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  • Jeiri Flores

Ain't I a Woman?

Updated: Mar 26

What is womanhood? Who defines it? And most importantly, who gets to decide that a woman is woman enough?

People all over the globe have been having this conversation for centuries, never coming up with a clear answer, but instead making a never-ending list of what a woman should be and should do while also loosely defining our worth. As a disabled woman of color, this conversation only increases in complexity.

I never thought about my womanhood until recently when a doctor not only

A  Puerto Rican woman with slicked back black hair smiling at the camera

questioned it but refused to acknowledge it. I left her office feeling lost and wondering what part of me didn't scream, I am a woman! She made me feel like I wasn't doing this thing called womanhood correctly. Like I dropped the ball, and everybody knew but me. She talked about me and my body like I was subhuman and expendable. She made me feel like if I had never existed, no one would care because I wasn’t the kind of woman, she went to medical school to keep alive. I am a chunky disabled Afro-Latina who maybe she believed was lucky to be alive. She activated my fight response immediately; except I didn’t know who to fight. Do I fight her? The medical school that trained her? Or do I fight a society who feeds our way of thinking and constantly makes us question our worthiness?

I have lived 30-plus years constantly working hard to love the skin that I am in, and this was a part of me that I didn't imagine I had to learn how to love. Being disabled was something I had to learn how to love; this type of self-love wasn't innate, but I was sure that being a woman was easy to love. But is it?

Womanhood is multifaceted, layered, and not neatly packaged, and the longer I live, the more I recognize how messy it really is. So now here I am at the worst time in American history, questioning my womanhood. I am unpacking pieces of myself to create some sort of working definition that makes sense to me while my body autonomy and rights are slowly but surely being stripped away.

It's frustrating watching all of these conversations happening around me about body autonomy when it's something I am actively working to obtain. People think that because I am disabled, they can make decisions for me, they can invade my personal space, they can speak for me, and can decide where and how my body sits. I am fighting to exist in a world that refuses to acknowledge me as a being. So, I have to work harder, speak louder, and be damn near perfect, because the second I waver, that’s it. The one chance they gave to the little girl of color from the hood was wasted, and who knows when that next time someone like me will have a chance to say anything.

I don't want to have to campaign for my worthiness; I want too just be. I don't need another reason to question my body. I’ve been questioning it all my life.

Demanding that it do more even when my muscles are screaming that they’ve given me all that they’ve got. Expecting it to do what everyone else’s body is doing even though I am different, and I can’t do what everyone is doing.

I do know for sure that the doctor was wrong, the Supreme Court was wrong, and all of those folks who have looked at me and refused to respect or acknowledge my womanhood are wrong. This is the legacy I need to leave, to pass down to my nieces and other Black and Brown little girls like them, like me. I am choosing to lead by example, even if my example is still a working definition, a work in progress.

We do not need to earn our womanhood. We do not need to explain our womanhood. We shouldn’t have to fight to retain our womanhood.

Womanhood can only be defined by its beholder.

Jeiri Flores is a strong, passionate Puerto Rican disability rights activist from Rochester, NY. She earned her bachelor’s degree in the study of Sociology and African-American Studies at SUNY Brockport in 2014. She serves as a resource for residents in her community by connecting them to existing services and supports. As a disability advocate, Jeiri shares insight regarding inclusion, citizenship, disability intersectionality and challenges that remain unaddressed by and invisible to society. She hopes to influence young disabled people to fulfill their purpose and create a new narrative for what it means to be disabled.


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