victim blaming

All posts in the victim blaming category

We Are Not the Problem

Published April 7, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I had planned to write some more about #notyourgoodfatty tonight but I had something happen to me on Saturday night that has really been bothering me and I want to talk about it and why it happens. Not to mention the feeling it leaves with the people it happens to.

I’d had a lovely day on Saturday. I had a delicious brunch with one of my best buds and her adorable doggie, then we went for a paddle down on the waterfront near my home. The water had been so lovely, warm and relaxing, like a bath. We had a little chill time by the bay, and then we went and saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier in Gold Class, which is always an indulgent experience, cosied up in those comfy recliners in a sparsely populated cinema. My friend dropped me home and I decided to nip up to the local Chinese restaurant to get myself a stir fry for dinner, since I had been out all day and was a wee bit sun burnt.

So there I was, sitting in the Chinese restaurant, minding my own business while I was waiting for my dinner. I was reading Instagram and Twitter on my phone, when this kid of about 16 or 17 rolls up to the doors of the restaurant on his bike, and it seems like he’s talking on his phone, but he walks right into the restaurant, holds his phone up to my face, and takes a picture of me – he even left the sound and flash on so I knew exactly what he did and knew his headphones weren’t plugged in. Without any attempt to hide what he is doing or any embarrassment on his part. As he does that, the girl on the counter asks him what he would like to order and he says “Oh… I dunno, hang on a minute” and then just walks out, gets on his bike and rides away.

Now I am not easily shocked by people being shitty to me in public, but this one just had me absolutely stunned. It was like I couldn’t register what he had done. I’m used to people sneaking photos of me (I now photograph them back and post them to my Tumblr) and I don’t doubt there are all sorts of shitty posts out there with my photo and people being douchebags about my body and my appearance. But to have someone just blatantly walk up to me, frame me up right in front of me and take my photo, and then walk away without batting an eyelid just gobsmacked me.

It honestly wasn’t until a couple of hours later that it sank in what he had done, and I can tell you, I felt so violated. It hit me like a wall, this feeling of being violated, assaulted. I think I had to get past the initial shock for it to register just how it made me feel. Usually when people try to take photos of me, they try to sneak it thinking I won’t know (I usually do) and at least have the humanity to look embarrassed when they are busted. Some of them even get pissed that I take their photo back. But this kid had no shame at all, spared no thought for whether or not I knew what he was doing, or how I might feel about being photographed by some complete stranger. My shocked response clearly meant nothing, and who knows where the hell that photo will turn up online.

The thing is, this is what happens when society demonises fat people so much that we are considered sub-human. People like this kid don’t see me as a person, because they’re bombarded with the message day in and day out that fat people are diseased, defective, less than. So our feelings, and our rights, matter nothing to them. Every time they see a headless fatty in the media, it gives them a message that we’re nothing more than a pile of fat. Every time they hear that fatness is a disease, it removes our personhood from their minds. So they have absolutely no qualms in behaving in such an invasive, abusive way toward us.

This isn’t the only thing that happens to us because of the dehumanisation of fat people in the media, but is simply one prime example. Every time we are subjected to abuse and harassment, every time we have someone yell at us from a passing car, every time someone tuts or scowls at us for taking up space on public transport or in other public places, every time someone passes comment on what we eat or do with our bodies, right down to every time someone targets us online for abuse (on our blogs and other social media spaces), these are not because we are fat and somehow cause this abuse ourselves. It is because the constant message from marketing and media tells people that we are sub-human, and then people who are broken and bigoted enough to believe that propaganda act on it.

But it’s not “normal” to spend your life harassing or bullying or abusing people. If these bigots want to talk about what is healthy, they need to look in the mirror first. It’s not emotionally or intellectually healthy to dehumanise other people. It’s not emotionally or intellectually healthy to be abusive or bullying. It is an unevolved, narrow mind that feels they have the right to police other people’s lives and bodies. Only those who are not comfortable and happy in who they are themselves are going to spend their lives looking for opportunities to harass and belittle others. People who are emotionally and intellectually healthy are far too busy focusing on their own lives, and those of the people they love to spend time harassing and bullying others.

The problem does not lie with us. We are not the ones who are damaged here. It is not our fault that we are abused by those who are so messed up that they genuinely believe that it’s a worthwhile pastime to abuse, harass and bully people.

We are NOT the ones who are broken in this equation.

It is NOT our fault.

It is NOT your fault.

Stares, Sneers and Snickers

Published February 14, 2013 by sleepydumpling

If you follow me on my Fat Heffalump Facebook page, you may have seen this article I posted yesterday.  Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has documented the reactions of people around her, a fat woman, in public.  If you go to Haley’s page, you will see the full suite of photographs called Wait Watchers as she documents people laughing at her, sneering, and generally just being douchey.

Now I don’t advocate reading the comments on PetaPixel articles (actually, on any articles about discrimination and bigotry for that matter), but I did, and I also saw them elsewhere, suggesting either that Haley just captured “general expressions” (not necessarily aimed at her) or that perhaps they weren’t deriding her because of her weight but because of the way she dressed (which is no different than most of the thin people around her – only fat people are considered “sloppy” in shorts and a top), her looks, or as one said “Those people aren’t looking at her because she’s fat! It’s because she’s doing x, y, z. But if she doesn’t want to be ridiculed in public, maybe she should lose some weight.”

Wait, what?

Regardless of the reason why people behaved like they did, they were behaving in a judgemental manner, and judging her negatively, which their expressions and behaviour showed.

Well, I can tell you now, I have further proof to add to Haley’s testimonial of the derisive surveillance fat people are under.  Because some time ago, I engaged in an experiment with Stocky Bodies photographer Isaac Brown, where I spent time in the Queen Street Mall here in Brisbane doing things that I am normally likely to do in public, as anyone else is (reading, using my phone, eating a salad, eating an ice-cream) and Isaac blended into the crowd and photographed people’s reactions to me.

Before anyone says “But it’s because you have bright pink hair!” let me address that.  Firstly, lots of people have bright coloured hair these days.  But many of them are not ridiculed in the street.  I am a fat woman with pink hair, I get a very different reaction from Jo Public than a thin woman with pink hair.  Secondly, I currently have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and I get the same treatment no matter what colour my hair is.  Just two days ago I spotted a guy on the opposite train platform to the one I was standing nudge the woman next to him, point me out (brown hair, tattoos covered up, wearing quite a conservative dress and plain ballet flats) and they both laughed at me.  When they realised I had seen them pointing me out and laughing, they both clearly knew they had been busted by me.

And finally, do people with pink hair or any other bright, bold appearance deserve to be ridiculed in the street?  No they do not.

Others suggest people stare because “You look awesome Kath!”  People do not scowl, laugh derisively, or have expressions of disgust at people they find awesome.  They do not nudge and point.  When people find me awesome, and yes, some do, they smile at me.  They pass and say “I love your hair!”  Their faces are open and friendly, not closed and hostile.  Believe it or not, fat people are emotionally intelligent enough to be able to distinguish between negative and positive reactions to them.

I asked Isaac to send me some of the photos he took, so that I could share them with you.  You will see quite clearly that these are not the expressions of people who are thinking “That pink haired, fat lady is awesome!”

KathQSM-14

Some people just stare.

Sometimes I'm stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Sometimes I’m stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

It's not just women that stare either.

It’s not just women that stare either.

Even "nice little old ladies" stare and grimace at me.

Even “nice little old ladies” stare and grimace at me.

Some don't even bother to hide their laughter.

Some don’t even bother to hide their laughter…

... until their companions stare too.

… until their companions stare too.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Even sunglasses don't hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

Even sunglasses don’t hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

As you can see, it’s not just a phenomena that Haley Morris-Cafiero experiences.  I do too, as do many other fat people who spend time in public places.

But what is most offensive is the routine denial of those experiences, as though we are either imagining the stares, disapproving/disgusted looks, the nudging and pointing and laughter, or they are somehow our fault.  Having our experiences dismissed is actually part of the systematic oppression of fat people.  Portraying us as overly sensitive, or imagining the way we are treated is also a form of abuse.   It labels us as “deluded” or emotionally damaged.  It is ironic, many of us do have emotional damage, not because we are fat, but because of the way society treats us as fat people, which includes the regular dismissal of our experiences.

The thing is, it’s not just me that notices the way people behave towards me in public.  It affects my relationships with others as well.  I have had a boyfriend leave me because he couldn’t handle being subjected to so much derision from strangers (yes, I am aware that I am better off without such a man!) and it often diminishes the enjoyment of time out with friends, because they see how people behave towards me and because they care about them, it upsets them and makes them angry, as they want to defend me and respond to the general shittiness of strangers behaviour.  Not to mention that even though I’m mostly pretty thick skinned about it, some days it gets too much for me and affects my mood – it’s hard to relax and have fun with your friends when you are being subjected to the kind of derision and judgement shown in the photographs above.

It is sadly just another example of the way fat people are viewed as inferior in our society.  Not only do we “deserve” the vilification, ridicule and judgement, but if we acknowledge it, we are viewed as irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.

If you are experiencing these things, you are NOT irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.  Your feelings and experiences are valid, and you are not alone.

Note: Any comments denying my or anyone else’s experience with judgement and ridicule in public will be marked as spam and have you blocked from commenting.  You are welcome to state that you are fortunate enough to have not experienced it, but DO NOT suggest that I or anyone else is imagining our experiences, as you will be doing exactly what I call out in this article.

No Excuses – No Victim Blaming

Published November 22, 2012 by sleepydumpling

This Sunday is White Ribbon Day.  I blog about White Ribbon Day every year, because it is a cause close to my heart.

This year, White Ribbon Day is particularly important to me.

What is White Ribbon Day?  It is the one day per year that is devoted to the cause of ending violence against women.  It generally has a domestic violence focus, but it is in fact a campaign to end ALL violence against women.  I’ll give you a few Australian statistics:

  • Every week, a woman is killed by a current or former partner.
  • One in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
  • Domestic violence is the major cause of homelessness of women and children.
  • 33% of women have experienced inappropriate comments about their body or sex life.
  • 25% have experienced unwanted sexual contact.
  • 1 in 5 women have been stalked.

Be aware these statistics are of reported cases.  This does not cover the hundreds of incidents every day that go unreported.  Violence against women is not just physical or sexual.  It is also mental, emotional, financial and institutional.  Every act of dehumanising a woman is violence against women.

This week just past has been hellish for me.  In the week since I attempted to launch a project for marginalised women and was forced to shut it down due to the amount of harassment, bullying and threats aimed at me and anyone who expressed interest in participating, I have been subjected to a constant barrage of abuse from complete strangers.  Everything from anonymous hate on Tumblr, days and days of harassment on Twitter, someone creating fake Facebook accounts in my name (with stolen photographs of me) and attempting to spam all of my friends and colleagues to actual death threats.

This abuse does not exist in a vacuum.  This abuse happens because culturally in Australia, and the rest of the world, violence and abuse against women is considered culturally  acceptable.  Not just the kind of abuse I’ve experienced this week either – rape, physical assault and murder are excused repeatedly.  Victims are blamed for their abuse – either they are told they actually did the wrong thing, ie were in the wrong place, wearing the wrong thing, behaving the wrong way etc, or if they do speak up, they are accused of “playing the victim” or “drawing negative attention to themselves”.

The most horrifying fact is that many women internalise these dehumanising messages and then turn them on their fellow women.  Just this week in my own experience, many women actively recruited men to help them abuse me online when I refused to apologise for telling them to fuck off out of my space.  This is disgusting behaviour, and a prime example of internalised misogyny.  “Women aren’t allowed to say that!” or “What a bitch, she’s going DOWN!”  Not once did I initiate contact with any of these people, nor did I go to their online spaces to leave abuse or even respond to them, the only time I responded was when they approached me, and mostly it was simply to tell them to fuck off out of my space.

There is NO excuse for violence against women.  There is NO reason that a woman is to blame for being abused.  No matter how she dresses, where she goes, what she does with her own body, what she drinks or consumes, what she says or how she behaves.

Women do not have to be nice, polite or submissive.  Women are allowed to say NO.  Women have every right to tell someone who comes into her space, be it physical or online to fuck off.  Women don’t have to give someone “the benefit of the doubt”.  If she does, and that person then abuses her, she is then blamed for not protecting herself.  “What was she thinking!?” people cry.  She was clearly thinking that she should give someone “the benefit of the doubt” like she was told to do.  Women are allowed to be loud, to swear, to dress themselves however they like, to have consensual sex with whoever they wish to, to be angry, to inhabit any public space without it drawing violence to her.  Women are even allowed to be rude, cranky, impolite, abrasive, abrupt, nasty, bitchy… and all those other words that are shame code for “women being assertive” without it drawing violence to her.

THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

If you do not like a woman, walk away.  Don’t pursue her into her space either online or physically.  Do not force her to pay attention to you when she does not want to.  Do not bully her anonymously to try to shame or silence her.  Don’t try to passive aggressively shame her by claiming you are offering “constructive criticism” when she does not want it and you are in her space.  You are not “offering” anything, you are forcing her, and that is violence against her.  Don’t recruit your friends or men to bully her if she doesn’t respond to your demands.  Do not abuse her for being rude if she walks away from you or tells you to leave her alone, even if she says “fuck off” in doing so.   She has every right to do so and owes you nothing.

If you really believe you are superior to someone, then you will walk away from them secure in that knowledge.  A better human being always will.

We live in a horrifically victim blaming culture.  We harass women online and off, threaten and bully them into submission, shame them when we deem that they are unworthy or inferior.  We get angry at women who stay in abusive relationships, but also deny them support and protection if they leave those relationships.  We shame them for not standing by their man, not standing on their own two feet, not caring enough about their children, not trying hard enough to make things better.  All the while we absolve the perpetrators of any responsibility.  We deny women support financially and emotionally when they leave abusive relationships, shame them for being “single mothers” or “sluts” or “a drain on society” for needing financial assistance when a partner has financially abused them and their children.  In the same breath that we tell women to give men “the benefit of the doubt”, we then blame her if she does and it turns bad.

But most importantly, we must speak up.  We must speak up as a culture and say “This is not ok.”  It is scary to speak up, as I’ve seen particularly painfully this week, and I am sure this very post will draw it as well*.  I am not “special” or “brave” for doing so – I’m just a woman who has had enough of being treated like shit by society and then blamed for it and treated even more like shit.  I have just reached a point where I can’t survive any more being pushed down for being a woman who is deemed unacceptable or inferior.  You too can speak up whether it’s loudly and publicly like I do, or amongst your own family or friends.  Big or small, every statement made against the violence women suffer gathers, accumulates and gets louder and louder.  Every voice, wherever it is, makes the world a bit safer for women and gives women courage to stand up to abuse and expect better for herself.

Tomorrow and through to Sunday there are many events happening around the country to raise funds and awareness for women who have or are suffering violence.  Every small donation for a white ribbon, every raffle ticket, every cocktail party or rally makes a difference.  If nothing else, donate a couple of bucks, buy a white ribbon and wear it to work, around your friends and family, on the street.  It is a tiny symbol of hope for women who have suffered everywhere that someone cares, that someone will stand with them, that someone believes that campaigning to end violence against women matters.

If I had seen that tiny symbol when I was suffering domestic abuse, I know I would have been empowered a whole lot earlier in life than I was.  I know I feel a whole lot more empowered now seeing it on men and women everywhere.

And if you are a woman suffering or have suffered abuse or violence of any kind, know that I care, as do many others.  I do this for you as much as I do this for me.

*I will be reporting any abuse I receive to the police,  including IP addresses and all other details.  I will also be publishing this information online.

Online Abuse – It’s Not Just “Words on the Internet”

Published August 31, 2012 by sleepydumpling

I want to talk about trolling.  Mostly because it is a hot topic at the moment, what with the Charlotte Dawson case (please note, this whole case is very disturbing, be warned that it is highly likely you will find it very triggering if you delve too deep into it) happening over the past few days.  A potted version for those who don’t feel up to delving further, Ms Dawson (television personality) was involved in an online argument, which blew into a massive Twitter hate campaign with hundreds of violent, hateful messages aimed at her, and then Ms Dawson ended up in hospital.  I don’t know if she attempted suicide, or self harm, or if she was suffering extreme emotional/mental distress, it really doesn’t matter.  The point is that the bullying did her harm.

At this point, I’m going to stop using the term “trolling”.  I’m going to call it exactly what it is – abuse.  It is not just someone “saying something nasty” online, it is psychological, emotional and sometimes even physical abuse, and it is calculated.  I think that the term “trolling” has a connotation of some silly, juvenile teenager leaving comments on the internet to stir up trouble or be annoying.  It minimises the very real, very damaging abuse that many people, particularly women, suffer from complete strangers.  I am also going to focus on this abuse as something predominantly suffered by women.  And I want to get away from the expectation that we “don’t feed the trolls” and not pay them any attention, because this is about more than annoying attention seeking.  This is about the systemic, institutionalised abuse of women online simply because they are women, and they are visible online.  So from here on in I shall be referring to these behaviours as online abuse.

What I have seen over the past couple of days are a whole lot of privileged people – white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gender, not-fat, educated men (and a few privileged women) thumping on about how we should just:

  • be polite
  • ignore it
  • learn to tolerate criticism
  • get more resilient
  • don’t argue back
  • just block them
  • don’t retweet or quote it
  • don’t let them know they’re hurting you
  • don’t be so sensitive
  • harden up

Funny thing is, those who seem to be dishing out the most of this oh-so-helpful advice are those who have never experienced the kind of organised abuse and hate-spew that we have seen aimed at Charlotte Dawson, and that many other women, including myself, have experienced in their time as internet users.  It must be so easy to come up with solutions to problems you’ve never experienced yourself!

What isn’t being acknowledged by these people is just how privileged they are, in that for many of them, what they are experiencing (and calling trolling) is criticism.  Just that, criticism of their work, their statements and so on.  In fact, in responding to several privileged people last night criticising their dismissal of online abuse and victim blaming, I myself was called a troll, blocked by several and told to “just shut the hell up”.  Because they are so privileged that this is what they consider online abuse, me coming along and saying “I disagree with you because telling online abuse victims to harden up/ignore it/be polite is blaming the victim, and doesn’t solve the problem.”, to them, that constitutes online abuse!

The reason they think it’s so easy to prevent online abuse is because they’ve never actually experienced it in the way that those of us without their privileges do.  They’ve never been sent rape threats, death threats or other violent threats.  They’ve never had webpages made about them stirring up other abusers into trying to frighten them offline.  They’ve never had phone calls at their house, they’ve never had emails claiming they know where they live, they’ve never had their private/personal information published online.  They’ve never had someone sign them up to pornography sites, weight loss clinics, mailing lists sending pictures of maimed and mutilated bodies and so on.

No, what these privileged people think constitutes “online abuse” is merely criticism.  Personally, I would LOVE to be in their position, where the worst behaviour I have ever been subjected to online was criticism.  Not all of the aforementioned abuse, which I have personally been subjected to.  And I know others have been subjected to far worse.

The other problem I have, is the attitude that the victims of such online abuse are not allowed to feel hurt, angry or traumatised by the abuse that they suffer.  These constant calls to “harden up”, or ” don’t be so sensitive” are actually deeply rooted in misogyny.  They imply that women, by being negatively affected by or showing emotion about the abuse are somehow responsible for it.  It’s that implication that women are “too emotional” and “too sensitive” and should somehow change their behaviours and feelings to prevent being abused.  It puts the onus on the victims, instead of the perpetrators, and is classic victim blaming.  Not to mention that our feelings, and our reactions to abuse are perfectly valid and we are allowed to feel them.  The implication that we should stop “acting like a girl” is really offensive because there is nothing at all wrong with being or acting like a girl or a woman.  Particularly as we ARE women and girls.

Another response I’ve seen is to claim that the victims “bring it on themselves” somehow because they are either rude, angry, emotional, impolite, opinionated, they swear or exhibit any other behaviour that people don’t agree with.  Now yes, while the Charlotte Dawson case has had some questions raised about her own behaviour, which I am not condoning at all as I don’t know the full facts, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Not to mention that the absolute violent hate-fest aimed at Ms Dawson was borne of misogyny, and not a direct response to her behaviour.  Ms Dawson’s biggest crime to the abusers was to be a woman who didn’t behave in a demure, submissive manner, and who didn’t bow to early abuse.  The more she fought back, even if she did so in a manner deemed inappropriate, the more this abuse was ramped up on her.

The thing is, no matter how women behave, online abuse isn’t going to go away based on making women less visible, more polite, more submissive, more demure, more “ladylike” and so on.  Mostly because it sets up the standard that any time a woman does something that men don’t like, they can be abused and then blamed for it.  Which means any time a woman has an opinion of her own, that differs from that of a man, it invites those who feel she should be silenced to abuse her.  Besides, not “feeding the trolls” doesn’t work.  There are those abusers who are not just in this for attention.  They’re here to bully women, silence them and inflict pain and trauma on them.  They will continue no matter how much you try to ignore them, because they enjoy the act of shutting women down and they enjoy hurting them.

It is 2012, soon it will be 2013.  We should be beyond telling women that they should be quiet and not hold opinions, not advocate for themselves, that they deserve abuse simply because they are women.  Which is what telling us not to be so sensitive/emotional is in fact tacitly implying.  It’s the attitude of “stop behaving like women, and you won’t get abused.”

Let’s just state it clearly – THIS IS ABUSE.  We should be horrified by this abuse, and we should be horrified that most, if not all, women who are visible online suffer it at some point or another.  If men were subjected to this kind of abuse on the same scale that women are, there would be outrage.  But instead, it is directly targeted at women and then is dismissed, predominantly by men, as insignificant.

We should be horrified at any kind of abuse, towards men, women or children.  Abuse of any kind, be it domestic, sexual, racial, gender-based OR online abuse, is abhorrent and needs to be acted on to eradicate quickly.  Online abuse can cause just as much trauma to it’s victims as any other form – as we have seen by the Charlotte Dawson case.

It is also time that the platforms this kind of abuse happens on take some responsibility for hosting this abuse.  Online platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr and any other service need to take a zero tolerance stand on abuse using their services.  For too long they have closed rank and claimed they’re not responsible for the individual behaviours of their users.  They ARE responsible for what they allow to be published on their platforms.  We need to demand they act swiftly and realise that they have a duty of care to their users.  After all, they are public venue hosts.  If we were in a physical public venue, we would expect that the owners of those venues would have a zero tolerance on other users of that venue behaving in an abusive manner.  We need to start seeing these platforms as the online public venues that they are.

As I was writing the last of this post earlier this evening, this post by Helen Razer was shared around Twitter.  I think Helen hits quite a few nails on the head with it, and I want to leave you all with a quote from the piece:

…there is no correct way to respond to ugly, unsolicited threats. In fact,  if this had happened to you, you could very well find yourself in a corner throwing your own poo at passersby while singing the hits of Nicki Minaj.

Terror has its own logic.  I hope, in or out of the spotlight, you never have to learn its terms.

And I hope that somewhere the daughters that Charlotte and I never got around to having are preparing to enter a world where loudmouth ladies are just loudmouth ladies and not women who asked to be beaten down.

Bullies – You Don’t Get a Cookie for Feeling Bad

Published March 2, 2012 by sleepydumpling

So this article went around Twitter pretty rapidly today, with lots of comments about how heartbreaking it is and how understanding bullies is so important.  Not to mention the words “brave” and “honest” in reference to the interviewee.

Yeah… I’m not jumping on that bandwagon.  I think this is another example of everyone focusing on the perpetrator and not the victim.  Oh the interviewee is regularly crying “Mea culpa!” throughout the piece, but then she also turns around and brags about how cunning she was, how her manipulative behaviour got her through situations where she was almost caught out for the bully that she was.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got no time for focusing on understanding bullies.  I understand them perfectly – they want to make other people feel bad to make themselves feel better, they get away with it, so they do it.  Our culture makes excuses for bullies, so bullies continue to behave the way they do.

Instead of focusing on those “brave and honest” bullies (I find nothing brave nor honest about the interviewee of this piece), we should be making it clear that their behaviour is unacceptable, and that they have to take responsibility for their actions.  There have to clear repercussions for bullying behavior – social ostracisation to start with.  Instead of dredging up sympathy for these people, we need to make it clear that their behaviour is simply unacceptable.

I have been bullied several times throughout my life.  I’ve written about my childhood experiences of bullying before.  I’ve also been bullied in as an adult, and in that case, it was by someone who had clearly got away with repeat offenses of bullying, and found it perfectly acceptable to continue doing so.  It wasn’t until I found the guts to stand up as the victim, (it was a hell of a fight because everyone wanted me to “understand the bully”), and said “This is not acceptable, I will not be treated like this.”  It was only that I found the strength to demand that this person take some responsibility for their actions that made it stop.  As the victim, I had to be the one to put in all the work.

What is wrong with that picture?

Why are we forcing victims to go through absolute hell to stop the perpetrators?  Surely we should be punishing perpetrators, not victims of bullying.

While talking on Twitter earlier today, @VoteGilligan tweeted the following that I just have to share:

I agree.  Bullies need to understand themselves – it’s not up to victims to understand them.  It’s up to the bullies to do the work.  Once they start to look at their own behaviour, and do something about it, perhaps then we can then move forward.  It’s not up to the victims to feel sympathy for them.

Why are we teaching our kids how to avoid being bullied and to have sympathy for bullies, instead of teaching them how not to be a bully?

What bothers me most about the woman interviewed in the article is how she repeatedly says that she thinks the reason she did it was because she was being abused at home, because she suffered mental illness and because she felt bad about herself.  Lots of us were abused at home.  Lots of us suffer mental illness.  Lots of us suffer from low self esteem.  Some of us, like myself, suffered from all three.  But many of us that suffer those things don’t bully people to make ourselves feel better.

The only redeeming quality of the interview in the article is that the interviewee does state that she believes that bullies have to be held responsible for their actions.  However, I get the feeling that she has never done so.  Oh she feels bad, but her feeling bad doesn’t undo what she has done, nor does it help her victim at all.  And I daresay it doesn’t deter future bullies at all either.

So the bully feels bad about what she has done.  So she should.  She has to live with the consequences of her actions.  I’m not going to give her a cookie for doing what we all need to do – take responsibility for our own actions.

Until we take a zero tolerance stand on bullying in every aspect of our lives, it won’t go away.  I believe the acceptance of bullying is the root cause of all abuse in our culture.  If bullies get away with targeting an individual, they’re going to continue that behaviour on to anyone they believe is lesser than them – be that of class, gender, sexuality, race, size, ability, appearance… you name it.  Intolerance and bigotry are just systematic, institutionalised bullying.

Why I Will Be Participating in SlutWalk

Published May 14, 2011 by sleepydumpling

So you may have seen some buzz around lately in the media about an event called SlutWalk.  What SlutWalk is, is a rally/march in protest of the cultural attitude that a woman may “deserve” to be raped/sexually assaulted, based on measures of what she wears, whether or not she is consuming drugs or alcohol, or her sexual activity, amongst other things.

SlutWalk began in Toronto, Canada after a police officer giving a talk at a college campus safety information session stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”.  Quite understandably so, the people of Toronto were angry at this and a protest event sprang up very quickly, the inaugural SlutWalk.  As the word spread around the world, allies all around the world have been organising their own local event to send the message that slut-shaming victims of rape/sexual assault is not acceptable.

Just a couple of days ago, I read this amazing speech given at Boston SlutWalk by Jaclyn Friedman.  Jaclyn really expresses most of my own thoughts (and a whole lot more) in her piece.  Don’t miss it – whether you watch the video or read the transcript.

A lot of women really have a problem with the term “slut” and some have refused to take part in the events because of the name.  Many feel that it is a derogatory term that shouldn’t be used to describe women, and feel that “reclaiming” the word encourages people to use the word to shame women who are sexually active, who enjoy sex or who dress in a manner that is considered “sexy”.

To be honest, I am inclined to agree.  It is a word that is used to shame and bully women, to control them by socially policing them into shame for having any form of sexuality and sexual expression.  It’s not a word I want to hear used to describe women and/or girls.

But that said, I am still going to participate in SlutWalk.

Why?  Because I feel it is of the highest importance that we, as a society, stand up and speak out against the rape culture that implies that women “asked for” or somehow deserved rape in any way, shape or form.  We need to speak out against a culture that tries to control women by dictating what they wear, what they do with their own bodies and how they conduct their sex lives.

Because I believe there is nothing that anyone can do or say that makes them deserve rape.  Ever.

But most importantly, as a sexual assault survivor myself, a rape survivor myself (I still have issues using that word in reference to my own experience) who has been doubted, questioned and denied the right to name what happened to me, I need to speak out against a culture that puts the onus of preventing rape on the victim, instead of where it should be, on the perpetrator.

The very reason I never reported my own rape (and other sexual assaults) was because I was led to believe that it was somehow my fault that I was raped.  I was shamed for being a victim of a horrible, violent act that someone else perpetrated against me.

So on the 28th of May, I will be joining the Brisbane SlutWalk, not to reclaim the word slut or proclaim myself a proud slut, but to stand up and stay that nobody deserves rape for any reason.

I urge you to become involved in the SlutWalk in your local area.  Don’t let the shame pushed at women hold you back from speaking out against the injustice of rape apologism and victim blaming.

Too Little Too Late

Published March 17, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Many of you may have seen or heard about the case of Casey, a 16 year old boy from New South Wales (Australia) who having being bullied repeatedly, retaliated by body slamming the younger boy who had been hitting and taunting him, into the ground, while other boys taunted him and videotaped the bullying.  If you haven’t, here is a link to an article (which includes the video, please watch with caution as it may be triggering to some).

I have written before about my own experiences at the hands of bullies, and like Casey, I had a moment where it simply became more than I could tolerate, and I lost control and got violent with the girls who were bullying me.  And also like Casey, I was punished for that incident, not the bullies.  Even though my parents, teachers and other adults knew that I was being bullied long term.  I was punished at a moment when I hated myself more than ever, for resorting to the one thing that I never, ever wanted to do, but in desperation found myself with no other alternative.

Since the story went viral, there has been overwhelming support for Casey, but also there have been countless people weighing in on what should be done about bullying, what they think of Casey’s behaviour, and what they believe Casey should have done.

I think most of the advice being given, or the solutions being offered, are too little too late for Casey.  And for countless others who have suffered, and are suffering, like Casey has.

The repeated message I keep seeing is “Violence is bad, mmm’kay?”  Over and over, I hear things like “I feel for Casey, but he shouldn’t have resorted to violence.”  I’ve seen people suggesting he take martial arts or self defence lessons.  That he get counselling because of his violent retaliation to the bullies.   That Casey should have behaved this way, or that Casey should have done something else.

What I want to know, to ask all of the people who are full of suggestions for Casey, is where were they when Casey was being bullied?  Why does it take a young man of 16 to completely snap, before everyone jumps in with solutions to his problem?  This false sympathy, this sense of “You poor thing, but you still did it wrong.” is to me, one of the main reason bullying continues to be a problem.

It boils down to two things for me:

1) Casey should not have suffered as he did.

2) The onus should have been on the bullies to change their behaviour, NOT Casey.

If it’s so all important to prevent violence, we need to be focusing on the bullies right now, not when the victim is finally pushed to a point of retaliation.  We need to be teaching kids (and a whole lot of adults too) that the responsibility is on them to not bully anyone, that if they do bully someone, they are the ones who are going to suffer the consequences, and we need to follow through with that.  This means a complete zero tolerance on bullying in all environments, coupled with real repercussions for those who do bully.

Over and over, we hear kids being told that they should learn to defend themselves, learn appropriate responses, change their behaviour, practices and routines to prevent bullying.  Why is the onus on the victims, and potential victims to take action, rather on those who are, or might be, perpetrating the bullying?

This is a recurring theme in our society, that it is somehow a responsibility to take preventative measures against bullying, rape, and other acts of violence or violation, rather than it being a responsibility to not commit bullying, rape or other acts of violence or violation.

Why are the victims being expected to make changes, when all the victims really want, at the very heart of the matter, is for the violence/abuse/violation to cease?

To me, there is something fundamentally wrong with our society for this to be the norm.  This has to change, or we are never going to see any improvement in the rates of violence, bullying, rape or any other kinds of assault/violation.  So long as the responsibility lies on the shoulders of victims/potential victims, the perpetrators are going to believe no fault lies with them.

In short, we are going about it ass backwards.

So we end up with kids like Casey.  Kids like I once was myself.  Who in a moment of sheer desperation of wanting to just make it stop, take that step too far.  They find themselves like cornered animals, lashing out simply to just end the abuse.  They find themselves behaving in a way that they never wanted to behave, simply because they feel they have no other alternative.

Kids like Casey, don’t need lectures after the fact about what they did wrong, how they failed.  They need to know that we, as a society, as a community, have failed them.  That we failed to protect them, we failed to ensure that they can go through their young lives safe and without fear of bullying, and we failed to put the responsibility of preventing bullying on the shoulders of the bullies, instead of the victims.

It’s our responsibility as adults to stand up and make it very clear that there is to be no tolerance of bullies in our society, and that there will be real repercussions to those who do behave in this manner.

Your Emotions are YOURS

Published October 30, 2010 by sleepydumpling

My friend and Cyster Jenn reposted something I said on Facebook as her status update last night, and while of course I was very honoured, I took the statement I had made away for awhile and have been rolling it around in my mind, thinking about what it means to me and how best to expand upon it.  I guess the best way to start is by sharing it here:

It’s not about allowing people to hurt you, it’s about your right as a human being to be treated with basic respect, dignity and fairness. We need to stop blaming the victim with the attitude of “they only hurt you because you allow them to” and put the onus back on to the perpetrator.

What I keep hearing, over and over, as a response to anyone who complains or calls out bigoted behaviour towards fat people are statements like:

“Don’t take it so personally.”
“They only hurt you if you allow them to.”
“Why are you always so angry?”
“Don’t let it get to you.”
“Just laugh at them.”
“Just let it go.  Get over it.”

And many other similar pieces of “advice”.

I really need to express my objection to this kind of attitude.  People who are harmed by others, be it physically or emotionally, have every right to be angry, hurt, dismayed, feel violated and any other way they happen to feel about the harm that has been laid at their feet.  They also have the right to expect that the perpetrator has to be the one to take responsibility for their behaviour, not them as the victims.

For too long, we’ve been practicing the old “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” attitude.  The truth is, words DO hurt people, and it is NOT acceptable to just say whatever one likes about others without taking the responsibility of the results of making those statements.

I also saw people responding with things like “Well it depends on the case…” suggesting that there are some kind of rankings for violation/abuse.  We need to let go of that attitude that there is some kind of gradient that means we should shut up for some things and speak up for others.  Yes, abuse is varying in it’s degrees, but that doesn’t mean we should just let the small stuff go.  Because what happens?  The big stuff gets bigger and more and more gets swept under the carpet.  Instead, put it back on the heads of the perpetrator.  The responsibility is with them and the level of repercussion is theirs to bear, not ours.  Violation is violation and there have to be repercussions for all of it, not just the worst end of the spectrum.

Yes, pick your battles, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide that you are hurt by the violation if it isn’t as violent as another violation.

You don’t have to pretend that their words don’t hurt.  When people tell you to just get over it or to not allow others words to hurt you, what they are doing is minimising your feelings, effectively telling you to be quiet and not complain.  They’re also minimising the responsibility of the person who has hurt you.

You can be angry. I’m not saying that you should be letting anger consume you, or other people’s behaviour from stopping you living your life to how YOU want to live it, but you have every right to feel anger and hurt and to express that.  As Marianne Kirby says in her recent post:

How dare people try to stifle our hard-won anger? Especially when we have every right to BE angry in the first place. You DO have every right to be angry. It is not wrong for you to feel that way. It’s important to find constructive ways of dealing with that anger but the anger itself is not usually the problem, okay? You are right to be angry at the people who want to abuse fatties.

She’s right on the nail.  With anger, I can fuel a whole lot of things.  That doesn’t mean that the anger controls me in any way, quite the opposite.  Anger is not the problem, the abuse is the problem.  Make the abuse go away, and off the anger goes with it.

In reference to the Marie Claire debacle of this week, the amazing Marilyn Wann tweeted yesterday:

Marie Claire says: “The opinion was that of a blogger, not the magazine. She posted an apology…We consider this matter closed.” Nuh-UH!

The prejudice-monger (Marie Claire) doesn’t decide when we’re prejudice-free. The prejudice isn’t gone until the FAT LADY says it’s gone!

Oh how I love how Marilyn can get right to the nitty gritty and say it so succinctly.  The perpetrator doesn’t get to choose how people react to their behaviour.  They also don’t get to choose when they’ve fully taken responsibility for that.  The person/people they have wronged do.

Don’t let anyone diminish how you feel.  Don’t let anyone tell you to just “get over it”.  How dare they?  Are they the ones harmed by the behaviour?  Even if they are, they choose how THEY react to it, and how they feel about it, not how anyone else does.  Your emotions are YOURS, and nobody has any right to minimise them.

*BTW: Do read Marianne’s post, it’s good advice on keeping yourself emotionally healthy and strong in the face of fat hate.

Let’s Make it Better

Published October 7, 2010 by sleepydumpling

I want to talk about bullying.  But I’m struggling with it, because even now, when I am in a safe, happy place in my life, when I am bully free and strong, I still feel hurt and fear.  Just thinking about what I suffered at the hands of bullies plunges me back into all of those emotions, even though rationally I know that I am safe and strong.

But I HAVE to talk about it.  Because not only is it good for me personally to voice all of these demons that bother me, but because being open about it, putting out there into the world what people are suffering every single day, and calling it out for what it is, is needed to help battle the very deeply ingrained bully culture of our world.

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post.

Bullying is by no means a new thing.  It happened to me all my life and I’m 38 this month.  As a child, as a teen, and yes, even as an adult.  And I know it’s been happening for so long in history one couldn’t pinpoint an origin.  But I do think that it is particularly vicious in our time now.  I’m not saying it’s at it’s most vicious now, or that it we haven’t had equally/more vicious periods of bullying in our history.  I do think it comes and goes in cycles perhaps, as society finds excuses, until the inevitable backlash comes along.  It’s time for that backlash now.

I am of course, right now, spurred on by the It Gets Better project, which is in response to the suicide of several young gay men who were bullied to the point of losing all hope.  However, while I do want to send a message of support out to the young queer folk out there, and talk to them about the bullying they go through, I want to broaden this to anyone who has suffered, or is suffering at the hands of bullies.  Whether that be because you are GLBT, fat, shy, female, small, different, just an easy target… whatever reason the bullies have chosen you, I want to talk to you in this post.  And that goes to those of you who have been bullied in the past but are doing ok now.

So let’s start with my story.

As I mentioned, I was bullied my whole life.  I came from an abusive home, so perhaps I already had the mark on me of being a suitable victim.  I don’t know, but it definitely started before I got fat, so it’s not just my fatness that was the reason.  I can remember being pushed over at Kindergarten by a boy who was bigger than me on more than one occasion, for no good reason that I knew.  When I went to primary school, I got it there.  Menaced by bigger boys for any money I might have (which was very little if any), or my stuff, even if it was cheap and crappy.  I was made fun of for being poor, for being dirty, for being fat (even before I was fat), for being stupid (which I have never been), or just because I was available for bullying.  When I got a little older I would stand up to the bullies if they targeted my younger brother, but if I was just on my own, I seemed to lack the confidence to do so.   They would push me around, throw food or anything else gross they could think of at me, steal my school stuff and hide it or destroy it, make fun of how I looked or what I was wearing, or lie to teachers and get me in trouble when I hadn’t done anything.

But, in primary school I had friends, a couple of lovely teachers, and my beloved school library (complete with teacher-librarians who I still idolise today), so I survived.  It was much harder surviving what was being dished out at home than dealing with what was happening at school.

When I got to high school, things changed.  I got fat.  Puberty hit at the end of primary school so I was far more developed than my peers.  Added to the mark I already seemed to have on me labelling me as a perfect bully victim, it equaled 5 years of living hell.  For the first time, the girls started in on me.  Say what you like, boys might be rougher and bigger, but girls are far, far more vicious bullies.  There was one girl who had a pair of twin sisters as friends.  Think of the two oafs that Draco Malfoy has as his henchmen in Harry Potter… Crabbe and Goyle.  That’s what these two twins were like.  Twice my size, mind numbingly stupid, but would do anything that the Malfoyesque girl told them to do.  They beat the shit out of me.  They burnt my stuff.  They followed me home (across the street from the high school, fucking great huh?) and stood there on the corner for hours on end, menacing me.  They told the older boys that I liked them and that I’d sleep with them for money.  They rang the school pretending to be a concerned parent and dobbed on me for doing things I didn’t do.  They told my violent father that they caught me smoking.  They stole my lunch and ground it in the dirt.  They cornered me in the girls toilets and forced me to stick my fingers down my throat until I vomited, and told me that I had to do that after every meal because I was so fat and disgusting.  They found a boy to piss on me, which he would do every couple of days.  They got other boys to ring my house and ask me out, and then laugh at me no matter what reaction I had.  They spat on me, they stole my school books, they tore my school uniforms, they just never fucking stopped.  All the while the main girl just told them what to do, and spewed hateful words at me.

One day when I was about 14, something snapped.  I lashed out with a steel ruler that I happened to have in my arms with my school books, and hit the main girl across the face with it.  I was horrified but I had just snapped.  The deputy principal took me into his office and said “I know you’re not that girl, you’re not violent.  But I know what goes on at home, and that you don’t want to be that person.  Don’t ever come back into my office for this reason again.”

They never bothered me again.  In fact, even the oaf twins gave me a wide berth.

But the bullying didn’t stop.  Older kids stepped in.  Boys got worse.  They grabbed my breasts, forced me into corners and grabbed my crotch.  They pulled down my pants.  They asked me out and then screamed with laughter at the mere thought of dating me.  They spat on me, pissed on me, threw dog shit at me, you name it.

I changed schools in my Senior year because my mother moved us to a new town.  The bullying happened there too, just with different kids.  But they could have been the same kids.  They looked and sounded like the same kids to me.

Teachers never helped.  They told me not to be so sensitive, not to engage with the bullies, not to take things so seriously, to mind my own business, to get a hobby, to lose weight, to apply myself better in school.  My parents didn’t care, they were too busy fighting each other and bullying me themselves.

By the time I was 16, I wanted to die.  It was the only way I could see an end to it.  But for some reason, I never did it.  I just wanted dying to happen, I couldn’t do it myself.

After I left school, there were some good years, but soon after more bullies found me.  One of my first full time bosses bullied me for fun.  A neighbour bullied me.  I had some more good years.  Then a colleague bullied me for a couple of years that were absolutely hellish, and which only stopped when a bullying complaint was filed on my behalf (when I simply asked for help) and while that complaint was dismissed because of a technicality, for some reason the bullying stopped too.

I got help with my self esteem and the depression issues (which I believe are part chemical, part result of constant abuse and bullying my whole life).  Things are good for me now, and I know I would never, ever take the shit that I once used to tolerate.  But in those bad years, time and time again I wished for death to claim me, a few times I got to the point of attempting it myself.

So I know, oh believe me I know how it feels.

Now, to those of you who are young and think it never ends.  It does.  You are not what they say you are.  You are not worthless, ugly, disgusting, gross, nothing.  You will survive this.  And it WILL get better.  Please, please don’t give up.  Talk to someone.  Call or email something like The Trevor Project, or Kids Helpline, or Lifeline, or something else in your state/country along those lines (anyone who knows any services, please share links in the comments).  But hang in there.  Hold your head up and know that you DO deserve better.

And I promise you this.  I am working to MAKE it better.  It’s not fair of people to just say “Hang in there, it will get better.” without doing anything to make it better.  You shouldn’t have to just ride it out and tolerate being bullied.  But if you can hang on, I and a lot of other people who care, will work to make it better, to change things.  I will fight to change the cultural attitude of permitting bullying, or excusing it.  I will ask others to stand beside me in that fight.  It has to change.

Now to those of you who are adults and have suffered bullying in the past.  Or those of you who maybe have or know kids you’re worried about when it comes to bullying.  I need to talk to all of you.

It’s not right that we ask kids to hang on, to suffer through the bullying with the vague promise that “it gets better”.  We need to MAKE it better.  We need to teach our own children, and all of those around us, that bullying is never, ever acceptable.  I’ve seen posts over the past couple of days saying that bullies do so because they hate themselves, or because they’re the victims of abuse at home themselves, and a myriad of other reasons.  I’m here to say that while I care that people feel this way, I DO NOT ACCEPT THOSE EXCUSES.

I hated myself my whole life, until I was past 35.  I came from a violent, abusive home.  Lot’s of us did/do.  Lots of us have things in our lives that made/make us miserable, but do we turn to bullying to deal with that?  No.  Because we know it’s just a very pathetic excuse to be a cretin.

I do not accept any justification for bullying.  I am not going to give bullies sympathy and hugs.  Not until they stop bullying.  If and when anyone chooses to be a good human being, and to treat others with basic respect, then I will encourage them and support them until the ends of the earth.  But so long as someone is bullying others there need to be decent repercussions for that behaviour.  We need to stop making excuses and enabling bullies.  We need to speak up and say it is unacceptable, over and over and over again.  We need to tell our friends, our families, our colleagues that bullying behaviour is not acceptable.  We need to work to make it better for the kids that are coming up behind us.  We cannot let the same injustices happen over and over again.

It’s time we stood up and said loud and clear that bullying is NEVER acceptable. Change takes time, but we have to stand up and start making that change.  The kids of today will join us down the track, and more and more after them.

Let’s not expect young people to just suffer through bullying.  Let’s make a difference.

Playing the Victim? It’s No Game

Published March 16, 2010 by sleepydumpling

On more than one occasion recently, I’ve seen commenters on fat acceptance blogs and articles refer to fat acceptance writers as having a “victim mentality”.  Or it said that they are “playing the victim”.  It has bothered me, and stuck with me, so I want to talk a bit about that in tonight’s blog post.

The thing is, the fatosphere, or whatever you want to call the communities and blogs around fat acceptance, I know there are several different communities popping up around the place, is our space to have our say, to give a voice to our lives, the issues surrounding our fatness and the experiences we have.

I can’t speak for all fat acceptance bloggers, but the reason I talk about my experiences, especially the really difficult ones, is because a) I realised that I don’t have to suffer in silence anymore, b) I want the world to know the shitty treatment that a vast number of human beings are being subjected to, and most importantly c) I want to reach out to others who are suffering with the shame, the embarrassment, the humiliation, the self loathing and so on and let them know that they are not alone.  I’m quite sure I’m not the only fat acceptance blogger that does so for these reasons.  In fact, that’s why I read fat acceptance blogs and articles, to hear the very same things.

When someone comes along and starts claiming that many in the fat acceptance movement are “playing the victim” or have a “victim mentality”, it’s a very subtle way of telling us to be quiet.  Telling us that we’re making too much noise, getting too much attention, gaining too much momentum.  It’s designed to have us doubting what we are doing, questioning our motives and our right to have our say.

It also lays blame on victims.  It says “If these things happen to you, it’s because you have that mentality, because you play up to it.”  It’s lays the shame at the feet of someone who has had to endure something awful, as though they are the ones who brought this upon themselves.

For me, there is nothing to be ashamed of in standing up and saying “This is not acceptable.”  In giving a voice to the shit I’ve had to put up with, especially in helping other fat women (and fat men) realise they are not alone, and to bring attention to those who’ve never suffered this kind of treatment just what the reality of being fat is.  There’s no shame at all in being hurt by other people’s atrocious behaviour and saying so.  Nor is there in any shame in saying what behaviour is acceptable, to articulate the way we want to be treated.

Which put simply is to be treated as the valuable human beings that we are.

I know I don’t share the experiences I’ve had with the purpose of having everyone say “Oh you poor thing!” and I’m quite sure most other fat acceptance bloggers don’t either.

I refuse to accept being told that we have a “victim mentality/are playing the victim”.  I don’t believe that anyone has the right to suggest we are at fault for the shitty treatment we have received just for the “crime” of being fat.  I don’t believe anyone has the right to try to shame us into silence or make us feel like we are somehow inconveniencing the world by speaking up about what bothers us.  Even from those that are well intentioned, it’s unacceptable.

I, as a fat woman, have been the victim of some disgusting behaviour from other people, but that is not because of my mentality or I’ve played up to it.  It is because those people are bigoted, narrow minded and hateful.

I will continue to speak up about my experiences, and demand respect, dignity and fairness, no matter how often others try to lay blame or shame at my feet.

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