Time's Up -- unless you're a woman with a disability

Photo via Instagram/Reese Witherspoon

By Brit Theis

After months of work and preparation by Hollywood’s most powerful women (Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep to name a few), alongside some of the top women’s issues activists across America, Time’s Up  had its coming out party at the Golden Globes –and the public took notice. 

Once the celebrities hit the red carpet all dressed in black, it was all anyone could talk about, and it’s been a trending topic on social media since Sunday night’s broadcast.

By the end of the night, I was ready to jump on board, both feet in, stand together in solidarity and scream with them “no more!”  But then, as I eagerly devoured the New York Times letter, website and interviews, I couldn’t help but notice that women with disabilities were once again completely left out of the narrative.

How in 2018, do we have a discussion about the continuous mistreatment of women and minorities and leave out, arguably, the most vulnerable of those minorities?

In fact, the initial mission statement of the campaign did not include disabled women at all, until almost a full day later when someone on Twitter pointed it out to America Ferrara, one of the leaders of the campaign. The statement was corrected on the website and  social media, but the original New York Times piece still remains the same at time of publishing. 

ALSO SEE: Ryan Seacrest didn’t want to talk about Time’s Up on Golden Globes red carpet

As you read the website, perhaps you’ll wonder like I did where are the stats about abuse, harassment and job inequality for women with disabilities? When it comes to employment, only 40 per cent of women with disabilities aged 15-64 were part of the Canadian workforce.

In the United States, that number is an even more staggering 28 per cent. In the U.S., they earn 69.5 cents for every dollar an able-bodied male colleague. In Canada, a disabled women earn an average salary of $37,070 vs. $49,050 for able-bodied men.

According to the Disabled Women’s Network (DAWN),  women with disabilities are four times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than their non-disabled female counterparts, and 50 per cent more likely to have experienced abuse by a spouse. When reporting incidences of abuse and harassment, especially in the case of personal assistance workers or spouses, it is often considered a social services matter, rather than a crime.

There’s also the stereotype that being disabled makes us “easy.” We are expected to be grateful for any sexual interest, even if it’s non-consensual. That has happened to me more times than I  care to recall – I have been followed home and told by the guy who was literally stalking me, that I should be happy at least someone thought I was cute.  

Recently, H&M came under fire for their racist ad, to which many people responded, “How did this not get flagged before it went out?” The answer, presumably, is that there were no people of colour represented at any level in the approval process. No one in a boardroom who wasn’t white (and likely male) wouldn’t immediately see this and bring it up  –  or at least, no one in a position where they felt they could speak up.

So I ask the same question of the Time’s Up campaign: How did no one realize that women with disabilities were not included in the open letter until after it was public?

ALSO SEE: Why asking ‘Who are you wearing?’ on the red carpet is still relevant — even in light of Time’s Up

I’d guess it’s because no disabled woman was even consulted, let alone invited to join the group. Not one woman looked around that room months ago, when planning was just beginning, and realized that amoung these amazing women of colour, trans, lesbian and bi women, that perhaps a women with a disability would want to join the party? Would want to have her voice heard? For crying out loud, there are plenty of disabled women in Hollywood (People with dwarfism are one of the most highly represented disabled community in Hollywood, some actresses include Meredith Eaton, Hollis Andrews, Amy Roloff, Terra Jole…), I’m sure one would have been available to chat about her experiences.

At Sunday`s Golden Globes — during her awe-inspiring speech –  Oprah addressed the power of young black girls seeing themselves in the media.

How special that moment was for her in 1964 when Sidney Poitier won best actor, and how it was not lost on her that young black girls across the country were watching her, being recognized for her achievements and see themselves in her.  When does a disabled actress and activist get to be that example for young girls with disabilities? Those particular young girls didn’t get a chance to see themselves when it came to the Time’s Up movement. They didn’t get to see themselves represented among that high-profile group of women.

Still, I don’t want this to take away from the movement itself. The irony is that I want to be on board so badly. The first two weeks of 2018 will go down as a pivotal moment in women`s history (HERstory?). After all, I’m also a woman, in the workforce, who can say #MeToo.

But I also have achondroplasia dwarfism and stand a little over 4’5”. In my particular case, height is the only thing that disables me, but I don’t represent the entire dwarfism community – abilities range just as much as they do in the average height world. However, from a societal perspective I am a woman with a disability, which means I can’t just stand by and watch us be ignored.

Sure, I wasn’t born yesterday. I get that progress is never a straight or easy path and speaking truth to power is hard, but it’s much harder for me not to be critical when I see the disabled population continually left out of the discussion – or, more accurately, not even considered. When a movement prides itself on being representative, of all women, they should actually be representative of all women.

And that is my ultimate issue. Not that a group of women was excluded from the narrative (we often are), but that while Time’s Up is spreading of message of equality and inclusion, they then proceed to exclude the group that’s most vulnerable to the issues they are trying to solve. Disabled women were invisible to them. It’s not as if there aren’t any women with disabilities available in Hollywood, it just simply didn’t cross anyone’s mind.

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