Fat girl rodeo is a game which I had not heard of until this week, and I wish I hadn’t heard of it at all.
The “game,” I’ve learned, is played like this: you either grab “fat” woman in a club, and hang on to her yelling “yee-hah”, until they throw you off, or you dance up close to them, “acting nice,” aka pretending to be a normal human being, then whisper that they are “a minger”, and try to hang on for as long as you can. There is apparently a variety of this “game” which involves telling a girl or woman you are going to rape her, and then, yes, you guessed right, hanging on to her for as long as you can.
It rang a bit false to me, naive fool that I obviously am, that so many people can grow into adulthood, be smart enough to get into university, and still play childish games like this. There are jelly-and-ice-cream parties with toddler guests who’d find ‘fat girl rodeo’ boring and infantile.
So I asked a few of my token “lad” acquaintances about it. (Yeah, some of my best friends are misogynist idiots, etc.) The first response I got?
“Haha! I’ve never heard of that, but it’s actually pretty fucking awesome.”
One tried to explain: “But it’s just a laugh. Probably you’re going to be all feminist about it (Yes. Yes I am) but it’s just a bit of fun, like.”
And one insisted: “They love it. They do. They love it. It’s attention. They like it.”
Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me. Harassment of fat women is common. The worst kind of objectification is often directed at overweight bodies. And the more you dehumanise a group of people, the more society develops an entitled attitude towards that group – and whether that manifests itself as an entitlement to judge the body itself, judge the person’s lifestyle, or as harassment, it’s all part of the same picture.
The blogger Big Liberty has been documenting the abuse that overweight people get, in a very similar way to Laura Bates’ successful Everyday Sexism project. These stories should be shocking, but they’re not. They all sound familiar to me. To give just one example: I remember, years ago, a group of guys I used to work with, on a work night out, discussing how they liked to sleep with the “fattest, skankiest bird they could find in the club” which apparently gets them some kind of respect from each other (yeah, I don’t know either). “Banter shags,” they call it. Others call it 'pull a pig'. When I suggested that this game wasn’t really that cool, one of my then-colleagues said: “The birds love it though. To be fair, loads of absolute mingers must have got a lot of shags out of blokes doing that. It’s really good for them, as well.” Then they laughed at those women for being “slags.”
They might be a minority but the problem is, they don’t think they are. They’re egged on by a bullying media, obsessed with shaming overweight people. The standard knee-jerk excuse for fat-hatred – that it’s a matter of poor health - is a non-starter. Concern about someone’s health doesn’t and shouldn’t manifest itself as hatred. And it’s nowhere near as socially acceptable to humiliate smokers, drinkers, drug-users, extreme sports enthusiasts, coffee drinkers, over-workers, crash diet fads, or dangerous motorists.
The wink-and-a-nod banter culture tells the minority of self-entitled bullies, like, for instance, the male (former) friend of mine - incidentally, no oil portrait himself – who argued with me, relentlessly, for years after I dated a size sixteen woman, insisting that she was unattractive, and I was wrong to disagree, and I shouldn’t have gone out with her. Because, to him, these things are not subjective, and everyone, deep down, thinks like he does.
You might roll your eyes and say that these people are just idiots, and we should ignore them. It’s tempting. But these are educated, respected, professional adults we’re talking about. They have careers, and some of them hold positions of authority in their various workplaces. I can never forget how well-respected and popular the “banter shag” lads I used to work with were. Some of them even had wives at home. Some of them are fathers, who raise daughters.
These “games” are not a good measure of what most people think is acceptable behaviour but they are a good measure of the psychology of sexism. Games like these prove what feminists have been long known: that sexual harassment is often about power and humiliation, not sex. Not only do the people who play these games make it clear they don’t find the women they harass and assault attractive, but they make it clear that this is, in fact, it’s the entire point of the game.
And games like the “banter shags” game – and there are many such games, I’m told – draws necessary attention to the genuine belief that it’s perfectly normal to see sex as something degrading that they do to women, instead of something two people who to do together.
So sorry to keep coming back to this pesky feminism business, but that whole mess of moral nonsense is part of what feminists call rape culture. It’s the ugly razor edge of the logic that men chase, and women either give or withhold. It comes from an inability to differentiate between objectification – which is, whether sexual or not, inherently about dehumanisation - and desire. If you think there is no difference between degrading someone and fucking them, then it isn’t hard to see how you also struggle to grasp the difference between coercion and seduction, or between enjoying sex and assaulting people.
Perhaps the worst thing about this nasty culture is the way it pretends to be liberated, fun, and sex positive. Don’t be fooled. If you think having sex with a woman means you’re doing something degrading to her, then you are the one who has an unhealthy, sex negative attitude, not me. And if you don’t like the idea of people assuming you’d find this type of “game” funny, then take it up with the lads in your life, next time they mouth off about their hilarious banter. Being quiet and rolling our eyes isn’t enough: unless they’re clearly shown otherwise, people like this will carry on kidding themselves that the rest of us all reckon they are, like, total legends.