NOTE: Some of the links below may be triggering, and one link (the blog) leads to an extremely offensive site.
I’m sure many of you remember the forced sterilization and mutilation of Ashley, a young girl with a disability, at her parent’s request. The parents even had a blog dedicated to their “cause” and referred to their daughter as a “pillow angel.” This removal of organs and injection of high levels of estrogen was illegal, a gross violation of human rights, and completely steeped in ableism and sexism. According to Ashley’s mother, there was no need for her breasts since she will not be breast feeding “and their presence would only be a source of discomfort to her.” As far as the removal of the uterus, this was done supposedly so she could not get pregnant in case of rape, and so she would not have to deal with any period-related pain or bleeding (see links above). Women and children with disabilities have a long history of sterilization and mutilation at the hands of their carers – Ashley’s case is not anything new.
Many comments on the mainstream news sites sided with the parents. Even on so-called progressive Feminist blogs, there were people stating that this was a complicated case and we must think of the parents. Apparently, some feminist principles only apply to the able-bodied and neurotypical. While not surprising, it still stings to know how widespread ableism is, and how far that ableism goes in harming people with disabilities. Ashley is just one of the many of us who face this sort of oppression – the usurping of our bodies-something that we should own and we have a right to own.
I always knew there was a power imbalance between us and the able-bodied and neurotypicals, but I only recently started to think critically about the relationship between people with disabilities and the concept of ownership.
I want to share my thoughts with you.
People with disabilities, according to society, do not own their bodies or even their lives. We are subjected to countless unwanted and forced surgeries or the removal of parts of our bodies. We are told, starting from childhood, to use different contraptions to make us “more normal” that cause extreme pain or discomfort. We are pressured by doctors to do things to our bodies, including invasive procedures, that we do not want or need. Society tells us we will never be with someone, we will never live a “normal” life, we will never be happy, and we should just accept the pity we receive from our fellow humans; this takes away our right to decide our own happiness on our own terms.
The relationship between ownership and personal or material objects also needs to be explored. Something as simple as an able-bodied person resting hir feet on a person’s wheelchair is a perfect example of someone using their privilege to diminish what we own. I own my wheelchair, it is part of me – it is not a stool for your foot and you can’t make it your own. If a nurse rearranges someone’s bedroom or throws away a person’s favorite shoes without asking, this is not okay. It is not the nurses’ bedroom or shoes, and hir actions are a direct result of the power imbalance that can go on between care giver and the person with a disability.
I would not be exaggerating if I said I have to deal with the hijacking of my ownership almost every day. There are few people who I feel completely comfortable around and who I know will not and do not take any power away from me unintentionally or intentionally. It’s a scary world for me, for us, but this world and my happiness is something I am willing to fight for.