Sticks and stones might be bad – but being called Fat really did hurt me

Walking down the street today minding my own business, a middle-aged, White, estate car-driver reversed from the road onto his drive without looking, forcing me to dance out of his way to avoid being hit.  When I quite reasonably pointed out to him that he had nearly run me over, he responded in the time-honoured way of all bullies and bigots that I was a “Fucking fat, blind, stupid, Jewish bitch”.  I later mused via Twitter that he need only to have included something re: my sexual orientation and would have most of the major oppression bingo cards filled in one fell nasty swoop.

I’m not going to lie and say that his words didn’t hurt. They did hurt and I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears over the altercation.  I may or may not have said that while I may be all of those things, laser eye surgery and a diet could sort out any of my issues, but he would always and forever be seen next Tuesday…

But now slightly calmer and more reflective, I’m pondering on what of his words hurt and, more crucially, why.  Stupid? Well, I know that’s not true and intelligence is just one aspect of someone’s personality.  Blind? Well, yes, I do wear glasses but he was the one who wasn’t looking where he was going.  Jewish? Ok, so there are always anti-Semitic idiots around.  Fat? Now, stop right there, there’s the sucker punch.  The one that subsequently made me pull down my tunic top and clutch my coat around me all day, trying to hide my body away from view.

Fat. Such a loaded word and that – despite my avid reading of the late, lamented Shapely Prose blog – has the power to deeply wound.  Regardless of my actual body size, this man deliberately chose to use words which were genderised and intersectional – women are supposed to conform to a narrowly impossible form of beauty – White, mostly blonde, hairless, thin (but not too thin anorexia girl!) with curves only in the prescribed places.

Any deviation from that “norm” – set by corporations whose very profitability rests on persuading women that we are to be “perfected” at all and every cost, and cemented by the MSM through airbrushing and erasure – leaves women open to easy attack.

Even the most Feminist of women, which I am striving to be, have to actively gird their loins against internalising the disdain espoused towards with women with the wrong type of hair or for just being a woman with a body in politics.  And it is that mundane, everyday, profit-led sexism that builds up to the extent that when one sad man with some vicious words came up against me, my ferociousness fell entirely flat.

Susie Orbach is sadly more right than ever when she says that fat is not just a Feminist issue, but also feeds into other forms of class and race-based oppression. Corporations don’t care whether they make people feel insecure about their natural, beautiful bodies, corporations care about money and keeping us powerless for the empowered to exploit.  I’m not sure what the answer is – it could be banning very underweight models and marking airbrushed images in magazines, it definitely is ignoring the Daily Fail’s website and is certainly about supporting projects helping young girls build their self-esteem away from notions of prettiness and thinness.

Until women can live their lives freely in bodies that are prized– first and foremost – for their utility and pleasure that they bring rather than as an adornment to be admired by other people – then we’re weakened.  Today, that was brought home to me with a bang.  Tomorrow, I’m going to a kick-boxing class.


The problem with Diane Abbott’s divide and rule in Hackney North

.Earlier this week, Diane Abbott MP tweeted the following:Trayvon Martin’s death – an unarmed young Florida man shot by, at least, an overzealous and, at worst, viciously racist, neighbourhood watch vigilante – is tragic, not least for the lack of justice in thoroughly investigating the attacker.  A situation which has played out time and time again in cases of young Black men bludgeoned, stabbed or shot without reason or due investigation. Just this week another case came to light with police failing to face criminal charges despite clear evidence of violent racist abuse.

But here’s the rub.  For the mothers in the Jewish community who make up c.10% of the entire Borough of Hackney, but who virtually all live in Abbott’s North Hackney constituency, their worst nightmare is likely to be something rather different.  Something more like having their children shot in the head by an extremist on their way to school perhaps.  The reason why the much maligned Community Security Trust exists.  The reason why Jewish schools and synagogues hide behind razor wire and concrete bollards.

So where was Diane’s Town Hall vigil or Tweet for Myriam, Gabriel and Arieh to mark their tragic deaths, and to protest against a different type of extremism?  Absolutely nowhere to be found.  Despite the countless Jewish schools on her very doorstep.

Diane Abbott has form when it comes parenthood.   Famously claiming that West Indian mums will go to their wall for their children.  (As compared to Jewish, Indian and Chinese mothers then Diane?  I’d certainly pay to watch that fight.)  Nonetheless, it’s utterly understandable that she would identify more with something that could happen to her own son.  The problem is that Diane Abbott is elected and paid to identify with and represent every member of her constituency.  Her constituency is incredibly diverse but she only emotionally engages with her community.

This zeal and passion for her Black constituents led to the racist tweet imbroglio. Her personal is also her political, which is why she runs admirable initiatives regarding the underachievement of Black children in education, but her Jewish constituents have long not had adequate representation in terms of their needs.

When politicians go paddling in the murky waters of identifying with and prioritising one community and not another on their very doorstep – it is simply deeply divisive. Just see the communalist political games behind the election of George Galloway to Bradford West amid dog-whistling galore this week.  And this is true whether the rationale behind this is a deep personal emotional engagement with one group of their constituents or whether it’s for reasons of cynical political manipulation à  la Gorgeous George. So even if it’s the former, Diane Abbott has signalled to the Jewish community that she doesn’t engage with their nightmare, as her nightmare is something else entirely.

Perhaps in more buoyant boom days, causing communal divisions wouldn’t be such a problem.  But, thanks to the Coalition and its ideologically-driven cuts agenda, the prospect of civil unrest looms menacingly on the horizon.  Politicians who horse-trade in the politics of identity – either intentionally or no – undermine the fabric of London life.  Helping to divide Londoners into communal groups, makes it far more likely that Hackney North turns into Crown Heights rather than a community in which all feel equally represented and understood.  Time and time again, from the South African anti-Apartheid movement to the recent immigration rights campaigns in the US, successful progressive movements have mobilised across potential lines of division to bring about political change, but in London we seem to be going backwards; ironically led from the Left-wing.

London is a crowded, wonderful, frustrating, inspiring city with all of us trying to rub along without trying to rub each other up the wrong way.  Supposedly progressive politicians then, who are the first to cite and decry Britain’s colonialist divide and rule tactics in theory, should be the last to bring them onto London’s streets in practice, even if just through sheer emotional carelessness.