Lydia X. Z. Brown on women and disability

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 14:53

More than 20 years after the Disability Discrimination Act was passed, Britain’s workplaces, restaurants, arts venues, schools, shops and public transport remain largely inaccessible and unwelcoming to disabled people. Is the women’s rights movement any better?

Disability justice activist Lydia X. Z. Brown joined a panel of speakers to discuss feminism and disability at the WOW – Women of the World festival, on Saturday 11 March 2017. We asked Lydia how justice for women can become justice for everyone.

After a tumultuous 2016, what would you say is the impact of recent political events on women?

Rape culture exists in many forms in many societies, but the events of 2016 have further emphasised how widespread and rarely challenged sexual violence is in public. Sexual violence is so often a weapon wielded with terrible effects against women – particularly transgender women, gender non-conforming people, queer people, disabled people, and racialised people, among others at the margins, but particularly those of us living at the intersections.

This means that women with other marginalised or targeted identities often live with deep, multi-layered sexual trauma in communities that are not equipped to be as supportive and empowering as possible simply because we treat sexual violence – and other issues conventionally considered ‘women's issues’ – as gender reductive.

As my comrade Sasha Alexander (@BlackTransMedia) encourages us, we need to question who we even consider to be a woman, when people experience gender identity and expression in infinitely diverse ways, and so frequently face horrific violence in response to living authentically.

In your opinion, how does justice for women become justice for everyone?

All oppression is interlinked. That means that misogyny (and transmisogyny and misogynoir too) is both necessary for and dependent on all other forms of oppression to exist. White European women have learned that they can achieve the illusion of equality through upholding colonisation and racism targeting Black, Brown, Asian and Native women around the world. Patriarchal presumptions about women's incompetence, emotional instability, and lesser intelligence are deeply rooted in ableism.

And thus, working toward justice (not ‘rights’) for women among the constellation of issues conventionally thought of as women's issues also requires dismantling other forms of oppression.

Justice for trafficked women also means self-determination for all sex workers of all genders and freedom from fear of state violence. Reproductive freedom also means disability justice and racial justice and trans liberation. Body positivity means ending white supremacy, ableism and capitalist valuing of productivity over human magnificence.

Women are one group among many who have felt the impact of recent political events. How can we best support each other in changing times?

Focus on building and healing in our own communities while building stronger relationships outside of and between communities. Recognise that we all have the capacity to harm, that we are all imperfect and learning, that we are all complicit in other oppression in varying degrees, and that we are all responsible to constantly work to do better and to be better. That self-work, self care, community work and collective care are necessary processes for any and all struggle, resistance and revolution.

What one thing would you recommend people do to help create a better world for women?

Lift up and support young people of any genders in discovering themselves and practicing gender self-determination. Encourage young people to do things that seem ‘too feminine’ or ‘too masculine.’ Value all ways of understanding, expressing and feeling gender.

Make sure that all people have access to consent-based sexual education, safe and accessible reproductive health care, and communities where education and accountability are not synonymous with violence, control and retribution.