Thoughts on SlutWalk from a Wheelchair

As a sexual violence prevention educator, I find hope in the grassroots activism and passion that radiates from SlutWalk. Anything that gets people talking, that breaks down the myths and reduces victim shaming, is a step in the right direction. This activism is so badly needed in a society that still justifies violent victimization according to what women are wearing or how they choose to spend their Friday nights. The photos of women clad in sneakers, jeans and comfy t-shirts carrying signs that read “THIS IS WHAT I WAS WEARING WHEN I WAS RAPED” make my heart ache. But after reading all of the discussion, I’m left wondering if there’s a place for me in SlutWalk.

Much has been written about SlutWalk and the problematic nature of the word “slut.” Many women of color, in particular, have made it clear that they don’t want to reclaim the word because of the way their sexuality has been constructed throughout America’s racist history. As a woman in a wheelchair, I have a very different problem.

It’s not, as you might guess, the word “walk.” Some may find it ableist, but I say it all the time: “I was walking down the street.” When I imagine saying, “I was rolling down the street,” I get this picture in my head of kids log-rolling down hills for fun.

No, my problem is that the word “slut” has never felt like mine to reclaim. While women all over the world are waiting for people to stop seeing them as sex objects, women with disabilities are still waiting to be seen at all. We are less than a woman, somehow–certainly less than “slut.” Too often we are viewed as pitiable, pathetic and devoid of desire. We could never be “sluts.” If we are “lucky enough” to have partners, they get congratulations and pats on the back from strangers when they “take us out” in public. People applaud their generosity and selflessness for taking care of us, assuming they get nothing in return (certainly not sex or satisfying intimate connections). People imagine we are loved “in spite of” our disabilities rather than for all the other things we are. We struggle to find doctors who will monitor our pregnancies and help deliver our babies because it’s “dangerous” for us to be mothers.

But that doesn’t mean we’re any safer. Women with disabilities face extremely high rates of sexual assault. More than half of us will be raped and studies estimate that the figure is closer to 70 to 80 percent for women with developmental disabilities. We’re also more likely than women without disabilities to face multiple perpetrators. Sometimes these perpetrators even tell us we should be grateful, that they have done us a favor. After all, no one else is going to want us. Despite these astronomical rape figures we have almost no credibility in the criminal justice system. No one could imagine why anybody would do that to “someone like us.” They tell us that we can’t be trusted to tell our own stories of terror. They speculate about our ability to even understand what has been done to us.

This is why it’s absolutely crucial for women with disabilities to have a voice in SlutWalk. While “reclaiming slut” isn’t for me, I think SlutWalk should be about more than that. It’s about demanding that all women be allowed to embrace their sexuality, voice our outrage when someone violates us and be heard loud and clear when we do it.

ABOVE: Advocates for women with disabilities at SlutWalk London. Photo from Flickr user dis_ppl_protest under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Great post. Agree with it all, although I do have reservations about the word “slut” We have a Disability Clothesline project which tells our stories of violence and abuse on tee shirts, the only one of its kind in the world I believe. You can find the link on my web site.

  2. The voices of women with disabilities have always been missing from the women’s movement. It is so refreshing to have someone communicating my personal experiences. I feel like I can relate to the issue and to the movement. I have been a feminist since 1980, and I have always wondered why there has not been more articles by and about women with disabilities. It also angered me that the article that were about women with disabilities were in the Health issue. Women with disabilities need to be able to claim and express their experiences. When I have asked to enjoy my sexual encounter, men have actually told me I was asking for too much. If you are a woman with a disability, don’t be grateful for any attention that you get. You must also get equality and dignity. I agree with Jennifer wholeheartedly. SlutWalk should be about claiming one’s own sexuality and being listened to when voicing our experiences. Thank you so much for this article.

  3. I completely agree with both.

    I realized I was pro-choice when I was little just because I was trying to self control my neurological system. So giving away control of the reproductive system did not make sense.

  4. Not just physically challenged but an alarmingly high number of mentally challenged women have been victims of brutal rapes. Biologically female transgenders have also been raped in order to “make a woman out of them”. Its time everyone acknowledges the sexuality of the challenged which is not one bit different from anyone else’s. Taking advantage of their vulnerability. Thanks for writing this Jennifer.

  5. The disability movement is so crucial to all civil rights movements. I have worked with members of my community who have diagnosed disabilities and it was eye-opening to me because I realized society is structured to shut them out of the community experience, marginalizing them. This article was great and I hope it inspires more people to express themselves and their experiences.

  6. Great post, Ive been in a wheelchair for 8 years and often get very frustrated with the perceptions some people have of people in wheelchairs. More times than i can count i have been out and strangers generally women, have come up to me and told me i was too ‘pretty’ to be in a wheelchair. Why does being disabled have to mean unattractive? This wide held stigma angers me so much, sitting down or walking around should not make a difference.

  7. Belle of Acadie says:

    I have NLD and the education has been so unkind to me. Always blaming as if I can control the way I learn to fit their mainstream ways. I’ve been harassed and humiliated by teachers and giving inadequate support. I do not feel safe at school.

    So happy I’m in grade 11 now. Has not been a good ride. It makes me cry with frustration, with pain how my grades do not reflect my IQ at all or my true intelligence. Surviving it everyday though it seems at times unbearable. One day I will be heard, I will change this unfair treatment in the public school system, I will be a Ms. blogger, a fab feminist, I will change the world!

  8. Belle of Acadie says:

    Sorry I meant education system. Whether the disability is mental or physical, we must fight for our rights, as there is such discrimination in various social systems towards us. The fight for equality rages on, my sisters.

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