Monthly Archives: July 2012

Video Responses to Fat Hatred

Lynne Murray says:

In recent years, as the drumbeat stirring up hatred of fat and fat people has got louder, I have heard some pretty horrifying stories from fat activists whose only crime has been to say, “Yes, I’m fat and it’s okay.” This simple sentiment seems to provoke a disproportionate amount of rage expressed as hostile, hateful remarks, vicious e-mails, and even death threats.

I tremendously respect people who are attacked and manage to defend themselves in an elegant and effective manner.

Debbie passed this recent wonderful response from singer/songwriter, Meghan Tonjes, who heard about it from Ellen Kushner. Tonjes suffered an internet fat hate attack, and here is her response:

Tonjes has also set up Project Lifesize, a YouTube area for body positive videos. She says, “When I was younger I didn’t have anyone in my corner telling me that I was beautiful, regardless of what the media or my peers told me. I wanted to create a dialogue about not weight acceptance, but self love.”

Another video blogger, SikaResult’s, response to Weight Bigotry was pointed out on the blog Living ~400 lbs:

When an attacker protests that the attack was warranted “for the fat person’s own good,” that’s concern trolling, and sometimes it’s necessary to call it out for what it is. Short and limited responses seem to be wisest; dialogue with the mindlessly hateful (or determinedly clueless) can be an exhausting exercise in futility. Just because we are self-accepting fat people doesn’t make us saints or sages, and doesn’t gift us with an endless reserve of patience and limitless positivity. I love the expression “sanity points” because you can run out in a hurry in such debates.

I usually don’t engage in the dialogue of measuring different kinds of body acceptance against one another. But just in case someone else has the slight reservation I had, I want to share a hesitation I had about the two videos above.

My appreciation for Meghan Tonjes’ YouTube videos was a little tempered by her suggestion that having lost 60 pounds equated with taking good care of her health. Then when I looked at her other video blogs I had a “Yikes! Oh, dear!” moment when I found that she’s tracking her “progress” in videos entitled “Weightloss Challenge.” I’m not including the link to that video log. It’s easy enough to find if you want to. But it really triggered some negative emotions for me, and others might have a similar reaction. I put the word she used, “progress” in quotes just now because those of us who have engaged in weight cycling will recognize the honeymoon phase of early weight loss. Five years down the road (by which point 95% of those who lose weight by any means will have regained it) Tonjes may reassess whether or not this was either progress or taking care of her health. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and that T-shirt doesn’t fit anymore.

On the same axis, SikaResult’s response to Weight Bigotry video blog shows the young woman engaged in some very impressive physical activity. Clearly she made her point that you can’t judge what someone is capable of doing physically by that person’s body size.

Those two aspects of these totally positive videos put me off a little because the weight loss in one and the intense physical activities in the other seem to be offered as proof of how each woman was taking care of her body as if somehow that made it okay for her to be fat. The flip side of that coin is that fat people like myself are not “okay” fat people. It’s sort of like the deserving poor versus “those lazy bastards.” I admit that I’m particularly sensitive to those arguments. Maybe I need to have a Lazy Bastard T-shirt made confirming my affinity group.

Let me stress that in neither video did either young woman say anything about it not being okay to be heavier or less capable of physical exertion. But I think these concepts lurk under the positive statements as a defensive tactic. I don’t think we should need a reason to demand to be respected as a physical being. Our bodies are our bodies and relative fitness for any given task shouldn’t define our worth.

I admire these women’s courage in words and actions. When it comes to defending oneself or others against hatred, I value every effort.  We are totally on the same side in this struggle. In the heat of battle, no actions will be perfect. Taking imperfect action beats standing by and letting evil flourish unchecked.

Do Most Women Think Our Breasts Are Ours?

Debbie says:

The title of this post is a response to James Braly’s statement, “Most women think their breasts are theirs,” blogging in a recent column in the New York Times Style section. His argument is that “Extended breastfeeding, the current scientific thinking goes, offers significant health benefits for the child, and probably for the mother.” But, since it often means that poor dad is left sexually in the cold, it may not be good for the whole family.

Amanda Marcotte responded at Slate. After adding to an apparently large chorus of voices skewering Braly around the net, she goes on to say:

It’s a shame, because the whole thing reinforces a prevalent sex-negative narrative in our culture that holds that anyone who is unceremoniously cut off from sex in their relationship, yet still expected to be monogamous, is a shallow monster if they take issue with it. Braly [describes] horniness as “biology for most men,” imagining that the only thing women could want as much is to breast-feed.

Jill at Feministe has another take:

Breasts are yours — they’re also for your own sexual pleasure, among many other purposes. And they can be for feeding your baby. But breasts-as-sexual doesn’t have to be a male-centered, male-serving thing. Unfortunately in these discussions, breasts are inevitably framed as “for” someone else — “for” a baby if you’re breastfeeding, “for” a man if they’re involved in your sex life (heteronormative phrasing intentional there — no one seems to ever suggest that a lesbian woman’s breasts are “for” her partner). And just, no. A lot of women like sex too. And if your marriage is sexless and one partner is unhappy about that, then something has to give.

If you want criticisms of Braly, you’ll get plenty of them from both Amanda and Jill–and even more if you Google. He has to have been looking for this kind of response to write things like:

Lest you think sex is a private matter, I would argue that the decline of a couple’s sex life can have significant social consequences. A man’s loss of appetite for his companion can undermine his partnership, his family and ultimately the society of families. Even the environment takes a hit: suddenly, the divorcing couple needs a second house, an extra car, another set of Ziploc lunch bags off-gassing plastic fumes into the ozone, and on and on.

While I appreciate both Amanda’s and Jill’s thoughtful responses, and I recommend reading them, I want to talk about the sentence I used for a title. I do, in fact, think my breasts are mine. I also think my vulva, vagina, armpits, toes, and earlobes are mine. I think Braly’s penis is his, too. I’m willing to go to the wall to defend both his and my rights to our own body parts. The difference is that, historically, in the western culture we live in, men’s penises have always been their own, at least theoretically and legally. So have their testicles, armpits, toes, and earlobes. I’m

Women’s breasts, and the rest of our bodies, on the other hand, are still not ours in many parts of the world. Marital rape is legal in many countries and overlooked in many more. In the United States, the last state to remove the “spousal exemption” for rape law did so in 1993, less than 20 years ago. I was already in my 40s. In the context of rape culture, women’s bodies are very frequently still not our own in the U.S. And, as Laurie and I blogged about recently, we don’t even have a protected legal right to talk about them in our preferred language.

I think Braly is wrong–dangerously wrong–in a deeper way than either Amanda or Jill identifies. I think the quoted assumption that most women think our breasts are ours is questionable at best. I’m afraid that many (if not most) women know damn well that our breasts–and our bodies–are not ours if some man wants to claim them, unless we are willing, able, and prepared to fight for them. And those fights are not trivial.

One “chilling effect” of positions like Braly’s is that they shift attention away from the real dangers to women’s autonomy and safety, to the “manpain” of a husband whose wife breastfeeds for five years. By constructing his entire thesis as if his wife had no sexual needs or preferences, Braly reinforces the underlying belief that women have no option but to be there for the convenience of men–and that plays out in hundreds of thousands of scenarios much uglier than the one he claims to be talking about.