by Ashleigh Shackelford
I was raped when I was 18 by a man who subsequently told me that I should feel grateful that anyone would want to touch me. “You should feel so lucky, you fat bitch,” he said. I never told anyone because why would anyone believe that a fat Black girl like me could be assaulted, when my own attacker made sure to mention that I was fortunate to even be considered for such violence. My attacker made sure to remind me that rape is a badge of honor that only worthy women can wear and that I was lucky to be chosen.
In a recent interview with New York radio station Power 105.1’s “The Breakfast Club”, Damon Wayans went on a misogynistic rant in defense of Bill Cosby. In his rant, Wayans said that many of Bill Cosby’s accusers were seeking money and exploitation of Cosby’s career. Wayans was relentless in his attempt to invalidate their claims of rape and sexual assault regardless of the fact that over 45 women have come forward with frighteningly similar accounts of their trauma. He even went on to say, “Some of them, really, is unrapeable. I look at them and go, ‘No, he don’t want that. Get outta here!’”
Rape—to my attacker, to our society, and to people like Damon Wayans—equals worthiness; a violent, misogynistic compliment we should appreciate in silence.
Rape culture is so prevalent within our society that many people believe that “beautiful” women should expect to get raped or assaulted, and that “ugly” women, if they’re “lucky” enough to be raped, should be grateful for the attention.
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When Wayans says that certain women aren’t beautiful enough to be raped, it reinforces the idea that rape is a wanted form of attention. This misogynistic line of thinking leads to the belief that rape is a gift, only given to those seen as “worthy.” This violent grading of worthiness and beauty is based in racist, sizeist, ableist, misogynistic, heteronormative expectations created through white supremacist patriarchy. This violent practice and cultural norm of regarding some of us “unworthy” of even being assaulted ultimately makes it much harder to give affirmation and support to victims who do not fit these standards of beauty, who are assaulted every day.
Popular culture and media forms reinforce the standards of beauty to be whiteness, thinness, cisgender identity, heteronormative sexuality, and having an able body. Anyone else who does not fit within these identities has deviated from these unrealistic expectations and is subject to be seen as “ugly” and therefore unrapeable according to our society and folks like Damon Wayans. If the face of victimhood for sexual assault is a thin, white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, what does that mean for everyone else? What does that mean for transwomen? What does that mean for fat folks? What does that mean for gender nonconforming folks, men, and children? What does that mean for people of color? What does that mean for folks who identity as queer? What does that mean for people with disabilities? What does that mean for folks who identify with more than one of these identities?
The problem is that Damon Wayans is not the only person who believes there are certain women (and people) who are unrapeable. The idea of ‘unrapeability’ exists within our personal lives and within the existence (or lack thereof) of resources for sexual assault victims. Society has codified my body, my skin, my sexuality, and my gender as less than worthy, so when I was assaulted, there was nowhere for me to feel safe or validated. This reality made it harder to open up to people around me for fear that they wouldn’t believe me. When everything around you reaffirms your dehumanization, you start to succumb to invalidating your own assault and your own worthiness.
I am always a survivor, but I am never seen as a victim. It’s the premise that ugly people should be grateful for sexual assault that allows “ugly” victims like me to be stripped of sympathy because people cannot imagine us as being worthy enough of victimhood. But anyone can be a victim. To assume that there is any beauty, respectability, or body type requirement for assault is to say certain people aren’t worthy of living unless we fit a standard that makes us “worthy” enough for someone else’s targeted violence. There are millions of us who will never be heard, never be supported, never be affirmed, and never be believed. We shouldn’t be forced to only undertake the identity of ‘survivor’ and not ‘victim’ because society will not give us the space to talk about our trauma, to exist and hurt within our trauma, and to be acknowledged that our assaults happened. Fat Black girls like me who are seen as undesirable shouldn’t have to prove we are human first before we can prove our suffering is real.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a radical queer Black fat femme writer who resides in Baltimore, MD. Ashleigh is a hood feminist, pop-culture enthusiast, a community organizer, and the founder of a body positivity organization Free Figure Revolution. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in African American Studies at Morgan State University.
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