I bought a new dress yesterday at one of my favourite stores (who, incidentally, has decreased their plus-size section . . . a rant for another day). I have trouble buying dresses because I’m short and fat, and a lot of them are too long, or too tight/loose in the wrong places, or look like bags on me. But somehow, this pretty little sundress ended up being the magical dress that looked really good on me, so I snapped it up.
I was proudly wearing my dress today when a male coworker came up to me, unsolicited, looked me up and down, and said, “You look . . . pregnant.”
What happened next was that I felt hurt. Not just a little hurt, or annoyed, or angry (though those feelings came later), but really hurt. Like I felt that feeling behind my eyes that means that if I let myself, I could burst into tears. It was a split second, but it was there. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve bought something I really love, worn it proudly, and been shut down. This isn’t the first time that I’ve felt less-than, unpretty, ugly, too fat, whatever you want to call it. And so I’m writing about it here, not just to record the incident, but to show that these things happen daily, to lots of people, everywhere. And I think it’s okay to speak up about it.
I’m asked often why “I care so much” about little slights, real or imagined, about big things like racism, sexism, homophobia, or ableism, about things that people say and things that get posted on social media. When I’m asked this, the person asking always looks a little skeptical. Like, why waste your energy? Or they might look a lot skeptical. Like, “Suck it up, princess, and get over it.”
I saw a really offensive picture on Facebook that basically said that people like me are contributing to a “victimizing” culture. That caring about things, and speaking out about them, or telling stories of experiences around a certain topic, just reinforce the idea that all members of a marginalized group are victims, and need a “hand up” or a “handout”. And no one REALLY wants to hear it, amirite? I mean, no one wants to hear some person’s sob story or “excuse.”
I can’t tell you how much this mentality enraged me – because I HAVE been a victim. I’ve been a victim, and speaking out, standing up for people like me and trying to change the world with my voice is behaviour I never had the courage to exhibit as a victim. The other thing is that people who are spouting the above bullshit are people who may have been victims and somehow got out of that mentality (pulling themselves up by their “bootstraps” – “if I can do it, well, by golly, SO CAN YOU!”), or people who have never felt victimized or marginalized, and can’t see past the end of their ignorant noses to look at the big picture.
Whether you like it or not, members of our society do feel victimized daily. And by speaking out, they are gaining back their own autonomy, their own dignity. Telling their own stories isn’t contributing to a victim mentality. It’s putting words to that secretive, dark, horrible feeling that what happened to them was wrong and needs to stay hidden. It’s telling the world that bad and marginalizing things can happen to any person – and now that we know that, let’s try to make the world a safer, more dignified and happy place for everyone.
Where is the victim mentality in that? Why is wanting better for everyone somehow idealistic, stupid, or unwanted?
I can only imagine it’s because asking for people to look at the truth – the truth that some people suffer because of the colour of their skin, some people suffer from colonialism, some people are beaten, disowned, even killed for who they love – means that they have to confront their own prejudices. These same people who bitch roundly about “the PC police” are people who might tell a racist joke or two, but convince themselves that it’s okay to do that because they’re not really racist, and hey, they have a black friend. These people really hate the idea of two men having sex and can’t understand why it’s so important for gay and trans people to have equal rights, but think it’s okay because their gay coworker seems happy with his long-term partner and they’re not openly complaining.
These people think that standing up on the subway for someone with a cane is “giving in” to a culture where we give handouts to people at the expense of other people. They don’t see that equality isn’t just placing everyone on the same platform, it’s sometimes giving a little more consideration so that everyone CAN participate equally in society. They think that basic decency and consideration means that the marginalized group is getting something they’re not getting. And in the end, I don’t see marginalized people or people who speak out about these things as contributing to a victimizing culture. I see people who want to block that as playing the victim, more than anyone else.
So why do I care so much? I care because I’m a human being in the world. Because I look after a number of children that I love very much, and I want it to be the norm for them to grow up in a world where we are considerate, decent people who work towards equality. I care because I experience crap in my everyday life that makes me angry, and I want to change it. I care because I know many people who experience crap that just should not happen in 2014, our supposed enlightened age. I care because my anger, my passion, sustains me and helps me get up another day to fight harder for everyone, because I believe that everyone deserves the same rights.
So, call me a victim if you want, but I turned around after my coworker hand-waved over my stomach, making squeezing motions at it, and then tried to justify his comment by saying “Well, you just never wear dresses. Maybe that’s just how you look.” I turned around, I went to my boss, and I reported his ass for inappropriate comments. And he was disciplined within the afternoon.
Call me a victim if you want, but I stood up for my rights, and now I’m telling you about it because I want to bring awareness to the fact that this shit happens daily. Racism happens daily. Sexism happens daily. Fatphobia happens daily. Ableism happens daily. Homophobia happens daily.
We are not victims. We are human beings. And we deserve the same chance as everyone else.
That’s why I care so much. Like it, or lump it. I won’t shut up anytime soon.