accessibility · body image · cycling · Fear · fitness

Sam gets told “Get off the road fat bitch” and mostly feels sad and confused

It had been one of those days.

My university age son, home for the summer, has a summer job that has his alarm go off at 5 am. I get up with him and mostly that’s great for my summer schedule.

He rides his bike to work and packs his lunch. It’s a physically demanding job and there’s no food there.

Except this day he got part way to work and remembered that his lunch was on the kitchen counter. Return home, retrieve lunch. Then he got back on his bike but his chain fell off and it wouldn’t go back on. This time I just drove him.

I got to work later on my bike and remembered that I was almost out of Synthroid. I had thyroid cancer a few years back and take Synthroid everyday now. That’s okay, I think, the pharmacy is open until 6 and the last thing on my calendar ends at 4 and I can bike there.

Except it was one of those days. I checked the pharmacy hours. They close at 5 on Fridays and they’re not open all weekend. I checked my calendar and the last thing ended at 430. Yikes.

Needless to say it was a speedy bike ride through traffic. But I made it. Whee! Zoom! Yay! I left the pharmacist feeling fit and powerful.

But leaving the pharmacy there’s a four way stop. I’m great at four way stops. I don’t go straight through. I stop and wait and take my turn. I make eye contact with drivers. That’s easier at four way stops than it is at intersections with lights, less time for phone checking.

So two cars go and it’s my turn and the driver next up at the sign on the other corner signals for me to go. Nice. Clear communication! Except the guy in the oversized pick up truck behind him (why is it an oversized pick up truck every time?) starts honking. “Don’t wait for her! Go! Go!”

Nice guy waits anyway and I proceed through the four way stop. Next through is angry pick up man who continues honking, roars out of the intersection and yells some variant of”Get off the road fat bitch” at me. It’s always “fat bitch.” Okay, you can tell I’m fat but how do you know I’m a bitch, I wonder. I’m on a bike. Even though I’m smiling, I guess that’s enough to merit the bitch badge.

I’ve written about this before, this abuse hurled at cyclists, especially women, maybe especially larger women. I’m genuinely sad and puzzled.

I’m sad and puzzled a lot these days as I struggle to understand the world around me and our collective political choices. Things seem so mean and small minded. I understand wanting less government and a balanced budget. I don’t understand the right wing populist politics that’s around these days with its not so thinly veiled racism and transphobia. The anti-immigration stuff makes zero sense to me.

I try to get inside his head, the guy who bought the large pick up truck and is now driving through a neighbourhood full of speed bumps and four way stops. What’s his world like?

I also want to defend myself. I’m exercising. Surely that counts? Surely even if you think I’m awful to look at because fat, I’m out there exercising and that’s better than sitting at home or driving a car?

But I stop myself. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I deserve respect as a person. I don’t need to be a person exercising to merit non-abusive treatment.

Friends joke about making the small penis hand sign at him.

But the thing is I’ve always thought that was unfair and body shaming to men with small penises. I’ve got a thing about treating men’s bodies with respect too.

May 27 was Bike to Work Day here in Guelph and June is Bike Month. I’m pretty immune to drivers hurling abuse at me but I tried imagining if the insult did get beneath my skin what that would feel like. What would it feel like to be new to bike commuting? When the angry aggressor is driving a large heavy metal box that can go fast and hit hard, and you’re a woman who has been hit hard and yelled at by men before (that would be most of us) it’s especially frightening.

In the end I land on the usual line of “some people are just jerks”and move on. I’m angry though that male jerks in particular feel free to comment on women’s bodies and yell at us from their vehicles. Mostly though in sad and puzzled. And I think we need a signal for toxic masculinity that doesn’t rely on body shaming.

15 thoughts on “Sam gets told “Get off the road fat bitch” and mostly feels sad and confused

  1. What do I think? I think you’re a better person that I am. I’d still be seething. Like you, I often despair of the world around me and struggle to think what I can do to make it a better place for my kids.
    As a middle-aged woman, who has become larger post-menopause, I struggle with accepting myself as I am and mourning the physical person I once was. In instances like you experienced, I try to remind myself to “consider the source.” My rationale behind that is that I shouldn’t really care what some random guy who feels some source of power from critiquing my appearance thinks. It doesn’t mean that the comment doesn’t sting though.

  2. If I say he’s a dick, am I contributing to male body-shaming? 😉

    In situations like these I can have the internal intellectual response (which you have aptly described above), right alongside the emotion-based heart response, which is both less generous and more focused on my own needs. Women have a right to move through space without abuse. Fat women, included. Fattism is so deeply entrenched, folks really do believe they can correctly conclude all sorts of things based solely on the sizes of our bodies in any particular moment. I find it deeply frustrating, and it makes me angry. I’m sorry you have to deal with this bullshit.

    1. I giggle everytime I see these big trucks with loud engines and guys with even louder mouths. We call these trucks “compensators” Tiny man, tiny brain ( narrow minded anyhow) and even tinier penises. But their words hurt and I shouldn’t judge their choice of vehicle. They make me sad.

      1. As a guy who drives a small car and has a small penis (2.5 inches; or is that tiny?) I cringe when I hear people use having a small penis as an insult. Not as much as I used to, though – after all, it’s just a little prick.

  3. The proper comment for such a person is a raised middle finger 🖕. Unfortunately, that’s also the wrong thing to do given his already engaged road rage. I get angry, not hurt. It took me a long time to accept myself. I will not let some a**h*** take it away from me.
    Time to remember how fabulous you are, all of you!

  4. My take is that if we do all we can to let it be his problem, not ours, we take away any power he might otherwise have. I often find myself thinking about the purple cow (I never saw a purple cow; I never hope to see one; But I can tell you anyhow; I’d rather see than be one!). What he did really stinks. Throwing around personal insults, acting threatening while driving one of the more effective weapons in our world. But I think a reaction too often makes someone like that think triumphantly that he has reached his target. So if I allowed him to know I’d even noticed him, I’d just smile and wave.

    None of this has to do with a reaction to maintain physical safety. If someone like that starts veering towards me, I’ll just get out of the way. If I have the time and presence of mind to get a license number, I’ll report it. But I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. I think what we really want is to take away his satisfaction, and I truly believe that simply not letting it work for him is the most effective response.

    1. Further comment: I talked to a friend earlier today & mentioned this. He (a tall, skinny man) had no trouble recognizing the feeling. [Sometimes I think men are even harder (though in a different way) to other guys than they are to us. But that was not what he was suggesting, just a thought that crossed my mind.] He mentioned something his older brother used to tell him when he tried to change the flow by responding with anger – however righteous: It’s like fighting a pig; you both get dirty, but the pig’s having a good time.

      That just reinforced my idea: don’t give the jerk the satisfaction of a response. Let it be his problem, not yours. Or blow him the kiss, as Kim Solga suggests!

  5. What do I think? I think that this person was unkind and his actions were hurtful. And as anyone would be, you were hurt. I’m sorry this happened to you. ❤️

  6. I had a summer where that comment, screamed at me at a dicey intersection, had me taking the bus for the final weeks of a program. I normally shrug it off, but the combo of the anxiety of a new traffic pattern and just rage of cars that don’t want to wait at a light we’re to much for me. Abuse is really rough and really triggering and I’m sorry you were treated poorly.

  7. Sam this just sucks. And that sense of puzzled, the “why why why” is maddening also, because we know the answer and don’t like it. Some men (many men? Most men?) think we are on this planet to serve them and they deserve that. They think they deserve us making ourselves small and getting out of the way. I don’t know how to change that. It’s despairing.

  8. Sending you a huge loving squeeze. You know all the layers of why this particular form of toxic masculinity… but it still makes it a startling, evil shock that hurts. I’m sorry this happened. x

  9. I am sorry this happened too you and that it happens at all. I am a work in progress with regards to how I feel about my body and a comment like this, thrown in my direction, probably would have had me angry, sad and upset for some time. I worry too much about what others think and it was my New Years resolution to work on not worrying so much about what others think. When stuff like this happens I try to remind myself that sometimes what people say is more about how they feel about their life. It must be horrible to go through life with such negative, horrible thoughts.

  10. Oh, if I could count the road rage incidents…

    It also makes me sad. It brings out deep inner hurts. And like you, Sam, I find myself reflecting in these moments on how cruel we always are to one another.

    For me, the solution here is bigger than all of us, but also partly our fight: to change the way roads are recognized by different users. Here in my community, once cyclists are up out of the city and in the farming communities on the Niagara Escarpment, road users become more aggressive; they perceive the roads to be *for them*, for cars, trucks for sure, and (VERY occasionally) horses (spot the irony). They see us as taking up THEIR space, not sharing OUR COLLECTIVE space. Even in the city, lots of roads send that message: lots of lanes for cars, poor shoulders, badly maintained bike lines… it’s no surprise motorists think we are in their way. The text of the road tells them so.

    Cycling advocacy can get us a certain distance here, but until we get all road users working together to advocate for properly shared roadways, and to recognize roads as human spaces, not car spaces, we’ll be battling the shamers and ragers.

    My solution, btw, is usually to blow the rager a kiss. That often surprises and confuses them!

  11. Keep on keeping on, Sam. The example you set is the best way to respond to the rude and ignorant. Besides, you’ll have the last laugh because you’ll outlive them!

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