Monthly Archives: May 2006

Making Feminism Up

Debbie says:

I had an interesting conversation with a stranger this weekend; I heard that she had to get off the phone with her mother to help me make a purchase, so I said something about mothers. She told me a long story about her mother, focusing in large part on how her mother had never taken care of herself or treated herself well in any way until moving into an elder care facility, “and now she gets manicures, and pedicures, and uses nail polish!” The daughter was really excited and happy for her mother, and told me lots of details.

I was torn: this was clearly a loving story of an elderly woman who is exercising a kind of self-care for the first time, and a doting daughter who loves to see it, while at the same time I would wish other kinds of self-care for both of them. Of course, I said nothing but encouraging things.

Back in the blog world, Ampersand is responding to a recent round of criticism of his Male Privilege Checklist. (Be patient; it all connects.) The current case in point begins with his explanation of why he chose to answer yet another man who doesn’t understand or appreciate the (excellent) original essay.

Ampersand does his own fine job of responding to a wide-ranging set of naive criticisms from one reader, including acknowledging the ways in which that reader is correct, including the question of makeup, and in doing so, he reassures me in my discomforts, saying:

“A feminist movement that considers day-to-day sexism too petty to ever discuss would be ivory-tower and snobby. A well-rounded feminism – like a well-rounded life – should include many concerns and many approaches. The demand that we ignore “petty” local issues is a demand that we stop acting like human beings.”

So, thanks!

Meanwhile, his whole post is excellent. He chose not to use the term “straw feminism,” which we blogged about a few months back. I’m disturbed to see the particular straw feminist argument coming up more and more: how can you complain when things are so bad for women in the Middle East? Since no one in her right mind would deny the urgent problems women in that part of the world face (and children, and men, and everyone else), this nasty rhetorical trope works on two levels.

First, as Ampersand discusses, we have “Your problems don’t matter as long as someone else’s problems are worse.” This, of course, if anyone followed it, would guarantee that nothing ever got better, because we can only do so much to other people’s problems, while we can sometimes actually solve–or minimize–our own.

Second, we have the subtly divisive way in which this argument pits women against each other. If I want to focus on my problems, I’m a bad person because other people are suffering more than I am (which is certainly true). If, on the other hand, I focus on problems half a globe away, my life doesn’t get any better, and I’m likely to build up some resentments against the women I am theoretically helping. While it might be an oversimplification to say, “It’s all one big problem,” it is all echoes and reflections of the same kinds of problems, all over the world, being acted out at various levels of violence. For my money, anyone who is working to combat any aspect of these issues is doing good work.

And anybody who is using lipstick and nail polish to improve their self-esteem and feel better about themselves is also doing their own kind of good work, even if it’s not my kind.

The High Cost of Magic Bullets

Lynne Murray says:

We’ve gotten into a miracle pill way of thinking since the 1940’s when
antibiotics began to be used as the “magic bullet” to treat infections
that were once incurable.

The concept of magical cures comes up all too often for fat activists,
most recently in light of what I think of as a virulent epidemic of
bariatric surgery. In all its smug, simplistic glory, the question is:
If there were a magic pill that you could take that would make you
thin instead of fat, would you take it?

Clearly this is a question with an agenda: Fat is bad/unhealthy and
no matter how much you say you like and accept your fat body, you’d
change it if you could, wouldn’t you?

The question seems plausible because we’ve come to expect drugs to cure any illness.

The term “magic bullet” suggests a weapon against an invading army of disease. But unlike the microscopic critters that cause infectious disease, fat is not a disease, nor is it contagious. The only contagious part of the so-called obesity epidemic is the prejudice and hatred toward fat and fat people that it stirs up. When we turn our efforts against our own bodies and make them into the enemy, we are damaging rather than promoting health.

Leaving the realm of medically-endorsed hysteria, let’s look at magical
remedies in fairy tales.

Magic remedies always cost something in fairy tales. Consider Hans
Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. The heroine, a mermaid, falls in love with a human prince. With the help of a sea witch she is transformed into a human woman with legs replacing her mermaid tail, so she can try to win the prince’s love. In the process, the mermaid loses her voice, and every step she takes feels like walking on knives.

Pretty major side effects if you ask me.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had a few relationships like that. Reading the tale again as an adult, I see that after all that she went through to be with him, the prince didn’t even marry the mermaid–condemning her to total annihilation under the terms of her agreement with the sea witch. The deal was no marriage, no immortal soul. I’m not going to even start to get into the sexist meaning of that contract. The Little Mermaid’s sisters had to do another deal with the sea witch to try to save her life. Here’s to the underwater sisterhood.

In the real world, magic pills may be advertised as “curing” illness, but even when they target a specific microbe, things can go wrong. For example, microorganisms have now evolved to become resistant to antibiotics, as described in a article

Most of the candidates for “magic weight loss pill” work via blocking the body’s natural hunger pangs. Given the dismal long-term results of calorie deprivation as a weight loss tactic, this is futile at best, and certainly unethical, considering the uncharted side effects both from the drugs themselves and from the yo-yo regain that accompanies most short-term weight loss.

Now that I have spent several years listening carefully to my body, I can say with total assurance that one thing it has never asked is for a magic pill to make it a smaller dress size. Considering the Little Mermaid’s example, I would mistrust any magic that took away my voice, made me ignore my body’s feedback, or made me live so that every step (or every bite) brought pain.

Medicating to ignore our physical needs drives a further wedge between our selves and our bodies. This is not a recipe for health.

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