I got angry before at someone who expressed some really gross and hurtful things about fat people, and like usual, I was conflicted about my response soon after. As a woman, I was taught that to respond with anger, haughtiness or questioning is a big No No. A woman is supposed to quell her outrage at injustices for fear that she be painted with negative characteristics, for fear that she is dismissed as a bitch and told to “calm down”. Angry fat women, already painted into a pretty corner with this oppressive conditioning, must completely blow minds because they are not submissive, jolly or thin. Angry fat women are angry because you dismiss them as human beings, because they are not thin and submissive, or beautiful and quiet.
When someone is not angry or asking questions, it makes them a lot easier to control but by the same token, I can appreciate being lost in an angry response. A lot of the time I can flip situations around, and sometimes come out of it with that golden Teaching Moment. I did it once and blogged my success, but tonight I have come to blog my failure. And I’m ok with it. One of the things I have learned from my mate Tiara is that it’s unfair to expect a victimised and demonised group of people to educate their oppressors. One of the most common things I hear in my interactions as a fat activist is
“But you just want to glorify fat people/ make everyone fat.”
If I was a thin woman, I doubt I’d hear that. If I was a thin male, I’d barely even know that kind of response existed. Hell, if I was a thin male I’d probably be doling out that kind of response without a second thought.
I get really tired of hearing it… and then some days I get really angry and upset about it. It wears me down and I suffer the old activist fatigue, and find I have to withdraw from talking about this stuff for a while. That’s why I am grateful for fat allies and activists who aren’t female or fat like Paul Campos. He can use his male privilege to be heard and not dismissed by other men! This transcript from his lecture at UCLA says a lot about who our society takes seriously on the topic of fatness:
This is an extraordinarily gendered subject, I mean just take a look around! Right? Why am I getting to talk the way I am about this kind of thing even though I’m “overweight”, which I am according to the American government? Because a) I’m a man and uh there’s a second reason but I can’t remember what it is but mainly because I’m a man and um therefore I have.. Oh yeah, ’cause even though I’m overweight, I’m thin, right?
I’m thin in terms of the social meaning of thinness in our culture. A man of my particular social class and background and so forth is typed as thin and therefore even though I’m “overweight”, I have a BMI of 25 and change, I’m 5’8″, I weight 167lb and that makes me overweight according to the US government. I am still socially thin, so I’m a man so I get to say whatever I want about weight and not be judged for it because nobody cares what men weigh. Needless to say I am painting with a very broad brush here, yes weight discrimination definitely affects men and it’s not as if this kind of craziness does not have negative effects on men too – it certainly does, but it has a vastly stronger effect on women, as I’m sure many of you can recognise just from your life experience.
So I’m a man, I can say what I want about weight without being judged for it and secondly, if I was a woman and I was 5’8″ and a 167lb I would NOT be thin even though I would have exactly the same body mass, even though physiologically I would have the same BMI. But socially I would be, in this context at least (upper class, privileged, in this institution of higher learning) I would be fat. And therefore of course I would not have standing to say anything about this. Because “obviously” I would be rationalising for my own failure to have maintained an appropriate body type.
I hope that quote can open your eyes to what an activist deals with when she is fighting the oppression she is subject to, and why it’s so awesome and appreciated when allies step in. Sometimes it’s just shit that when I call someone out on being a bigot, they turn around and call me a bitch or, one of my favourites, too sensitive. That person, especially if they are a privileged white male (but yo, women do this too!) will receive the full force of my anger. I’m allowed to be angry, and to express my hurt, and if it tumbles out of me in a way that leads to a further conversation about the transgression it’s awesome… but if it doesn’t, I oughtn’t blame myself. It’s going to take a long time to sort this crap out, because of how ingrained hatred and fear are in people’s heads. If the duty is solely handed to the victimised, the bullied and the oppressed… well nothing is ever going to change.