Why Can’t Women With Disabilities Have Emotional, Sexual Needs Or Want Marriage & Motherhood?

Women with disabilities are not expected to have the same feelings and needs, both bodily and socially, as those without. A bitter truth.

From its inception, right through the realms of history, the feminist movement has brought women from around the world together in a sisterhood that binds them with the thread of their fight against the patriarchal notions of what it means to be a woman. But what about women with disabilities?

They say that nobody understands a woman more than another woman, but is that true? Do women really understand each other, or are we living in a society where feminism, a concept that claims to incorporate women of all race, caste, creed, religion and status is actually not as inclusive as it seems to be?

Women with disabilities face a double disadvantage and twice the vulnerability in society

The Indian feminist movement claims to include all women, but it has seldom touched upon the lives of these women.

We live in a country that has a very inflexible mould of what it means to be a woman and it is safe to say disabled women do not fit in. Women are expected to be nurturers, caregivers and homemakers while women with disabilities struggle with fulfilling their own needs.

While the term ‘women’ in itself gives way to a lot of diversity, women with disability are as much of a diverse group in itself, with a wide range of impairments covered under a large umbrella that has seldom been acknowledged by feminist.

The paradox of being a woman with disability who wants the social trappings of ‘being a woman’

Marriage and motherhood are considered the most important milestones of a woman’s life and disabled women are more often than not assumed to be incapable of achieving either of these mileposts. Feminists often argue against these gender rules established by patriarchy for men and women.

However, disabled women might be a paradox to this argument. Marriage and motherhood may be the two important things, amongst others that they desire for themselves, simply because society has already told them they will not have these things in their life, without letting them decide for themselves.

Women with disability expected to have no sexuality or bodily needs

Women’s sexuality is in itself a taboo subject and while they are seldom encouraged and highly frowned upon when they speak of bodily autonomy, women with disabilities are simply shut down when they talk about these things. This not only stems from the patriarchal urge to suppress their sexuality but from the harmful stereotypes of disabled women being asexual, undesirable and people who cannot engage in intimacy of any sort.

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I have often observed a sense of astonishment in people when a disabled person brings up their feelings of wanting to experience romance. Talking about relationships as a disabled person would raise eyebrows whose height could put the Eiffel tower to shame. Crushes are acceptable to talk about but the moment marriage is mentioned, people are quick to tell disabled women that that may not be in the cards for them or worse, their parents are instructed to give exorbitant amounts of dowry so that their daughter is accepted.

There is a statistical difference in the rates of marriages amongst men and women with disabilities. Men with disabilities might easily find a girl but women with disabilities seldom across men who would love and respect them, just as they are, the way they deserve.

I too am capable of love and intimacy, and need it as much as other women!

As a person with disability, I have experienced first hand people’s reactions whenever I have so much as dared to broach the subject of wishing that I too had experienced relationships the way they had. When I say that admission of such a simple need had people starring, sneering and awkwardly glancing here and there, as if to make sure nobody had heard me, I would definitely not be lying.

The world somehow has a hard time acknowledging that I too was capable of love and intimacy. People have often tried to cajole me by saying things such as a strong, independent woman like me doesn’t necessarily need a man or that I would be better off without the added responsibilities that come with relationships. While I somewhat agree to that notion, the silent preordained decision that society has made for me does not sit with me as an individual.

Women with disabilities are set apart from all women – even in basic rights

Some may argue that Indian women anyway seldom have the right to get into relationships so the reality for women with disabilities would of course be different and tougher.

The point is that women have begun to exercise their rights over their own being, because they are financially and emotionally independent, some of them have the choice and chance to swim against the tide by exercising their own free will. Women with disabilities, on the contrary, experience heightened levels of alienation, dependence and a sense of being caged, as they are forced to depend on someone to meet even the most basic of their needs.

Just like I mentioned earlier, not all people with disabilities experience life the same way and so even if some disabled women were fairly independent, an inaccessible environment further strips them of their autonomy as the ableist world tells them their impairment is the issue, and not the systematic marginalisation of an entire community.

How romantic relationships can be for women with disabilities

While the world assumes that romantic partners of a person with disability somehow are ‘caregivers’ to them and are ‘stuck’ caring for them, against their own will, this is far from the truth. The world, I feel simply cannot fathom and refuses to acknowledge that partners in inter abled relationships are not forced to be with their partner, that they love them simply because they were able to see a lot more than their impairment. They were able to see the resilient, hardworking and beautiful person who simply happens to have a disability.

Another vital issue that disabled women face is the threat of intimate partner violence. Many studies have proven that women with disabilities are twice as well vulnerable to getting sexually or physically assaulted by intimate partners. In a country, that has yet to accept the idea of marital rape, intimate partner violence cases filed by women with disabilities are seldom acknowledged and rarely heard.

To conclude, I just have one question for all my readers to think about. equality of the sexes. As advocated by many feminist scholars, the right to choose a partner and to love is fundamental of every woman. Why then are women with disabilities stripped of this right? More so, why does feminism as a movement not include these women?

Image source: YouTube/ trailer of Margarita with a Straw

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About the Author

Aarushi

I am a student, pursuing a masters degree in Development Communication at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Milia Islamia. I am an author, content creator and Disability Rights Activist. I have written extensively read more...

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