Diary of a Disabled Feminist.

This is the final instalment in the Diary of a Disabled Feminist mini-series. You can find the previous two instalments here and here.

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Feminism is a controversial business. From dealing with people who think male privilege & toxic masculinity is a myth, to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) trying to force out trans women from feminist groups, it is a minefield of insults & derogatory comments. To some, an empowered woman is a threat, even if they don’t want to admit that. Thus, sexism still pervades every nook & cranny of our society, infiltrating daily occurrences.

Women often find themselves ignored or patronised when dealing with business typically deemed “men’s” work, such as buying a car, or having work done on the home. I once had a workman think I didn’t know how to switch a plug on, which I had intentionally left off so as not to waste power on a broken heater. However, once my husband explained the issue in exactly the same way as I did, the heater was definitely broken & needed replacing. The irony here is that I’m the one who’s good at fixing things. I still can’t make up my mind as to whether this was because I’m disabled or a woman. Similarly, while Jarred is certainly an avid gamer, of the two of us I definitely play the most. However, conversations in gaming will often revert to Jarred by default.

The purpose of feminist groups is to support & empower women, yet it is in these groups that I have experienced some of the worst discrimination. My bisexuality appears to make some people uncomfortable, as if I couldn’t control my actions if I were attracted to someone. Others seem to think that my sexuality is purely a fashion statement. However, by far the biggest obstacle I have faced is steps. I have attempted to attend so many groups only to find I couldn’t get through the door, & to hear that they’re “sorry” but somehow couldn’t find an accessible space in central Leeds. As such I don’t typically find myself in feminist circles, but simply describe myself as feminist & occasionally tweet on the topic.

I tend to talk about equality rather than feminism, & this can often lead to some ridicule, the most popular joke being that equality & feminism are the same, & so it’s like asking for H₂0 instead of water. However, I would contend that equality & feminism are two different things; equality doesn’t just include gender equality, but also tackles racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, & general xenophobia. The issues faced by one group should not over-power the others & given that power truly lies in numbers, if these marginalised groups could set aside their differences to try & work together, true social change could be achieved. Therefore, while I identify as feminist, my efforts cannot lie within the bounds of just feminism.

I am disabled. I am queer. I am a woman. I have no hidden agenda; I proclaim it loud & clear. I am a feminist who wants equality.

Diary of a Disabled Feminist: Embracing the Flab.

Welcome back to Diary of a Disabled Feminist; this is the second part of three in the mini-series. You can find last week’s post here.

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Despite the recent efforts to include “plus-size” women in modelling, women are still bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards. The “prettiest” models are still the thin ones, & Photoshop is used to turn every roll into a simple crease, whatever size the model is. As an expert on the human body, this frustrates me beyond belief.

I am a nutritionist. My mum is a nutritionist. I grew up knowing about body image & the media, & even with that knowledge it was still hard not to fall foul of wanting a flat stomach. I was extremely active & ate approximately 1,800 kcal daily, so I was actually fairly skinny but not unhealthy with it. Then the meningitis happened, I burned far less energy every day but consumed the same, & unsurprisingly I…expanded. Today my stomach is certainly not flat, but now also bares six scars courtesy of two abdominal surgeries.

On the whole I have a relatively healthy diet; it would be hypocritical of me not to. According to the media, this means I should have the perfect figure, but that’s not how science works. I have a healthy Body Mass Index (and yes, I am more than aware of the limitations of this measurement given I have a degree in it), but I still have rolls. I still bloat when my period approaches, & my breasts aren’t perfectly symmetrical. My thighs still do the sploot when I sit down, & they’re cellulite central. I even have stretch marks as some of the changes from puberty were that sudden that my skin literally stretched. Also, when I don’t have the energy to shave which is quite often, my leg hair gets impressively long.

While there are definite health benefits to having a BMI within a particular range, those who fall outside of that range still deserve to feel confident in their own skin. Frequently I see comments on social media stating that plus-size celebrities are promoting obesity & an unhealthy lifestyle. Of course, I have only ever seen these comments in relation to women in the limelight like Lizzo (#queen), & never about male celebrities like Jack Black or John Goodman, suggesting that double-standards are distinctly at play here. These people also seem to forget that the stick thin “heroin-chic” models of the 90’s were hardly presenting a healthy lifestyle.

Being disabled has taught me the hard way that whatever you do, your body will find a way to do its own thing, including both function & form. I could waste energy fighting that, or I could learn to work with it. I don’t love everything about how my body looks, but I find that it’s important to highlight what I like as much as what I dislike. I have pretty eyes (that don’t work). I have curvy legs (that don’t work). I have decent boobs (which, as of yet, I’ve not had the chance to test if they work). If I could simultaneously be deemed too thin & too fat during school (yes, this happened) then someone will always feel entitled to critique your appearance. Often, these people are only taking shots at your appearance because your personality can’t be insulted.

Diary of a Disabled Feminist: Passion for Fashion.

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.

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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.

Diary of a Disabled Feminist: Mini-Series.

Sunday 8th March is International Women’s Day, & to celebrate I will be starting a three-part mini-series all about disability in feminism. You can look forward to a discussion of how fashion has been weaponized against women & the disabled, a brutally honest discussion of body image, & a discourse on the relationship between disability & feminism itself.

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Less than 2 weeks to go!