- Fat. Boyfriend told me that I shouldn’t order that peace of cheesecake because I was fat (5″6, 7 stone 6lbs). I was used to him calling me fat, I’d always assumed it was his wry sense of humour because I so clearly wasn’t fat. His best friend’s wife overheard his comment and treated it as if it was genuine. She passionately told him off for being irresponsible, called me borderline anorexic and that I should be encouraged to eat rather than starve myself. He squirmed, he didn’t claim to be joking. I realised that he actually meant it. From that moment onwards I questioned my interpretation of his humour and began to see that he was a rather mean spirited person. It was the beginning of the end of our relationship.
- Stupid. I asked my ‘A’ level maths teacher for help interpreting an applied maths question. I showed him the diagram of forces acting on a ladder that I’d drawn to try and help. He pulled my workbook from me, held it up to the rest of the class (all male) and said “this is the type of diagram I’d expect from a female“. I was humiliated and really upset by this aggressive demeaning act from a teacher I’d asked for help. With unusual focus I said “If you make one more sexist remark I’m leaving because they’re not helping“. He replied with “Typical emotional outbust from a female“. I walked out of the class in tears. Later that evening my parents took me aside and told me that the headmaster had phoned them to tell them that I’d been upsetting my maths teacher and creating scenes. It was the moment that I realised that adult men in influential positions will construct situations to demean and disable women merely because they are women. Before then I’d been discriminated against but never in an overtly malicious manner. That no one stood-up to ask me what happened or defend me was also a big eye-opener. This one event lead to a series of follow-on significant events including my getting a grade A mathematics A level, and a science based PhD. Ironically it was my need to prove, to myself, that I wasn’t the stupid person that some influential people declared me to be.
Being called fat, and, or stupid doesn’t seem like a big deal. but it’s unhelpful and mean spirited.
Be helpful, not mean.