1 Introduction

‘…thinking is periodically nudged, frightened, inspired, or terrorised into action by strange encounters.’Footnote 1

As a 13-year-old girl in India, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Maybe one already knows this, but workplaces are not the kindest worlds to persons with disabilities, especially women with invisible disabilities. Years later as a law student and as a legal professional at different workplaces, I could sense wrongs. Workplaces are meant to accommodate only certain bodies. When you are in places where you are not expected to be, you have different experiencesFootnote 2 from the rest of your peer group. It takes you years to pinpoint the wrongs you felt as instruments of ableism, racism, and sexism.

Disability is never the norm or the dominant narrative in legal education, it is always the ‘other’. When we study disability, we seldom study it from the standpoint of disabled women, one of the reasons being, their rare visibility in public spaces. Spatial practices in our society are constituted and preserved in a way so as to preserve gendered and ableist identities and spaces.Footnote 3 Consequently, disabled women are shunned from the ableist gendered workplace towards home, thus impairing their ability to constitute knowledge by sharing their truths publicly.

In this paper, I make sense of my uncomfortable and strange encounters by exploring the question of how the workplace is an ableist as well as a sexist space for disabled women. My personal experiences or rather my strange encounters in my everyday world have left me feeling silenced, unprotected, and more vulnerable. Dorothy Smith lays emphasis on treating the everyday world as problematic, a world in which questions about social organisation and social relations arise.Footnote 4 Our actions and experiences are organised by social relations beyond our control.Footnote 5 My encounters made me reflect upon the linkages between my social status and social relations in this everyday world of which the workplace is a significant part.

I engage with the question of the workplace being ableist as well as sexist by adopting an autoethnographic approach whilst delving into feminist analyses on intersectional discrimination and violence. My body and experiences serve as a site to critically examine the discrimination against disabled women at workplaces within the feminist theoretical framework. Section 2 discusses my experiences in the problematic everyday world. In Sect. 3, I make sense of my experiences by engaging with Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s feminist disability theory,Footnote 6 Sara Ahmed’s intersectional feminist theory on spatial practices,Footnote 7 Audre Lorde’s account on silence and the relationship between the theory of intersectionality,Footnote 8 on one hand, and discrimination and violence, on the other hand, as propounded by Kimberlé Crenshaw,Footnote 9 and further developed by Patricia Hill Collins.Footnote 10

Intersectionality is not the sole theoretical framework to assess and analyse the issue discussed herein. However, I am relying upon intersectionality because, unlike previous works which were rooted in white experiences, Crenshaw’s theoretical framework of intersectionality carefully analyses the impact race has when studying patriarchy, violence, discrimination, separate spheres, etc.Footnote 11 Similarly, in my view, intersectionality aids in analysing violence and discrimination based on gender and disability when the voice analysing the issue is that of a disabled woman of colour.

2 My body, my experiences

The first rule I learnt as a young teenager with a disability was non-disclosure of disability to anyone. I was told that this cloak of secrecy was only to protect me from any stigma that may come to be associated with me. At school, I soon learnt that the stigma was a reality when I overheard a few of my male classmates mocking persons with mental health problems and neurological issues. Nobody reprimanded them. When I went to law school, I thought things would be different, but they were not. When I sought out reasonable adjustments for the adverse effect of campus accommodation on my disability, the hostel warden paid no heed to it. Worse, I was branded a liar by few students because I was unable to obtain any reasonable accommodation. They thought that I did not have any medical condition which is why reasonable adjustments were not made. So, I had to live with two stigmas—my disability and my newfound reputation. Some who believed that I indeed had a disability, fetishised my disability.

Once I graduated law school and assumed the position of an in-house counsel at a famous corporation, I thought that I am not going to experience any more discrimination at the workplace. After all, I was aware of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995,Footnote 12 (now the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016).Footnote 13 Also, one of my tasks involved spreading awareness about the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013Footnote 14 among the employees. However, now looking back I find myself to be too naïve. An alternative to my naivete could be the inability of the language of rights in the statutes to dismantle the sexist and ableist workplace I was in.

During the induction phase, I was notified that epilepsy was one of the medical conditions an employee could not have. I was stunned. It contravened the law and my human rights. If I told the examining doctor the truth, my services would be terminated for no fault of mine. So, I decided to lie. It seemed pragmatic and the only way to save my job. However, my conscience suffered and my journey of feeling guilty for something that is beyond my control began.

Next, I learnt what it meant to be a woman in a workplace. Sure, I had known this my whole life—lewd glances, ogling, sexist remarks on my achievement. But what I was to experience soon led to shame and ironically, guilt. My mentor at the corporation I was employed in, sexually harassed me. He was one of the members of the top management and had helped me with all the problems that I had faced, including problems equating to sexual harassment. Naturally, my trust and faith in humanity exploded when he started molesting and sexually harassing me towards the end of my tenure. Even after I left my job to start life afresh, his advances did not cease. He kept harassing me by calling me up regularly. My story coincided with the news headlines on sexual harassment of female law students by members of the senior judiciary. Nobody believed the young students, who will believe me? Everyone at my workplace thought that girls not dressing ‘appropriately’ (read: Western apparel) were seductresses and deserved to be harassed. Worse, my career would be ruined. I decided to stay mum. I was a feminist sensitising my co-workers on sexual harassment at the workplace but chose not to report it. Was I a failing feminist?

I had already proven to be complicit in ableism and antifeminism by not questioning the ableist policies and not reporting the sexual harassment. I had buried the guilt. To my horror, it resurfaced again. When I was sexually harassed once again at a different workplace, I reported the harassment. Although no action was taken against the harasser, the harassment stopped. Maybe it was the inaction on part of the top brass or the harassment itself or the fact that my sexual harasser was roaming freely that I got triggered again and broke down. In an unhealthy work environment where there was little support for me and my story of sexual harassment, my mental and physical health suffered. I kept thinking—did I even have a right to space as a feminist woman in a patriarchal work environment? Why was I being harassed again? I had done nothing to deserve it time and again. I did not want to see my harasser, so I shifted to a different floor where I would not see him. On the other hand, he sat comfortably in his chair and did not leave the floor he occupied. It seemed as if I was in the wrong.

I was fragile but felt proud that at least the harassment stopped and anyway I was moving to a different workplace. Things did look better in the new workplace but soon the shiny veneer wore off. My former employer had provided me with shared accommodation. However, I found myself in a toxic rooming situation. I had communicated my disability and other medical conditions, but it seemed that my housemates took only perfunctory consideration of that. Upon introspection, I realised there was no duty of reasonable accommodation on my housemates. If they respected my disability, I should be grateful to them. If they did not, which was most of the time, I needed to find a solution. I knew that they could intimate my employer about my disability. I had read a lot about the termination of services of competent persons with epilepsy. Since there was no respect for my boundaries and the housing situation was affecting my health, an angst-ridden despondent version of myself silently moved out. This was the third time that I was surrendering my personal space. I was compunctious of guilt for not fighting for my personal space in my first workplace. I was not feeling guilty unlike the first time I was harassed but the consequences were not any different. Every time I was harassed, the harasser was irreproachable while I was pilloried by the harassers and their friends for my actions. I was eventually bereft of my space. Why did this happen each time? Ideally, the contrary should happen. So, the problem either lay with my body or the world. It was inevitable that the spatial practices of the antifeminist ableist world would discriminate against me. My body was the site of ableist and/or sexist harassment as well as the site of protest. However, the protest was falling on deaf ears although the voice protesting was not timorous.

In my former workplace, some of the disabled colleagues requested reasonable accommodation with respect to participation in the formulation of the timetable. Anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and medicines of similar nature can affect sleep and make the instructor miss their early morning classes. In the time of COVID-19 when mental health issues were the new pandemic, it was even more necessary to consider this request. I had taught students who displayed little to no sensitivity on disability rights and one of our requests was sensitisation of administrative staff and students on disability rights. This would have prevented an unhealthy housing situation as well as enabled the workplace to be a safe space for disabled employees. Nevertheless, no heed was paid to these requests which flouted the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.Footnote 15 Was the language of rights not adequate because my protests failed constantly? It was time to critically analyse my vulnerabilities, introspect into my silences, and look at the world around me—the world that was not built for me.

3 Silence and vulnerabilities vis a vis the ableist sexist world

This section analyses my experiences in light of feminist theory on spatial practices and discrimination against multiply-disadvantaged women. The first sub-section pertains to exploring and challenging the world that is built to accommodate only certain bodies. The second sub-section discusses Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality and its applicability to discrimination against disabled women. The third sub-section delves into Patricia Hill Collins’ proposition on the linkages between violence and systems of power or oppression. I have centred my story while navigating various feminist perspectives.

3.1 Reflections on navigating an antifeminist ableist world

According to Ahmed, ‘a norm is something that can be inhabited’, something in which bodies can reside.Footnote 16 Therefore, the experience of not (or being incapable of) inhabiting a norm, can be treated as not living so easily where one resides.Footnote 17

You might be asked questions; you might be made to feel questionable, so that you come to feel that you do not belong in the places you live, the places you experience as home; you might turn up and not be allowed in or find it too uncomfortable to stay. Norms are often maintained through how those who do not quite inhabit norms are treated.Footnote 18

Norms can be created by institutions, in the form of policies, regulations or arrangements.Footnote 19 Norms are also at play in the everyday world in which bodies are moving.Footnote 20 Questionable existence is often about passing: in order to pass within (an organisation, an area, etc), an individual has to pass as something he/she/they are considered not to be.Footnote 21 Individuals who do not inhabit a norm are asked to account for themselves.Footnote 22 When giving an account of themselves, they can feel that they have to account for themselves.Footnote 23 Questionable existence in a sense can feel like a residence, resulting in the individual feeling like not being where they are at.Footnote 24 Questions can also be like assertions. When an individual is asked to explain their presence, the question is a way of being asserted that the individual does not belong here.Footnote 25

Whenever I requested reasonable accommodation on grounds of disability, be it as a college student or an employee, I had to explain myself. The explanation was not limited to legalese or medical knowledge about reasonable adjustments vis a vis epilepsy. To give an explanation encompassed the account of how I ended up being disabled, how my body is different from those who question me. When I reported sexual harassment, the questioning session was not restricted to the actions and/or words of the harasser. The questions made me explain how I could be seated in my place working diligently on my lectures when my harasser was roaming in my vicinity, confidently making advances at me. My being was in question, not his. To borrow from Simone de Beauvoir, the right to question me and my obligation to explain my very being render me ‘the Other’, who does not deserve to be at the organisation while those who have the right to question me are ‘the Absolute’.Footnote 26 They are entitled to be there. My body is the ultimate question mark.Footnote 27

My disabled body invited derision and stigma since I was in school. Why? Erving Goffman explains the concept of stigma attached to bodies of disabled persons.Footnote 28 My body is stigmatised, because it is different in an undesired manner from what the ‘normals’ had expected.Footnote 29 According to him, ‘normals’ are those whose appearance is in consonance with the specific societal expectations.Footnote 30 ‘Normals’ believe that the stigmatised individual, such as me, is not fully human.Footnote 31 Based on this belief they discriminate against the disabled individuals in varied ways and develop a stigma-theory, an ideology to account for the inferiority of the disabled individual.Footnote 32 The stigma-theory gives an explanation for an antipathy based on bodily differences.Footnote 33 ‘Normals’ use specific stigma terms like cripple, moron, in their everyday discourse without thinking about the original meaning of these terms.Footnote 34 Stigma affected my ability to sit comfortably in my chair at the workplace and live peacefully in my old accommodation. Meanwhile ‘normals’ moved freely and comfortably occupied their seats.

Some individuals can move around freely because they seem to inhabit the norm in the sense that their appearance is consistent with an expectation of who truly belongs to a place (a street, neighbourhood, an organisation).Footnote 35 Sexual harassment at workplace is a speech, gesture and/or action that questions women’s existence at workplaces. Sexual harassment hinders women from enjoying mobility which is a male privilege. When I was sexually harassed, I was told that I did not belong in the workplace. Sexual harassment showed me my place in space, it told me what my social position is.Footnote 36 It made me a woman, curtailed my mobility, and rendered me subordinate to men.Footnote 37 Similarly, a callous attitude towards reasonable accommodation and/or derision directed at my disability are means of subordination. They are tacit ways of telling me that I do not belong in the workplace.

To pass through unquestioned often requires passing as someone inhabiting the norm.Footnote 38 This is why I decided to act non-disabled for a long time. I did not disclose that I had epilepsy as my former employer would have terminated my services regardless of my merit. Acting non-disabled meant not being questioned.

Since I did not inhabit existing norms, I experienced (and still experience) discomfort.Footnote 39 ‘Comfort is about the fit between the human body and object’;Footnote 40 an encounter between more than one body.Footnote 41 To non-disabled bodies, the workplaces I inhabited are comfortable spaces because they allow non-disabled bodies to fit in.Footnote 42 Social spaces like the workplace are similar to the surfaces of pieces of furniture (for instance, sofas, beds, and chairs) which acquire their shape by the impression of some bodies inhabiting it.Footnote 43 Since my body is that of a disabled woman of colour, I do not fit in these pieces of furniture. My body gets sexually objectified, sometimes racially fetishised as that of a subservient Asian woman. Objectification and racial fetishisation treat my body as a site of erotic pleasure. I get sexually harassed. Racism operates to make me desired and banished simultaneously. Disclosure of disability makes me more vulnerable and ironically more visible than earlier.Footnote 44 I do not have the right body because the right body may be fully functioning; it is an able body.Footnote 45

When we have uncomfortable experiences, we start thinking differently about the world. Garland-Thomson uses the terms ‘misfit’ and ‘misfitting’ to underline the dynamic material relation between body and world that makes disability.Footnote 46 A fit takes place when a harmonious, suitable interaction happens between a ‘particularly shaped and functioning body and an environment that sustains that body’.Footnote 47 A misfit ensues when the surrounding environs do not support the body that encounters them.Footnote 48 The physical and social spaces through which we navigate our lives have a tendency to fit the needs of majority bodies and leave behind others, like people with disabilities as misfits.Footnote 49 We become disabled when we experience the notion of misfitting.Footnote 50 The concept of misfitting explains our exclusion from social and material institutions.Footnote 51 It is the social order which is disabling, not the body.Footnote 52 ‘I became disabled, then, similarly to the way I had become a woman.’Footnote 53

‘Although woman was an identity I had always claimed and which had claimed me, disabled was an identity, from which I fled.’Footnote 54 Why did I flee? Because I was afraid of the stigma that accompanied my disability. That stigma rendered me visible and defenceless. So, I stayed silent, but my silences did not protect me.Footnote 55 I stayed silent as a 13-year-old schoolgirl when my classmates disparaged me. I stayed silent as a 29-year-old legal professional caught in an anguish-wrought housing situation where I could not speak up for my housing needs. Lastly, I stayed silent when other disabled colleagues and I did not receive any word from the management on reasonable accommodation.

Why am I speaking up now? Am I not afraid anymore? Of course, I am afraid, because the fear of stigma, humiliation, judgment, censure, and contempt has not ceased. More importantly, the path of ‘transformation of silence into language and action is an act; of self-revelation’Footnote 56 and that always seems beset with danger.Footnote 57 But I have learnt that I will never really be my true whole self if I stay silent because there is always a part of me that wants to be spoken out.Footnote 58 To survive in ableist sexist workplaces, multiply-disadvantaged women had to learn their most vital lesson—that our survival was never intended.Footnote 59 As a multiply-disadvantaged woman, I have learnt this lesson because I do not inhabit the norm. However, I, like many others in my position, have been socialised to respect fear more than my requirements for language and definition.Footnote 60 Nevertheless, I need to break that silence because silence is one of the several uncomfortable experiences emanating from misfitting in unsustainable environments. Silence immobilises me,Footnote 61 it genders and disables me. I finally found the strength to understand my strange encounters and challenge the world where I misfit by studying intersectional feminist theory.

3.2 Exploring intersectionality and its relationship with discrimination

Had I not been disabled, my pitfalls and vulnerabilities would have lessened.Footnote 62 Sex, race, class, and disability are real differences.Footnote 63 I could never ignore the differences separating me from my non-disabled self and/or my harassers, making me more vulnerable to harassment.Footnote 64 It is intersectionality that makes me ponder over my vision of a sustainable environment—a feminist workplace that does not disable me. The fact that I experience dual burdens and the social stigma around disability, somewhere affected my silent subordination to harassment and harassers. However, no good comes out of silence as my silence was construed to mean inferiority and submissiveness to class-privileged male ableist dominance. I was oppressed not only as a woman but also as a disabled individual.

A theoretical framework considering intersectionality can sufficiently address the unique discrimination and subordination faced by multiply-disadvantaged womenFootnote 65 like me. This is because multiply-disadvantaged women experience discrimination from discrete sourcesFootnote 66 such as gender, disability, race, etc. To exemplify, disabled women at workplaces can be discriminated against either by non-provision of reasonable accommodation or sexual harassment.

To explain the intersectional discrimination resulting from gender and race hierarchies, Crenshaw provides the metaphor of a ‘basement which contains all people who are disadvantaged on the basis of race, sex, class, sexual preference, age and/or physical ability.’Footnote 67 She explains:

These people are stacked-feet standing on shoulders-with those on the bottom being disadvantaged by the full array of factors, up to the very top, where the heads of all those disadvantaged by a singular factor brush up against the ceiling. Their ceiling is actually the floor above which only those who are not disadvantaged in any way reside. A hatch is developed through which those placed immediately below can crawl. Yet this hatch is generally available only to those who-due to the singularity of their burden and their otherwise privileged position relative to those below-are in the position to crawl through. Those who are multiply-burdened are generally left below....Footnote 68

This metaphor exemplifies the conditions of women,Footnote 69 and how women are differently situated in relation to each other. Just below the ceiling, lie women who, but for their sex, are equal to men. This group comprises white heterosexual middle-class or upper-class non-disabled women. Towards the bottom of the basement, lie lower-class lower-caste disabled trans or queer women of colour belonging to a religious minority. I, as a disabled heterosexual upper-caste middle-class immigrant cis-gendered woman of colour, lie somewhere in the middle of the basement. Relying upon the theoretical framework of intersectionality, I argue that multiply-burdened women face a higher likelihood of being subjected to sexual harassment at the workplace.Footnote 70

Using the theory of intersectionality, Crenshaw investigates gender-based violence and considers how the experiences of women of colour are normally the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism.Footnote 71 Intersection of patterns of subordination is evident in the sexual harassment experiences of black women who are disadvantaged on account of race and gender.Footnote 72 Black women are located within at least two systems of oppression: racism and sexism.Footnote 73 This dual vulnerability does not simply imply that their disadvantages are multiplied; rather, it means, that the patterns of racism and sexism intersect in their lives resulting in distinctive experiences.Footnote 74 Widespread insidious assumptions about Black women have an impact on the forms of sexual harassment that Black women face, as well as whether or not their accounts will be considered true.Footnote 75 In the words of Crenshaw, ‘Intersectional subordination need not be intentionally produced; in fact, it is frequently the consequence of the imposition of one burden that interacts with pre-existing vulnerabilities to create yet another dimension of disempowerment.’Footnote 76

Sexual harassment at workplace against disabled women is one such manifestation of intersectional subordination. Crenshaw’s analyses can be expanded to examine disabled women’s experiences of sexual harassment. Disabled women face a higher risk of violence than non-disabled individuals and men with a disability, considering the social, historical, and economic-based marginalisation and oppression of women with a disability.Footnote 77 Their marginalisation affects their voice and ‘equal participation in everyday life’,Footnote 78 which creates ‘a vicious circle of cultural and economic subordination.’Footnote 79 Like Black women, pervasive stereotypes about disabled women’s sexual behaviours are ubiquitous which affects reporting and adjudication of sexual harassment at workplace.Footnote 80

While reading Crenshaw, I had my story at the back of my mind. I constantly interpret my story using her analyses. My non-disabled, sex-privileged, upper-class harassers lived above the ceiling while I could not even access the hatch without pulling myself ‘into the groups that are permitted to squeeze through the hatch.’Footnote 81 My experiences of sexism were shaped by my disability and vice-versa. I did not report sexual harassment for the first time because my harasser assumed the high echelons of the institution which had equated epilepsy to a felony record. I knew that if I dared to report it, I would not be believed. My character as well as my conduct will be questioned. During induction, I had submitted certain medical test reports which if carefully scrutinised could be inferred to point to an underlying neurological condition. I did not want the cat to come out of the bag. And for what—I knew the harasser would go scot-free. I would be the one on trial. I would not be free. Two systems of power- ableism and sexism would finally choke me. The social system did not support me. I was not a feminist at work because I feared more violence. I experienced (and still experience) gender and disability as violence.

3.3 Violence vis a vis intersectionality

Research has found that a bi-directional relationship exists between sexual violence and mental health problems. Women who have experienced sexual violence tend to develop acute mental health problems and those with severe mental health problems remain exposed to sexual violence.Footnote 82 This is particularly significant because the boundary between disability and non-disability is blurred and constantly shifting. Someone who is not disabled can become disabled at any given moment. When disability interacts with pre-existing vulnerabilities like gender, intersectional subordination ensues. Therefore, women developing mental health problems as a result of sexual harassment become even more vulnerable to patriarchal ableist domination than they were previously.

Across varying social contexts, the use or threat of violence has been crucial to power relations that create disparities in society, such as sexual harassment within sexism.Footnote 83 Therefore, violence as a saturated site is important—it shows how violence preserves different systems of power and the visibility of points of convergence of intersecting power relationsFootnote 84—in my case the intersections of gender and disability. Hill Collins explores how violence may serve as a navigational tool for examining intersectionality’s main theoretical premise that ‘systems of power mutually construct one another’.Footnote 85 In other words, focusing on violence helps to understand the workings of racism, and heteropatriarchy as distinct systems of power as well as how violence constitutes a common thread that unites them together.Footnote 86 Hill Collins explains:

Treating violence as a saturated site of power relations wherein the workings of power within and across capitalism, colonialism, racism, and heteropatriarchy are especially visible provides an entry point into theorizing intersecting systems of power. Saturated sites bundle together practices, social institutions, representations, and patterns of everyday social interaction that appear and reappear across seemingly separate systems of oppression.Footnote 87

I propose that Hill Collins’ propositions can be expanded to include ableism as a system of power. In looking at narratives of sexually harassed disabled women from the perspective of intersectionality, we can discern the distinctive systems of power of ableism and sexism. Sexual harassment against disabled women can be seen as a saturated site of power relations that unites and preserves the two separate systems of power or oppression, namely ableism and sexism. It is significant to note that in our ableist patriarchal society, workplace can also serve as a saturated site because it unites various modes of ableist patriarchal representations, practices, and patterns of social interactions that discriminate against women with disabilities. These representations and social interactions are ingrained with social practices that are necessary for the preservation of two distinct systems of power—sexism as well as ableism. It is the workplace where gendering (in my case-‘girling’) takes place. The rules of ‘girling’ are enacted in a mode of address.Footnote 88 ‘Violence is also a mode of address.’Footnote 89 Being a girl is a way of being taught what it is to have a body: you are told that you will be subjected to sexual violence and if you refuse to modify your behaviour in accordance with what the sexist society and your harasser’s desire, then you can be made responsible for the violence directed toward you.Footnote 90 That is the sad truth of gender fatalism.Footnote 91 I was taught at a young age that my clothes were responsible for me being sexually harassed. People told me that I was too kind or too friendly with my harassers. I was slut-shamed, victim-shamed. They sexually harassed me because of something I did, something I wore, something that was inherent in me. I was policed unlike them.

Similar to the rules of girling, there are rules indoctrinated in disabled women like me. I call these rules ‘disabling’ as it is not disability that disables me but these rules that disable me. The rules shush me, tell me to not disclose my disability, not protest against people and/or institutions which do not accommodate me, direct me to modify my behaviour as to what the institutions and/or people desire inevitably implying that I must accommodate those who continue to preserve their norms by not accommodating bodies like me. Disability fatalism occurs when a disabled individual is made responsible for the discrimination meted out to him/her/them. The scornful laugh that I heard when I was 13, the rule prescribing epilepsy as a ground for termination of services, lack of reasonable accommodation for disabled students, all the malicious gossip about my disability over the ages, callous disregard of needs of disabled employees at the workplace by the employer and co-workers are nothing but discriminatory. They violate my personhood. However, disabled individuals like me are told that because we do not have the same body as that of our aggressors, we are to be blamed for what befalls upon us. I ask myself: how does one break out of this antifeminist ableist world of dominance?

Theorising violence as a ‘saturated site of intersecting power relations’Footnote 92 underscores the importance of apparently individual and distinctive acts of resistance because it shows how notions and actions of resistance are themselves interlinked.Footnote 93 An intersectional analysis that concentrates on domination encapsulates the instabilities and intricacies that illustrate how violence and anti-violence coexist.Footnote 94 Therefore, individual resistance to sexual harassment by a disabled woman is likely to demonstrate the intersection between the two separate systems of power- ableism and sexism.

Penning down this piece makes me feel good about myself because it feels like an act of feminist resistance against patriarchy and ableism. While teaching and speaking at conferences I use my particulars to challenge the universal.Footnote 95 For so long I have been obeying the norms formulated by patriarchal ableist workplaces that I eventually became silently subordinate to all my harassers. I finally snapped. When a feminist snaps, a feminist movement is waiting to happen because she has finally recognised the linkages between power relations, gender, and gender as violence.Footnote 96 Now I want to resist any kind of domination inflicted upon my body—body of a disabled woman. I want to tell my truths and support the truths of other disabled women and create feminist norms and dwellings which people like me can inhabit. I want to have a more equal relationships with people who comfortably inhabit institutions. I want to live a feminist life. Intersectional feminism is as much present in my resistance as ableist antifeminism is present in the violence.

4 Conclusion

‘What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?’Footnote 97

Inequities prevail in the workplace between various sets of employees, but inequities are graver when the population is more vulnerable.Footnote 98 Intersectionality helps in making sense of one’s experiences when someone is more vulnerable than the rest of the workforce. My social status is inferior to others because of my gender and disability. Social status is intricately connected to social relations which explains my unequal relationships with others at the workplace—others who are expected to belong at the workplace.

All my strange encounters had the same ending, that of me surrendering my space because questions were raised at my existence, my very being, my very presence at the workplace. I was (and still am) ‘the Other’. I did not belong at the workplace. However, I want to reclaim my disabled identity, speak up and break the silence about the tyrannies that I have endured silently. My body is not wrong, I had become disabled because of misfitting in unsustainable environments. What are disabling are the norms that organisations have in place so as to keep out bodies like me as well as the ableist ideas that are inculcated in young disabled girls like me.

I propose that multiply-burdened women face a higher likelihood of being subjected to sexual harassment at workplace. Therefore, workplaces and violence are saturated sites of intersecting power relations—here, power relations of ableism and sexism. Intersectional subordination is apparent in sexual harassment.

Sexism, ableism, and racism are mutually constructing systems of oppression at the workplace which only accommodate certain bodiesFootnote 99. Since they do not allow women like me to feel at home in the workplace, we have to do feminist housework, i.e. challenge the systems of power, social relations, dismantle unequal unjust antifeminist spaces and rebuild the master’s residence.Footnote 100 Intersectional feminist theory informs the nature of an accessible workplace—a workplace where women like me fit, we are not questioned, our mobility is not constrained, we are not violated. I want to fit in the chair so that the chair assumes the shape of the body of a disabled woman. I want disability to be the norm and not ‘the Other’. ‘Feminism [has] made me disabled’ by demonstrating to me how positive identity politics can be mobilised for feminist resistance projects,Footnote 101 such as, this article and/or creating a feminist workplace.