OMG. It’s not about JLAW. It’s about Genuine Body Acceptance.

love+the+word+fatAs some of you are aware I have written a petition on change.org: Kelloggs, Tyra Banks and Jennifer Lawrence – Stop Shaming Fatness But Continue to Support Actions Against Body Hatred

Other bloggers out there are addressing this too, including The Militant Baker, Jenny Trout and Fat Body Politics.

And much to my surprise – some people just don’t get it. So I’m writing this post to be clear.

To clarify, I like JLAW and I think she’s a definite supporter of people accepting their bodies but she is still perpetuating fat shame. When she said we should “outlaw” the word fat – I don’t think she knew what she was saying. I think she was talking about how people who are not fat get called fat, or call themselves fat.

And yes, it’s ridiculous to call thin girls fat because they’re not. And when some one does call someone thin “fat,” they are trying to insult thin people – by saying they are like me, fat. This is the same idea as the boy on the playground getting called a pussy – he’s weak, badly performing masculinity – and therefore he’s a pussy, a vagina, a woman – the insult is that he is less than a man, a woman – this is clear sexism. When some one calls you fat they they are shaming your body by calling it a less acceptable body – a fat one – this is body prejudice.

“Outlawing” the use of the word fat doesn’t encourage those of us who are fat to accept our bodies. If I am fat am I also worth outlawing? And really, the fear of fat – i.e. the idea that fat is this horrible thing to be avoided – doesn’t help others reach a place of body acceptance.  JLaw is most often acknowledging her body as healthy – and telling us that her body shouldn’t be condemned – and it shouldn’t, but neither should mine. My body is awesome and FAT. You can’t “outlaw” the use of the word fat and not at the same time underscore the idea that being fat is a bad thing, a thing I should be ashamed of.

To be clear I understand that people feel bad when they are called fat. This is because fat is a word we use to shame people. But outlawing the use of the word on TV doesn’t stop that – it affirms it. It literally takes it to the extreme telling people that calling some one fat is such a horrendous insult that we can’t bear to hear it in the media – you can’t get rid of the word without dissing the people who are actually fat.

We feel bad when people call us fat because we think that being fat is unacceptable and because we have been shamed. This is what we have to work on – normalizing the idea that there are fat bodies and there always will be and that’s okay. One of the ways that we can work on this is to recognize that Fat is just a description.

Fat, like short, tall, blue eyed etc. is a descriptive word which has been taken out of context and made an insult – much like the negative use of the word “gay” – to mean uncool.  Clearly, we should stop using the word as an insult – but we can still call gay people gay and fat people are fat because that’s what they are.

Genuine body positivity would mean that even if someone was fat, they wouldn’t have to feel body shame. I believe that we need to raise awareness – shift our perspective and create a world that accepts all people. Currently, in our culture it is perfectly acceptable for people to be cruel to fatness and fat people. It reminds me of Peggy Macintosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html). We live blindly in privilege until we open our eyes and become aware of the prejudice and shame all around us.

In reality, my petition and the blog posts you’re all seeing aren’t about JLAW – she is just a catalyst for a much larger issue – recognizing that “body acceptance” and fat acceptance are not always synonymous and they should be.

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15 Books Every Feminist Should Read

1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir2. Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly

3. Borderlands/La Fontera: The New Metiza by Gloria Anzaldua

4. The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

5. Goddesses and Monsters by Jane Caputi6. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature by Val Plumwood7. Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins8. Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick9. Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture by Janelle Hobson

10. The Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo11. Pornland by Gail Dines 12. Guyland by Michael Kimmel13. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler14. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by Bell Hooks15. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
by Paula Gunn Allen

Feminists Who Like Men Who Like Feminists Who Like Women Who Like Men Who Like Men Who Like Women Who Like Men Who Like Masculinists Who Like Whomever and So ON!

So recently I have encountered two things  that deal with questions of masculinity and the oppressions that men suffer a blog entry by Pris Killingly @R]Evolutionary Witticisms in 4/4 Time entitled Our Boys Are Being Failed – A Primer and an awesome masculinist blog called No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? – which I mentioned yesterday or the day before. And after reading these things I felt that I needed to clarify my position regarding men and feminism. Or rather that a conversation about where I stand regarding questions like do men belong in the feminist movement might clarify for some of you just what kind of feminist I am and also what I actually hope for in terms of social justice.

If you read my blog regularly you’ll remember a post I made a few weeks ago about inequalities in social justice. With reference to these ideas, I have often become enraged in women’s studies and feminist classrooms when people mention “women’s spaces” – or rather events that exclude or ban the presence of men. I feel that banning or eliminating the presence of men from the feminist discussion not only repeats the oppressions of a patriarchal culture but also underscores the male/female difference – creating no room for healing this false cultural divide.

As the bloggers @ What about the Menz? and Pris Killingly make clear the constructions of masculinity have created cultural oppressions for some men in ways that are similar to the oppressions that many women have felt and feel. That said – like with all norms – the enactment of the norm for men, i.e. sterotypical masculinity results in certain privileges, and in the case of men – those privileges are extensive. BUT still what if you’re not heteronormative or white or sporty or strong or whatever… What then? – Honestly, if you are not a man’s man who can easily enact the role of masculinity , then the ridicule that comes with failing at masculinity is vast and plentiful. Apparently, there are some feminists out there that seem to feel male privilege creates a un-sealable rift between the sexes and therefore they look down of masculinist identities by arguing that men have the privileges so they can’t complain. As far as I am concerned, I don’t need to compare suffering – if you tell me your suffering, I believe you and support you desire to escape the state you interpret as oppressive. To be fair, I’m pretty well versed in terms of feminists and I don’t know any who feel 100% anti-men but I do know MANY who feel the sexes need to remain divided particularly with regard to these “women’s spaces” which allow women to “heal” from the abuses they have suffered at the hands of men.  To be clear, the abuses I am discussing are of a philosophical nature. Sexual assault and/or physical abuse clearly require healing, and it is understandable why a woman/man who has suffered from this kind of abuse would want to avoid all types that represented her/his abuser. I am not talking about this. I am talking about women’s conferences and meetings and politics, which exclude men.  I am talking about the complexities of oppression that come along when we truly understand how race, sex, class, religion, sexuality and other aspects of culture converge to define us in relation to an unobtainable norm – and the need to stop seeing the world as an abstract farce of oppositions.

That said, I believe that we all – every plant, animal and mineral – suffer under the construct of masculinity and the understanding of “masculinity” as the penultimate state of perfection. The element or concept associated with masculinity that  makes this true is reason. Reason is currently used to justify male mastery or rather the human understanding of ourselves as the master consciousness on the planet and the enforcement of this mastery through violence of all kinds – physical, political, verbal, sexual, fiscal etc. I have formed this opinion by reading books and articles – amongst others – Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Micheal Kimmel’s Guyland (see point five of Popculture Smörgåsbord) and James Gilligan’s Preventing Violence.

In particular Plumwood enabled me to understand that we see the world through a dualistic framework. Culturally we formulate our understanding of the world and cultures by defining things in opposition to each other and this opposition implies a hierarchy of dominance and submission. For example, if we look at dualisms such as male/female, civilized/savage, mind (spirit)/body, culture (human reason)/nature, master/slave etc., we recognize that traditions of western philosophic thought and practice have often defined these concepts as in opposition to each other and rendered one dominate over the other: male over female; civilized over savage; mind over body; culture over nature; and master over slave. Plumwood calls the philosophical practice of constructing reality in terms of hierarchical dualisms, the “master” consciousness or the “master model,” highlighting the oppressive nature of this kind of thinking (Plumwood 3, 23).From this perspective, at the core of continued oppression of all material beings is the assumption that human reason dominates all, particularly the corporal, natural or material.

The underlying oppression of dualism is not a concept of Plumwood’s conception; it has been explained and employed by many philosophical and feminist scholars (Derrida 1981; Beauvoir 1952; Bordo 1993, Collins 2000, etc.).  Plumwood recognizes the deeper theoretical construct of “privileged domain of the master,” and subsequent subjects (Plumwood 3). She explains, “much of feminist theory has detected a masculine presence in the officially gender-neutral concept of reason…it is not a masculine identity pure and simple, but the multiple, complex cultural identity of the master formed in the context of class, race, species and gender domination” (Plumwood 5). In other words, rather than recognize the world in terms of male domination and female subordination, Plumwood views dualism as the enabling force behind power and domination, which is not inherently male but rather dependant upon a deeply more complex and ecumenically political culture, which is currently dominated by the masculine.

I tell you all of this to make a point you may have heard me make before – acting out the role most often associated with masculinity – i.e. the role of mastery helps no one.  It doesn’t help men or women who are suffering from the homophopic/violent  tendencies of a heteronormative masculine culture; it also plays a role in how we view nature and animals and everything else.  So, a feminist acting like the patriarchy  by being exclusionary and ostracizing themselves from men doesn’t genuinely understand the meaning of the word equality. Nor does she understand the philosophical framework which allows us to construct oppression, and in doing so she leaves herself open to the possibility of being THE OPPRESOR!!! This is not a solution. We need to overturn our culture of perfection and mastery – WE NEED A SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS.

and honestly, that shift cannot – will not happen – unless we genuinely recognize that hierarchy stinks – nothing is black and white and no one way is the best way  – or rather it’s more complicated than male/female or any other false opposition you want to throw my way.


Social Justice is about everyone, isn’t it?

So lately I’ve been encountering some troubling stuff. Stuff that makes me question myallegiance to the feminist tribe. (Well, sort of.) In particular I have encountered three conversations with feminists that make note of the idea of limiting the sphere in which one can truly be a feminist.

The first instance was a comment from a good friend – one I know to be an active advocate for social justice of all kinds. In fact, I would argue that I have almost never hung out with her without discussing some way in which the current social systems are hurting or inhibiting the needs and desires of honest hard-working people or animals.  A few years ago she had a baby – a beautiful strong-minded little girl – and after much toss and turn – she decided that she was not going to return to work as a teacher. So now she is a stay at home mom.  Her comment to me was that most of her feminist friends no longer respect her. REALLY?!! I was shocked – horrified even. This is like the best mom ever, a woman who studies and thinks out all her moves as a mom – what food her daughter should eat, what fabrics should be close to her skin, how much television is too much television – or is she better off with non at all?  This woman who washes her own diapers because she’s worried about the earth and yes, she has a partner – who happens to be a man – who works day and night so that she can stay home and raise their daughter in the way she thinks is best.  This is a job, and important one, is it not?  It is also a job she loves and one that she feels has great meaning for her.

I’ve done some research and there are definitely women who rage against this idea. Like this one . And this one. But, I will continue to defend women who choose to stay home.  Mothering is a key element of society. It is a valuable and honorable profession. Viewing childcare as a less than scenario relies on philosophical framework of importance or success that  is defined by the masculine identity – in other words one of the key issues, early on for feminism was the idea that men’s lives are defined as free – potent and subject oriented. 

Ringing in the second wave of Feminism by writing The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, explained the nature of women’s cultural standing. She said, “man represents both positive and neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative.”   In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm. Beauvoir’s theory on implementing male/female equality was grounded in the understanding of womanhood as a limiting state.  Beauvoir advocated the rise of a woman from subordinate to dominate by becoming more like a man, i.e. disconnecting from her connection to ‘her own nature,’ her physicality, particularly her womb and the job of child rearing.  Later feminists recognized a fundamental flaw in Beauvoir’s perspective. In “Humanism, Gynocentrism, and Feminist Politics,” Iris Young explains, “Beauvoir does not call into question the definition of being human that traditional western society holds, and she devalues traditionally female activity in the same way that the patriarchy does.”  In other words, Beauvior’s perspective equates the true state of humanity with masculinity. In light of this understanding, it is my contention, that femininity is not the problem, rather inequality is caused by the “the denial and devaluation of specifically feminine virtues” (Young). The road to compassionate equality does not require that women become more like men, but rather that we cease to devalue and define femininity and masculinity as constructs in opposition, with hegemonic masculinity functioning as the superior form and femininity an inferior reflection.  This idea can be explored further in the works of Val Plumwood.

I am off on a tangent from where I began…So let me just circle round a bit. While I’ve focused on this discussion of stay at home mom’s, I mentioned that there were three conversations that threw me for a loop. The second conversation occurred with Gail Dines and some of the current  key players in FAU’s Women, Gender and Sexuality department at the Florida Consortium for Women’s Studies Conference. The topic of the actual discussion eludes me by the basic premise was a number of female  feminists met to discuss pornography and anti-porn strategies and the told a transgender feminist that her attendance was not appreciated. Ouch…REALLY! Isn’t the ultimate goal empowering and accepting each other as we are and want to be? 

My final issue was a conversation with friends about sexuality – one friend, who is in a long-term relationship with a man but used to date only women – mentioned that when she started dating a man all her lesbian friends disowned her. REALLY!  – I can’t really say that the women who disowned her are feminists, but I can say that they bear the burdens of unequal social justice issues – wouldn’t they want to let people be and choose whatever makes them happy? Obviously not.

What is that? 

I am a proponent of the morality detailed by the principles of feminist care ethics, i.e. acknowledging and examining how one’s personal background, experience and viewpoint affect one’s moral choices, focusing on responses that are person and situation specific, and creating solutions that focus on care and empathy for others. If you are interested in these ideas read Maternal Thinking: Toword a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick. I guess my point here is that in the end, the ultimate goal, breaking down abstract prejudice and oppression is the only goal – and these behaviors – judgement and criticism of the choices people make – these are the behaviors of the oppressor.