Monday, October 8, 2007

Infantilising Women and Girls with Disabilities

Disabled 15 year-old girl to lose womb

Doctors are preparing to remove the womb of a disabled teenager because her mother fears she will not cope with the complications of adulthood.

Keep my daughter a child, pleads mother

"Every year Alison Thorpe sees her daughter’s life getting tougher. A victim of severe cerebral palsy, the 15-year-old is too big for pastimes that used to bring her joy."


OK. For those who don’t know. I am a woman with cerebral palsy. Many of the women with disabilities I have known in my life have also got cerebral palsy, ranging from mild to severe forms.

In view of this, I feel I *am* qualified to comment, despite what the parents of this girl, and of Ashley X, would like to think. Many of the activists fighting against this invasion of bodily integrity are women with disabilities, and/or people with CP. We live with the realities of disability every single day of our lives. We do know what we are talking about. There are other options. These families act like they are the first to ever deal with children with disabilities growing older. Bullshit. Thousands of families have been there before, and have not resorted to such drastic measures. They have found ways of coping. And if they are not coping, they need to be given support. Funding for assistance, for workshops on menstruation management for caregivers, noninvasive medical alternatives.

Women with disabilities, including those women with severe forms of disabilities have the right to whole bodies, bodies that are not carved into for no medical reason other than to make life convenient for caregivers, or to spare people from the awareness that PWD do grow up, and become adults.

There is also a very disturbing assumption made about the female body, that it is undignified and messy, that menstruation is something to be ashamed of. This is evident in the way society relates to female bodies in general, and then when you add the revulsion - and it is revulsion, I have lived all my life seeing the disgust in people's faces when they look at me because I have CP - society feels when confronted by severe and/or visible disability.

Oh, and just for the record - reducing someone’s external sex characteristics (ie amputating both breasts, as happened to Ashley X), does not, and never will reduce the risk of sexual abuse. For gods sake, babies, infants, toddlers, pre-pubescent children of both sexes, ablebodied and disabled, are abused in horrifying numbers. Mutilating someone’s body is never the answer - especially when it would never be countenanced for ablebodied children.

And by the way, there is no such thing as a ‘victim’ of cerebral palsy. It is not some horrible spectre deliberately stalking people. It’s just there. It’s not the worst thing in the world - more than a few aspects of it can be difficult, depending on circumstances, but practical and emotional support, and being treated with dignity and respect, can go a long way towards living a good life. And needing assistance with toileting and other personal care tasks is not inherently undignified or degrading - unless people around you behave like it is.

Parents, please remember - there are others who have gone before you, there are people with disabilities who have lived the reality of what your child is living, there are families who have brought up children with disabilities through to adulthood, seek them out, seek us out, listen to what we have to say about what has made our lives easier and what hasn't, what really constitutes dignity. There are alternatives to these mutilations.

And for those who think that people with severe disabilities - including those with cognitive disabilities - cannot have consenting sexual relationships, please read this story.

“A pioneering policy is breaking an old taboo by encouraging disabled teenagers to form sexual relationships, with help from carers if necessary”

“Jan Symes remembered every detail of the scene. A 17-year-old girl with straight brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, heavy purple boots and clothes ill-suited for her age sat opposite her in a small office at Treloar’s College, near Alton in Hampshire.

The teenager had cerebral palsy and was sitting in a wheelchair, using a machine to speak. She lifted her head, looked across at Jan and asked: ‘Do you think it is all right for me, as a very disabled person, to fancy someone?’ Symes was horrified. ‘Will society think it is disgusting?’ the girl went on.

Today the college for physically disabled teenagers over 16 goes public about a ground-breaking ‘sexuality policy’ that began to take shape that day two years ago, when a young woman shocked her counsellor by asking whether she had the right to fall in love.

A policy was designed that aimed to break down one of society’s most enduring taboos: that of disability and sex. And now, for the first time, staff are ready to speak out about the controversy, legal wrangling and heated debates involved in producing a three-page document that fundamentally changed the ethos of the college. Students, it stated, not only had the right to pursue sexual relationships, but would be assisted physically and emotionally by specially trained staff.

Now other colleges for the disabled are looking to make a similar change. Like Treloar’s, they have young people whose disabilities are so severe that even to hold hands, cuddle or kiss is impossible without help.”


Penny L. Richards said...

Dead right, Book Girl. You said it all. Thank you.

Jacqui said...

Great post. Just as a side note, my 3 year old son has a crush on his aide at kindy. There is nothing unusual about this. Most pre-school boys do have crushes on older females in their lives. But does it make a difference that my 3 year old has cp? I hate the idea that people try to intimmate that he should be an asexual being. That there is something wrong with his crush. I look forward to him having many crushes and relationships in the future.

misscripchick said...

well said. this is ridiculous, not only the case but all the feminist/disability allies out there sitting back saying "well, i don't want to judge.. so i'm not going to stand up for anything."

Pug&MooseMama said...

I agree with everyone else-- well said and great post. Pains me that these words need to be said but they clearly to be, and badly!

Big Noise said...

What y'all said goes for me too! I just published a piece on my blog too.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Great post! Bendy Girl