“You’re punching above your weight.”
It came out of nowhere and at first I thought I’d misheard him.
He looked me straight in the eye. “You’re punching above your weight with your boyfriend.”
It was a horrible thing to say and I told him so. His final blow was swift.
“I’m sorry but it’s true.”
It was one of those perfect nights. Disco dancing, great wine, precious friends, and encounters with (mostly) wonderful people in a large town hall in the Adelaide Hills. We dressed up seventies style and ripped up the dance floor, happiness in our feet, and a smile on our dials. I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, returned to my mates’ warm embrace and forgot the stranger’s words.
They hit the next day when I was home alone, glitter removed, Monday looming.
I cried. A lot. It affected me more than I like to admit.
I don’t know who the guy was but his words ripped through years of carefully tended self-confidence with the ease of a hacksaw through lettuce. The weeks that followed were plagued with self-doubt. My confidence copped it. My darling boyfriend did, too. ‘Am I deserving of you? Why are you better than me? Why would a stranger say such a thing? Why did he feel the need to stomp on me like a bully would an ant?’ I was raised to believe we are all equal. It was confusing. A seesaw of destructive self-doubt and anger ensued. I wanted to choke him with his own scrotum. I wanted to find out who he was and name and shame him. Eventually the anger subsided and I felt sorry for him. What happened in his life to make him so mean? Mostly though, I felt sad. In the 12 weeks that have passed I’ve struggled to voice the cyclone of emotions. My words flow better on a page than they do in conversation. So here goes.
When something kicks you in the guts it’s important to explore why it hurts well after the bruises fade. Initially I reached out to friends, desperate for reassurance. They came up trumps, as good mates always do.
“That dick is a misogynist prick. That’s it, full stop.”
“The thing about that kind of guy is he’s fishing. He’s looking for a woman to attack. He knows the things you can say to a woman to make them feel bad so he finds the most fabulous woman in the room and cuts her down. Fuck that.”
“Don’t listen to people like that darling. We are equal. We always will be.”
Their comments helped my battered ego but other feedback concerned me.
“A group of guys at a motorbike event heckled me as I walked with my fiancé to our car,” said one pal. “They yelled ‘keep walking fatso!’ I was mortified.”
“I’ve had this experience more than once. Online is rife with it,’ said another.
“Try never, ever to let another stranger hurt you like that. It’s horrible. I’ve had it and it really rattles you,” said another girlfriend via text. “It’s all about them and power. It’s a form of assault.”
Their comments made me look deeper. It wasn’t the personal nature of the attack that continued to bother me. The guy doesn’t know me, or my partner. His observation wasn’t really based on appearance or character. In costume we looked more Austin Powers than ourselves: a gen-y couple in love. It was the sweeping, judgmental sentiment of his comments that irked me. This guy wanted control and for whatever reason, he wanted to hurt someone. He displayed the characteristics of a digital troll – in face-to-face form.
The fact is, we are all equal. No human is ‘better’ than another. Not in work, play, politics, race, beliefs, relationships, gender, or love. We are human: complex, creative, brilliant people struggling to fit in in this jigsaw called life. We have spectacular qualities and spectacular faults. No person has the right to judge another based on appearance – or anything for that matter.
Respect is surely not that hard? Maybe it seems naïve to demand kindness from everyone. Sure, there are bigger global problems to tackle than a bloke offending a girl at a party but in a world split by hate, war, racism, sexism, xenophobia and greed, maybe kindness really is the base-level key.
I don’t know the judgmental stranger’s name, let alone his past so I’d be a hypocrite if I tried to crucify him based on one negative encounter. Maybe he was projecting some issues of his own. After three-months of reflection, I want to thank him. He solidified the kind of person I don’t want to be, or surround myself with. He made me delve deep into who I am and what I stand for. My beau and I are stronger for it. Bet he didn’t see that coming.
The stranger stoked one hell of a fire in this feisty, womanly belly. Next time I’ll stand tall and won’t disappear shell-shocked into the night. I’ll hold his proverbial balls to the fire. Putting a person down does not make you stronger. It simply exposes your weakness. Don’t fuck with a goddess. You’ll knock her down but she’ll come back fighting.