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Blind Women

Lee Kumutat is joined by Karina Jones, Sam Latif and Kerry Campbell to discuss what it means, and how it feels to be a blind woman
Presenter: Lee Kumutat
Producer: Georgina Hewes.

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20 minutes

Transcript

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY. 

 

IN TOUCH – Blind Women

 

TX:  03.04.2018  2040-2100

 

PRESENTER:          LEE KUMUTAT

 

PRODUCER:            GEORGINA HUGHES

 

Kumutat

Hello.  A few weeks ago on In Touch Peter White and three men explored the impact of their blindness on their sense of being a man.  Well, tonight, women get their turn at trying to pin down what it means and how it feels to be a blind woman.

 

Three blind women join me on this rather rocky terrain.  We are all around the same age and stage of life, spanning mid-30s to mid-40s.  Sam Latif, is married with three children and Kerry Campbell in Glasgow is married and has two children.  While Karina Jones, who’s also here in the studio, and I are both single and dating.  Yes we are, aren’t we Karina?

 

Jones

We are.

 

Kumutat

Now Karina and Sam, you two are alike, as you both lost your sight in your teens and Kerry and I are paired, in that we’ve both been blind since very early childhood.  If I could ask you Kerry, which do you put first when describing yourself – are you a blind woman or are you a woman who’s blind or c. none of the above?

 

Campbell

Oh, I can honestly say I probably have no preference.  I didn’t like being known as the blind girl at school, I can tell you that, but I’ve probably come full circle from that, now you’ve been thinking well, to be honest, they’re both equal parts of identity.  Coming from round about Glasgow in the west of Scotland I do sometimes now hear – Watch out for the blind woman.  I don’t like that, I don’t like that at all.  And I do think – when did I go from being the blind girl to the blind woman.  So, either a woman’s who is blind or a blind woman – I don’t mind.

 

Kumutat

And what about for you Karina?

 

Jones

Yeah, I would say woman who happens to have a visual impairment, my identity as a woman is definitely first.  Having said that, people who I’m friends with and who I work with, because I refer to myself as blindy, will just call me blindy and I’m fine with that.

 

Kumutat

Really?  What is that like a nickname?

 

Jones

Yeah…

 

Kumutat

Blindy is a nickname?

 

Jones

Yeah the last job I did, one of the actors and he said – oh blindy – and he had a toe amputated, so I’d call him – limpy.

 

Kumutat

I mean but do you think that the woman first thing, for you, is somewhat of a result of having some sight into your teens because you did didn’t you?

 

Jones

Yeah, I think it’s a backlash because I don’t like being referred to as the blind one, as I was growing up it felt like that always came first in my identity and it’s something that I’ve striven to make sure it’s secondary.

 

Kumutat

And Sam Latif, you have sisters who are sighted you’re very close to, do you feel you identity as a woman any differently from them?

 

Latif

I’m different because I’m blind, I learn to do things differently but there’s things that are important to me, like they are any other woman as well, you know as a woman if you look good you feel good, you feel good you’re on top of the world.  And I think that applies to women who are blind and women who are not blind.

 

Kumutat

When you talk about looking good there, what sort of role did your sisters play in how you kind of present to sighted people?

 

Latif

My sisters and cousins are my trusted advisors when it comes to looking good, from my scarf to my toes, from my shoes, they help to buy the clothes, they help to style me over the years.

 

Kumutat

I know that my perception of how I look is based very much on other people’s feedback, so Kerry how do you make those decisions about how you present to the world?

 

Campbell

I’m exactly the same, I think I also have a group of people that I trust and it takes a while to get into that group, sometimes I’ll test new people and see what kind of comments I get.

 

Kumutat

Do they know they’re being tested?

 

Campbell

No they don’t, not until afterwards and then I’ll say oh you passed, you got really good compliments on those things you picked me.  I have also just recently started using a personal shopper and found one that I trust there, so that’s really helpful as well.  I don’t like my legs and so I don’t like to wear things that are tight around my legs, but she did talk me into buying a straighter dress and I had lots of good feedback on it.  So, things like that, that maybe I would have told my friends where to go if they had suggested, I was more able to take from her.

 

Jones

I think I’m completely opposite actually to Sam and Kerry because it’s really important to me to choose my own clothes and to make my own decisions about them.  I’ll ask other people for feedback but it’s kind of really important, as part of my identity, that I choose what I wear.

 

Kumutat

I guess that’s part of what I’m getting at here is the way in which we perceive ourselves as reliant, on how we’re perceived by others.  So, looking back, when it comes to being found attractive how have other people’s reactions to you affected your sense of being a woman?  Kerry, you had quite a formative experience at school where boys were talking about you in a particular way, what happened there?

 

Campbell

Yeah, so I think when I was early teens I kind of just always assumed – oh when I get a boyfriend and when I meet someone – thinking ahead to growing up.  And then when I was maybe about 15 or 16 I was at a party and a boy was flirting with me, I can’t even remember who now, I just overheard a couple of his friends saying to him – that’s really sick, what are you doing, that girl’s blind, why are you flirting with her.  And just then I think, it just kind of for the first time hit me that maybe this isn’t going be as easy I thought, maybe I’m not going to be seen equally with the other girls in school, I wasn’t going to someone that was maybe worthy of being attracted to or someone that you should be attracted to as a sighted man.  I think it did instil a real kind of core belief about me.  What I think I probably did after that was looked for other experiences that reinforced that.

 

Kumutat

And how did that affect you?

 

Campbell

I think it made me shyer than I would want to be.  I still think that, I think that if I had been fully sighted I’d be naturally more extrovert than I am and that’s because – well that’s a lot of different reasons apart from this issue, it’s about being able to get into conversations, start conversations with people but also, I think this experience and other similar ones maybe did affect my confidence for a while.  And it wasn’t maybe till quite a bit through university when I’d met a lot of different diverse people and had more experience of making new friends and realising that there were people from many different backgrounds and experiences out there that I started to grow in confidence again.

 

Kumutat

Karina, your sight loss in your teenage years made you want to stand out and be noticed.  How did you do that?

 

Jones

When I became visually impaired I felt attitudes changed to me, as if it was kind of pity and stuff from the teachers.  And I felt completely desexualised as a visually impaired woman and I still feel that today.  Often people with disabilities are desexualised and I kind of fought against that and kind of over-sexualised myself – the way I dressed, the way I look – I just went completely over the top.  My kind of idol was Marilyn Monroe, so I just wanted to look like her and be as overtly sexual as possible.  I would rather people make horrible comments to me than the sort of ah bless.

 

Kumutat

I’m really interested in knowing what it was that made you feel like you were desexualised and how old were you this was happening because that seems like a fairly mature realisation for a teenager?

 

Jones

As Kerry was saying you know about oh there’s a blind woman, you don’t flirt with her, there’s kind of a protectiveness from people that comes in, women and men, if they think that you’re visually impaired they feel sometimes a need to protect you.  A man maybe wouldn’t come and chat you up because he would feel as if the power balance was different, he could see you but you couldn’t see him.  And I really felt, especially growing up, that a lot of men wouldn’t come on to you because they’d just feel abusive in some way.  And I’ve heard men say that to me before.  I’ve had relationships with men and women and I feel that there is no difference about how you kind of get treated when you’re with a woman and when you’re with a man when it’s starting, not when the relationship’s carried on.

 

Kumutat

What do you mean by that?

 

Jones

If I’ve been out and I’ve met a woman, that power imbalance, it still feels like it’s there, not wanting to come on to you as someone who can’t see may feel like a really weird thing and that’s not just for men, it’s for women too.

 

Kumutat

This feeling invisible as a woman, couldn’t this be a positive thing in that that means we’re not being objectified in a way that many women would really welcome?

 

Jones

Absolutely, and I think that now that is a positive but it’s about other people being your mirror and to have positive reactions made me feel more feminine and more attractive as someone who hasn’t really got much confidence about the way I look.  It’s really quite difficult to get a sense of my physical self, it used to be, and now I feel much stronger in that I have that within me.

 

Kumutat

What about for you Sam – to attract attention is that attention important to you?

 

Latif

I think attention is important to everyone.  I mean what Kerry and Karina have said I’ve probably experienced somewhat of what they’re talking about.  I mean I’m first generation Scottish Pakistani.  In the Asian culture it’s very common for young girls to be paired up with a match from within the community and quite often a family would introduce one another to meet the opposite sex to see whether they would be a good marriage partner for you.  And this is something that your family would arrange with another family.  But when I was growing up I felt that my family were uncomfortable approaching anyone for me because they thought that maybe I was a damaged good.

 

Kumutat

Oh really?

 

Latif

Not that they felt that I was a damaged good, it’s not what our family thought, it’s what other people thought, what other families thought.  So, a few times a lot of men would be interested, potentially, for a marriage proposal but their families would not be interested, their mothers wouldn’t be interested because they didn’t want their son to marry someone who was blind.  It was very interesting because there was this sort of unspoken thing of my family not wanting to approach another family but if somehow someone did show an interest that individual found it quite hard to convince his family that I would be suitable for him because their mum and dad didn’t want them to marry someone who was blind.

 

Kumutat

Were they specific about that being the reason or is this an interpretation that you have placed on it?

 

Latif

In one case it was very specific, yes, I mean the guy I was talking with overtly told me and then there were other cases where you would have to be blind not to see that that was the case.  Ironically, many Asian women who are married to these Asian men that were too good to marry me, they’re now looking after these women.

 

Kumutat

And clearly you did get married, was it part of that process that you described or was it a completely – outside of that?

 

Latif

It was completely outside.  I had always expected to marry an Asian guy because I was Asian as well but what happened was I bumped into Joe, who’s Scottish, he’s white…

 

Kumutat

What, you literally bumped into him?

 

Latif

No, we met through a mutual friend of ours, he was very interested in who I was and then…

 

Kumutat

You got together.

 

Latif

We got together.  It was interesting because on one hand you could say it was tragic to find a situation where your own community thinks you’re not good enough for them but on the other hand to kind of move on from that and show them that you can be blind and you can be married and you can be happy.

 

Kumutat

We’re very happy for you.  Karina and I, who are still kind of…[Laughter]

 

Karina alluded to it a little bit earlier, what I found, looking back, is that I’ve often existed in a way where I felt my gender was of no consequence but not in a good way, I mean it is something that women are looking for but for it to be positive thing but for me it wasn’t.  For example, I used to work in a very male dominated industry and often I’d be aware of the men taking my blindness into consideration but not my feelings as a woman.  There’d be discussions going on around me about relationships with other women, they might talk about their wives or girlfriends but in a way that sort of excluded me and didn’t make any reference to me, being a woman, I felt quite outside of those conversations.

 

I just wondered about this thing of gender neutrality.  Karina, do you feel that your gender is somehow cancelled out by your blindness?

 

Jones

I feel it can be until someone meets me.  I don’t know, I just think it’s maybe because sometimes I can dress provocatively and stuff, I think it’s out there and I suppose I fight against it because it I don’t want to be seen as not a woman, just someone gender neutral who’s blind.

 

Kumutat

What about you Kerry, have you encountered that?

 

Campbell

Not maybe in quite the same way that you’re talking about but I think that for me what I would say is that being a woman hasn’t really put up any barriers for me.  So, that’s what I think looking back on my life, it hasn’t stopped me going into the profession that I want to go into or doing what I want to do.  What has probably put up more barriers is my blindness, those are things that I’ve had to overcome and find ways around, whereas being a woman hasn’t been.  For example, I have a lot of beliefs about feminism in terms of equality in the workplace and being able to make a choice between staying at home or working.  But yet the congress of that is I potentially could have really struggled to work, not because I’m a woman but because I’m blind and I’m facing the unemployment statistics of people who are blind.  So, my gender just hasn’t been so prominent in terms of the choices that I’ve been able to make.

 

Kumutat

We are actually all quite unusual because the rate of unemployment is so high amongst visually impaired people, that is at about 75-79% and all of us here are employed, so we are quite lucky.  Sam, for you, how much is your employment wrapped up in your identity as a woman?

 

Latif

It’s very important, it’s something that I enjoy doing.  I can work, I do work and I get so much satisfaction knowing that I’m working and I’m able to contribute to society, to my family, to my children.  If I didn’t work I sometimes think things would be a lot harder.  I mean I already find actually some of the tasks of traditionally being a woman, like staying at home, looking after the children, taking them to school, doing baking with them – I find all those tasks impossible to do independently.  I can’t drive the kids to school, I can’t bake well either.  If I didn’t work then I would – I would still be needing help to do that.  So, knowing that I can actually go to work and contribute financially gives me a big kick.

 

Kumutat

That’s really interesting.  And Karina, what about for you?

 

Jones

I think as a feminist I want to work and I need to work, it really adds into my sense of worth and value as an individual and as a person.  And it’s something that I need to do for me.  And I think it’s really difficult with the unemployment rate being so high amongst visually impaired people.  If I don’t work for a while because I’m an actor sometimes if it’s quieter, then I feel my confidence going, part of work is it keeps my confidence high.

 

Kumutat

As blind women I’d say that employment is by no means a given and in the same vein nor is having a family.  So, Sam and Kerry, you’ve both kind of done both of those things, can I ask – was any part of having children for you about confirming your identity as a woman.  Let’s go to Kerry on this first.

 

Campbell

Not consciously, no, I think I always had a thought and a belief and a dream, maybe, that I would have children, so, it did fulfil what I’d always wanted to do.  In terms of being a woman though the interesting thing is that I think some of the traditional female roles, that Sam mentioned earlier, like – well in this case – changing nappies, looking after the baby, people in the hospital and in the very early days after that, would automatically look to my husband and think that he was going to do those roles because I couldn’t see.  So, that kind of traditional role of the woman was turned on its head in our situation and the fact that he didn’t know one end of a baby from another, sorry Alex if you’re listening, but before we had children, was completely immaterial, it was the fact that he had a bit of vision.

 

Kumutat

I’d like to ask the same question to you Sam, was your choice to be a mother, was that about at all confirming your identity?

 

Latif

Just like Kerry I think I always had a dream to have children, I always wanted children.  I think that’s part of just trying to be normal and you have to sometimes do extraordinary things just to be normal when you’re blind.  And when you have children and you’re blind it does require extraordinary new skills that you need to learn as a blind mum.  When you have children for the first time it just takes you back to the beginning almost, in terms of how much help you need, you’ve not invented your systems to help you.  It’s quite a steep learning curve.

 

Kumutat

Karina, you don’t have any children, is that a choice or a circumstance?

 

Jones

It’s a choice because I honestly can’t understand why someone would have a baby if they could have a puppy, I just am not maternal at all and have never really wanted children at all.  And I don’t know if that has been informed by my visual impairment because my identity is very important to me, I don’t know if in a way I would feel I was diluted somehow that I was a woman, then a blind woman, then a mother – I don’t know.

 

Kumutat

Well I’d like to thank all my guests for being so frank – Karina Jones, Kerry Campbell and Sam Latif.  And I’m sure this discussion’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please do email: intouch@bbc.co.uk or phone the actionline on 0800 044 044, which is available for 24 hours after the scheduled broadcast.  And if you’d like to hear more there’s an extended podcast of this programme from the website:  www.bbc.co.uk/intouch.  So please do subscribe for this and future editions.  I’m Lee Kumutat, the producer is Georgina Hughes.  Goodbye.

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