Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Street Harassment Experience in a Fat Body

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

I have a confession to make. As embarrassing as it is to admit, particularly in this forum, I feel like I have to share, particularly after watching the recently posted video regarding street harassment. I am just going to come right out and say it. For all of the women who experience cat calls on a regular basis while walking down the street, I have something to tell you. I am envious.

Yes, I understand that for you, being the object of public harassment is painful. And, I am sure I would feel totally different if it were happening to me on a regular basis. But, I have to be truthful....when I hear your stories, I often wish it were me.

See, I am used to another sort of harassment on the street. I am used to being called out for being the fat girl. I am accustomed to dirty looks and stares because I do not fit into the standard image of beauty in this society. I have been screamed out from moving vehicles. I have been given the finger and called all sorts of names. I have had soda thrown at me from a car window. Because I have the audacity to go out in public in a fat body.

When I was growing up, anyone who called out to me on the street was doing so to spew some cruel invective about how ugly I was, and how it disgusted them to see me out in public. Some people would make crashing noise with each step I took, as if I were Godzilla destroying a city. Others would yell out that I reminded them of Roseann Barr, or, if I was wearing my purple shirt, the would sing “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family....” at the top of their lungs.
So, when I went to a concert in Manhattan and a guy was calling out “Hey, big girl, lemme talk to you...” over and over, I hung my head in shame, thinking he was trying to insult me. It wasn’t until I got home and relayed my experience to a friend that I realized that this man was actually trying to come on to me. Was he objectifying me? Probably so... but let me tell you, it gave me a rush to be an object of sexual attraction rather than an object of derision.

I know as a strong woman, I should hate being treated in this manner. But it has been hammered into me for so long in so many different ways that I am to be looked upon with disgust that when a man sees me as a “sex object” I cannot help but get a bit excited and flattered by the attention.

I remember being in a local store a few years ago. There was a man there who was trying to flirt with me, and I kept trying to tell him I did not speak his language. He was very intoxicated, and was getting very upset that I was not responding to him the way he wanted me to. Even though I could not understand what he was saying, I got the impression he was trying to get my name and number. I kept trying to indicate that I did not understand. When I left the store and got into my friends car, the man spit on the tire, and called me a “puta”. I should have been furious, right?

But, in some warped way, I was charged up by the experience. I am sure a woman who is used to being approached by men on the street would have wanted to punch this man dead in his eye. Not me. I left there with a smile on my face, because I felt like FINALLY someone saw me as attractive enough to be angry that he could not have me.

I think it is part of the societal programming that women receive. We get the message that men should be sexually attracted to us, and if they are not, there is something inherently wrong with us, that we are lesser human beings. I suspect I am not the only female who almost gets envious when she sees attention lavished on other women who are considered more beautiful, even if the attention is unwelcome.

I would never tell a woman that she is wrong to be offended by catcalls or men approaching her on the street to beg for her name and number. But, I simply do not understand it, because it is so vastly different from my own experience. And part of me, the part that has been told over and over again that I am worthless because I am “unattractive” is quite a bit jealous.