Almost daily I hear friends and family tell me: “don’t stress”, don’t worry”, family will help you figure it out”. One thing that my friends can’t fully grasp is the effects of the socially imposed barriers that arise as a result of being a woman living with a disability. They find it difficult to relate to the very real circumstances we differently abled women face. These include feelings of isolation, unemployment, lack of easy access to available government services and more. It’s these manufactured societal attitudes which serve as a means of lowering ones’ self-worth thus disregarding the true essence of a female with a disability. In my opinion these truths are directly linked to the feminist notions around human rights, equality, low income standards and unemployment.
Being a young, university educated woman I too had aspirations of a successful career in Media and Communications. After five years of hard work like many women my age I attended a graduation ceremony where I received my diploma. Yet nothing prepared me for what was to come; years of struggling to find that job, countless interviews followed by rejection. One thing I was never told while in university was that my disability would dramatically lessen my chances for employment. However this is not simply about disability, these and other everyday barriers are being overcome by women who are perceived as visible minorities. More often than not this results in failure to access proper health care, controlled government assistance, social exclusion with minimal to no room for growth or self-advancement; which brings me to the idea of the invisible woman and the need to bridge the gap brought on by the social perception of the “acceptable norm” or normalcy.
The common societal argument is that any deviation from the “norm” should be medically or otherwise monitored, questioned or collectively frowned upon. Women (disabled women included), who do not fit the standard image of a professional, capable and independent individual should automatically be perceived as incapable, unable, and dependant; like the feminist movement, the disability movement as it relates to women, should focus on breaking down the many societal walls that create unfounded feelings of inferiority in us. It is this fear of being “socially perceived” or rather misperceived that prevents us, women in particular, from achieving our full potential. These misled ideas of dis-ability and the female embodiment are nothing but superficially levied social constraints that stand in the way of discovering the real the possibilities behind acceptance.
About two months ago I got married; I am a wife now, but also a dependant according to societal norms. I no longer receive financial support based on disability. My husband is my “primary” caregiver and although I now run a copywriting business; I am a dependant. My unstable income is seen as not enough to grant me the financial independence I crave. Despite my go-getter nature and an eagerness to get ahead, I know that in societal eyes, I will perhaps always be seen as someone who “needs help” from others, I will keep hearing words like: “you are not quite what we’re looking for”. There is a chance that my future children will be seen as children of a parent with a disability and the stigma that comes along with it.
The fact is, in this fast-paced world filled with constant societal pressures, perception is everything; more than anything else it is about that image of the perfect woman, the perfect, wife the perfect mother. Women like myself who have felt that pressure of knowing they will never fit the mold, also know this has to change. We all need to tell ourselves that we acknowledge that these societal norms are nothing but a way for others to shield themselves from that which they cannot explain. As women we need to stand up and let our voices be heard. Working towards a common norm where our collective differences are celebrated rather than judged is the key to personal and emotional freedom.
This post originally appeared on Feminist Truths, which is now unfortunately offline.