Hint: It’s not because we don’t have them.
Content warning: descriptions of sexual assault
That’s how many prominent politicians, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and public figures have been publicly accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault since Harvey Weinstein left the Weinstein Company. In the last week alone, Junot Diaz joined that growing list, as did New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and the Nobel Prize scandal highlighted the experiences of women working with one of the world’s most prestigious literary organizations. So I suppose that brings our list to 123.
Clearly, we are far from ending this epidemic. But finally, for once, institutions are beginning to name the behavior of the men who make unwanted remarks and unwelcome ultimatums, who expose themselves, who demand our bodies. For once, we’re learning to believe women.
The women coming forward are undeniably courageous: young and old, rich and poor, famous and unknown. And overwhelmingly, they’re thin.
But 67% of American women are plus size. So where are the fat women?
I was 15 years old, and a size 18, the first time a man told me he’d fantasized about raping me.
He told me that he longed to pin my hands behind my head, yearned to hear me tell him no. You’ll fight me off, but you’ll love every minute of it.The women coming forward are undeniably courageous: young and old, rich and poor, famous and unknown. And overwhelmingly, they’re thin. Click To Tweet
I was shaken, confused, disoriented. As he spoke, every breath drained from my waiting lungs, siphoned by his certainty that I’d be grateful for his violence. You’ll love every minute of it. The life in my veins seeped from my body into the ground I wished would swallow me whole.
Over time, men’s fantasies became part of the fabric of my experience. In the years that followed, more and more men would disclose their desire to assault me. When I told one to stop, in my mid-twenties, he was taken aback. I thought you were liberated. You should be grateful.
The menacing ghost of gratitude followed me everywhere. I was queer, which meant I was expected to be sexually flexible, unfettered by boundaries and unlikely to say no, available to be posed in any scene or position needed for men’s gratification. And I was fat, which meant I should be grateful for what I got. Even if it was violent. Even if I didn’t consent.
When I finally disclosed this pattern to thinner friends, I anticipated some knowing commiseration, some tools for survival. After all, we’d spent plenty of time developing shared strategies for creepy coworkers and lecherous neighbors. But to many of them, this ravenous violence was a foreign interaction, a reason to call police, run away, tell every woman I knew, do something drastic. Desperate measures.
For my thin friends, rape fantasies were an exception, the provenance of a particularly depraved kind of man. For me, they were the rule: so commonplace as to be routine. Around fat women, seemingly any man could be that particularly depraved kind.
More troubling were the reactions from thin acquaintances. A family friend and self-proclaimed feminist, upon hearing about this onslaught of fantasies, congratulated me. Isn’t it great to be wanted? And, more troublingly, there’s a lid for every pot. As if I had been disheartened about the selection of men who would take me. As if their violence were a sign of hope. As if it were just a misguided expression of attraction.
One friend asked why I hadn’t told anyone sooner. I was surprised by her question when the answer felt so plain. Like many women before me, when I share stories of harassment, catcalling, unwelcome advances, and violence, I am met with pushback. Unlike other women, that resistance comes as a question:
Who would want to rape you?
While thin women were free to talk about sexual assault as being somehow divorced from desire — rape is about power, not sex — I didn’t have that luxury. As a fat woman, my body was seen as inherently undesirable. Any sexual attention fat women receive is treated as a windfall worthy of congratulations, an erroneous impossibility, or an out-and-out lie. Fat women are expected to be grateful for any expressions that could be mistaken for want, including assault and harassment. We are exposed to an unvarnished kind of desire, its most violent self, because we are expected to hold and nurture whatever scraps of it we’re offered.
Sometimes, our harassment takes a more menacing turn, relying on reinforcing our rejection, rather than our assumed gratitude. A fat acquaintance recently told me that, at her workplace, men openly discussed who they would and wouldn’t sleep with. She often heard her own body used as a punchline — colossally undesirable, comically unwanted. “I just wanted to work,” she said. Even when we’re unwanted, harassment still finds us.
When fat women do muster the courage to come forward about our experiences with sexual assault, we’re significantly less likely to be believed about our experiences than our thinner counterparts. While thin women face dismal rates of prosecution and conviction for their sexual assaults, fat women are often dismissed out of hand — making it open season on our bodies. The cultural belief that fat women are unlovable, that fat bodies are undesirable, offers a warm Petri dish, a hospitable home for men’s bacterial desires to grow.
It took me years to disclose my own experiences. Because, like any woman, I knew that stepping forward would mean standard denials, scrutiny, dismissals. But for all our talk about sexual assault being an act of power, not desire, as a fat woman, I knew that those statements always came with caveats, asterisks, footnotes. I knew that my body was reliably withheld, an obvious exception to the rule.
After all, who would want to rape us? We should be grateful.
Our national conversation about sexual assault and harassment has become an important flashpoint. Notably, it has been largely led by Hollywood actresses — the Jessica Albas, Salma Hayeks, and Rose McGowans known for their legendary beauty.
But in order to flourish, that conversation will have to hold space for women whose leadership we struggle to respect, whose bodies we struggle to embrace. Even those who, in our heart of hearts, we still expect to be grateful. Because if our feminism fails to acknowledge the humanity of 67% of us, who will that victory serve?