Friday, March 09, 2012

A W.O.M.A.N. With Down Syndrome

At the base of the excalators, and just to the right of the elevators, there is a gathering place. People sit and have a tea or a chat while they rest up for more shopping or wait to meet others. It's an informal spot, seems perfectly designed for those who need a moment. I often pull up there when I'm waiting for Joe, he often sits there while waiting for me. It's one of those treasures, tucked away, known by locals, stumbled upon by strangers.

Sitting alone, she was preparing for the arrival of another. Her purse was open on the table in front of her, she had a small mirror in one hand, with the other she was deftly touching up her make up. I don't know who she was meeting but she obviouisly wanted to look her best. She wore a tight top, displaying her curves. One simple chain, with a heart locket hung round her neck. As I drove by in my chair, she put the mirror away, clicked the purse shut, and resumed watching for someone's arrival.

I'm guessing a man.

It was only later that I realized that yesterday, the day saw her touch up her make-up, was International Women's Day. With so much travel, I get a bit lost in time. I always mark that day in some way and was annoyed that I'd missed the opportuntity to write about it. Seeing her, there, in that spot, waiting for someone, all dressed up, all made up, though, was celebration enough for me.

I know that International Women's Day is traditionally celebrated as a means of marking the struggle women have had for rights, for safety, for political power, for a voice on the world stage. But I also realized that for many people with intellectual disability, like the young woman with Down Syndrome, with the mirror in her hand touching up her lipstick, it might mean something a little different. Women with intellectual disabilities, and those with physical disabilities as well, still fight for the right to womanhood. The right to be a fully adult woman. Gender, maleness and femaleness, is a concept often accepted only in children with disabilities. It's possible to be a cute little girl but seldomly do people say of the cutest girl - she's break hearts one day.

As people with intellectual disabilities begin to approach teen years, the freedom they anticipate is often denied them, their adulthood will be made dangerous is they fully adopt their feminity, their masculinity. Little girls who manage to negotiate all of parental., system and societal fears to become fully realized adult women, are few. Helmed into a lifetime of restriction, for their own good, they experience oppression and victimization, ironically, because the world is seen as too dangerous!

I saw a woman with Down Syndrome on International Women's Day. This is cause for celebration. It is also cause to remember that like women repressed for reasons of culture or of faith or of simple brutality, women with disabilities experiencing a fear and, sometimes even loathing, of their feminity. Lipstick being artfully pushed against lips may not seem like an act of victory, or an act of revolution to you, but it does to me.

I don't know who she was waiting for, but it was a woman who waited.


wheeliecrone said...

Women hold up half the sky. Thanks for noticing, Dave.

Rosa said...

Beautiful Post!

joanne said...

thank you Dave, wonderful thoughts, will share with my female friends :)

ds.mama said...

What a thoughtful post. This issue you bring up of women with ID being held back from fully becoming W.O.M.A.N is so very true.

Stephanie said...

Oh this post has tears running all over the place!!!

Guess it made me picture my Emilia all grown up.

She is 3 and has Ds. We want everything for her. And I want her to be a woman, and fix her make up. And be seen as a woman. it's so important.

Thanks for this one! it was beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

It is quite sad that you assumed that she waiting for a man. As if that was the only reason that she would want to look her best. Maybe women haven't made it that far after all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Many years ago you spoke about cute little kids growing up into attractive, sexual beings. You said something I have repeated often (and attribute to you). "What parent (staff) wants to tell their child (person they support) they will never be allowed to be loved, never be kissed or feel desire for another person". Who has that right?
It does change the way people tend to think.
Have a great day

Princeton Posse said...

Thanks Dave for a great post. International Womans Day seems to get a bit lost with everything else going on. It's good to reflect on how far we have come but also how far we have to go.

theknapper said...

Dear Anon, I think you're missing the point....if the assumption is she is waiting for a man , it can mean there is someone who she likes.....probably that person likes her back. There is probably a relationship that at one time, not very long ago, would not have been possible or supported.
Please don't dismiss the importance of relationship. Being a feminist doesnt mean you dont need/want other signigant people in your life.

ivanova said...

Great post!
BTW, some of us ladies want to look our best when we are waiting for another lady. (I know you know that. . . I am 97% just joshing you.)

Anonymous said...

I love that. Lately I have struggled with people not seeing my sister who has DS, as a fully capable and adult woman who lives independently. My parents, my daughter, and I all know who she is and that she deserves and demands total respect if you are going to truly be in her life. Recently two of our cousins (one who works in special ed!) visited. They were quite shocked when my grand -daughters were not interested in them but desperately wanted their Great Aunt to hold them and vied for my sister's attention. I hope my cousins learned something about respect that day. They sure didn't get to learn anything about those two toddlers who absolutely love their auntie.

Nan said...

A W.O.M.A.N. who gets R.E.S.P.E.C.T.! Thanks Dave!

Shelley said...

A perfect post. Thank you!