Gender, Racism, and Discrimination

By Dr. Christina Sisti

Woman wearing pink "Pussy Power" beret with cat ears at the Women's March on Washington
Photo by Roya Ann Miller on Unsplash

You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country. It is the only way. Emmeline Pankhurst

Women in privileged populations led the fight for equality but failed to include women in marginalized groups. Women in marginalized groups were isolated from the fight for equality because they still faced racism and discrimination against disabilities. The normative view on what it means to be a woman in America does not include minorities and women with disabilities.  
Patricia Hill Collins states:
"Racism and heterosexism both share a common cognitive framework that uses binary thinking to produce hegemonic ideologies. Such thinking relies on oppositional categories. It views race through two oppositional categories of Whites and Blacks, gender through two categories of men and women and sexuality through two oppositional categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality. A master binary of normal and deviant overlays and bundles together these and other lesser binaries.

In this context, ideas about “normal” race (whiteness, which ironically, masquerades as racelessness), “normal” gender (using male experiences as the norm), and “normal” sexuality (heterosexuality, which operates in a similar hegemonic fashion) are tightly bundled together. To be completely “normal” one must be White, masculine, and heterosexual, the core White masculinity."1

America’s history of racism and heterosexism are intertwined with each other. Patricia Hill Collins writes ”racism and heterosexism might be better viewed as sharing one history with similar yet disparate effects on all Americans differentiated by race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality.“1 
Racism and heterosexism are linked and therefore addressed as social issues by the majority. The needs of those in marginalized groups are not heard by those in the majority who are spearheading change. Therefore “People who are positioned at the margins of both systems and who are harmed by both typically raise questions about the intersections of racism and heterosexism much earlier and/ or more forcefully than those people who are in positions of privilege.”1
Disabled women and minority women have been vocal in their criticism of feminism. Feminists must recognize the need to integrate the issues women with disabilities encounter with their agendas for women. 
Susan Wendell states: 
“We need a feminist theory of disability, both because 16 percent of women are disabled and because the oppression of disabled people is closely linked to the cultural oppression of the body.”2
We live in a culture which idealizes and idolizes the body. We hold certain standards to be true and shun those who fall outside of the ideal boundaries. Women with disabilities not only fall outside of the societal expectations of what a woman should be but they also do not conform to the societal expectation of what the perfect female should be. 
We fail women, and we doubly fail women with disabilities if feminists do not recognize the need to incorporate the inherent variations which exist in women and their bodies.  
“Individuals with disabilities are a discrete and insular minority who have been…subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment and relegated to a position of political powerlessness in our society…resulting from…assumptions not truly indicative of the…ability of such individuals to participate in, and contribute to, society.” 3
When we look at the literature on the views of those who are nondisabled regarding those who are disabled we see an overwhelming amount of literature which views those with disabilities as less than or in a negative light. These researchers found that disabled children and adults were more likely to be rejected as family members than as acquaintances or workmates by both men and women.
As a society, we also fail African-American women because society sees their body as different in the same way it views a disabled person’s body. The difference exists in color, the shape of their bodies and their roots.  
Women of African descent have been associated with animalistic, “wild” sexuality. For both women and men, Western social thought associates Blackness with an imagined uncivilized, wild sexuality and uses this association as one lynchpin of racial difference.1

Collins, Patricia Hill (2004).  Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and The New Racism. (1st ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.
Wendell, Susan, Helen Bequaert & Purdy, Laura M. (Eds.) (1992).   Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability.  Feminist Perspectives in Medical Ethics. (pp. 61-81). Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press. 
Americans with Disabilities Act. (1990). United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
Fine, Michelle and Asch, Adrienne.  Shared Dreams: A Left Perspective on Disability Rights and Reproductive Rights. Fine, Michelle and Asch, Adrienne. (Eds). (1988). 

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'America's Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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