Disability and female weakness

Quick recap for anyone who hasn’t read my blog previously, I suffer from a chronic pain problem which has left me severely limited.

Before the pain started I was fairly slim, very girlie looking, and a very petite 4’10”. I was very often treated as a dainty little doll-like thing who needed protection and big strong men to help me. I hated the patronising comments, the assumption that I was too weak and delicate to do hard physical work. Especially as a lot of the time I could lift more and do more than some of the supposed “big strong men”.

One of the things that happened regularly was when I worked for a high street mini lab used to both drive me nuts and also make me quite proud. The minilab was downstairs and the waste was stored upstairs, there were no lifts, and the waste was large containers filled with waste chemicals. So not light and easy to carry. Without fail every time there was a new male member of staff join the team, they’d see that I needed to shift these things upstairs and volunteer to do it for me. I’d watch them lift one container proudly and head for the stairs, then see the look of confusion descend on their faces when I picked up two containers and overtook them.

My ability to lift so much went against what they expected a woman to lift, especially woman who wasn’t seen as “butch”, I broke their gender expectations. And I liked that.

It happened in a variety of situations, people (mostly men) would assume that a woman was weaker than them and then have to eat their words. Very satisfying.

Except then my body started to go wrong, suddenly when there was heavy lifting or hard physical work to be done I had to turn it down.

What hurt most then was the lack of reaction. My disability is invisible, so these people weren’t looking at me and thinking, “of course you cannot lift things, you are in pain”, they were looking at me and thinking, “of course you can’t, you’re a girl”.

Suddenly I’d been shifted back into the gender box that I’d fought so hard to break out of, and there was nothing I could do.

More recently I’ve become aware of it as we’ve just moved house. The whole house and the garden need serious work. Serious, physical labour mostly. What can I do? I can look after the children, I can cook and clean, and if my hands ease up I can use a sewing machine.

No painting for me. No handiwork (I cannot even hold a drill). No gardening. These have all become my husband’s jobs.

Somehow I’ve been forced into a much more traditional female role, I’ve become some sort of fifties housewife, a delicate little thing who has to rely on her husband to fix up the house. It’s not me at all, but there is little I can do, my body will not allow me any different.

When I first met my husband I was going to be the breadwinner and he the stay at home dad. That suited the pair of us perfectly, it was a division of labour that worked for us. We felt comfortable with it. It suited my feminist opinions, why should I be the stay at home parent just because I lacked a penis? It wasn’t what I wanted from life. I had no problem with those who did want this, I think we should all get to do what suits us best and what makes us happy, but I knew that I was happiest when not conforming to gender expectations.

So now here I am, conforming. And I’m not doing it because society forces me to, I’m doing it because disability does, and then I’m watching society sit back and say, “told you so, women can’t do what men can”.

I also then worry that other feminists are looking at me refusing to even try and do physical work and assuming it’s because I’ve bought into the “dainty ladylike” stereotype unquestioningly, I feel like I need to go around constantly telling people that I have health problems. Like I need to justify myself.

Disability has robbed me of so much. I never thought it would make me feel less of a feminist though.

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