Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

The Center for Women and Gender Equity hosted their first of three seminars in their Sexism+ series on Wednesday, Sept. 20 with West Chester University kinesiology professor, Maria Lepore-Stevens. This first seminar, entitled “Disability and Gender Bias,” discussed the ways in which individuals with disabilities experience gender bias.

Professor Lepore-Stevens began her discussion by having the audience read various articles that each exhibit a different example of the ways in which gender impacts individuals with disabilities.

She further invited participants to text in the first word that came to mind when they heard the word “disability.” The group then came together to discuss some common themes amongst the articles as well as the series of words that the group submitted.

One individual said, “These are issues I did not even consider as a person who is able bodied.”

Next, Lepore-Stevens said that the issue of “diagnosis bias” is one of the biggest issues facing individuals with disabilities. She said, “research often focuses on boys, resulting in greater diagnosis in young boys.” She detailed further that many disabilities are linked with X chromosomes so they affect boys in greater numbers. Females have XX chromosomes, so if there happens to be a mutation in one of their X chromosomes, the other will make up for that mutation. In boys, however, they have XY chromosomes, so if a mutation occurs in their X chromosomes, that is most likely going to result in some sort of condition.

Some examples of these X-linked disorders include colorblindness, hemophilia, Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy and ocular albinism. These are some of the factors that play into the “diagnosis bias” which results in fewer identifications of disability in young girls and women.

Another main point Lepore-Stevens argues is the role that masculinity and femininity play in the discussions about disability. “The way we discuss disability often mirrors the way we talk about femininity, in conflict with masculine identity,” said Lepore-Stevens. She said that this causes extra pressure on men with disabilities to prove their manhood.

Additionally, she said sometimes women are not even being identified with disabilities because the construct of femininity is forcing women to suppress their symptoms in fear of breaking gender constructs. Under this topic of gender constructs and disabilities, Lepore-Stevens also discussed issues such as reproductive rights of individuals with disabilities as well as transgender issues of individuals with disabilities.

Upcoming seminars in WCU’s Center for Women and Gender Equity Sexism + series include “A Face of Oppression: How Sex(ism) and Rac(ism) Intersects” hosted by Danitra Sherman on Oct. 18 and “Masculinity & Superheros” hosted by Associate Director of Student Activities, Barrett McGee, and Technical Operations Coordinator, Naquan Redd, on Nov. 8. For more information about these and other events hosted by the Center for Women and Gender Equity, visit their website from WCU’s home page and search “women’s center.”

Lepore-Stevens also teaches many courses in disabilities studies throughout the year. These courses are part of West Chester’s interdisciplinary or diverse community’s general education requirements as well as part of the Department of Kinesiology’s programs. Many of Lepore-Stevens courses are open to students of all majors and she urges any and all students interested in learning more about these issues to look into these courses.

Rachel Spurlock is a second-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RS874054@wcupa.edu.

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