Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
No matter how much it tries to backpedal and reframe and rephrase, no matter how many soft words it puts around the conversation, the fact remains that this government, in the person of Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Welfare, has advocated adopting some sort of policy to prevent some women from having more babies. That’s the plain meaning of Paula Bennett’s words yesterday.
They scare the hell out of me.
What they suggest is a government that is happy to control women and to control women’s bodies. At present they only want to do it to “bad” mothers, people who have killed their children, or abused them so badly that the children have been taken away from them, or people who form new relationships with “bad” men who then abuse and sometimes kill their stepchildren. It’s all being done in the name of saving the children.
Of course we want to save children from harm, and of course, we can save them from immediate harm by ensuring they are not vulnerable to abusers, and of course, the easiest way to do that is to take the children away from the abusers, or scarily, to stop abusers from having children in the first place.
Therein lies the problem. This is the easy solution. The hard solution would involve trying to work out why people abuse and kill children. The thing is, we already have a fair idea about that. Aside from psychosis and revenge, it turns out that most killings occur when parents are down and out, when they have no hope and no resources, when they have given up, or been given up on, any hope of a life integrated into the structure of a community. A quick search on Google would have told Paula Bennett that. Reducing the number of children who are abused or killed won’t be easy. It will involve working closely with women and with families, helping women to become independent, ensuring that they live in meaningful and supportive communities, that they have secure incomes, that they can look after themselves and their children, trying to ensure that they are not under such stress and feel so hopeless that they take out all their problems on their children. But that would be hard work, and it would cost money. Much easier just to opt for the big stick of sanctions. This is a policy that fits all too comfortably with National’s policy on getting beneficiary mums and their daughters to use long term contraceptives.
In the name of pragmatism, and easiness, this government takes the shortcut of asserting control over women’s bodies.
What next? Is the government going to suggest that women on the DPB should be sterilised? Maybe women who drink while pregnant will have their babies removed at birth. Perhaps if you have a student loan, government will tell you that it isn’t wise to have children now, and it will “help” you to avoid having any.
And that’s exactly where the danger lies in this sort of policy that attempts to control women’s bodies. Today it’s women who harm, or allow harm to come to, their children. Who is it going to be tomorrow?
And that’s why, liberal dudes, I am so tired of hearing you say that this is all just a distraction. My bodily autonomy is at stake here, and you tell me that I should get to the back of the queue, because it’s just a minor matter, designed to get people to take their eye off the government’s woes in other areas. Because at the end of the day, women’s rights are always tradeable.
Thank you so very much.
And let’s not forget the racism underpinning this. We know that killing and abuse of children (‘though not sexual abuse, which seems to be classless) is much more common among the least privileged socio-economic groups, and we know that socio-economic groups are highly race marked in New Zealand. This is another move towards stigmatising people with brown skins, and controlling them, and worst of all, taking away their children. And we all know how well that kind of policy has worked in the past.
Update: One of those liberal dudes has since posted on the matter: A rancid style of politics. I think he’s right about the convenience of Bennett’s announcement. Many thanks for your post, I/S.
Y’all, I have no way to express how happy this is making me. I love it when they out themselves as misogynist pricks.
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig says taxpayers should not be picking up the tab for what he says are the most promiscuous young women in the world to get free contraceptives.
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?
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.
Because there’s no such thing as a stigma against fat people, some days, it slips my mind that I am overweight. You see, I don’t ever get random abuse shouted at me on the street. The fact that I can only shop in about 5% of the clothes shops in my city in no way makes me feel like I’ve been corralled off into some paddock where the un-sexy fatties go to pig out and wear unflattering clothes. Buying clothes on the internet, and the extra cost involved, and hit-and-miss nature of it, passes me by. Going on that traditionally “girly” expedition, Shopping, with friends of “normal” sizes, in NO WAY feels like torture. I don’t ever end up buying, like, a $100 scarf, just to feel like “one of the girls”. And I certainly don’t own masses of shoes and scarfs and jewellery, because they’re the Fat Girl’s Consolation.
I don’t get well-meaning comments from my relatives, EVER. My mother doesn’t ever say “have you lost weight?” in a hopeful, but forlorn voice. Nor does she use the fact that I haven’t eaten for 4 days because I’m heartbroken as a positive, because I might drop a kilo or two.
No one ever comments on the size of my ass or tits or stomach. No stranger has ever yelled “hey fat bitch” at me, or mooed. I’ve never scanned the room to see if I am the fattest person in it, and hated myself for being slightly gleeful if I am not.
I don’t live in fear of being filmed as the “headless fat person illustrating a story of OH MY GOD THE OBESITIY EPIDEMIC!!1!!” I don’t ever feel like I have to apologise for taking up so much space.
I never worry that my size might make flying difficult, that things other people do without thinking, like canoeing, or cycling, or simply sitting in a chair might be hard for me. For the record, bar stools don’t ever fill me with dread.
It has never crossed my mind that my size is stopping me from finding True Wuv. I don’t worry that no one will ever find me attractive again, because I’m fat, and I don’t look like Charlize Theron. Never. That’s not a thought that keeps me awake at night AT ALL.
I don’t get told that I might not suffer from depression if I “exercised a little bit”, as if the person involved knows anything about how much I exercise. No one has ever told me they’re “just worried about [my] health”, without ever actually bringing up my health, just my size. And I’ve certainly never felt like I could tell those people to MIND THEIR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS, because of course my fatness is public property and a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation, and why on earth should I be offended about people bringing it up.
I never feel judged eating in public. No one ever looks askance at me if I happen to be eating a burger. That didn’t just happen in fact, like, yesterday. I’ve never not ordered what I actually wanted so as not to be judged by my fellow diners. I’ve never felt the need to lie about my eating habits, even when, in reality, they are perfectly healthy. No one has ever asked me if I “really need that“.
I’ve never felt the need to cover up my arms, or my thighs, as if my body is offensive to others, and it’s up to me to police that.
I don’t dress to emphasize my cleavage, because my big tits are the one socially acceptable thing on my body. I’ve never suffered the gauntlet of shopping for lingerie or swimwear for the “larger woman”, and the inherent humiliation. I’ve never worn clothes that are uncomfortable, or too hot, or too tight, or just Not Quite Right, because it was for a performance or uniform of some kind.
I never, ever, have to point out the simple fact that weight and/or size don’t correlate to health. I never feel compelled to point out my perfect blood pressure and low cholesterol. No one ever brings up the history of heart disease and diabetes in my family.
I’ve never felt ashamed of my body, wanted to hide in a corner and curl up to make myself as small as possible, because of something someone unthinkingly said. Or didn’t. I’ve never wanted to hide, just because I’m short and fat and round, and don’t fit how people should look. I’ve never, ever, not once, forced myself to be gregarious and happy and the life of the party, while secretly wanting to escape to the corner with a bag of chips because sometimes, it’s just All Too Much. I don’t feign confidence and sexiness that I often don’t feel because, hey, fuck you society and your strict interpretation of what is attractive. I don’t EVER, EVER feel like my size suggests I should act, or be, a certain way. And I certainly don’t feel like saying Fuck You to society in that way is exhausting and neverending and pointless.
So, thanks, Stuff. Because just in case none of us knew we are fat, it is fucking brilliant to know that you are on the case. I’ll rest MUCH FUCKING EASIER tonight.
The NZ Herald is running a story about women dieting and ruining their future chances of having babies. So much to unpack in it, but I’m short of time this morning. Instead of any in-depth analysis, take a look at the picture the subbies chose to run with the story.
I think that’s a picture of a pregnant woman. Disembodied of course, because we wouldn’t want to focus on actual women when we’re busy policing bodies. But I just can’t get my head around the picture at all. Is she supposed to be dieting? Or not? She can’t be illustrating the point of the story i.e. that women who diet too hard can’t get pregnant, because actually, she is pregnant.
Predictably, there’s nothing in the story about the pressures that ensure that women feel they must diet and stay skinny. It’s all the fault of the individual women, of course.