I love learning. I listen to a lot of TED talks, podcasts, radio lectures, and read a variety of articles from academic journals and websites. They span a whole range of subject matter from CRISPR to space archaeology. Amongst this vast array of topics I have noticed something. I have found that social and civic lectures commonly consist of passionate diatribes concerning diverse forms of discrimination. Discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, and – less occasionally – income or class. Whilst I am absolutely sure that such inequalities do exist, and that it is fundamentally important that these matters are campaigned for in order to improve both policy and prejudice, I sometimes feel that the experience of discrimination should somehow be universal. In other words, some speakers and writers are so passionate and persistent in their speeches that I have begun to feel abnormal for not feeling that I have experienced discrimination despite the fact that I am a women and disabled!


Talks by both powerful and passionate women lay down mountains of evidence for gender discrimination, from every-day cat-calling to corporate glass ceilings. There is even a spattering now of male voices speaking up for women’s rights and female equality. The perseverance of these campaigners is admirable indeed, and I hope that one day their voices will no longer be needed when the sources of their suffering are stopped. There is just one thing, I have never experienced them, or if I have I certainly didn’t notice. Now the more condescending amongst you may throw your hands up and exasperate that it is precisely my failure to notice my lifelong oppression that provides evidence for male privilege. But I find such attitudes infuriating, as if I am not perceptive or intelligent enough to comprehend my own life experiences.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not as if I have swanned through life with no unpleasant encounters with men. I was bullied by boys at school. I was sexually assaulted as both a teenager and a university student. And I endured more than two years of emotional abuse under the ego of a manipulative narcissist. But I don’t put these acts down to their gender – I put it down to who they are as people. Girls were just as spiteful, if not more, at both school and university, and grown women have scoffed at my assault and abuse and laid the blame at my feet. These are the facts of the world, they are life experiences, but they are not evidence of my disenfranchisement as a woman. I have never been overlooked for a job in favour of a man, I have never been paid less because I am a woman, and I while I have suffered from severe self-loathing: I have never felt ashamed by the “male-gaze”.

Maybe men don’t have the right to cat-call, or leer, at women who simply want to get from A to B without hassle. But I, for one, have known women to be far more predatory than men when it comes to gossiping about men’s looks and prowess. For example, a recent article I read seethed at the presentation of women in the popular Marvel and DC action hero series. Why are women clad in skin-tight leather with heaving cleavages? But do women not drool over Chris Hemsworth’s shining muscles or Downey Junior’s roguish good-looks? Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad wears cheek-hugging briefs for the entire film – shock! But Jared Leto is repeatedly topless throughout. I certainly don’t think the semi-naked shots of world-famous rugby players spattered over the internet are taken in order to encourage men into the sport… My point is not that women are not socially sexualised, objectified, and overlooked, they clearly are. But there is certainly more balance on this account than female spokespeople would have us believe (except for perhaps Hanna Rosin). Whatever your views on female oppression. My point is only that I cannot claim to have experienced it in my lifetime.

 

Disability discrimination is perhaps a less provocative topic. But my point remains the same. The benefits system in the UK is flawed to some extent, and there are bound to be errors in assessing peoples’ entitlements. This problem is compounded by the grossly exaggerated media coverage on benefit fraud. While I cannot account for other people – I applied for benefits because of my disability when I graduated university, and have had no problem with them over the past four years. I have never been denied work because of my health. If anything the majority of people I know have bent over backwards to accommodate me. When I considered a teacher-training placement but turned it down for a (less physically challenging) Masters, the school in question offered me my own office, my own classroom, and even suggested installing a specialist lift for me. This is not discrimination, this is kindness in action. I have been able to take long-distance degree programs, and been allocated specialist funds throughout my eight years in higher education – I have at all times been enabled by the institutions and government that people so despise for their unfairness.

In truth, the problems I have faced come from every-day people both on the street and in social circles. I have been taunted and blocked in when parking in disabled bays (despite having a blue badge) because my disabilities are unseen. I have been reported for benefit fraud because I began exercising at my consultant’s recommendation. I have been mocked and bullied by strangers and acquaintances for using disabled toilets and receiving benefits. This kind of discrimination stems from ignorance and inexperience. I have never had my health or benefits questioned by people who have witnessed the realities of my limitations and my symptoms. When these encounters do happen however I don’t consider myself a victim of circumstance, or a target for some kind of disability-phobic hatred. I don’t feel discriminated against because of my disability. I only feel that I am the recipient of other peoples’ ignorance. It is not my disability that is causing the abuse, it is only their ignorance. It is their problem, not mine.

 
To me, the very definition of discrimination is being considered less than equal because of a factor you cannot control. You cannot help your gender, your disability, or the factors of your upbringing. It is not my fault that I am female or disabled. But at the same time, despite what campaigners and advocates may insist, I personally have never felt discriminated against because of these factors. I don’t feel that my sexuality, or my disability has ever been a reason for my being either overlooked or targeted. My friend today said that perhaps this is because I don’t see myself as disadvantaged, or the victim of circumstance. I own my femininity and my disability. I never label, compartmentalise, or identify myself by one particular factor. I do not belong to a community of women, or a community of chronically ill people, any more that I belong to the postal workers union, or the Spice Girls fan club. I am not female and proud. I am not disabled and proud. I am ME and proud. Maybe it is my attitude, maybe I don’t feel the barbs of discrimination because I don’t overly identify myself with certain groups. Or maybe I don’t believe the world is out to get me, but instead that I am out to get the world.

 

 

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