Anger as a Liberating Strength – 'Please Don’t Do That'
A poem about women with disability and sexuality.
I am a woman with a disability. I have used a wheelchair all my life, so I don’t look “right”. Therefore I don’t get wolf-whistled, or mentally undressed, or overtly sexually harassed. Or not often; A strange man once tried to kiss me in a lift. I said “please don’t do that”. I should have hit him, or told him to fuck off, but I have had my disability all my life, and I have been taught well not to be angry when my personal space, my body, my emotional integrity have been violated. So I said “please don’t do that” and later I cried, felt guilty and disgusted: but I didn’t feel angry.
No, being disabled I haven’t often been wolf-whistled or mentally undressed. Instead I have been commented upon publicly as an exhibit, a ‘case’, for medical students. I have been physically undressed and examined by just about anybody who felt like it. For the first 20 years of my life my body was not my own – it was public property, and my permission for the prodding and prying was rarely asked. I wasn’t sexually harassed, I was violated in my deepest place and by the bland, blank, unspoken denial of my sexuality, of my developing womanhood, that was present in every look, prod and examination.
Over the last 15 years, through excitement, risk, joy and pain, I have explored and realised my own womanliness, my sensuality and sexuality, the delight and tenderness I can give, and receive. Through this bittersweet journey I have undone much of the damage that was done to me. I have travelled far beyond the expectations or understanding: of those who “dealt” with me as a “case”. However, the damage caused by the constant requirement that I repress my anger, that I co-operate with, acquiesce in, and be grateful for the violations inflicted upon my body and my mind, has been much more difficult to address and to heal.
Whilst I can be outraged and angry at a social level, on behalf of others, my response to personal hurt, disappointment, pain, seems often still to be at the level of “please don’t do that”. Instead of being angry I am reasonable, I understand, I forgive.
In this I am not very different from most women in our society. Women with disabilities, however, get a heavier, more concentrated dose of this kind of socialisation than most others. We have far more than our fair share of people to be grateful to, and our anger is rarely acknowledged as present, let alone valid.
For most of my life I have been a “good girl” and withheld my rage. I have denied it even to myself. This has used up a lot of unconscious effort! Over the past few years, however, I have found this truth within myself and, through its recognition, acknowledgement and expression, have tapped a rich source of creative power, of exhilarating energy.
I now know there is a cleansing, healing and liberating strength in anger acknowledged and expressed. There is release of a powerful creative energy which we as women in this world need to discover and use in the struggle for ourselves, with our sisters.
Women with disabilities, all women, must explore and possess the fullness of our womanhood, and the richness of our age. From being thus filled will come our power to fight, to create change, to grow, and to be strong.
This story first appeared in Women and Disability – An Issue. A Collection of writings by women with disabilities. The booklet was produced by the Melbourne based Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective in the late 1980’s. The exact publishing date is unknown.