Susan Wendell Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability

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Disabled women in society are doubly marginalized; they are neither understood or accepted by mainstream heterosexual society or by feminist theorists. Indeed, according to Susan Wendell, their embodied social reality has been ignored by philosophers and feminist theorists. The main focus of Susan Wendell’s article on “Towards a Feminist Theory of Disability”is to use the power of her own experience of going from able to disabled to argue that the voice of the disabled is missing from the standard theoretical arguments that guide medical intervention, philosophical understanding and feminist perspectives. She offers the reader the novel perspective that disabled people know more about their problems and potential solutions than able bodied philosophers and feminist theorists. Indeed she shows that the patriarchal structure of society that marginalises women’s experience is shared by disabled women and that both feminists and disabled women would benefit from a deeper dialogue of their shared, embodied experience of alienation.
First, feminist theorists and philosophers construct a theory for disability ignoring the knowledge and experience of disabled people. That is, feminist theorists have seen the disabled through the lens of secondary sources such as medicine or philosophy. According to the philosophers she consulted to understand the nature of disability, the disabled are identified as “ill, diseased or handicapped.” They speak mainly of ethical issues such as what level of disability is necessary to abort a “disabled” fetus. Or what level of pain or disability is enough to justify suicide. As an abled bodied person who became disabled she felt disturbed that her experience and the voice of those who are disabled are missing from any dialogue about the needs of the disabled. Feminists, especially, (more than half of the disabled population) struggle with the oppression of being women in a male dominated society. this they share with disabled women.

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