Women at this month's session appreciated Ynestra King's
sensitive and exceptionally well written essay examining the
needs and feelings of disabled people, particularly disabled
women. One woman, herself disabled, asked why our reading
circle is exploring this issue. What does disability have to
do with ecofeminism?
A woman responded that contrary to the
soundbite perception, ecofeminism is much more than just
feminism and ecology. Ecofeminism, she exclaimed, is
committed to the full spectrum of social justice politics
aimed at eliminating oppression in all of its manifestations.
King, a well-known ecofeminist, perceptively illustrates the
concept of the "other," especially when she
compares disability with race and gender.
Another woman felt
King's description of disabledness as "an organic,
literally embodied fact" mirrors an ecofeminist
consciousness that humans are of the earth, imperfect, and
flawed; we age, break down, and eventually die. By contrast,
the patriarchal mindset is obsessed with transcending our
natural animal conditionepitomized by a disdain for the
female body which gives birth, bleeds, and lactates. Women's
bodies and disabled bodies are both glaring reminders that
"man" is not god.
Another woman pointed out that
ecofeminism affirms the interrelated web of life. King writes
that "on the continuum of autonomy and dependency,
disabled people need help." Patriarchy, mired in the
politics of separation, domination, and control, regards the
need for help as a weakness, at odds with a chest-pounding,
survival of the fittest ethos. All in all, we agreed that the
subject of disability provides unique terrain for clarifying
Although firmly in support of equal rights for disabled
people, one woman reluctantly questioned the cost of ramps,
special education, or accessible bathroom facilities since
such expenditures inordinately benefit so few people. Another
woman quickly retorted that eliminating three military
bombers would probably fund the entire disability budget.
matter how large the pie, though, the woman responded that in
light of homelessness, AIDS, pollution, and other major
social problems, it seems that the needs of the disabled
could conceivably consume a disproportionate percentage of
society's resources. Other women insisted that if we continue
to make economics our guideline, we fall into the trap of
prioritizing some people over others. A woman noted that we
have barely begun to tap the wisdom and contributions
disabled people have to offer.
Just as nature is profoundly
diverse, different experiences and perceptions enhance the
spiritual and creative composition of the human community.
Signing, for example, has slowly developed a large cross-over
audience of non-deaf people captivated by this wondrously
complex form of communication.
Women who had traveled to
non-Western countries commented on the stark contrast in
attitudes toward disability. Non-industrialized people seem
much more accepting of impairment as a fact of life and part
of nature. Social opprobrium appears minimal and (except
perhaps for lepers) the disabled are not excluded from the
quotidian harmony of life.
Some of us wondered why obesity isn't categorized as a
disability since obese people, like the disabled, are
blatantly discriminated against solely on the basis of their
bodies. One woman, fraught with years of weight-related
problems, said she intimately knew the pain of living with a
body considered ugly by mainstream Vogue standards.
Other women challenged her for having the gall to compare her
able-bodied self with disabledness.
Several women, however,
found it plausible that the psychic continuum of
disability could include those harboring a low self-image of
their bodies. Bombarded hourly with depictions of perfection,
women often develop severe insecurities when in fact our
bodies are quite "normal." One woman remarked how
tragic it is that so many sisters have bought into believing
they have to have their bodies mutilated (i.e., undergo
The tremendous pressure to conform to
narrow hyper-Western ideals of physical acceptability enabled
several of us to vicariously relate to the prejudices
disabled people endure.
One woman was concerned with the welfare of disabled
women, pointing out that by and large they are more
vulnerable than disabled men. Men have a higher probability
of securing a caretaker, be it a wife, mother, or relative,
or else the wherewithal to hire a nurse. Disabled women, she
felt, more often have to fend for themselves.
found it interesting that women in general are perceived as
dependent while men are presumed to be autonomous. In fact,
she asserted, men are highly dependentif not
parasiticon women's economic and emotional servitude.
Another woman lamented that her apartment is not wheel chair
accessible and sensed an overall separation from disabled
people. She wondered how much is attributable to fate as
opposed to the convenient lifestyle she's arranged for
Ynestra King's illuminating essay on the politics of
disability compelled us to examine our own collusion with
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