Top tips to avoid body-shaming: A guide for those socially impaired by masculinity

Image: Stop Street Harassment

I’ve had more than my fair share of unsolicited comments from fellow cyclists over the years, and they have one thing in common: They all come from men.

In 2014, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that makes my nervous system send and receive messages improperly, making me tired after activities most people don’t find taxing. One of these activities is commuting long distances, which didn’t become a problem until I decided to go back to university in the middle of a transit-barren zone in North Vancouver, B.C.

13594663575_1c4ecca290_oAfter several semesters braving a four-hour daily bus ride, my husband and I came up with a last-ditch effort to prevent me from dropping out: an electric bike. What little money we had after paying tuition in the spring paid for my pedal-assist bicycle, which runs on a rechargeable battery and reduces the amount of effort needed to go up large hills. It was a life-saver, allowing me to do things like attend mandatory classes, get to work, and pick up groceries without spending the following two days in a zombie-like brain fog.

Several days ago I was on my bike, travelling to pick up vegetables from a farm-share program when I was passed by a man in his 50s, wearing a fluorescent-yellow cycling get-up that I can only imagine cost more than my entire university degree to date. He was the embodiment of what Donald Trump would look like if he enrolled himself in the Tour de France.SEXIST COMMENTS

“The motor on the back of your bike explains the fat ass!” he shouted as he whizzed by (the fact that I actually have a fairly average-sized behind, and the fact that CFS renders my relationship with exercise rocky at best is entirely beside the point).

I processed this comment as many women do when they’re faced with street harassment, imagining how I would respond if the cowardly bastard had the balls to stick around for more than a millisecond afterward. After several days of grueling thought, I’ve decided that, since it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll ever implement a one-strike system where we send street-harassers to the Gobi Desert to bestow their vitriolic wisdom on the Bactrian camels (we can dream), it’s best if we treat male entitlement as a severe cognitive impairment that requires a simple system to determine whether one has the right to make comments about the bodies one sees.pfdtz

I think I’ve come up with a decent strategy. After many years working with a population with varying levels of social challenges, I got pretty good at responding to comments like, “Hi, Jess. Your hair looks terrible,” and “Your breath stinks today,” with a simple checklist outlining how not to be rude next time. Most people find there’s a split second between having a thought, and having that thought come out of your mouth. If you’re socially impaired by masculinity, here’s what you should ask yourself in that moment to figure out whether or not you may comment on a body:

1) Is it your body?

2) Are you a medical professional who is paid to keep that particular bodyhealthy?

1882_Punch_MagazineIf you answered no to both those questions, you don’t have the right to comment on that body, no matter how successfully your upbringing and socialization convinced you that every word you say is like golden shit falling out the ass of a magical unicorn.

What about “freedom of speech” you say? Well, for those socially impaired by masculinity, the step after simple education is meaningful consequences, so the next time I catch neon-dude on the trails exercising his “freedom of speech” rather than his quads, I’m going to practice my freedom to mow him down on my electric bike.

Jess MartinJESS MARTIN IS A PUBLIC RELATIONS PROFESSIONAL, AN ASPIRING WRITER, AND AN ASSISTANT EDITOR AT FEMINIST CURRENT. SHE PREFERS TO WRITE ABOUT FEMINIST TOPICS, DISABILITY, OR ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES, BUT COULD BE PERSUADED TO BROADEN HER HORIZONS IN EXCHANGE FOR PAYMENT AND/OR FOOD. IN HER SPARE TIME JESS CAN BE FOUND KNITTING, GARDENING, OR LYING IN THE FETAL POSITION, MULLING OVER POLITICAL THEORY THAT NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND CARES ABOUT. FOLLOW HER @JLYNNMARTIN.remember

2 thoughts on “Top tips to avoid body-shaming: A guide for those socially impaired by masculinity”

  1. from tehallie via /r/Feminism sent 12 days ago
    Ok, hang on here. There’s a few issues I have with this piece. Just for clarity, I’m a lady, and have been a cyclist for pretty much my entire life.
    To provide a possible context for the ebike incident: In recent years, e-bikes have become a SERIOUS problem for the cycling community at large. They’ve been around in one form or another for years, but nowadays they’re closer to motorcycles than pedal cycles. The motors are now powerful enough to easily and consistently reach automotive speeds and the batteries ensure they can maintain those speeds, but there’s few requirements (insurance, drivers license, etc) that they be treated like a motorized vehicle. Since they’re now more affordable, there’s been an increase in people who don’t want to pay for the upkeep of a motorcycle or car, are “too posh to pedal”, don’t obey the accepted cycling rules of the road, and are being a danger to themselves or others because of that. We’re talking people zipping along at 20+ MPH in a crowded city bike lane, popping up on a sidewalks, weaving in and out of traffic, etc. Yes, normal pedal cyclists sometimes do this, but generally we don’t do it at 20+ MPH. Since lots of the ebikes look like normal bikes at a quick glance, regular pedal cyclists catch the heat for the ebikes bad behavior. Not excusing the guy’s bad behavior (sounds like a massive dick), but I’ve noticed a LOT of bad behavior from ebike folks when I’m out riding.

  2. One of the reasons so few people take these cries of sexism seriously is because arguments like this are so transparent in their hypocritical sexism. You make yourself a clear target by shamelessly flaunting your own bigotry – essentialising gender, demeaning demographic constituencies with blanket analyses, and passing judgement on others without allowing for the same nuance of understanding that you unconditionally demand for yourself.

    While feminism has driven important social progress by holding up a mirror to masculinity, it will ultimately founder unless it finds the courage to turn that mirror back upon itself. Perhaps you should do the same – worry about fixing your own problems before opening your fat dumb mouth to tell the world what it’s doing wrong without first having truly and honestly confirmed that you are in the right…

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