Am I Having a Disability Feminist Wave?!

Audio-Visual Version on Rolling Diva Lifestyle Channel

Okay…so here’s the deal. I am late to the party, which in this case is okay so long as I show up at some point. I think I’m having a personal Feminist Wave. Actually, to be a tad more specific, a Disability Feminist Wave.

I blame/thank Covid19!

During “normal life,” mental twitches and itches to the patriarchal way things are done, while annoying and persistent, were much more easily swept away to the recesses of my mind. Why? Because…well…Life: The ‘To Do’ list, routine, falling into life’s rut that inevitably include desperate spaghetti dinners more than once a week.

It turns out that any issues you might have with your inner self, your partner, your kid, your town, and even your own firmly established belief system sort of gets uber-magnified by week three of #quarantinelife. When you no longer have the convenience of a hurried schedule to fop off those quirky life dissatisfactions and deep questions because you’re pulling a Scarlett O’Hara and fiddle-dee-deeing your way ‘to thinking about that tomorrow,’ your issues tend step out from the wings and take center stage with relentless mental hen-pecking.

So now, thanks to the pandemic, I have no more excuses. My thoughts are here. They’re loud. They’re clear.

When you come face-to-face with all that you have denied yourself in order to fit in, appease, or strain for validation from the cultural father, — frankly — your world turns upside down, an not in a typically traumatic ways. For me there hasn’t been serious financial loss, no overly detectable change of status, and definitely no dissolution of marriage. It is a different kind of trauma, that, as I navigate it, I’m surprised to find out it has some generational and ancestral roots to it.

First, I didn’t really know or understand that there was such a thing as a Feminine Wound, or that there were different kinds of feminine wounds to heal. So encountering my Feminine Wound obviously became a deeply personal and private experience that I thought I could deftly avoid. Now, I find it a struggle to stare back at it as it perches there boring into my soul without blinking. It’s like a crone or wise goddess is sitting across from me, slightly perturbed, growing tired of my flitting around and avoiding her eye contact. She is totally ready to whack me over the head with her gnarled walking stick. But I know that part of the queasiness of staring back at her and it (meaning the wound) is because I would have to acknowledge and accept some previously unnamed loss from long ago that I forgot to grieve. I know already that it is a loss of Self, Authenticity, Autonomy, and Agency.

With it comes a total loss of belief systems, and a total loss of the internal navigation system I had come to rely on through years created by making small, imperceptive concessions. Literally my inner guidance system of how to get through every day life in this patriarchal society with a religious beer back while living with disability, has suddenly been rendered ineffective, fizzing out to a black screen. And with it goes the very polished identity I’ve been diligently nurturing for thirty years that fits perfectly with the universally accepted dimmed down version of myself.

But the silver lining is that I’m learning something valuable through all of this:

I am learning that many women — particularly women with disabilities that have found adjusted ways of navigating in a world of patriarchal and physical inaccessibility — have found quarantine to be a sudden reversal of much of the progress they have made. This is true for all women as the pandemic rages on and the female deficit climbs — but it is compounded for women with disabilities who were just beginning to take their rightful seats at the table on a visible scale. This has thrown me into a personal hurricane of re-evaluation, as I am sure it has for thousands of others like me.

Questions pop up. Questions like: Who do I want to be coming out the other end of this [pandemic]? How do I want to do things differently than I did pre-pandemic? What are the personal discoveries in this endless down-time that have begun to reshape my inner core? And are they significant enough to me that there is nothing in this world worth trading for me to go back to the way “it was?” For that matter, what is the world going to look like post-pandemic? How do women with disabilities fit into that new world?

I mean, it’s pretty exhilarating and scary stuff.

Suddenly I clearly understand why I am where I am, and realize I really don’t jive with it. I mean, I understand how I got here and I understand I cannot stay. I know, now more than ever, that I have to move forward. I absolutely have to step into my skin — the one I chose before I was born — and the time is now. I have to shape shift into who I had planned to be so long ago, before I began making all kinds of concessions with patriarchy, religion, and social misperceptions of disability.

Perhaps most importantly, I have to forgive myself for foregoing all that I wanted to be because of social rules, social convention, religious dogmas, patriarchal norms, and society’s view on women with disabilities as professionals, wives, and mothers.

That may be the longest haul of all.

The irony is, I taught Women in Leadership for several years at the university level. I have read hundreds of feminist essays, I know the names of the grandmothers, mothers, and new leaders of the feminist waves. I know about patriarchal structure, family politics, religious service, pay gaps, glass ceilings, leadership bottlenecks, child care issues, gender organization, intersectionality, micro-loans, and capitalism…the list goes on and on about what I academically know but never actually applied to my own experience, simply because as a woman with a disability, I believed the world when it told me none of this actually applied to me.

And there it is.

I believed it didn’t apply to me because I had become so very good at functioning within its toxicity. And my grooming (spiritual, familial, and social) told me to sit down, shut up, blend, and no matter what…never ever rock the boat — not even to save myself. As a woman with a disability, all of those conventions went further and deeper into my psyche than even I realized, because there was also this “gratefulness” factor inlaid into the woodwork.

As someone “grateful to be invited to the party of life,” I made sure I didn’t disrupt anyone’s flow so I could stay. I was an adept adaptor and a creative problem solver. If I was hired to speak at an inaccessible venue — no problem.

Seriously? No problem??

Yes! — let’s work together to get me in and out of the place, up and off the stage by me putting my physical safety and welfare into the hands of — well — whoever was on hand.

The reality is that the better thing for me to have done was be as proactive as possible and ensure the venue and stage was accessible way in advance; something I assumed since they had to have known they were literally hiring a speaker with a disability because..well…we were addressing issues that faced people with disabilities.

If the venue was not accessible, it would have been reasonable to give them time to fix it or relocate the event…or more likely (as I feared) find another speaker that was less of a hassle, because that is what I’d witnessed happen to others. I instinctively knew I would be un-invited to the party. But something within myself rejected that reality and chose instead to prove myself against all odds — at my potential peril — that there were no problems, only problems to be solved.

In feminism it is said that all of the internal work we do to reconnect with ourselves and seek the Feminine Divine helps thousands of other women. I am sorry to say that I missed that mark, horribly. I acquiesced to “not rocking the boat” without consideration for my own safety and accessibility. Because of that, I inadvertently proceeded to deny potentially hundreds of other people teachable moments that probably would have had a positive rippling affect for others, at least in my small corner of the world.

Part of my trauma is the realization that my survival and social acceptance motto of “You attract more bees with honey not vinegar,” taught no one anything. It only served to rob me of learning agency, inner core strength, and (low and behold) assertiveness.

So who am I going to be post-pandemic? I’ve considered being toned and fit at my ideal weight loss goal…only to find that being quarantined for months on end, more intensely due to health precautions, that however necessary, routines are hard to keep. It turns out that being too busy to put in good workouts had nothing to do with being too busy. I am not busy right now, and I’m definitely not intensifying my workouts. Hello short bread cookies, Netflix, and glorious piles of books to read…

Beyond the extremely long and drawn out New Year’s Resolution attempts of dropping bad habits and replacing them with good ones while taking root in my house…I would have to lay all my chips on the square that says post-pandemic Me is going to be a very well-seasoned firecracker that looks a helluva lot like the energetic, sparky girl I once was — before life and convention told her under no uncertain terms that she needed to sit down, shut up, and not rock the boat. And maybe that’s the better, more important intense workout more of us need.

I can’t turn back the hands of time, but I can heal my wounded inner child (something else I didn’t believe applied to me). I can heal my personal feminine wound by first facing it, then learning from it while I clean the wound, stitch it up, and let it heal. And, of course, start designing the tattoo that will go over the scar — I already have a female tattoo artist on alert the moment I feel comfortable rejoining the physical world. That is actually not a joke…

I know that Disability Feminism will be part of that — if not central to my awakening. I’m looking forward to continuing the process of finding out what my new navigation system will look like, who my inner circle will include, what my writing will be like, what my voice will sound like, and where the path will lead me. There is power in both releasing control and taking control simultaneously. And if there is anything that will bring more people towards their true nature, it is a global event such as this. Not everyone. Many will cling to the old established ways of doing things, and they will want the world to heel. But I believe many more will look at the scene before them, they will look back at the wake of history streaming behind them, and they will agree…we can’t do it this way anymore. We can’t allow ourselves to become a collective of insane behavior that keeps recycling itself by doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.

I think, beyond the turmoil, we will see a leveling up. A balancing. A new era of equity and positive social evolution. And it includes everyone as they are.

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