Intersectionality, Employment, and Equal Pay
A few years ago, I applied for a job at Joann Fabrics in my hometown, and was outright rejected due to my disabilities. I cannot stand on my feet for hours at a time or lift heavy objects, so I asked if I could do the job sitting down and be assigned to the less physically demanding duties. I was told that having a stool to sit on while I (wo)manned the cash register was too much to ask for by way of accommodation and being assigned to the lighter duties would make the other employees jealous, and therefore I could not be considered for the position.
This experience, and other similar experiences job-hunting, convinced me that I could not even begin to find someone to employ me until I had a college degree and my qualifications outweighed my disabilities in the eyes of potential employers. Sadly, my experience is all too common among disabled people, even in this post ADA era. There is a wealth of studies demonstrating the widespread existence of disability discrimination in employment, and its disproportionate effect on disabled women. According the American Community survey, only 33.5 percent of all adults living with disabilities are employed, including part-time employment, with only 20.9 percent employed full-time, and 28.4 percent of all disabled adults live below the poverty line, with an even greater percentage on the lower end of the income scale.
Because of this, it is difficult for me to find myself and my experiences in mainstream feminist rhetoric, which focuses on the pay gap that exists between men and women. After all, it is well known that women, on average, make 78.3 percent of the average male wage. However, such mainstream rhetoric ignores the experiences of women of color and disabled women, who struggle with much larger wage gaps and unemployment rates. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on sex and race, among other things, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which banned discrimination based on disability and mandated accommodation for disability, discrimination and inequality still exist and negatively affect the lives of disabled women and women of color. Latinas only make 56 percent of the average white male wage, and African-American women make only 64 percent of the white male wage, yet their experiences are masked by mainstream feminist rhetoric focused on the lesser inequalities faced by able-bodied white women.
Yes, sisterhood is powerful, but sisterhood can easily become an exclusive clique focused on the needs and experiences of the majority. Any discussion of gender inequality needs to include the perspectives of women of color, LGBT women, disabled women, and other marginalized people groups in order to truly advance social justice.
[Image: Johns Hopkins Office of Student Disability Services]