[Picture shows 19 year old woman, standing with use of a cane. She has a red “x” on her hand and is holding a purple pillow with statement taped to it, reading the following]
My name is Abby. I am a female, 19 year old, disabled college student and I stand with Emma Sulkowicz, but I have something to say to her that I truly hope she hears.
Emma Sulkowicz is a student at Columbia University who has been carrying around the mattress on which she was sexually assaulted as a performance art piece. Earlier today in her call to action for others around the country to carry their own mattresses in a show of support for victims and survivors of sexual assault, Emma asked that her supporters not carry pillows, stating that “pillows and ‘light’ and ‘fluffy.’” She stated that “sexual assault is neither a “light” nor “fluffy” matter, and we cannot treat it as if it were,” and suggested that by carrying pillows we are simply taking away from the number of hands to carry mattresses and instead said that people mark should themselves with a red “x” to show their willingness to help carry the weight.
But I cannot help carry a mattress. Carrying a mattress, even with a team of people, is not simply a difficult task for me, it is an impossible one. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I walk with a cane. I am disabled. For me, even carrying a pillow is incredibly difficult, and I am far more privileged than many people with physical disability in that I can even carry that. If I were on crutches, in a wheelchair, or the use of my arms was more inhibited in any way, carrying anything would be out of the question.
According to Rape Response Services, almost 80% of people with disabilities are sexually assaulted on more than one occasion. Women with disabilities are at least twice as likely as the general population of women to be victims of sexual assault.
While I understand that Emma Sulkowicz wants to make an impact and retain the artistic integrity of her piece, disability is the often forgotten intersection in feminist activism, and I was disappointed to see her lack of consideration for those of us who cannot carry the physical weight, but are at a much greater risk to be forced to carry it emotionally.
We can’t all stand with Emma Sulkowicz.
Edit: This is a link to her original op-ed in which she presents her call to action: http://columbiaspectator.com/opinion/2014/10/26/call-carry-weight-together
This is really, really important. Today I attended a rally on campus in solidarity with Emma Sulkowicz. I was the only person there using an aid to walk. All the people around me kept asking me to help them carry a mattress, and I wanted to say “are you kidding me? I can’t even hold myself up.” My attendance was greeted with stares, and when I remarked that we were walking too fast for me to feasibly keep up, someone told me that, perhaps, I shouldn’t have come.
As if being disabled closed me off from the activist community. As if I didn’t have a right to be there.
When you are sick, you are excused from the daily act of living. You have an automatic pass at social events, a free seat on the bus, a place a the head of the line at amusement parks. They say that they are accommodating you, like it was a massive feat for them, like you should be grateful. They pride themselves for their rear-entry wheelchair ramps and single-stall bathrooms, while refusing to take into account the fact that, in spite of (or perhaps even because of) my disability, I want to participate without having to be accommodated.
As the original caption reads, almost 80% of disabled people are sexually assaulted on more than one occasion in their lives. We are at higher risk than almost any other group, merely because of our physical or mental states. And yet we are told, constantly, to leave the fight up to the people who are physically capable of fighting it on our behalf.
This is not how it should be. We still deal with the hurt and the shame and the guilt every day. We live with the same things that Emma lives with, but we cannot show it in the same way that she does. We carry the weight, but we don’t have people cheering us on. If they did initially, family and friends and partners, we eventually lose it because people get tired of hearing about it.
I’m certain it will feel like this for her too, waking up every morning to drag her mattress around in a grim reminder of everything that has been done to her. I’m sure it will start to feel lonely, the weight of it.
I know that Emma did not intend for people to be excluded from the protest. I trust that it was not her intention to isolate a group of people who are already isolated. I believe that the problem is not hers. The problem is the system that has created this situation.
I am disappointed to be isolated from this movement because of my disability. I feel let down and even more alone than I did before, but I know that I was intended to feel this way. Solidarity means different things to different people.
This movement was not for me, but I can make one for people like me. We crawled up the stairs of the capital building. We demanded a place in public schools and accessible buildings. We can do this for ourselves. There is a place for disabled people in activism, and if there isn’t, we will make one for ourselves.