When Fate Puts A Scorpion In The Hands Of A Woman – By Mavis

From: Women and Disability – An Issue. A Collection of writings by women with disabilities. This booklet was produced by the Melbourne based Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective in the late 1980’s. The exact publishing date is unknown. Copyright.


In her metaphor from Shirley, Charlotte Bronte wrote:

“You held out your hand for an egg and fate put into it a scorpion. Show no consternation: close your fingers firmly upon the gift; let it sting through your palm. Never mind: in time after your hand and arm have swelled and quivered long with torture, the squeezed scorpion will die, and you will have learned the great lesson – how to endure without a sob.”

It is nearly twenty five years since the “scorpion” first stung the tissues and limbs of my body. I am fifty-four years of age.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a mean disease – it is mean because it is hidden behind mega-doses of anti-inflammatory drugs which help prevent deformity. It is a systemic immunological disease, as yet incurable and which affects the whole body. The immune system attacks the internal organs, connective tissue, muscles and joints. This disease is one of the many dreaded arthritides and other diseases like Multiple Sclerosis which attack young women three times as often as men. Indeed, the bizarre etiology of one arthritide Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (a more serious form of Rheumatoid Arthritis) shows that 85% of all cases are female between the ages of 10-40 years and that the disease affects black women to black men fifteen to one.

These are mean diseases too, because the suffering is invisible and society expects that you ‘endure without a sob’ otherwise comment and conjecture can be harsh.

For a young woman with children living in a society based on materialist individualism, there is no union support, no workers compensation, and no social service pension to ensure a measure of independence.

Bewildered and frightened of the future prognosis, yet faced with immediate tasks of daily living such as getting up, dressing, bathing and housework for the family, and oh so painfully slow – perhaps the highlight may be to reach the letterbox – it would have been a good day!

Her heroic contribution to family and society goes relatively unnoticed, and, as hospital social workers have found, marital problems, injustice and exploitation often takes place.

Around the world, women generally suffer discrimination, however, those with chronic health problems are at a very great disadvantage in that they are expected to bear disability and chronic pain alone – and quietly.

For, as I have said, these are hidden diseases. Hidden also are the feelings of worthlessness, loss of self-esteem and a gradual passivity in the face of the dominant ethos produced by the aquisitive society and the values of the people it spawns.

We of the Women’s Movement are familiar with the appeal for equality! Many of us with chronic illness would like to hear the word ‘equity’ more often.

When fate puts a Scorpion into the Hands of a Woman, then the Women’s Movement particularly, the Labour Movement and society generally, should be concerned and compassionate.

I think it was Simone Weil who wrote: “Only through personal suffering can one truly understand the suffering of the world.”