Taking the Rape out of Culture

On Thursday, May 23 2013, I hosted an event at Academy of the Impossible called “Taking the Rape out of Culture”. It was an open group brainstorm (with some breakout discussions as well) to map the component parts of rape culture – what does it look like in practice? What are the sub-concepts (or as I dubbed them, “subgenres”) under the big umbrella of rape culture?

I was thrilled at the quality of discussion and the diverse range of participants we had. Participants included: people who work in violence prevention, anti-racism organizers, parents, journalists, new Canadians, trans* participants, volunteers at crisis centres. We came at the topic from a variety of perspectives and we really dove into the subject matter.

One of these days I’m going to have to get a WordPress plugin that allows me to embed a Storify, but today is not that day. I do urge you to read my Storify of tweets from the evening, which captures some of the ground we covered and provides detail on many of the “subgenres” of rape culture we discussed. We’ll likely be holding another session in the future to discuss methods of intervening and challenging the many component parts of rape culture, so stay tuned.

Street harassment and fat-shaming

Recently my friend Lindsay poignantly articulated on Facebook her experiences on the receiving end of vicious fat-shaming. Lindsay is smart and hilarious and makes beautiful costumes for the Canadian stage. She is a talented and unique and inspiring person. It makes me angry that what follows is a reality, and one that governs Lindsay’s engagement with the world no less. You probably know and love at least one person who can relate to this, and we all need to demand better of our fellow humans when we see it.

I realized something awful today. I am now afraid to walk down the street without headphones in. Why? Because at any moment, someone might yell something incredibly horrible at me, in regards to the way I look. A car slowed down by me this morning with their window open and I held my breath, my muscles clenched. Luckily, this person was only asking directions. Unfortunately for me, up to four or more times a month, it is nothing so innocuous. On a regular basis “FATTY!” or “Jenny Craig!” or “WHALE!” might be yelled at me as a cowardly car speeds past. It’s rarely very creative. This past summer a group of club-bound girls in a taxi decided to tell my boyfriend he could do better than “Princess Fiona the Ogre” as we stood waiting for a streetcar on the way to a party, me in my new green top that had previously made me feel great, but has not been worn since. These episodes leave me feeling all kinds of hurt, angry, embarrassed… not to mention ashamed.

There are many facets to me as a person and in regards to my appearance. However, I understand that much like a quick look at someone who is 6’5″ reads as “Tall”, a quick glance at me reads as “Fat”. If anyone who is naturally slim to average doesn’t know any better, let me tell you right now: every person who falls into the category of overweight/obese KNOWS this about themselves, maybe thinks about it more than anything else in their life. How could they not? It’s in our public perception from a very young age that anything other than slim is bad. Let me get this straight – I agree that too much excess fatty tissue is very unhealthy, as is an unbalanced diet and a sedentary lifestyle. However every person is different, and just like every person who ever did life-ruining drugs has a story, so do those with addictions to food. Don’t forget people with different problems: those on certain medications or who’ve been injured or have no access to good quality food.

The thing is, I don’t need to explain myself or the reasons for who I am to a stranger walking or driving past me. No one deserves to have derogatory things yelled at them at ANY time. We teach children not to bully, but I see bullying from adults of all ages all the time. Can you imagine how you would feel if you were verbally attacked, not once, but repeatedly as you went about living your daily life? I don’t get it – would anyone expect that to motivate someone to change? Most of all, is it any of their business what I look like, what I do, or who I am with? I think the most laughable thing about it is that I am *walking* when this happens. You know, a form of exercise?

Obesity might be an epidemic, but so is bullying. Maybe there would be less people self-medicating with food if there were less awful people attacking their self esteem. I know I am not the only one experiencing this. I have held off on talking about this because it is embarrassing and because I do feel ashamed for being too heavy. Thank-you for reading this, and if you could, please SHARE.