The recent high profile issues with online misogyny have mainly been met with choruses of solidarity by many women. Many are simply relieved that online misogyny has finally been seized upon by the media and are hopeful that this marks a turning point in the way in which online misogyny and hate speech is viewed and handled. However, there are dissenting voices, ones that it is important to listen to. Women of colour are questioning why they weren’t taken seriously when they raised the subject and suffered significant and sustained online abuse and finding the answer to be a result of the white-centric nature of our media and justice system. It is undeniable that we still live in a racist society. Similarly many trans women find themselves questioning why trans* misogyny has failed to receive the same recognition and find the answer to be the privileged status of cis-gendered people within our society.
The result of this is that many women are decrying the privilege of white, cis women.The media silences these women simply by not acknowledging their existence. It is a form of social apartheid; the invisible segregated from the visible. The bemoaning of white cis privilege regularly rears its head; a sign of just how pervasive an issue it is. I thoroughly accept that as a white cis woman I have white cis privilege and I will join in with cries against this, however something very important is missing from this and it makes me feel incredibly invisible, silenced and ignored.
As a woman with a disability the oppressions I suffer are numerous and effect every area of my life. Due to the way in which society disables people, by not making necessary adaptions, I have to carefully plan everything. Will there be space for my wheelchair if I catch a train during rush hour, and if there is am I risking being fallen upon. Will I be able to get onto the train on my own, and will the stations I have to travel to provide wheelchair access- you’d be surprised by how many don’t, which can leave you stranded on a platform with no way off. Will the bus have lowered floors, or steps? Will the wheelchair space be used up a buggy? If a friend offers me a lift would they have considered that there needs to be space for a wheelchair in the boot of their car? Will there be a parking space nearby? Will there be disabled toilets? If I want to go away for a weekend will I be able to find accommodation within my price range with wheelchair access? Can I even find a B&B with downstairs bedrooms? And if I can will they have steps leading up to the front door? Going out for the day to attractions is a living nightmare. Small museums often have stairs and no lift, older houses are all but impossible to ever visit. Funfairs and theme parks, which once used to be accommodating to people with wheelchairs are now considerably less so. Madame Tussauds, in particular, has brought into the scrounger propaganda and now demands medical proof of your disability in order to give you disability access. And god forbid you might want to sit with your children on a ride- they’re convinced you’re a danger to yourself, and insist that you can only sit next to, in front of was not good enough, another grown up or not go on the ride. Considering children also need to sit next to a grown up it leaves you with the option, if you’re only there with one other adult, of going on after your kids with a grown up but no children, which is understandable on a roller coaster but not so much on a small kiddy ride.
Even if you can prove, or aren’t asked to prove, your disability status the next task is to attempt to get onto a ride; a vast amount of which have absolutely no wheelchair access. Indeed Legoland insists that to go on their river boats you need to be able to walk with no assistance across a turn table they can only pause for 20 seconds, and you end up wondering if it just wouldn’t have been easier to say wheelchair users are not allowed on the ride rather than “Yes, surely you can come on, now perform this task which no wheelchair user will be able to perform”. The same problems come up in restaurants, beaches, shops, cafes, cinemas, theatres, country parks, schools, colleges and universities- over and over again we find that we live in a world which simply is not designed for us to exist. On top of this we then have to listen to bigots telling us that we need to stop demanding “special treatment” when all we’re asking for is equality.
Then there is the job market. It far favours people without disabilities, not only are job options severely decreased for people with disabilities, but employers also discriminate against us, either by making judgements about our abilities or weighing up how many sick days they will need to pay. For many of us these problems are simply abstract though because our illnesses proclude us from performing any job at all. The government could help us find work by building links with business to encourage the use of home working, and other positive employment laws, but they’d prefer to sanction us with the removal of our benefits instead. As such we end up in a position where we cannot work but are being denied benefits at the same time which leaves us with a system of state sponsored eugenics. The government has even actively reduced the capacity for people with disabilities to find work by closing the Remploy factories and reducing the rights of workers. Yet their rhetoric is set on a repeat message that they’re “getting us back into work”!
Then there are the seemingly never ending stories and television programmes that are supposedly aimed at benefit cheats but which actually spread the message that most of us are faking it, or not doing our best, or getting too much from the system (we wish!). As these television programmes and articles continue, the feeling amongst the population that most people on disability benefits, or possessing blue badges, are frauds increases and leads to all people with disabilities being eyed with suspicion. One of the worst effects of this is the stark increase in disability focused hate crimes, which no one is doing enough to tackle but a lot to agitate (thank you Iain Duncan Smith).
This is just my experience as a wheelchair user. The multitude of different disabilities come with a multitude of different symptoms and a multitude of different problems which need to be overcome, but often can’t be. It’s about time society woke up to realise the extent of their problem. And it is their problem; we might be people with disabilties, but we are disabled by society.
We need to challenge our culture which makes people of colour and trans* people invisible. Society, the media, and the justice system need to start acknowledging the very existence of people who do not fit into the white cis (and generally middle class) demographic and listen to their needs and join hands in supporting them. They, we, need to listen to their voices rather than have one specific demographic speaking on their behalf if they acknowledge them at all. But please, remember us too, we share these problems, and when you talk about the most privileged section in society remember to say “white, cis, non-disabled” or some such term, because with so much against us we really need to become more visible and to be listened to too.