I am a 26 year- old cis- gender, bi-sexual female and have a form of proportional dwarfism, which has lead me to finish growing at around 4 foot 8(ish). My most prominent experience would be a drunken stranger suddenly picking me up onto his shoulders without my consent at a music festival last year so I could ‘see better’. I protested and my partner and friends acted swiftly in helping to get me down. Luckily, the security team also saw the incident and the man was escorted out, after I tried to scream over the music about how inappropriate, frightening and potentially dangerous his actions were and ask him why he thought he had the right to behave the way he did. Sadly, strangers have offered/ tried to lift me up before, people have put their hand on my back or arm to escort me to spaces on busy public transport, passengers have taken my luggage without asking into overhead storage. The list goes on, but the main issue is that people assume I need help (I understand they want to and don’t mind them asking first) or treat me like a child, despite the fact that I am a woman, and they actually end up invading my personal space. I have pretty thick skin and my condition has never stopped me, but the festival incident was different and has left me feeling anxious in big crowds. It made me feel inferior, violated, powerless, scared, knocked my confidence and undermined what I have achieved as a person in spite of my disability. It also made me feel guilty for not using the disabled section at the festival and I now feel like I will have to in future. There’s also another power dynamic in that most of my incidents involve men, which echoes how men (not all) feel that they can comment on, control and own women’s bodies, particularly in public spaces. Recognition is needed towards the often complex and intersecting processes of oppression that some women can face due to the multiple aspects of their identity.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex