Banter in the Garden
|Presenting the 51st… on Guest Post: Women’s Refu…|
|Fuck off, Bob Jones,… on Risky Business|
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|Emma on Risky Business|
|Deborah on A plea for your voice.|
Tea and Strumpets
So how should one illustrate a story about falling sperm counts?
With a headless pregnant woman, of course!
Well done, New Zealand Herald. Well done.
Tick the tropes: men’s illness = women’s problem, women as bearers of fetuses, women responsible for the human race, women reduced to a state of pregnancy, women reduced to body parts. Any more?
Ah, Twitter. Both a boon and a bane. Great for organising social outings and sourcing hot shoes. Really, really bad at social justice.
It’s somewhat depressing to jump on Twitter after a nap, only to find people who should know better making fat jokes. In the guise of punning about music. I really wish this were an uncommon occurrence. Sadly, it really, really isn’t.
Oh! You’re so funny! Fat people like to eat lots! They’re obsessed with buffets and friands and ham. Great.
And of course, when a bunch of people called out the fatshaming, there was a chorus of whining of “but I just wanted to make puns about food!”. How nice for you. Then why did you have to include the hashtag about fat people? Why denigrate people because of how they look and their perceived relationship with food? Because you can, because you didn’t think, because fat people don’t have feelings you could possibly hurt.
Here’s the thing. If the Beatles were fat dudes? It’s very, very unlikely they would be famous enough for you to be making puns about them. Sure, random dude on Twitter, you can name four fat artists (Adele, Beth Ditto, Aretha, Fat Joe), so everything must be OK, and there’s no imperative in the music industry to be thin. Or something. Would the girls have screamed, so long and so loud, if they four nice-looking boys from Liverpool have been overweight.
I wonder if the people who wrote that hashtag over and over again took a moment to think about the people they might be hurting when they tweeted. The teenage singer who wants a career but was told she can’t because she’s too big. The boy who wanted to be on TV, but was fat. Any overweight person who had the temerity to think that despite their size they might be entitled to personhood. I can only speak for myself, but it felt like being punched in the stomach. I mean, I couldn’t feel it, on account of being so desperately addicted to curly fries, but still.
Last night, I was flicking around the TV channels, while sipping my nightly bourbon and devouring the souls of babies, and came across E! News. Shutupyoudon’tknowmylifedon’tjudgeme. I watched for five minutes, this “news”, wherein gossip and fashion and scandal and a dating show pass for actual information.
They were reporting on this video, something that has reduced me to tears already twice this week.
This video has been shared far and wide. It is wonderful.
E! News showed some footage of a news panel, wherein a (thin, white) woman, said the email isn’t bullying, it’s “feedback”. And then E! asked people to tweet what they thought, under the hashtag #bullyingorfeedback. And I hate myself, so I went and looked at the hashtag.
Here’s the thing. I can’t imagine a world where someone daring to comment, regardless of whether it was in a private email, on your body is considered anything other than bullying. Where saying “you’re not fit to do your job because you’re fat” (because that’s what he was saying, despite the role model concern trolling) is considered “feedback”. Where your worth and ability and talent is prescribed not by how you do your job, but by how your body looks in a navy suit.
Feedback is “that story you reported on was bullshit”. It’s “There’s a spelling mistake in your copy.” It’s even “I don’t like that blouse you wore today”. It is not “you’re too fat to be on TV.”
And the reason I can’t imagine a world where that’s considered feedback, is that I’ve never lived in that world. We live in a world where women, regardless of their size, shape, colour or sexual identification are asked to hate their bodies. Where nothing we ever do is good enough. We’re too fat or too thin, too pimply or too pale, too tall or too brown.
Where men from passing cars feel free commenting on my tits. Where a doctor filling in for my regular doctor feels the need to pass judgement on my weight, without reading my patient notes. Where the size of my body is fair game for comment, shaming and faux-concern.
For Jennifer Livingstone to stand up against that is brave. For her to say “screw you, friend, and here’s why” is an act of courage. But of course it is. Because living in the world, as a fat person, being on TV, having a public profile, all of those things take bravery, and a thick skin.
I’m tired. I mean, I’m fat, so of course I am, because along with being fat comes being lazy, being stupid, being unhealthy and being poor. But mostly, I am tired of having to ask why I don’t deserve to be treated with basic human dignity because of how my body looks. Of having to explain that you can’t tell anything about my health, physical or emotional, because of how my body looks. Of knowing how the world feels about me, and that there is people in it who believe that I – clever, talented, kind and generous as I can be – should never be a role model because of how I appear.
Fuck ‘em. That’s really all I can say. And it’s all I should have to.
Bouquets and brickbats time, for the New Zealand Listener.
The cover story this week is about weight loss myths. It’s not on-line yet, but if you can buy a dead tree version, it’s worth it. The story is familiar to people who have even a passing acquaintance with the fatosphere and fat acceptance, as I do. The standard points:
- Dieting doesn’t work for the great majority of people (that would be 95% of people).
- Fat seems to be linked to poverty;
- Diabetes and heart disease don’t have a causal relationship with fat, or if there is a causal relationship, it’s a minor one, or it comes about through side effects.
- The death rate for fat people is no better and no worse than the death rate for thin people.
- Health At Every Size (HAES) is the way to go.
So far, so good. The story even ventured into some difficult territory, talking to a woman who had instigated severe diet control, and lost a huge amount of weight, going from size 22 to size 12 through dieting alone. But is she happier?
“… It’s still the same me and in some ways I am happier. There’s no doubt you have more social approval…. but there are things that I miss from when I was a larger woman. I got enormous pleasure from eating and loved to feel as though I could eat when I wanted to eat. That’s a wonderful thing and a wonderful pleasure…” She weighs herself every day and says sometimes she feels that her life is destined to be one “where I hardly eat anything”.
The story works hard against all the myths about weight and weight loss. There’s no alleged “balance” from people think that it’s just a matter of will power and diet. It’s all about debunking the myths. In the mainstream media. That’s fantastic.
But… the writer talked to four people, all of them academics: Andrew Dickson, Linda Bacon, Robyn Longhurst, and Cat Pausé. The printed article had pictures of three of them: Andrew Dickson, Linda Bacon, and Robyn Longhurst. Dr Dickson is a large man. Dr Bacon seems to be of slender to moderate size. Dr Longhurst is slim. Only one largish body in sight, and certainly not a fat body. The only person who was interviewed for the article, and who was not pictured, is a fat person, Dr Cat Pausé. Cat is fat. Not large. Not weighty. Not chunky. Fat.
So as far as the New Zealand Listener is concerned, we can talk about fat, but we can’t picture it. Erasing people who are fat, and hiding them from view, turning fat people into just words, but not whole people with bodies and faces and lives and realities, even in a sympathetic article. Erasure. So many ways to do it.
So here’s a picture of Cat. It’s her signature piece.
And here’s Cat’s reflection on the 20/20 segment on fat acceptance in New Zealand.
You know what’s awesome? Shaming women for their cankles and hairy legs. Also, “insisting” your “friends” wear more flattering clothing – instead of whatever they damn well please.
Also awesome? This sentence:
Hon, people argue with me all the time.
As always, exercise caution over the comments, but at this point, both published comments are along the lines of “WTF, who cares what your friends wear!”
Ok, Let’s do this thing. But first, a couple of disclaimers.
Since I signed up to Tumblr (NSFW, but you knew that) a couple of months ago, one of the things I have found myself constantly re-blogging is images of beautiful, sexy, fat women. Wandering round town the other day, I asked myself why I do that. Is it the equivalent of the poster of Johnny Depp I had hanging on my adolescent bedroom wall? Am I attracted to these women? Well, yes, but that’s not it.
But mostly? It’s because I like seeing women like myself, Women of Size, portrayed as beautiful, as sexy, as desirable. It’s something I am not used to seeing. I don’t buy glossy magazines anymore, but back when I did, the women in them looked so different to me as to be from a different species.
Don’t get me wrong. On a good day, I rock my tits and my red lipstick and my Tool of The Patriarchy heels, and my cute dresses. I’m buying into the Beauty Myth as much as anyone. And much as it causes me pause to hold up Gala Darling as a feminist icon, I choose my choice. My life is easier when I get my tits out, if only because it makes me feel better, and deflects some of this stuff.
So, those images on Tumblr, the sexy plus-sized lingerie, the burlesque, the corsets and leopard print and stacked heels, remind me that yes, I am a human being like everyone else, and seeing my reflection in other people is possible.
But see, wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to go hunting for it. If FuckYeahfatGirls (I dunno, I am guessing there is one) wasn’t a dark corner of the internet, but just..how we lived. If our representations of women weren’t dominated by the fashion industry juggernaut, and instead were just representations of women. If Vogue didn’t have to be congratulated for it’s Plus Size issue, but just featured clothing for women of all sizes as a matter of course? If there wasn’t this false dichotomy between “models” and “real women”. If we weren’t taught that being The Prettiest Of Them All is the most important thing.
Seeing representations of ourselves in the world is important. It’s how we know we’re valued, and at the same time, just the same as everyone else. This obviously doesn’t just apply to fat women, but men, and people of colour and LGBT people, and redheads.
Am I naive? Of course? Would we all be much better of if this was the world we lived in? If everyone who isn’t tall and thin and blonde and white wasn’t erased from the public discourse? I think so. So, darlings, what can we do about it?
Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration which takes different forms in different countries. In New Zealand, it serves as a day to consider the progress that women have made, and the progress that is yet to come.
The New Zealand Herald focuses on the biggest concerns facing women, with various facts and stats, and an interview with Rowena Phair, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The issues are… interestingly framed, in the way that Sheryl Sandberg’s analysis of why we have so few women leaders for TED is interestingly framed (video at link). Sandberg is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, and her advice for women about how to get to top positions is all about how to behave like men. She pays no attention to systemic problems that confront women, and instead offers advice for individual women, not contemplating even for a moment that it might be better to look at the whole way our society structures work and work expectations. See Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror for a discussion of the Sandberg talk: Too few women leaders.
The CEO of Women’s Affairs tells us that the top five issues facing women are:
1. Balancing home life with paid work
2. Staying healthy
3. Getting the right reward for their skills
4. Backing themselves as leaders
5. Feeling safe in relationships.
All good issues to focus on, of course, but look at the advice that is given for each issue.
1. Balancing home life with paid work:
“A big issue for women is managing those responsibilities.”
2. Staying healthy:
“New Zealand women need to make sure they leave space in their busy schedule to take care of themselves.”
3. Getting the right reward for their skills:
“Women are concerned about their financial future, especially in their 20s, and Phair said one way this can be dealt with is by considering all the options available to them in the workforce.
4. Backing themselves as leaders:
“Women are really active in their communities, they’ve got opinions to contribute, but they’ve really got to have the confidence in their convictions…”
5. Feeling safe in relationships:
“It’s very unusual for men to be physically violent without some behaviours that lead up to that so women can keep themselves safe by being very alert … and to get help as quickly as they can.” She said young women are particularly vulnerable to abusive relationships. “Woman really need to keep their eyes open in relationships.”
With the exception of the first, it’s all about what individual women can do to change things. No discussion of systemic factors that might work against women. For example, it sounds like the easiest thing in the world to find a bit of time to stay healthy, but if you are trying to care for small children, and trying to work, then just finding the time to do anything extra can be difficult, even when it’s home based. As for trying to get to the gym, well, you have to sort child care first, so the cost can be considerable. Getting up and going for a run in the mornings might do, until winter darkness closes in. And even then, someone has to be a home to care for the children.
Getting the right reward for their skills? The evidence is that even when women don’t take time out for child care, and do push just as much for higher salaries, they still don’t get paid as much as their male colleagues, because it’s not nice for women to negotiate, so women who do negotiate are punished for it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. More recently, Catalyst found that:
When women did all the things they have been told will help them get ahead—using the same tactics as men—they still advanced less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth. (Source)
Being a leader in your community – it’s up to you to be confident in yourself. No mention of the constant put-downs that women are subject to, from on-going commentary on their appearance and what they wear (vide Helen Clark and Julia Gillard) to being spoken over, to the dispiriting experience of saying something insightful and helpful, only to have it ignored, until a man two seats further along the table says exactly the same thing, and the point is taken up with enthusiasm.
And the last one – that’s a real doozy. It’s up to the woman to keep herself safe in violent relationships, and the person who perpetrates the violence is not responsible for his, or more rarely her, violence at all.
We are hearing the CEO through the filter of the NZ Herald reporter, so we can’t be sure that Phair herself framed those issues and responses in exactly that way. Even so, it is at least disconcerting to find no attention paid to the systemic issues that women face. Instead, it’s all individualised, and the remedies are all focused on what individual women can do.
On the other hand, the Herald’s reporting is several light years ahead of what Stuff has come up on International Women’s Day. You can find out How to look 10 years younger! In a transparent piece of advertising for a book masquerading as editorial content, women are told that they need to use the right make-up so that they can look younger. The book’s author says that she loves, LOVES! working with older women, aged over 35, because they can look 10 years younger with the right make-up. And of course, it is a woman’s duty to look as young as possible, because older women are simply socially unacceptable.
This 46 year old woman declines.
For a much more inspiring analysis of International Women’s Day, take a look at Scuba Nurse’s post, where she writes about all the good things for women in New Zealand, as well as noting where there is still work to be done: International Women’s Day 2012. And over at Hoyden about Town, Mindy has some Sobering thoughts on the eve of International Women’s Day, reviewing the international statistics on violence against women.
My own personal brand of feminism is born of a very great desire to be left alone to do my thing, to be allowed the same rights and responsibilities every adult deserves. It extends to giving those same rights and responsibilities to everyone else, and then staying out of their damn lives.
You don’t want me to marry another woman? Don’t come to my wedding. You don’t want me to have the right to birth control? How about you get your hands off my uterus? You don’t think I should spend all my hard-earned money on cupcakes and cigarettes and wine and shoes? Fuck off, it’s my bank balance, and I don’t answer to you.
I suppose what I am saying is that my feminism is guided by my own personal ethics. Those of compassion and friendship and honesty. I’ve let myself down a bit on some of those fronts lately, but that’s a different post for a very different website.
So let’s talk about that last one. Specifically, about honesty, and this post.
The thing with writing is that it lets you be much, much more honest than you might otherwise be. Putting it on paper (or screen) disconnects the thoughts from you that speaking them doesn’t. Or, I should say, does for me. I do my best thinking on paper (and in the shower). Sometimes, like now, I have no direction, no point, just aimless wandering through the channels in my head, trying to eek out some wisdom. I’m not as fluent when I speak, because I am self-editing. (Which will come as a shock to anyone who has ever spoken to me.) Sometimes, I’m just writing to make my brain move around, to work out how I feel about an issue. Sometimes, something annoys me so much that I just sit down and let the words come, and think about them later.
And come they did, when I wrote that post. Basically, I sat down at the keyboard, and that post came out, pretty much fully formed. I moved a sentence here or there, gave it a little more structure, fixed the spelling mistakes. But how that post went up is basically how it came out of my head, in less than 10 minutes. And then I sat and looked at it. For the better part of an hour. Because I was pretty sure I shouldn’t post it.
I was right, it turns out, but I’m also quite stupid. I shouldn’t have posted it. But my general rule with that stuff is that if I am scared to, I probably should. Because:
It’s worth it if others find it helpful or meaningful. Yes, there is an element of exhaustion, of self-sacrifice, in this kind of writing, because without the most stringent honesty it is absolutely meaningless.
If living as a feminist is the challenge, then I have failed in these past two weeks. Because I have nearly deleted that post dozens of times. And then realised that it has been seen by a couple of thousand people already, so there’s no point. When you live behind a carefully crafted artifice, it’s probably a good idea not to reveal your darkest thoughts in one fell swoop. In a forum that almost everyone you know will see. It’s probably not great to write about feigning confidence, and then attempt to do exactly that, while feeling that everyone sees through you.
I have, at times in these past two weeks, been angry – at the people who sent me hatemail, telling me that if I didn’t want to be fat, I should put down the chocolate, and do some exercise, you stupid cow. I was also amused by them, because, well, thanks for illustrating my point. Angry at myself for not realising how much posting it would hurt. Surprised at just how much traffic it got, (and continues to get) and from what corners. Surprised at how many people it touched or helped. I’ve wondered if I have actually undermined not just my own defences, but the movement itself – if by admitting my weakness, I’ve inadvertently made the point that all fat people, all women maybe, are weak.
Because, herein lies the problem. These confessional posts, wherein we reveal ourselves, seem so hard to write. And we’re lauded for being so strong, so brave. It doesn’t feel brave. It feels like an open wound. And the comments and tweets are a kind of salve, but sometimes, that gets too much. And the hatemail, and comments telling me my GP is unqualified to assess my health – salt.
Ultimately, I know that that post helped people, and I am glad of that. I’m happy that it struck a nerve, that people liked it. I’ll admit to the vanity of watching the tweets and the hits mount up. As people in my “real life” facebook feed linked to it. I expect, eventually, the aforementioned confidence will come back, and I won’t feel like I’m living in a world where everyone knows all the bad things about me, and they know them because I was stupid enough to tell them. I just wished we lived in a world where I didn’t have to bare my soul to make a point. Where I was afforded compassion, and basic dignity, because I deserve it as a person, not because I begged for it. That talking about my experience as a woman was just a matter of fact, and not one of confession.
20/20 is screening a story about fat activism in New Zealand tonight. You can read about the story on Friend of Marilyn – Fat Activism in New Zealand on 20/20.
20/20 is on TV2, at 9.30pm tonight.