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This is a blog dedicated to documenting sewing self drafted and indie sewing patterns, consuming less, being better to people and the earth, creative exploration, and my life and times in Rochester, NY.

#metoo: The dark reality of the relationship between plus size women and sexual assault.

#metoo: The dark reality of the relationship between plus size women and sexual assault.

You wouldn't be alone if you felt like currently we were having a little bit of a Boston Tea Party moment when it comes to outing big wig perpetrators of sexual assault. Weinstein? Throw him in the ocean. Andy Signore? Throw him in the ocean. That shitbag gymnast guy? Definitely get that dude in the water. Kevin Spacey? Throw that dude in the ocean asap.  I mean, we still have a turd president, but we’re working on it. 

#metoo has been trending for the past week or so, and while I did post the hashtag, I was vague. This time last year before we elected this literal dildo I shared a considerably tame story on my Facebook page about something that happened to me on the subway of NYC 4 years ago in order to encourage men in particular to consider how commonplace assault is in this day and age. The specific story I shared was, uh, to be blunt: not exciting. A man purposely pushed his groin into my ass on a busy subway train, following me and continuing to do so when I moved to make more room for myself. When the train let out and most of the people got off, he continued to press himself against me. I shook him off me, glared at him and went to the other side of the train but didn’t say anything to him. I’ve always regretted not saying anything. 

I’ve personally had a lot of experiences like this. I’ve always chalked it up to spending years 18 to 22 in the NYC with all the freaks and weirdos and just like every kind of person in the world, but it’s not a good excuse. I remember walking down a main road of my hometown with a friend at the age of 16 and having multiple cars honk and scream at us. I had another man on the subway express his interest in me, and despite a very quick and quiet “i’m not interested” response from myself, he wouldn't let me off the train until he had watched me put his phone number in my phone. This is not a good pick up tactic for the record, in case you missed the mood of this post.

If you follow me on this blog or other platforms you may know that I read a lot of memoirs, mostly from women. I had been starting a collection in my mind of plus size women who experience assault based on these memoirs and also based on the stories told to me by friends. It started with Lindy West’s memoir Shrill (which is a must read in general. amazing book) when she was recounting a very specific relationship she felt with men as a plus size woman. 

“Lots of men wanted to have sex with me – I dated casually, I got texts in the night – they just didn’t want to go to a restaurant with me, or bring me to their office party, or open Christmas presents with me. It would have been relatively simple to swallow the idea that I was objectively sexually undesirable, but the truth was more painful: There was something about me that was symbolically shameful. It’s not that men didn’t like me; it’s that they hated themselves for doing so. But why?”
— Lindy West, Shrill.

This statement really got to me when I read her book. The idea that you- that I- could be a sex object that was also a shame. I had always placed “beautiful” and “sexy” on the same shelf on my head. If you were one you were also the other. I really genuinely had never considered that men could be attracted to something, they could want something, and also despise it. 

 

This statement kind of rocked my entire world when I thought about it too hard. All the men who I had dated who had hated themselves so vehemently, had they been dating me to hurt themselves also? Was dating or hooking up with a fat girl on the DL just another act of self harm to men who had secretly thought we were disgusting?

Since the social media vocalization of women’s experience of assault, I’ve been thinking about this contradictory impulse of attraction and hate towards fat women as an excuse to commit violence against them. It’s something I’ve been mulling over in my mind. From my experience, and hearing the experience of other plus size women, I find that we don’t have trouble finding men who are sexually interested in you, the problem is in finding men who are earnest in their intentions to respect you and also comfortable enough in themselves to be kept in the orbit of a fat woman. 

As much as I thought about this phenomenon, spewed rants to my lovely and understanding boyfriend in half formed sentences on the topic, I had no proof or greater understanding on the topic besides my knowledge of myself and those around me. I googled around for scientific data on the topic and wasn't coming up with anything, so I made my own anonymous survey on the subject. I posted it on facebook, instagram, and reddit and got 66 responses. Not exactly an earth shattering amount, but a data pool none the less. 

Of the women who answered my questions, 43 of the 66 women identified as plus size. 34 of these plus size women said that they had experienced an assault that felt sexually motivated in their lifetime. 

While these statistics are interesting, I was mostly interested in hearing what these women had to say. I left a space at the end of the survey for women to elaborate on their experience if they were interested. 

A lot of these women referenced the idea that they felt like “an easier target” not due to their body or stature, but because they identified as having low self esteem or poor image of themselves. I also saw a lot of responses from women who felt they wouldn't be believed if they came out about their assault because of their size.

The first 2 people I told didn’t believe me in part because they said I was too overweight to have been attractive to someone

On an equally disgusting note, a number of the women who took my survey said that when they did speak out about their assault, peers assumed they should be “thankful” someone bothered to touch them at all.

I was very open about what happened to me and told my mother, but the response I received implied I should have been grateful that a man would show any sort of attention my way because of my size. This incident became wrapped up in a whole lot of body issues that I experienced my entire life. Oftentimes, my “unruly” body was used to shame me into submission and as justification for why I should accept subpar treatment from people. Thanks to many years of therapy, I’m doing a lot better. Still fat, but much happier.

Here are some other responses I got that felt important to include:

When I was a younger girl living in a pretty nice country town, I thought “no one whistles at me in the street because I’m too fat an ugly”. Then I moved to the city. It turns out that fatness has nothing to do with it (being harassed and assaulted DID NOT make me feel more attractive).
Abusers target fat and large women because they know many people will question the assault— “Who would rape *her*?” or ‘She’s so big. Rape? More like she should be grateful for the attention!’
I’ve experienced more harassment than assault, but in either case there’s been an underlying attitude from the man that I should be grateful for the “attention” because I’m fat. Fuck those dudes.
I was sexually harrased at work. My boss at the time (a woman) took swift action against the perpetrator which was great, but the proceeded to tell me he chose me as I was an easy target and he would have thought I would have welcomed the attention.... Seriously... Same boss would always fixate on my weight and what I ate at work.
I’ve been a size 4 to a size 22 and the harassment is different depending on size. I know I experience far less now as a size 22 at 33 yrs old. But the thing I think that differentiates the harassment now from when I was younger and thinner is that men now seem to assume I’m more approachable when it comes to being harassed, like I desperately need to accept less. I’ve even noticed this from male peers.

After performing this small litmus test, I feel like I’m on to something. Like i’ve dug up the first bone in the long buried skeleton lying silently under our understanding of women and their experiences with assault. When you boil down the unwanted advances of men upon women, it is not about the manner of the aggression, but about the violence of it. If you perform an unwanted act upon a person, your reason is always deviantly motivated. It doesn't matter if you want to fuck, hurt, maim, kiss, or kill the person who you are acting upon: if they do not want you to perform a physical act against them and they’ve expressed this to you, you are performing this with hate in your heart and you cannot respect the person you are acting upon. Plus size women are such a commonly disrespected group that it should not come as such a surprise when we hear about their experiences with assault, but for some reason, it always does.

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