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A Disabled Feminist Talks Back

by Harilyn Rousso

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4399-0937-9
Publisher: Temple Univ. Press

A psychotherapist and leading advocate for women with disabilities chronicles her struggles to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

As someone with cerebral palsy, Rousso (Gender Matters: Training for Educators Working with Students with Disabilities, 2002, etc.) had to cope with physical limitations (controlling her motions, blurred speech, an ungainly appearance and contorted facial expressions) and the response of others to them. She describes her own shock at seeing her image in a mirror, and she forced herself to confront the reality of her “loopy, lopsided walk; those darting, dancing shoulders; those wandering, wiggly fingers; that goofy, gimpy smile.” The author credits her mother with nurturing her sense of independence and self-worth, despite her insistence that it was necessary to try to disguise her disabilities in order to make herself more acceptable to “the normalcy brigade.” Growing up in the 1950s, Rousso faced “[i]gnorance, fear, nastiness, and prejudice” against the disabled and the expectation that a woman's destiny was shaped by her ability to attract a husband. Her father told her that he would not have married someone with her disabilities. Nonetheless, Rousso credits her disability with giving her the freedom to pursue a career outside the home—where she also experienced prejudice. After receiving her master’s degree, she was expelled from the psychotherapeutic training institute where she was enrolled because the staff feared that her appearance would upset clients. Rousso writes that the feminist movement of the 1970s gave her the strength to free herself from internalizing such cultural stereotypes. She became a successful psychotherapist and mentor for disabled young women. Two decades later, the author formed an enduring love relationship. Now, writes Rousso, she is able to accept her body and sense its uncontrolled motions “as signs of life, not limits.”

An inspirational affirmation of the unique worth of every individual.