And They Say Chivalry Is Dead: That Time A Guy Called Me A “Fat Bitch” On Valentine’s Day

Now, as an "adult," I'm making my way towards an uneasy peace with Valentine's Day.

Feb 14, 2014 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

Valentine's Day comes around once a year and shines an incredibly unwelcome light onto the very issues you spend the rest of the year trying to avoid. It's a holiday I loved as a child ("Look how many Valentines I got!") and then abhorred as a moody and contrarian teenager ("It was invented by Hallmark! I'm painting my nails black!").
 
Now, as an "adult," I'm making my way towards an uneasy peace with Valentine's Day. It can be fun, but it can also cause a lot of unnecessary stress, no matter your romantic situation (or lack thereof).
 
There’s such an undue focus on romance that a tiny spark of an inkling of a feeling can become a huge explosion of emotion far too intense to handle. This is my hyperbolic way of saying that because feelings are so amplified during this season of overpriced chocolate and heart-shaped everything, things that happens on Valentine’s Day feel slightly more dramatic than they would at any other time. A fun example from my life is Valentine’s Day last year, when a man I didn’t know very memorably told me I was a “fat bitch.”
 
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I’m pretty sure this isn’t what this little bastard had in mind.

 
This time last year, I felt that I had managed to dodge all of that unnecessary pressure. A band my roommate really liked would be playing a show That Night, and the two of us decided to book tickets in advance and thus avoid stressing out about what we were doing on Valentine’s Day.
 
So when February 14th rolled around, we cheerfully set off for a little bar about a half-hour walk from our apartment, tickets in hand. The show was great. My roommate and I danced and drank whiskey and defeated the band at foosball, and it was a ton of fun. It wasn't until we left the bar to begin our long trek home that that pressure came back.
 
We had barely stepped outside when we were accosted by a group of 5 or 6 bros; big guys with ugly designer jackets and frighteningly over-gelled hair. Their overtures began in a way I'm sure they considered complimentary: "Hey, girls, wanna party, what are you up to, come hang with us," etc.
 
They were jovial in tone, but slightly aggressive in their approach, and none of it was appealing to us at all. We were enjoying ourselves and we didn’t feel any need to stop and talk to these somewhat intrusive strangers, so we let them know we weren’t interested and kept walking.
 
They persisted, though, and, as they walked behind us, their rhetoric started to get increasingly forceful -– fewer questions, more demands. We ignored them, walking a little faster, but they didn't stop following us.
 
Finally, I turned around and yelled at them to leave us alone. That's when they launched into a long, angry tirade; hurling insults, yelling almost incoherently. They spewed a lot of rude, ignorant shit at us, but the one phrase I remember most vividly was when one particularly charming member of their group looked me right in the eye and snarled, "You fat bitch!"
 
They left us alone after their prolonged ranting had ended, but at that point we were rattled. Our good mood from only minutes before was destroyed, replaced by rage, sadness, and a very familiar kind of frustration.
 
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Where’s the one that says “I H8 U”?

 
I can say pretty definitively that it doesn’t feel great to be called a fat bitch on a day we’re taught should be filled with declarations of love. (Number of times I’ve heard “I love you” from an unrequited crush on Valentine’s Day: zero. Number of times I’ve heard “you’re a fat bitch” from a stranger on Valentine’s Day: one.)
 
I could talk more about the hurtfulness of that jab, about my insecurities, about feeling especially vulnerable on the one day of the year we’re told to Be Open To The Possibility of Love. I won’t, though, because I don’t think that one guy is worth it.
 
Overall, my particular case is just one more dumb, tragicomic story for me to tell at parties. But I do think that it’s a pretty big problem that some men think it’s appropriate to verbally attack women for declining their advances. The fact that so many women have stories like mine is a problem. That street harassment is a fact of life for women is a problem.
 
I know some really great men, men who are smart and thoughtful and who would never dream of treating women with so little respect. But even when I’m talking to them, I’m not sure I know how to articulate exactly what this kind of harassment feels like, how vulnerable it makes me feel when some guy yells something out at me on the street.
 
Even when the words aren’t deliberately cruel, even when what’s being said is a “compliment,” it still serves to remind me that, as a woman, my body is on display -- and there are men who want me to know how they feel about it. The fact that “fat” or “ugly” constitute the most damning charge these men can level against a woman is very telling: they think the function of a woman is to be attractive, to be someone they want to have sex with.
 
When they call you ugly, they’re telling you that you’ve failed, that you serve no purpose they can understand.
 
I often find myself wondering what specific reaction these men expect. I feel secure in my assumption that no man screaming at passersby to suck his dick has ever had anyone take him up on it. I can’t imagine that very many men who slow down their cars to leer at nervous women waiting for the bus have gotten much romantic success that way. So I don’t really know what it is they’re looking for. But I do know the effect they have on me: I get scared. I feel degraded and powerless.
 
I don't think it's overly defensive to imagine that some people reading this will believe that my roommate and I brought it on ourselves that night by not being more sympathetic to these guys, more receptive to their initial advances. Maybe some people think that had we been nicer, it wouldn't have happened.
 
But this kind of experience is exactly why women are reluctant to give strange men the benefit of the doubt, why we do sometimes blow off perfectly nice strangers who just want directions -- especially if we're alone, especially if it's at night.
 
Once when I was walking home alone, I ignored some drunk guy’s repeated attempts to get my attention, and when I walked by him, he spit on me. As you can imagine, this obviously made me regret not stopping to talk to him, as he was clearly quite the charmer.
 
And as much as I would love to believe that this was just one deranged lunatic, I’ve seen this kind of behavior enough to know that this kind of thing truly does happen all the time.
 
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So I don’t think we should stop talking about street harassment. I want to talk more often, and more loudly, about how thoroughly disappointing it is when men feel so entitled to women's bodies that they think it’s okay to say these kinds of things.
 
I had no idea what to respond to the “fat bitch” guy at the time, but I've thought about it a lot since then. I've come to the conclusion that although I would prefer to avoid any man who would call a woman a fat bitch, there must be a special place in hell reserved for the kind of person who has so little capacity for love that he's out with his bros hurling abuse at strangers on Valentine's Day.