The Mighty Logo

What It Means to Be a 'Phenomenal Woman' in a Disabled Body

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I have been reflecting on what it means to be a woman in a disabled body and how those two identities intersect. I have studied it, written about it and experienced it as I identify as a woman with a visual disability.

I’ve watched that particular intersection come into headline news, be shoved out of it, and be pulled back into it through sheer strength of will by advocates.

I have been medicalized, shamed, humiliated, celebrated and dismissed because my body had the audacity to have female characteristics and be disabled at the same time. I’ve been infantilized, not been treated like a woman at all, and yet told I am a bitch, a slut, a princess, an angel and a bossy broad simply because I believed in myself enough to take a chance on myself and believe I had what it took to get a job done. I’ve collapsed on the floor in tears because I doubted myself or people doubted and shamed me and I believed them.

I have had my body discussed in front of me by medical professionals as if I wasn’t there, and it was presumed I wouldn’t understand my own condition anyway. I have experienced the discomfort medical and other professionals have when discussing the intersection of disability, sexuality and gender identity, sometimes flat out refusing to have these conversations with me at all.

Then I made it my job to stop letting these things happen to me and to other disabled women.

Now and forever more, when these things happen to me, I know I have the power to make my voice heard and work to change it.

So, what is my hope for all women on this day?

I want to never hear of another friend who couldn’t access her healthcare because she was in a wheelchair and the clinic isn’t accessible.

I want to know that my disabled friends of all genders feel safe in medical settings.

I want to know sexual abuse and domestic violence isn’t something a disabled woman would experience at three times higher a rate than the able-bodied female population.

I cannot singlehandedly stop any of it, but I can join with many exceptional people in turning the tide, and find my own voice and my own womanhood in the process.

On International Women’s Day and every day, loudly love the people in your life who need this day to remind the world they’re strong, phenomenal folk who are powerful enough to make a difference in this world, enough for them to find who they need to be and what they need to be.

I needed tampons. It built the rest of my career, and it’s a very good one. Challenge the world, challenge yourself, and if you need something, don’t retreat in fear or shame. Let’s go in side by side and get it done!

Stare at a phenomenal woman today as she moves across a room and changes the world; there’s one near you somewhere. Maybe she’s you. Maybe you love her. Maybe you work with her. Maybe you want to support her. Maybe you fear her and need to change. Own it. Change it. Love phenomenal women today and every day. And if you’ve struggled? Start now. Change it.

Please read Maya Angelou’s legendary poem today and let it shake your world, toll like bells throughout your day, and guide your words and actions toward tomorrow. Attach the word phenomenal to every person you meet today who is “she.” Watch what it does to you when you do this.

Getty image by Isaxar.

Originally published: March 19, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home