When discussing disability and ableism (and other forms of oppression) in feminist contexts, feminists sometimes question why it should be discussed at all. Isn’t feminism about women?, some ask. What does disability have to do with women’s oppression?
Disability is relevant to feminism because women experience disability, and because disability-related oppression often manifests in gender-specific ways. Disabled women are raped at a disproportionate rate. The bodies of women with disabilities are seen as public property, subjected to rude and invasive questioning. And a new study shows that women experience much higher rates of disability as we age, though we have longer life expectancies. The study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health and conducted by the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, found that 53% of women over 64 experience disability (an increase since 1992), compared to only 30% of men of the same age.
Albert Espelt, the lead researcher on the project, explained, “The double burden of work that women experience throughout their lives — domestic work and work outside the home — is a key factor in explaining this difference in different studies.” He went on to clarify that domestic work also has an impact on non-evident disabilities.
Women are forced to do disproportionate amounts of housework because we are expected to, because we are constructed as the default performer of domestic work. But most of us also have to work for a wage - even if we didn’t want to work for pay, it’s not like care of our homes and children are monetarily compensated. And what do you know, that gendered expectation that we will carry the bulk of the burdens of the home has an impact on our bodies and our minds as we age.
Disability is naturally ocurring, and not something to be eliminated. But when women experience disability at disproportionate rates, it is indicative not of a wide variety of different human experiences and bodies. It’s indicative of sexist demands placed on women’s bodies throughout our lifetime.