“Thoughts on SlutWalk from a wheelchair”

I saw this article written by Jennifer Scott over at Ms. Magazine and thought it would be perfect to post an excerpt here since SlutWalk has garnered so much positive and negative attention.

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.

Traditional women’s movements have consistently failed to be inclusive, hence many of the SlutWalk participants have been white, cisgendered able-bodied females.

I think Scott makes an excellent point on the silencing lack of attention white feminist and other female activists have displayed when it comes to the different forms of ableism disabled women face in their lives. Furthermore, Scott makes the point that, for her as a disabled woman, reclaiming the word slut is a moot point since she struggles with even being recognized as a full-fledging woman in an ableist society.

While myself and other female of color bloggers have been critical of SlutWalk, I am anxious to hear from other marginalized female bodies who feel either skeptical or excluded from the SlutWalk debate. As women, we can only move forward collectively if oppressed female groups force dominant women to come to grips with their privilege and bias towards women they subconsciously view as being The Other.