense of style. I like my clothes, shoes, & make-up, although I tend to find hairstyling to be a chore, primarily because there is just so much of it. For all the praise I receive for my outfits, I also seem to draw some ire, some in regards to my gender, & others in regards to my disability.
The way women dress is often weaponised against them, & from a young age strict dress codes are imposed upon us. The implications of teachers feeling uncomfortable at the sight of a school-girls bra strap should certainly make you uncomfortable, & for some strange reason showing a shoulder is the ultimate display of sexuality, apparently. The attire of celebrities & prominent women is constantly scrutinised in the media & this fixation filters down to normal members of the public.
Wearing comfortable, practical clothing to run errands can lead a woman to be stereotyped as lazy, & complete strangers may feel entitled to say as much. However, making an effort to select nice clothes & put on make-up often leaves women vulnerable to unwanted attention from strangers, & should something as horrid as a sexual assault happen, her attire may be used to defend the perpetrator. Some of us are even deemed “fortunate” enough to draw the unwanted attention without making much effort at all. We can’t win.
How you dress as a disabled person will also get you judged by strangers. Some people have tried to use the fact that I sometimes make an effort to apply make-up & style my hair as “proof” that I’m not as sick as I say I am, or more appropriately as sick as my body tells me I am. Perhaps the most baffling instances come from those who comment on how I shouldn’t be able to walk in stiletto’s & funky high heels; the fact that I don’t actually walk in them usually eludes them until I point it out. When dressed nicely, I’ve even had men say that I should be grateful for their creepy advances because it can’t happen often to disabled people. I was too tired to punch them, sadly.
Even going out to buy clothes presents additional issues for disabled women, primarily stemming for accessibility issues & a lack of accessible resources, but also in regards to other shoppers too. A few weeks ago I went bra shopping, & while I wanted to pick up something comfortable & practical, I also wanted something pretty. This can be challenging enough for anyone over a C-cup, but the looks of surprise I received while browsing the racks of pretty bras were beyond irritating; why on Earth would a disabled person want a pretty bra? Aside from the fact that it’s an excellent bribe for my husband when I want something, any woman wants to feel good about themselves sometimes, & a nice bra can do just that.
It would seem that being judged for my outfit choices is inescapable. If I wasn’t disabled, I would still have to contend with sexism. If I wasn’t a woman, I would still face ableism. Combined, the two form an onslaught. Disabled or not, woman or not, I have the right to wear what I am comfortable in without judgement.