“The Women who Show Up”
I want to acknowledge how gender binary and cis-everything this blog post is, but I hope you will see why I set it up this way.
A fellow special needs mom in my town recently ran for, and was selected to be, a borough council member. Her platform was greater inclusion of the disability community, and a greater voice for lower income residents. I was touched to have been asked to write a letter on her behalf (she is more than qualified for the job), and would like to join in the chorus of congratulations for Tara Canavera, who not only deserves the position, but honors us by becoming our representative.
It is interesting in a not-good way how the ‘showing up’ that women do all the time is so often devalued. Our presence is taken for granted. In all the spaces I have navigated, the few men are praised for showing up (and they usually don’t unless there are leadership positions to be had, but of course hashtagnotallmen), and the women are invariably given more work, yet acknowledged far less for that labor. So the fact that women, including Tara, are filling positions of leadership, and having their names and tireless endeavors actually rewarded in a concrete way, not to mention that infrastructural support becomes available in ways that are barred to people who do not have organizational and community endorsement, just makes my heart glad.
As far as dismissive remarks go, I have heard some doozies, whether it is in LGBTQ, autism, or cultural spaces. Partly I think it’s because of sexist Desi dynamics which we are all invited to uphold. Men must be coaxed and cajoled into community engagement; and the giving of their time must be vocally honored. Women don’t ‘need’ all that; we show up, and are told we chatter too much, and we are scolded loudly for not bowing to existing power dynamics, which are known, by the way, in everyday jargon, as cliques. We also appear less frequently in photo ops and PR clips, FYI, unless our husbands are by our sides. But God forbid we call it out; are we in it for the kudos? And if not, why search for glory? For shame!
If I had a rupee for every time I have experienced someone running their eyes over a group of willing volunteers and pronouncing “I mean, it’s great you’re all here, but more dads need to show up,” I could have spent my money on a whole new Desi wardrobe annually by now. AND I could have shown up in person in India to collect it. On my private jet. There is such an erasure when people say those things, even if they are meant as a chastisement for men to do more.
Because, you know, if you see a special needs parent in any sort of public position, their partner is probably shouldering the parenting so they can show up to meetings and events. There isn’t any more glamorous way to make representation happen for us. Childcare for years on end gets expensive. We spend that money prudently. There is nothing at all wrong with the behind-the-scenes person being the dad. There is nothing unnatural about a dad being just as wanted and cherished as a mom might be by an autistic child or adult. And just as a general factoid, it gets difficult for women to physically wrangle growing teenagers, so men do end up taking on more of that labor if they are so able, as the years go by, and children become youths. (HashtagIknowthereareexceptions)
I have turned such a deaf ear to the praises heaped on my husband for simply being a parent of an autistic child that you will have to direct them to him personally. Don’t worry, though; I am still doing lots of traditionally female tasks, and A still chases me around longing to taste whatever I cook, so the either-or feminist utopia is not yet realized. 😉
And this is why I believe in outside leadership opportunities for women. We adore our children, AND we are often the ones who have great ideas. Why should we not have the power to implement them? This isn’t some sectarian politics I am engaging in, or even verbal sparring. I think it is worth noting how often it is only when women seek leadership, remuneration, or even just free time that we are told we are making it about gender and about our need for attention. Our skills are expected to be both above and below such materialistic, individualistic intent.
Admit women to seats of power. Pay women for our work. And adapt to how women shape public spaces. Because we do. And it’s better with our presence and input and, yes, even most times when we have the final say. That final say is more likely to have consensus-seeking behind it anyway.