“Confidence is the sexiest thing a woman can have. It’s much sexier than any body part.” – Aimee Mullins
First of all I just want to say this is not the blog I intended to write tonight. I am well aware that there may be people reading this who do not agree with what I have to say; those people are welcome to give me feedback. Versions of this blog have existed in the past, but I haven’t been quite irked enough to share those thoughts until today.
I’ll start off with explaining what set me off; a photo (image 2 of 10) on the Mother Jones website. The photo is part of a photo-essay on phone sex workers. In the image sits a women in a wheelchair facing the camera with her eyes closed. She is dressed in attractively but not provocatively. She is situated in an sparse apartment that suggests poverty. I’m not pointing this out to criticize Mother Jones magazine or the woman in the photograph. I do not know this woman, and for all I know she chose this work and enjoys it, and if so kudos to her. I can’t fault the magazine either because it’s not often that women with disabilities are portrayed as sexual beings in the media. That aside, the image speaks volumes about the sexuality of women with disabilities.
The first thing that comes to mind with this image is a kind of disabled feminist rage. Unlike some of the other people in these photos she is not smiling, and her eyes are closed. This is one area where the disability movement has not kept up with the times, still stuck in the days of institutionalization, where people with disabilities were most likely to be harmed by their attendants. While this does happen today, as woman with a disability in the post-institution era, I can say from experience that the issue runs much broader than that, from straight up objectification, to partner violence, to the denial of reproductive rights.
Just the other day I was at the bookstore and some guy decides it’s perfectly acceptable to follow me around the store, making disgusting comments. Granted this would be disturbing to most women, but some guys actually think I should take this as a complement, assuming I can’t get a date (with lines like that I clearly get more action than they do, just saying). Not to mention the guys with a fetish for women in chairs (sorry this isn’t a Happy Meal, you don’t get to collect the whole set). Then there’s the disabled guys who assume I’m attracted to them because we’re both disabled, or the guys who assume I’ll be boring in the bedroom. My point is this happens a lot, and I’m sure it’s not just a straight people thing.
Moving on to partner violence, I’m not going to say a lot here because there are people doing some great work in this area, but it has only been in the last few years. There are still too many people with disabilities looking up at their partners with bloodied smiles because they are scared, or they believe its as good as its going to get. Maybe they were one of the many spoon-fed the fairy tale that someday they will find that one person that can accept them for who they are. In reality there is way more than one person, but not all of them will treat you right (it only took me a couple of decades to learn that one). Police response and self-image of young people with disabilities are still in major need of progress.
A lot could be said for reproductive rights as well, but the main thing that sickens me is how many women with disabilities live in fear of having their children being taken away not because of their ability to parent, but because of their disabilities. Not to mention forced sterilization. It’s also disgusting how few so-called feminists take on this issue.
Coming back to the image, would any of this happen if women with disabilities were handed the mic? I recently picked up a new book that claimed to discuss the reality of feminism outside of academia. I think women with disabilities were mentioned twice. Anyone women has done disability activism will probably notice it’s a pretty testosterone filled movement, and about as white as a herd of polar bears.
I should probably wrap this up by saying that I know there are women with disabilities out there with great, loving partners, and at some point I’ll find someone that wants to be mine. There are also plenty of women with disabilities claiming their sexuality for themselves, and I’m one of them. I guess that’s just harder to capture in a single photograph.