Trump Statues: Body Shaming Is a Weapon, Wherever You Point It

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Debbie says:

nakedstatue

If you read the news at all, you know that large statues of a naked Donald Trump (not pictured above) have been appearing in several major U.S. cities.

The statues are the work of anarchist collective INDECLINE, which has done other political art projects, such as covering the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with names of African-American victims of police shootings. This project is named “The Emperor Has No Balls.”

“Like it or not, Trump is a larger-than-life figure in world culture at the moment,” said the spokesman, who discussed the project with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. “Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time — with statues.”

The artist, known as Ginger, was specifically trying to emphasize unattractive features.

The goal was to give him the slightest hint of a scowl — a “constipated look” — that hinted at Trump’s implicit frustration with contemporary America, Ginger said. “He has a very distinct little mouth, the way his chin meets the jowl, it had to look right,” he said.

Also challenging was figuring out how to create unsettling body parts in a realistic fashion, a process that required extensive online research.

“If somebody were to look at my browser history, it would be a little disturbing,” Ginger said. “Turns out there’s not too many Google results for ‘saggy old man butt.’”

Some of the reaction to the statues has simply been that they are funny (and I originally thought they were funny). I changed my mind before I learned that INDECLINE’s website also showcases a billboard size graffiti piece entitled “Rape Trump” (really!). Marissa Jenae Johnson, writing at The Establishment, is among many critical voices:

The joke itself is bad. It relies on body-­shaming, fatphobia, toxic masculinity, and transphobia to take jabs at Trump. The “joke” behind the statues is two­fold:

One is that it makes fun of Trump’s body, and likely his weight. He is depicted completely naked, rolls and all, and his skin is intentionally blemished. Beyond clearly relying on beauty standards most progressives would normally reject, it seems pretty fatphobic. Even if the artist didn’t intend it that way, it has certainly made space for fat ­shaming.

The second part of the joke is about Trump’s dick, or rather, his “manhood.” The title itself is an attempt to emasculate Trump in the same way that his shrunken penis is intended to. The implication is that people with a small penis, or lacking testicles, are not real men and are therefore worthy of scorn.

One defense of the statues that I’ve heard is “sauce for the gander”: Trump, though sensitive about being body-shamed himself, is perfectly happy to shame other people about their bodies. He even thinks it’s disgusting that women pee.

While I agree that the statues raise issues like fatphobia and transphobia, that’s not my core objection. All body shaming, by definition, is about body characteristics that the culture finds shameful: otherwise, it isn’t shaming. You can’t effectively shame someone by poking fun at how muscular they are, how slender they are, or how clear their skin is. What bothers me is that INDECLINE thinks Trump’s body is a target for any kind of shame.

Listen up, INDECLINE: you are falling into his trap. You are playing his game. You are shaming him for things that are not character flaws, things that are only shameful because the wider culture says they are. The list of things Donald Trump should be ashamed of is encyclopedic; by choosing his age, his body configuration, and your slurs about his genitals, you are affirming his propensity to do the same thing. If you don’t want to ever hear him make cracks about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle (and I don’t, even if you do), don’t give him permission. And while we’re at it, no “joke” about anyone being raped is ever funny.

Pregnancy, Performance, and Perfection

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Laurie and Debbie say:

adichie

We are both fans of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writing, so we noted last month that she is now a mother, and were impressed with how and why she kept her pregnancy very quiet,.

… only a few knew about her pregnancy and the ensuing birth of her child, and explained that her decision to withhold information about it to the public stemmed from the ever-growing performative aspect of pregnancy.

“I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby,” she said. “I just feel like we live in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy. We don’t expect fathers to perform fatherhood.”

Adichie … refused to answer further questions about her child after her prescient take. When the [Financial Times] reporter asked about the baby’s name, she simply replied, “no, I won’t say,” accompanied by what the interviewer described as a “disarming smile.”

In this very audience-focused age, many human experiences have become performances. Most life performances, however, at least can be done by people of both genders. Pregnancy is limited to people with biologically female bodies, and is most commonly the experience of people who identify as women.

And like all things women do, it provides the patriarchy with an endless source of ways to oppress women. A pregnant woman is known as an “expectant mother,” and here are some of the things she can expect:

  • Complete strangers will feel free to judge her failure if she drinks alcohol in public.
  • Her boss and colleagues will simultaneously hold her to at least as high a work standard as she has ever been held to, and to a complete, unwavering commitment to being delighted at the prospect of having this child. Failing at either counts as failure.
  • Her medical advisors will often hold her to a ridiculously high standard of diet, weight, and exercise, while also again demanding that complete commitment to delight. Failing at either again counts as failure.
  • Everyone will feel free to tell her how well she’s doing, and where she’s falling short.

Historically, there have been periods when visibly pregnant women were housebound because they were “unseemly,” periods when maternity clothes were supposed to hide the pregnancy as long as possible, periods when (affluent and rich) women were instructed to do nothing during pregnancy and periods when they were advised to be extremely active, regardless of how they felt.

Most cultures have some level of claiming pregnant women as a social resource, an unspoken “You’re breeding for all of us, so we can manage your pregnancy.” In 2016, that claim takes the form of “let us see your performance so we can decide if you deserve a 10.”

Adichie is, in a very powerful way, refusing to play in the cultural sandbox. She claims her life as her own and no one else’s, and it would appear that she will do the same with her child’s life. She is forcing the world to treat her as the fine writer and thinker that she is.

We salute her.