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28 August 2013updated 05 Oct 2023 8:31am

What it’s like to be an ugly feminist

I have been told I am “too ugly to rape” and “too fat to live”. We must remember to take into account those of us for whom the very lack of objectification is used as a weapon against us.

By Emma Burnell

I no longer wear my “This is what a feminist looks like t-shirt”.

Not because I am no longer a feminist, nor because I no longer admire the work of the Fawcett Society – both could not be further from the truth. I don’t wear it, because I sense that women who look like me are not in on the ironic statement the t-shirt is there to make. When I wear it, I know that I am reinforcing every stereotype that certain sections of society have of those of us who are proudly feminist. They don’t see the woman, the mind, the message. They see the fat and the ugly and assume the rest. I look precisely what these warped people believe all feminists to look like, and by advertising myself as such I fear I will inadvertently give credence to their warped world view.

Feminism is having an incredible renaissance at the moment. Caroline Criado-Perez’s successful campaign to ensure female role models remain on our currency has been the most visible example of this. But other excellent campaigns such as No More Page 3 and the Everyday Sexism project have highlighted issues of concern to women and the men who support them in a way that feels fresh, innovative and lively.

Alongside this resurgence has been the debate about representation that follows any campaign focused on a single aspect of personhood. Intricate and important debates about intersectionality and ensuring that feminism represents the whole spectrum of women’s lives and experiences are important and real. Trans women, women of colour, working class and disabled women all need greater representation and debates on how we ensure this is achieved are important – even though they are sometimes held in ways that highlight the division of the feminist community – not the issues that unite us.

So I write this not as a criticism of any of these projects, but as an adjunct to them. While these projects highlight the incredible difficulty that women face not being seen beyond their worth as a sexual object – and thus there has been a natural focus on stories of such objectification – there is a different and no less oppressive and all pervasive sexism being faced by those of us who are not objectified.

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I have been told I am “too ugly to rape”, “too fat to live” that “no man would f**k that” all while walking the five minutes from my house to the bus stop.

I live with the knowledge (and daily experience) that my sexual worth will be commented on every day when I leave my house and that in the meat market of the outside world, I have been judged unwanted, lacking, unworthy. The awareness that part of my experience of everyday life will be to have my worst insecurities about my lack of looks and sexual attractiveness commented on in ways just as crude and shocking as those women who are being pestered for their very attractiveness affects my decision making, my confidence and my outlook.

If these brilliant campaigns are to truly succeed, they need to ensure they run the full gamut of the ways in which men are allowed in society to abuse a woman publicly. This cannot mean simply focusing on the stories of those who are being sexually objectified, but those for whom the very lack of objectification is being used as a weapon to keep us in our place.

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