Feminism is the result of many years of oppression and pain, and to ignore our own personal experiences would be to deny why we are feminists and why it is important. I’m not fighting for just my voice to be heard, for my story to be listened to, or for my own personal struggle to be glorified and deemed “inspirational,” I am here to learn how to break the cycle of oppression, starting with myself.
I was an ableist for 16 years, and it’s a hard mentality to give up. I took my able-bodied privilege for granted, and struggle constantly to be aware of the many privileges I still have. I do feel underrepresented, and I feel that this intersection of people with disabilities and feminism lacks the true understanding and pride that we desperately need.
Disability rights are a civil rights issue. Imagine being denied full access to your apartment you pay rent for, struggling to use the chemistry labs you pay tuition for, being urged to sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order, or even being denied the luxuries of “college-life,” like rushing a sorority or attending house parties. Now imagine if this exclusion was because of your race, your sexual orientation, or your socio-economic class. It would be considered a civil rights violation. These few examples I present are all from personal experience, despite my own privileges and efforts. I face resistance in very literal terms everyday, and the barriers aren’t just physical.
Society has a need for normalcy, and that’s just something I can’t give. I don’t walk “normally,” I don’t eat/sleep/live “normally,” and somehow people think reminding me that at least I still “look normal” is supposed to provide some sort of relief. So here I am, navigating the physical boundaries placed in front of me, while trying not to drown under the thick sludge of shame and guilt I’ve learned to take on by being different, or more specifically by feeling like a burden. I take up more space. More money. More medications. More time. I feel this is an issue that cannot go ignored. The marginalization of my physical body and my own health has to stop. I’m not overcoming my disability; I’m overcoming the negative emotional and physical impediments in which society excludes people with disabilities.
WILL has given me the power to get over myself. I no longer feel like I am in the way. I am not a burden, and I deserve more than what society grudgingly offers. I am not here to spell out all the answers for Disability rights, and I’m honestly still learning what feminism even encompasses. I am guilty of asking questions and making comments out of my own ignorance, bias and privilege. I want to continue to be a better feminist, but until then I won’t let my fear of being wrong keep me from learning. Instead of continuing to be hardened and discouraged by my own personal experiences as a person with a disability, every WILL meeting when I’m saying, “I don’t know, tell me more” allows me to become a channel for positive change. WILL starts as a discussion; that changes the thought process, and our thoughts make up our worlds.
WILL is empowering. WILL is a gift to UC and to the world. We need more people like the ones I am lucky to surround myself with every Monday. I have seen a shift in myself, some of my peers and faculty, and I have hope for the University of Cincinnati that we will hold ourselves accountable to others, and take our initiatives for diversity into action.
I am thankful WILL has given me an opportunity where I can be critical out of support, and where we can be open, honest, vulnerable and willing to be wrong for the sake of understanding more. This gives me a necessary awareness of my role in the oppression of others in society, and of myself.
Feminism is still new to me. It’s messy and it’s tough. I know we are all in WILL for different reasons, but it is because of our differences that make this group so powerful. Our willingness to fearlessly share our experiences allows a deeper connection and better understanding, and liberates us. Together, we are getting to a place of freedom – a place free of oppression. Thank you for this journey.
Sara Whitestone is a sophomore Biomedical Sciences major and first-year WILL participant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.