In “The Social Construction of Disability,” Susan Wendell briefly discusses how the fast pace of American life impacts the social construction of disability through an inability for people with “disabilities” to maintain expectations of a high performance level. Wendell also claims that the pace of life causes disability in many people’s lives, but quickly moves on to another topic, referencing chapter four of Barbara Hillyer’s Feminism and Disability in the footnotes as a place for more information on this argument. In Hillyer’s chapter “Productivity and Pace,” she writes to the feminist and disability communities, analyzing how the pace of life affects them both in similar ways. Through an analysis of how people with disabilities are forced to set their own daily pace, Hillyer hopes to encourage others to learn about the necessity of slowing down. Throughout the chapter, Hillyer argues that people with disabilities are forced to act in a slow manner that is counter to societal expectations of living in a fast-paced world. People with disabilities and their caretakers are often criticized for being unable to maintain a high focus on productivity. However, Hillyer emphasizes the benefits that this slow pace allows, such as the additional time for introspection that she compares to the feminist process of self-centering.
Hillyer finds this needed slow pace to be especially difficult in the intersectionality between the disability and feminist communities, as women are expected to be “superwomen” who can be both independent and caretakers. Hillyer focuses on the similarities in these two communities and how their different approach to life can translate into readers’ lives. Hillyer starts by discussing the pressure that society places on women to be “superwomen” and how it is viewed as unacceptable to slow down. Women are often expected to be able to juggle their responsibilities as a housewife, businesswoman, mother, and caretaker; their idea of rest can only serve as a “time out” before returning back to their busy lives. When women either develop a disability or life-threatening illness or have a child with multiple disabilities, they struggle with control before permanently changing the pace of their life. Hillyer states that initially, the woman tries to cope with her stress by never taking time for herself, an attempt to regain control of her quickly changing life.
Feminist communities especially demand time management and productivity, but a disability can cause fatigue, limitations of activities, and a packed schedule of physical demands. Though society deems it acceptable for a person with a visible disability to live a slow-paced life, their caretakers or people with invisible disabilities are expected to live life as “normal.” For example, a woman undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer may experience extreme fatigue as a side effect, but if they ordinarily have an energetic personality, they are made to feel guilty for “shirking responsibilities” (Hillyer 51). Hillyer believes that in these instances especially, women are only encouraged to “take time to smell the roses…on their own time,” allowing a wealthy woman to stop whenever but never allowing a single mother to act so “selfishly” (Hillyer 55).
Hillyer advises the readers, especially women, to be wary of how they are affected by societal expectations of pace and to give more attention to their personal needs. Though Hillyer acknowledges the stigma behind a slower pace of life, she also explains its many long-standing benefits. A person with a chronic disease or disability has to learn to permanently change the pace of their life, integrating relaxation techniques into their lives, which allows them to be more aware of their personal, physical, and emotional needs. Similarly, caretakers of people with disabilities spend a lot of time waiting in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and treatment centers, which provides more occasion for introspection. People with disabilities learn to set priorities and accept rest when needed. Because people with disabilities often are aware of a shortened life-span, they must also focus on the present rather than the future.
Hillyer believes that everyone would benefit from this approach to life. Modern-day society, especially in America, is a “rat race” where it is frowned upon to spend time being traditionally unproductive. People with disabilities and their caretakers are stigmatized for not being able to keep up, but they are not viewed as not having a “real” disability if they are too productive. Instead of viewing this as a symptom for their disease or disability, Hillyer believes this is a healthier way of living, and she encourages her readers to adopt similar techniques for managing their responsibilities.
She especially criticizes the unrealistic, fast-paced speed that women are expected to maintain, despite personal obstacles. Hillyer, having lived in the intersection between the feminist and disability communities for most of her life, emphasizes the importance of allowing women to abandon the traditional concept of a highly productive “superwoman” and instead replace it with the knowledge that every woman dealing with a disease or disability, in themselves or loved ones, is a superwoman.