Those two choice words…

Fat.  Ugly.

There you have it.  Those are two words that men can use to silence and shame women.  Most men would not use those insults against a woman – especially not a woman who’s their partner!  But some men, in particular abusive men, do chose to call women, sometimes even their wife or girlfriend these words. Men know that a woman’s self-worth is often linked to her appearance and some men use this knowledge to insult women where it hurts the most.

Or so they think.  Certainly not all women would be offended, especially if they were to be called fat or ugly by a man they don’t know.  But I think most women, maybe all, would experience some negative feelings if their partner called them that.  It’s insulting, degrading and it’s a betrayal.  I mean if someone loves you then why would they say that?  I thought my boyfriend thinks I’m beautiful?  What happened?! What went wrong?

I know I would be hurt, betrayed and confused if my husband said that to me!  Fortunately I am married to a marshmallow of a sweetheart and he would never intentionally hurt me.  But if I hadn’t been so lucky… It would hurt to be called fat or ugly by someone I love.  And even if some random guy in a jerk moment told me I was either of those things, it would hurt.  I could laugh it off and intellectually know that he’s saying that because he thinks it’ll hurt me a lot not because it’s true.  Still.  I may catch myself later looking in the mirror, picking apart my appearance and wondering.  It sucks.  I don’t want to be that way but just telling myself ‘who cares?’ is not enough to erase years of conditioning that being beautiful is the most important thing I can be.

At the same point and since I’m not with an abusive guy, it can be funny to me.  I mean not the women being hurt part that’s not funny.  I mean the overuse of such a simple insult can seem absurd.  When I hear about a guy saying that it’s just like, seriously, did you learn that in asshole 101?  It’s not that I think men should insult women but isn’t that like what every guy in a jerk moment ever has said?  Gosh, you are demeaning and not even good at it!  I mean fat and ugly?  That’s so not original.  It’s child’s play.

Of course that whole last paragraph is just me being snarky.  I’m angry and exasperated by the childish yet hurtful and dangerous ways some men treat women.  And as a result I sometimes act childishly in retort.  But that’s not gonna change anything and at heart, I don’t believe in disrespecting others no matter what and so I try not to engage in that behavior.  More on that another time.

But let’s go back to the fact that abusive behavior is childish. That’s a big part of the problem.  Abusive behavior is incredibly immature but you can’t dismiss it just as child’s play.  Which is why I’m not just ending this post here.  Because as silly and absurd as it can be to experience or witness an abusive man’s temper tantrums, it is also abusive, disempowering and traumatizing.

It’s disempowering because men on a societal level continue to have power over women.  It’s sad to say that in 2013 but it’s also not surprising.  I mean it wasn’t that long ago that women were property and not just 100 years ago, we couldn’t vote.  Shit like that takes time to change.  The cultural shift is still in progress.

I once read that women should just act like it doesn’t bother us to be called fat and ugly.  And I mean that makes sense, it’s not like a lot of these guys are saying that shit for any reason except to hurt.  My beautiful and thin friend was once called a fat, ugly b- by a jerk in a bar because she tried to stick up to him (aka take her power back).  Furthermore, it shouldn’t be an insult to be fat or “ugly” (by conventional standards) but try telling that to me on a bad day when all my life I’ve repeatedly been told, directly and indirectly, that being pretty is so important.  The fact is, we can say this doesn’t bother us but it is hurtful to be called that, especially by a partner and even if we know it’s only a cheap shot to make us feel bad.  And the other fact is if ugly and fat no longer bother us, other insults and domineering tactics will replace them.  Until the power between women and men is balanced and equal, some men, especially abusive men, will find other ways to hurt us.

What I’m trying to say is laughing off an insult like that doesn’t get to the root of the problem.  It puts out a small fire only to have another one lit.  The real issue is bridging the gender gap and ending oppressions of all forms.  And maybe laughing off insults is part of that.  But to suggest laughing off an insult without acknowledging the full scope of sexism and that degrading a woman’s appearance is just one symptom of a misogynistic culture undermines what we are setting out to do, which is to continue creating a cultural shift.  It’s not so much about what the words fat and ugly mean as it is about what they mean to do, their intent.  And until the culture changes and until violence against women is not at all a social norm, there will always be things like fat and ugly that men can hold over us.

Ellison Sau, Project Manager for the Men Again...

Ellison Sau, Project Manager for the Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) program at Live and Learn, holding a ‘Stop! Violence against women!’ sign (Photo credit: DFAT photo library)

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2 Responses to Those two choice words…

  1. Pingback: Sticks, Stones, and Ugly Words | janetkwest

  2. Pingback: Bill Maher and Scary Words | Izzy In a Tizzy

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