Anyone who grew up in the latter half of the twentieth century knows the double-standard when it comes to sex. Good girls didn’t want it. Bad girls did. If a girl made a guy think about giving it to them, then it was the girl’s fault. Rape is about power. Rape is about wanting and taking. And the pretty girls? The beautiful girls? They have something the boys want so badly that they’d be willing to do unmentionable things to get it. But a line is drawn there, a judgment being made. If you’re cute, if you’re provocatively dressed, if you engage in dodgy behavior, then maybe, just maybe, you asked for it.
And one has only to look at the scores of rape victims who begin overeating, unconsciously or consciously, as an attempt to physically distance themselves from their attackers. If their appearance was to blame for the horror, then changing it would prevent that horrible thing from ever happening to them again. Except that now we learn that if it does happen, despite your fatness, then you should just be grateful.
I am very angry. Very angry. There are no words.
I think the thing that makes me the angriest is that this logic had seeped into my own brain for a very long time. When I was a college freshman, I went on a stringent program (which is a much nicer term than “eating disorder”) to lose weight, and one of the things mandated by this mindset was a lot of exercise. However, I couldn’t go to the gym or be seen in shorts or be in the very presence of the beautiful people. Instead, I went for long walks with my Sony (cassette) Walkman either cranking out late ’80s alternative dance hits (I made it to my first goal thanks entirely to The Cure’s “Hot Hot Hot” and Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”) or listening to the punk hour on the college radio station. I would go for my walks after 9 p.m., just as half the college town was settling down and the other half was ramping up. I would walk past fraternity houses with long lines of giggling underage kids waiting to pay $3 to get into basement keg parties. All the while I was blissfully unconcerned for my safety, despite countless reports of violence against women in the area, numerous date rapes and misdemeanors at those very parties. My nutritional counselor, a grad student who needed a fat girl to round out her thesis study, warned me to be careful and asked me to take a friend with me, and I scoffed, saying that from far away, I looked like a linebacker. It didn’t matter that no one would ever have mistook me for a man with my DD cup rack, I honestly assumed that my size made me impervious to potential attacks. I figured the worst thing I had to deal with was a drunk guy shouting “hey, fat ass” and certainly not anything involving his penis.
When a sexual predator began showing up inside dorm rooms in the residence halls (including mine) in the middle of the night, the campus went on hyper alert. The pattern was quickly established: girls with dorm rooms right next to an exterior door (like mine) and who had a first floor room (like I did), girls who had only one name on the outer door showing that they did not have a roommate (guess who had her own room?). But it seriously never occurred to me that I should be worried about a pervert who, in retrospect, must have gotten access to the master list of the door combinations. I figured that I was completely and utterly safe, despite looking at the police sketch every day in our communal bathroom when I brushed my teeth, despite talking with my neighbors about their strategies if they should be shaken awake at night by a guy wearing a hoodie and a baseball cap. After all, I was a size 24.
If you’re waiting for me to tell you about being startled awake one night by some pervert, it’s not going to happen. They changed all of the combinations on the doors, had the police patrolling the female residence floors, and also had a few undercover police agents sleeping in random dorm rooms, but the attacks stopped. They never caught the guy.
And I was lucky that time.
But this crazy mentality—this unwanted, undesirable, un-fucking-touchable mentality that pervaded my thinking pattern—it didn’t materialize out of thin air. It came from out there. It came from this lawyer who thinks that the fat girl should really feel flattered that she was chosen to be violated. It came from the people who don’t worry about their ugly daughters getting knocked up, the people who look the other way when little chubby kids get teased because that’s just how kids are. It came from the guy who didn’t listen when Brandon Teena reported his rape. And everyone knows that the two worst things you can do to a woman is call her fat or threaten to rape her. The paradox is bewildering:
It seems to me that this is the flip side of the Catch-22 for rape victims: If you’re seen as “attractive” or dress “provocatively” then you can’t have been raped because you were asking for it. If you’re seen as unattractive or fat, then you can’t have been raped because you were obviously desperate for it.
An American woman has a one in four chance of being raped during her lifetime. This is not about what kind of underwear you had on or how big your ass is. One in four. This is not about the makeup you had on or whether or not you had bragged about your oral skills. One in four. This is not about wanting it or going on a date or the fact that he paid for dinner. One in four. This is not a statistic from the 1700s or a third world nation, this is here, today, our streets, our friends. One in four. This is about the power of the word “no” and about changing how we think as a society, one mind at a time, that women are not pieces of property. One in four. We are all in this together, we all have the right to say “no”—whether we are thick or thin, black or white, male or female, wearing fishnet stockings or mom jeans, party girls or virgins. One in four, and every one of us valuable, not matter what. One in four. And every one worthy of defending.