Gender, disability rights and violence against medical bodies



Publication Details

L. Roslyn. Steele & L. Dowse, 'Gender, disability rights and violence against medical bodies' (2016) 31 (88) Australian Feminist Studies 187-202.


We take as our point of intervention one category of violence which sits outside the forms of violence against women which are both currently prohibited by criminal law and the focus of violence against women campaigns: non-consensual medical interventions (or, as we refer to it, 'lawful medical violence'). By drawing on critical disability studies, particularly feminist disability theory, we argue that lawful medical violence has been rendered socially and legally permissible because of the medicalisation of disabled women's bodies and the related pathologisation of their behaviour and life circumstances. These processes sit at the intersection of gender and disability, drawing on gendered social norms of ability and sexuality to construct women with disability as genderless and dehumanised, and in turn depoliticising non-consensual medical interventions in these women's bodies by reconstituting them as therapeutic and benevolent. In order to recognise and contest lawful medical violence as violence against women, mainstream feminist scholars and activists might consider turning to different legal, institutional and spatial sites of violence and challenging deeply embedded divisions and foundational concepts in law related to mental capacity.

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