“And she looks clean” This is what was said to me by a male teacher who thought I was attractive. I was 13 years old, in special education, and this kind of behavior from male authority was normal. I was “clean” but not something to be protected from such sexualization. I was something to be consumed, to be sullied by the male gaze, to be objectified by the dehumanizing gaze.
Being disabled, considered high functioning, and a girl is a very unique intersection. The rapid development of my body skewed my treatment as well. I was hyper-sexualized because of my body and fetishized on the presumption that my neurotype prohibited me from knowing what sex entails meaning I was fresh thing to be taken advantage of. Men prey on the unknowing because knowledge is power and the presumption that I didn’t know put me in a position of being powerless. In men’s eyes, someone like me is the perfect target because we are seen as something they could do whatever they want to without repercussions. How could we come to report to someone else about something we can’t understand? And because there are many things our minds don’t understand, will people take heed to what we say? This harmful idea, which is not unique to me, is something that leaves disabled black girls vulnerable to sexual abuse. 83% of disabled women will be sexual assaulted in their lifetime. 60% of black girls have been sexually assaulted before reaching the age of 18, and when you intersect those two marginalizations, the chances of that child coming into age without being assaulted is slim to none.
I was a target of constant sexualization. In men’s eyes, my body was no longer mine, when my hips flourished and my chest expanded, I became their possession. Male entitlement and their desire to possess all things they deem inferior puts girls and women in a suffocating predicament in which there isn’t much leeway to escape. And disabled girls, with our low levels of independency, are left in an especially difficult place in the world. We become dependent on those more abled than us because of this abled society which displaces disabled people on a systematic level, and via gendered socialization, we are taught that who we must depend on are men. A girl’s goal in life is to be with a men, we ‘need’ men, and this is taught to us as well. Disabled people don’t exist in a vacuum, we soak in the same bad and good ideas as our abled counterparts, and this is especially true for disabled girls. If anything, especially for those considered high-functioning, we were expected especially to uphold these ideas because this is what is meant to be “normal”.
Photo: Hesperian Health Images
“Normal” for a girl is to be powerless in the wake of men. Boys and men are assumed to be powerful over girls and women. Being disabled means living in a world where we become inherently powerless to our abled bodied counterparts. The world drives itself on power and varying ways in which power can benefit depending on how much power you have. Abuse is all about controlling the less powerful, manipulating the less powerful into a position that benefits the powerful in a number of ways. Abuse is all about gratifying the powerful, sexual abuse is about sexually gratifying the powerful where the powerless are forced to give in to those powers. Disabled black girls are at the bottom of the power hierarchy which then becomes expected of us to give in to the powerful. To be constantly robbed of our bodies and mind, to constantly put ourselves in jeopardy because this is what is expected of us.
The manipulation of our minds and the grooming of our bodies start as soon as we exit the womb. We must present our best self to be consumed by the powerful, the men. Never are we given a choice in whether to give ourselves away and keep our bodies as ours. Our bodies become commodity as soon men see us fit. It’s an insidious phenomenon woven into the very fabric of our society, from the most apparently innocuous thought such as wanting preparing your young daughter before she even becomes a teenager to become a lady worthy of respect because respecting a girl, a woman, is contingent on how she adheres to male-imagined femininity. We're expected to center our bodies around men, no, we're forced to center our bodies around men. We're forced to abandon our autonomy. As disabled girls we were never allowed our autonomy, a voice to speak our minds however which way decided to speak. We are silenced before we even develop a voice and it's so normalized that seeing a disabled girl, a disabled black girl, speak with her own words about the abuse disabled girls face, about why it's so prevalent, is radical.