24 June 2009

I still get fatphobic street harassment

You might want to listen to Lou Reed's mighty Street Hassle whilst you are reading this. Multimedia experience!

Until this week I was under the mistaken belief that I rarely if ever got street hassle these days for being fat because I exude rad fatty confidence. It used to happen in the past, but not now.

This is a ridiculous belief because it carries an assumption that the kind of creeps who try to get in your face are able to make a distinction between fat people's relative levels of self-confidence. It also supports a blame-the-victim mentality: crushed by fatphobia in the street? It's your own fault, you should be stronger! I think confidence can help, but it can also make you a target, and really, the kinds of people who say horrible things to you, or spit at you, or whatever are likely to do this no matter what you do to avoid it.

Anyway, my self-delusion about street hassle was challenged this week because I've been the target in two incidents. Just now a 'phobe/narrow fuck rode at Kay and I on his bike and demanded we get out of his way, with a bit of added fatty-bashing name-calling. We were too surprised to block his way and shove him off his bicycle, which is a terrible shame.

The other incident took place last week. I noticed a guy wanting to get our attention as I walked with C to Stratford Station, and on the way back he spotted me again and made a beeline for me. I thought he was a christian trying to convert me, that happens a lot in that part of my neighbourhood, but no, he had some flyers for some kind of weight loss thing he was selling and wanted to give me one. He looked desperate and I guess he was zoning in on any fat person that walked past, lucky them. I kept walking and said no, but I was shocked by the intrusion, concerned about how it might affect other people, and eaten up with unrealised revenge fantasies as I walked home. I felt interfered with when I had done nothing to invite it. It didn't ruin my day, but it was an irritation.

So I'm wondering why this has happened now, after a long period, years, where I have either had little street hassle, or where I haven't even noticed or remembered it happening. Is this one of the effects of the Global Obesity EpidemicTM? Maybe the moral panic around fat makes people feel okay about being arseholes. Have other readers of this blog noticed any changes in the kind and level of street hassle you deal with? Might it correlate with the fat panic epidemic?

It made me think of how I deal with this kind of interference. I ignore it as much as I can because I think those who do it are trying to get a rise out of you and I don't want to play that game. On other occasions, where I've been with other fatties, we've been able to laugh and ridicule the harasser Chubster-style, which is pretty satisfying. I remember reading about a guy who agreed with the harassers when they yelled at him in the street, like: "I'm a fat bastard? Yes, thanks, I am!" I like that, responding to hatred with humour. What are your strategies?


tara said...

I shake my pannus at them.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Best. Response. Ever.

SharonC said...

Oh that is great, Tara!

My take is that I think it comes and goes in waves. There's not necessarily any pattern to it.

A couple of summers ago I had a hugely harassment-filled summer and it got up to 7 harassments in the space of two days at one time. I got hit, slapped, yelled at, targeted, all kinds of things.

This summer? Hardly anything. So far, I can only remember one incident a few weeks back which was I think a yell from a car.

Incidents do seem to increase during the summer though.

Two factors that I can pinpoint: a shop in our neighbourhood shutting down meant that youths no longer hung around a certain corner from where they would hurl abuse as I cycled by. Also the bunch of motorcyle louts (harassing cyclists on the narrow cycle path) seems to have disbanded, so no problems from that direction either for a couple of years now.

I don't really have a strategy for dealing with abuse, because almost all the abuse I get is whilst cycling, and the abuse-hurlers generally time it so that by the time I've registered what they've said, they are some distance away, so there is no opportunity to respond.

One time some young lad slapped me as he rode past on a motorbike, and then his friend dropped him off at a street corner with his mates, and so I caught up with him, and then spent the next few minutes yelling extremely loudly at him. And of course he made a comment as I cycled away.

Another time some drunken creeps wanted me to stop, and stood in the road to try and stop me; one in a starfish position. I yelled "MOVE!" at the top of my voice, from some 50 yds away. He didn't. He kept deliberately in the same position to block my course. I kept my course and accelerated. At the last moment he stepped left and I swerved slightly left and he pushed me violently. I swerved over towards the kerb but remained upright and cycling (thank goodness for momentum being proportional to mass as well as velocity!), and once I was sufficiently far away made some rude symbols at them.

Charlotte Cooper said...

You manage to respond to some really vile behaviour with incredible dignity, Sharon.

I don't know why I've blocked this out, but I had quite a bit of harassment in Limerick when I rode my bike too. Always from car windows as people drove by, one time someone tried to egg me but they missed.

I was looking at search terms for my website the other day and I get a lot of referrals from anxious would-be fat cyclists (they end up at an article I wrote about being a fat cyclist). Search terms are things like:

can fat people learn how to ride a bike
can fat people ride bikes
can heavy people ride road bikes
can you be too fat to ride a bike
can you be too heavy to ride a bicycle
too heavy to ride a dirt bike?
too heavy to ride a road bike?
too heavy to ride a sportbike?
what if I'm too heavy to ride bike

It's outrageous that something so practical and pleasurable (apart from in Limerick, where it rains all the time) is made inaccessible because of people's intolerance.

It also makes me think about fat people's access to exercise in general, about how harassment disrupts that.

Anyway, urgh.

SharonC said...

Those search terms are really heartbreaking!

Charlotte Cooper said...

They are! It's as though people are looking for permission to cycle, and are so afraid of 'failing' whatever that might mean.

I'm not surprised, in some ways. Cycling campaigns in the UK are big supporters of anti-obesity rhetoric, but it appears that the drive to get more people cycling (a good thing) is alienating and intimidating the fat folk.

My thing about fat people on bikes is one of the most popular things on my site. People are clearly thinking about this stuff. It would be great to get some money to do a fat people on bikes training thing or project, run by fat cyclists.