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30 May
mainstream?
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There was this brilliant rant I wrote, but then I clicked on some link and stupidly lost what I typed in the MT window. Will I ever learn to type elsewhere first?

So. Tish linked one of the very cute postcards from Fatcities.com earlier this week and was rebuffed for her relatively balanced treatment of the site. I’m glad she posted what essentially served as a disclaimer, because otherwise the site would have been too disappointing.

One of the site’s main functions seems to be hooking up the “undateable” with each other. I’m fine with that. So, the pictures and such get a little slutty, but I’m not as averse to random porn as others are. I would like a little warning that material might be “adult”, but I’d deal if the rest of the site were compelling.

It’s clear that Fatcities’s goal is to be a “mainstream” sales- and advertising-oriented site, much like Yahoo or its ilk. And okay, I accept that. What I don’t accept is its definition of mainstream fat acceptance as non-existent (that is, the mainstream interpretation of fat acceptance, if you follow the subtext, is that fat people are kinda sad victims who need to be helped out of their fatness).

Here are some of the news items cited as “Fat Issues & Fat Acceptance” on the site:

Could you be thinner if you moved to another city?
Too Heavy, Too Young -what parents can do for fat children (it’s all about how to make them un-fat)
Fattest US Cities 2003
Are your height & weight proportionate? Find out here! (BMI calculator)

When you say you want to balance “mainstream” with fat-friendly and you proceed to fixate on dieting and talk about the reasons for obesity, you don’t challenge anyone’s perception. Any of those articles in the right context could be a call to arms, but instead they just spread the message that fat people aren’t okay. Aren’t, to be blunt, mainstream.

I get a little squirrelly about taking women stuff and fat stuff and movement stuff and placing it in an environment that’s about selling stuff. Take the message, water it down a little, add some sugar – and you have messageade! Now with 10% real message!

And you have to wonder: is 10% message worth it? If 80% of the people get 10% of the message, is that progress? In theory, I believe it is. I believe little girls in twenty-dollar t-shirts (now in size XXXL) that read “gurls rawk!” in pink glitter glue are advancing appreciation of feminism. It might not be real political action, but it is, at least, taking that action to the mall – to the mainstream.

It’s just. When I actually see this in practice, it’s a little creepy.

Dru is talking a bit about the mainstream today, and pointed out Pink Prickly Pear’s brilliant rant on the same.

I don’t, as many liberals seem to, think that mainstream American/Western culture is completely banal. There is depth everywhere, and in everyone. So there’s a place for messageade – the place where you introduce the concept in a safe, no-one’s-skin’s-in-this way, the place where the real message trickles down through what we buy because yo, that’s what capitalism is all about.

But. That’s the mainstream co-opting a small part of radicalism. That’s people selling things using what they hear the kids are buying these days.

I think the right way changes when the seller belongs, or at least claims to belong, to the radicalized group.

When you’re part of something that isn’t considered mainstream, you risk not making any progress when you try to package your thing as Yahoo, or as Barbie. You risk “fat acceptance” meaning “feel bad for fat people but don’t hurt them”, you risk “gurls rawk” t-shirts becoming yet another thing girls must have to be pretty, popular, normal.

Do you risk more by not doing anything? Probably. I guess I just want more.

 

stupid tax cut
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You can tell when my feelings overwhelm my capacity for rational argument. I start to sound like a 12 year old (see "stupid tax cut" title today).

But I'm miffed by the content of HR 2, specifically, that it kept up the 2001 limitations on poor families receiving the child tax credit (see the NY Times explanation of the issue) after much discussion and promising to help working-class families. Aren't taxpayers in the $10-30K income bracket working-class?

Most congresspeople's response when questioned about the last-minute limitation of the child tax credit was something to the effect of "Geez, what do you people want, more money for poor people? Well, that's just insane!" What's most important in cutting taxes to stimulate the economy is to cut capital gains and dividend taxation, apparently.

I'm actually not infuriated by tax cuts related to investments. No, they probably don't directly stimulate consumption, but they could at least ice the bruises of the stock market temporarily. What irks me is that, given the opportunity to shave a couple hundred million off the cost of the bill, the first place the Republican house went is to stiffing the working stiff.

Of course, even the counter arguments (the ones FOR including the working poor in the child tax credit) are stupid and biased. Something to the effect of "Well, middle class people are spooked, so they'll save their $400, but working class people - man, they're so poor and confused, they'll run right out an buy a washing machine!" I'm sure the poor thank you for your high estimation of their judgement. Seriously, if you're making say, $15K a year post-tax, a few hundred dollars is a major windfall. It's bills you can pay on time, or a start to the rainy-day fund you always wished you could put aside. It's a chance you'll make a living wage that month.

But hey, you'll still get back 50 cents a payday. What's not to love?

Oh, and if you want to know how your congressfolk voted, visit Project Vote Smart. It won't tell you where they fell in the last-minute discussion, but it's useful.

 

29 May
growing out of it
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Why does it seem that no one who takes a conservative viewpoint on politics or a defeatist viewpoint about social change is told they'll "grow out of it"?

I'm serious here.

See. I've been pretty liberal for most of my life. Except, maybe, for the period right after I first discovered politics and decided I was a Libertarian. [In many ways I still am a libertarian, philosophically, but I am not going to associate with those people. I mean, eep.] And I've always been told by people slightly or more older than me that I will eventually have money and a family and I'll want to protect them and I won't be liberal anymore because liberal is somehow not about family and people having enough money.

Well, I have money and I sort of have a family, and I have to say. I don't feel a sudden wave of fiscal or social conservatism washing over me. You know what? The support of my family and the freedom afforded by that money just make me more radical. So, there.

When are you, annoying people who tell me idealism is for kids, going to grow out of being pompous, apathetic and powerless? When are those of you who don't even bother to vote going to grow up and start paying attention?

Rant aside, I don't recall any of the conservative kids I knew when I was younger being told they were young and idealistic and going to eventually grow out of it. That actually makes me feel an itty bit better - if every highly politicized youngish person got that kind of flak, it would be a sad, bitter commentary on the American political system and its reputation.

So, why this association of liberalism with youth and foolishness (why, for that matter, the association of youth with foolishness)?

I'm beginnning to think it's just another part of the lack of an American mythos. Lacking a collection of godlike archetypes and having a Puritan sense of order and organization, we categorize things. [I wrote a paper in middle school I think analogizing Piaget and some other child development guys' notions of adolescence to American culture and politics that tied into this as a reflection of that pre-adolescent fixation on magazine quizzes; it was actually pretty clever. I was reading a lot of fin de siecle German theory at the time.] So, when mass media kicked in the sixties, and everyone saw kids running around being liberal, maybe we decided that liberalism equaled kids and Ronald Reagan equaled normal, adult America.

I think it's about time we grew out of that.

 

28 May
search result poetry
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Sometimes the search results that land people on any given site are really poetic.

Case in point: tipping the velvet expression slang (used to find WHB).

Isn't that a lovely turn of phrase? One rather expects it to be Ginsberg or some such.

This is one of my favorite features of my host, the spitting out of top search terms as well as strings. It's total fridge poetry. So, for your amusement, some of the poetry spat out by people's visits recently.

This week on WHB (bad poetry created by stringing my search terms into lines, in the order of their occurrence):
the myth madness bell jar forum
easy bob uttl women and sexual
sites litigious unborn prisoners expression
legs movement lace should in
serial non not death origin
lawsuit mail

And on Red Polka:
fat wicked evil of sex and stewart
martha in thoughts
for people equality the social
feminism on to chairs
how nurture nature
v girl degrading etymology women
porn

 

27 May
for yourself
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Fat & Feisty made a great post last weekend about the notion of acceptable size, and how much cultural norms influence even what we think we're doing for ourselves.

Where do you think you got your standard from??? Were you born knowing that size 10 (or 4, or 20) was ok but size 14 (or 6 or 26) wasn't? If any of us grew up in a bubble, or on a deserted island, or in a world where size was not a measure of worth, do you really think we'd all come to these precise conclusions on our own? I don't think we would.

I know, for instance, a woman who feels "healthier" on a carb-free diet that leaves her so de-energized she no longer works out. She's losing weight at the cost of hours of varied, exciting exercise each week. I don't think this is a sign that she's listening carefully to her body's feeling of health; I think it's a sign that she bought someone else's definition of "healthy" as "thin", and I hate that I can't talk her out of it.

I find myself doing the same thing, wondering if it might be easier if I just got the fat sucked out of me with a magic vacuum like all those sad people on that Extreme Makeovers show who are so convinced there's a beautiful, living person inside their shells. Then I think - how sad is it that we live in a world that could cause someone to believe a different-looking shell was reason enough to avoid living the life he wanted?

And then this, from the comments on F&F's post, made me want to fly out to Tish's or Paul's or somewhere for a good cry and some cheering up:

Well, it is one thing to not like your size because you are comparing it to an image of ideal beauty your are indoctrinated to hold as truth, and another thing to not like your size because you choose to fit into clothes/chairs/theatre seats/those tight fast food booths better.

Granted, these things are all made in those sizes because of the same "average" or "ideal' size image which may or may not be a good thing, but since you or I are not going to change the way the powers that be build these things in our lifetime, the options are either to stop going to the theatre, shopping in "regular" stores, and so on, or to compromise by losing some weight.

As if losing weight is a compromise with a world that says you're the wrong size. I don't have a deep empathy for this idea, but I understand. Even as fat as I am (the fitting in theater seats and planes and such sort of fat), I feel constantly radicalized by my difference from the norm. Simply having to consider whether a store is worth bothering with, worth looking for a few clothes your size, makes you painfully aware that you don't fit. To encounter this sort of thing with every little daily act has to wear down your sould.

But I don't think the answer is to fold. Quite the contrary. The answer is to stand up, march your folding stool into the movie theater, and get comfy. To demand that the powers that be (who are all ultimately accountable to you via your dollar or your vote) change the way they build things. Not just in our lifetime - tomorrow.

This is what keeps me fat - beyond the simple fact that I won't allow even my own brainwashed ideals of size to prevent me from living - this need to expand normal, to call the world on its bullshit, basically.

What that means is this - because I am in many respects, one self-righteous crazed person, I'm not just refusing to lose weight for myself. I'm doing it for you.

 

bah!
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I'm taking an I hope brief forced hiatus on account of the phone lines at my house freaking out for a day or so everytime we use the Airport (that's our wireless internet hub, for you non-Mac savvy).

I think I'll collect the things I'd like to post in the meantime & stick them all up when I finally have a reliable connection.

If you're looking for something to read, check out Gloamling's heartfelt populist diatribe about American Idol. Good reading.

 

22 May
nature v. nurture
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I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the nature/nurture argument with regards to gender and sexuality (which, as Rev pointed out, are in many ways inseparable). So, this week I posed a long - and apparently overdense - question to the group on just that subject. [While the question is quoted in part below, you could also just read it directly on WHB.]

What role should biology play in our understanding of gender and sexuality, and how should we address this as a culture/society?
The inherent flaw of any argument about biological destiny vs. indoctrination vs. free choice is the versus. People are influenced by everything.

In the case of gender, I argue that most of the impact of sex (biological sex, that is) is a tendency to bias others in their behavior towards you. This is precisely why transgendered people have the experience of being one thing trapped in another. It's not, as far as I know, biologically possible to be a biological woman in a biological man's body (though, of course, there are the biological sex anomalies like Turner's Syndrome and such), for instance. But the simple fact of being in a man's body means that people will respond to you in certain ways, expect certain things.

Generally speaking, the body you're in and the cultural expectations for that body are dominant influences on your behavior. But - that doesn't mean those cultural influences automatically pigeonhole you into the "ideal" woman or man. Maybe you have more or less of certain hormones, are exposed to opposite gender types (not too difficult in a world where "ideal" gender behaviors are so contradictory), or simply see something over there in the other gender you like.

Gender types are not unlike any other cultural conception in that.

Of course, they're such a deeply engrained conception that we can't just stand on the roof with a bullhorn shouting "Gender is Dead! Long Live Gender!" and expect to make progress. I do think, though, that the world of queer and the small but vocal transgender community are slowly eroding what it means to be "man" or "woman", however consciously or unconsciously they do so.

Feminism, sadly, seems to simultaneously reject and reinforce our cultural notions of gender and the differences that implies. This, too, has had value - trumpeting the value of women, gaining us equal voting rights, improving health and childcare legislation in the US - but any feminism that implies women are all one way (whatever way that is) still falls back on that male/female dichotomy. Of course, the end of gender rather implies the end of feminism - so maybe it's self-preservation.

How much does your genetic makeup, your biological sex, etc. contribute to who you are as a person
I was a physically uncoordinated child. This might have something to do with biology, or it might be a nurtured trait. What I know is that I was verbal long before I was mobile (I think I was nearly 2 before walking), and that this was attributed to eye-body coordination issues and a disturbing natural flexibility that I haven't cultivated as much as I would like.

I also know that girl children are more likely to speak words earlier than boy children and boys are more likely to walk earlier. Is that a sex-dependent difference, or a gender-based one? I suspect, given the way we tend to treat babies - girls are cuddled and spoken to, boys are tossed and played with - that there's a strong "nurture" component to what is usually seen as a "nature"-based variance. Nevertheless, aside from my clearly genetic, though hardly sex-dependent, physical qualities, the order in which these two things happened was "normal" for my sex.

I've also always had a clear biological/genetic predilection towards fatness. I was a round child; I'm a round adult. Even when I was a tree-climbing, bike-riding kid who mostly hung with boys (and refused to wear non-dresses, ironically), I never acquired that lean child body.

And then, there's whatever combination of genes led to my wearing of soda-bottle glasses starting in second grade. I am so half-blind girl. It was a source of embarrassment and inconvenience for years before the invention of the disposable contact lens.

Those factors (predilection for fatness and failure to catch - or even see - moving objects) undoubtedly contributed to my leanings towards dance and other "soft" exercise modes, a loathing of games with balls, friendships based on conversation, and a general shyness and nerdiness I've never quite shaken. Because I was a girl, all these things were, to an extent, encouraged. I think those biological factors, then, ultimately played some role in the formation of my personal preferences.

My dad read to me all the time, mostly science fiction and horror. I was a bald baby who was always dressed in dresses or pink for my first 2 years, so people knew I was female (for my family's benefit, basically). I went to a sex-divided school for much of grade school. I had a mother who took me to college classes and did yoga and dance and that "we must, we must, we must increase our bust" exercise and a dad who read a lot (and also tried to throw balls at me, with limited success). The children's books with smart protagonists are frequently about girls (Harriet, Anne, Jo, Eilonwy, all those girls) who read and ultimately find some middle ground between intellectual pursuit and "feminine" behavior like getting along with others. I also remember being fixated on the year of my parents' birth (in the fifties), which ultimately resulted in me reading about a lot of fifties-era stereotypes. And my mother loves magazines.

That collection of factoids includes a blur of experiences that may have contributed to my "girly"ness, my feminism, my queerness. But I think the single most contributing factor is the experience of being exposed to all those things.

Is it worthwhile to think about biology as, to an extent, destiny? For instance, the queer movement has done a lot of work to assert that gay is predestined at birth. That has some political value, but is it true?
I'm really torn on this one. I recognize that saying sexual preference is fixed makes the argument for equal rights more obvious. I recognize that a lot of gay and straight people feel there's no possible way they could have another preference. I recognize that many other bisexual-acting people feel that, whatever their behavior, they are ultimately either gay or straight.

But this just doesn't ring true. So many people have experiences or feelings that they're willing to discount as not them because those experiences don't meet some definition of what they do or do not do sexually. I suppose there's a value in taboo, but I'd rather accept the entire realm of experience as possible.

And if that's so, you remove the dichotomy and the differentiation among who has and hasn't rights to be normal, to be a player in the political and social life of our culture. Well, at least as far as sex is concerned.

 

20 May
weight distortion
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I'm watching "America's Sweethearts", a movie that created some controversy awhile ago among size acceptance folk. With some reason - the plot doesn't sound good: Catherine Zeta Jones and John Cusack are a famous soon-to-be-divorced couple forced to promote a movie together, Cusack falls for her sister, Julia Roberts, who has recently removed a fat suit. Many fat cracks, of course.

However. It's interesting to note several positive sidebars in the weightloss story. One - Cusack's character already has a tentative history with the fat sister, whom he claims he always found attractive. Two - the fat sister doesn't have horrid frumpy fashion sense. Three - you see that her fat-removing diet was actually starvation-ish. So, it's three good points in a slew of bad ones, but at least there's something.

What it actually brought to mind, though, was this - there's a joke about her losing 60 pounds. Billy Crystal says "Sixty pounds? That's a Backstreet Boy."

Now, that's interesting. Sixty pounds is nothing like a Backstreet Boy. They're young and slim, yes. But they're also like six feet tall and dance for a living. These boys actually probably weigh in a lot closer to 200 pounds than to 60.

Sure, this is a complete hyperbole. But. It also points to something that disturbs me. We're all so used to lying about our weight (women particularly) that few of us have a good grasp on the weight vs. size relationship anymore. We think, as most men-written novels will tell you, that a healthy-looking woman over 5'5" might reasonably weight no more than 100 pounds.

I imagine that most people who read what I write (all five of you, I adore you) probably don't make a practice of lying about or disguising their weight. But if you do, I hope you'll stop.

See, what happens when we mistakenly assume all women weight 100 pounds (some do, of course) is this: those of us who don't assume we're fucked up. We see ourselves as even further from normal. Disguising your size ultimately makes you believe your size is less and less acceptable.

And that's just silly.

 

another pride & prejudice retelling?
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[This, lovely readers, is Vacation Book Report #1]
Part of the lure of vacationing for me is the possibility of simultaneously engaging and disengaging both my mind and body. I exercise in some form for at least an hour each day, read a couple of really thought-provoking books, then lounge around doing nothing and reading fluff.

Sometimes, the fluff is really entertaining.

Case in point: Pride, Prejudice & Jasmin Field (Jasmin here is a person, not a place as I'd imagined). Plot of book: mildly successful British journalist is wackily cast as Lizzie Bennett in a stage remake of P&P, directed by wildly famous British actor guy. He, by a strange twist of casting mistakes and other hijinks, ends up playing Darcy. Life imitates art. All the other characters follow similarly. Wackiness ensues.

Okay, so it sounds like a much more direct, much less topical Bridget Jones. But it's effing hilarious - if, that is, you are like me and my best friend in your hopeless devotion to Colin Firth's bath scene in the BBC miniseries. If you're not. Well, you've missed out. Trust us.

The nice thing about this silly book is that it's not completely irritating apart from the romance and the whole thin P&P premise. Our heroine is a feminist who actually sounds like one and isn't just labeled so for the convenience of fitting in with the Cosmo set [I know I say anyone who believes in equality is a feminist, but do I really have to let those women play?]. Her family is filled with sympathetic characters that hint at complexity beneath the surface of this by nature very surface-level story.

In short, really quite good poolside reading. And - you can buy it in the embarassing "Chick Lit" section at the Target. If you want to buy books in a category that sounds like small candy-coated gum.

 

19 May
back from vacation
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And feeling very rested. Read a ton. Book reports coming soon.

 

13 May
marianismo
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I cannot get that blasted Marian the Librarian song (you know, from Music Man?) song out of my head now.

Darn Kerri and this week's WHB question:

What is it in our global culture that has the majority of women convinced that sacrifice and selflessness signify a morally sound woman? What do you think of the assumption that females, if mentally stable, are all willing to not only play the role of mother, but give up their own lives to do so, while men are never questioned about why they did not put their careers on hold around age 30 to start a family? I am sure exceptions to the rule exist, but what is important here is that these assumptions and expectations are the rule.

What I am asking is a loaded question: What is wrong when in a society, instead of encouraging cooperative childrearing, competition is promoted among moms to see who can, in the spirit of Marianismo, sacrifice the most [April's note - I chose consciously not to answer the competition question, as I have next to no grounding in it.]? How do we change this narrowminded thinking?

Am I allowed to disagree with the question? I used to ask that in school a lot. Kerri admits to loading her question here, but I nevertheless have problems approaching a question with so many assumptions baked into it.

It's presumptive to assume that sacrifice for one's children is primarily around the career arena. It's presumptive to assume that only women, not men, feel pushed to give their children their lives. It's presumptive to say that women who do feel that way are also competitive about it.

It's also presumptive to assume that everyone wants children, or will make sacrifices to raise them.

Let's look at the ideals of the 1950's (themselves quite loaded) around the American family. Around marriage. A lot of our contemporary notions of family and gender roles are fixed on this time period.

While we think of women as sacrificing quite a bit in the 50's, the truth is that both parties in a postwar marriage were expected to subsume self in role. Women had a certain role to play, men had another role. If you don't fit your role, tough. Deal. You have a problem, probably some Freudian thing. This doesn't just apply to women, though - it's about men, too. So. One thing baked into Kerri's question (one thing that seems to have led quite a few WHB commenters down rather a different path) is the idea that sacrificing a career is a key aspect of the sacrifice made for partnership and children.

And yet - the ideals of the fifties, which are pretty much our ideals today, as family goes, hold that a man is expected to "provide for" a family financially, much as a woman was expected to do emotionally & physically. A man who dislikes his job, would rather be an artist, whatever, is still pushed to be the Provider today. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but the mainstream ideal of family still requires sacrifice by both parents, not just by one. The type of sacrifice expected simply differs by role.

I find, experientially, that the expectation that one is eager to have an raise a family isn't limited to women. Quite the contrary - men are expected to want to play daddy while having a career (though career is, of course, also supposed to provide deep personal satisfaction). Families who'd like to play by different rules (say, dad stays home with the tots and mom works, or couples get married and don't procreate, or any other alternative) face the barrier of fit. They face things like diaper changing stations in women's bathrooms only, groups of people - including former friends - with whom they eventually fail to fit, legislation that assumes certain things about families, et cetera.

The sad thing is - exceptions and counters to the role rule existed in the fifties, too. And yet these exceptions still aren't considered in the realm of normal.

One of many challenges for contemporary families is navigating today with a map from 1952 (with little scratches and hilighted routes from points along the way). Parents face a world where two incomes are practically necessary, but women are still likely to make less than their male counterparts, rendering a woman's fiscal contribution less signficant and more easily parted with, especially when you consider the lack of community child-rearing resources most people experience. And women of my generation, despite growing up with many models for working/non-working motherhood, have to balance family and personal needs in an environment where their careers might or might not be all that satisfying. Add to that the subtle signs that family care is women's work (the magazines, hints of daytime television, advice and parenting books, all gender-biased towards mothers), and I think a lot of mainstream families simply fall into the pattern their parents or parents' parents followed.

Is narrowmindedness at work in this pattern? Yes, and no. It is narrowminded not to value the many choices of family, career and life as equal. It's a mistake, though not necessarily a narrowminded one, for families not to thoughtfully approach their decisions about how to handle childrearing. But I think the pattern itself comes down to a lack of viable options (or a lack of information about existing options).

What would need to happen to create a wider range of family structure options?

Well, first, the economic changes - a minimum wage that approached living wage, so families could survive on less work. Parity in pay for men and women, so any couple could choose whose work to survive on. Restoration of the late nineties trend towards telecommuting and flexible work schedules for people on a variety of career paths, so families and others can achieve greater balance between home and work.

And finally, cultural shifts (which we can demand, as always, with what we buy, read, and believe) - blending the gendered roles in family care (which I personally believe would result from the economic changes). Recognition that work in the home is still real work, not one person's god-given role as a result of gender. More education about education. I don't believe we can eliminate the selfless ideal of mother in a generation, but I think we can at least take some steps - via economic parity - towards removing her from her pedestal and making her less gender-loaded.

 

vacation!
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In case you're wondering why I haven't posted in a bit. Well, I'm on VACATION!

So, I may pop in occasionally, but mostly I'll be reading a combination of serious feminist critiques and idiotic "chick-lit" novels while shopping and lounging about at the pool.

 

12 May
warning - may cause extreme confidence
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I've said before that I consume a lot of media primarily because I know it will anger me enough to provoke a blog post, a rant, or some more direct action.

This month's Glamour Magazine was no exception. I picked it up after a particularly mind-exhausting day thinking parts of it might be endearing, and at least I'd get a good rise out of it.

It most certainly did. Their idea of "body love" includes such topics as: swimsuits that hide "flaws", dishing celebrities stupid diets as "good" or "bad", dishing celebrities' attitudes towards their thighs, and asking men what they think of women's bodies because god forbid women be able to develop opinions about their bodies based on their own feelings in lieu of someone else's idea of what they should be.

There were, I was surprised to find, a handful of really positive articles and spreads. One emphasizing the history of curves and featuring a not-creepy model, for instance. These were balanced carefully with ads for things you "indulge" in or to "correct" you, guaranteeing that the dangerous extreme confidence hawked on the cover would materialize for no more than a few seconds.

But the overwhelming message was that of course, women agonize about every little ounce of fat on their bodies, and we could all use an occasional break of confidence in all the diet and exercise crazes. Unless you're unhealthy (meaning, actually "fat"). Then you can only love your insides.

It was more depressing for being occasionally uplifting.

 

08 May
the crisis of maleness
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Eheu.

So, when I commented the other day about the cancer & weight study, I didn't expect to see this follow so quickly: being male is now a health crisis.

It's funny. But not completely insane, either. The solutions presented to this supposed crisis (improved education, for one) aren't completely spurious. Of course, no one proposes that we reassign everyone a female gender. And this is where it differs from the solution to the "obesity crisis" - few studies look at employment rates, doctor visits or stress levels for fat people and how to improve these; instead, we talk about eliminating fatness.

Does anyone get this? That would be exactly like suggesting we eliminate the crisis of maleness. Exactly. Yes, fatness can be stopped via radical, occasionally surgical measures. But hey, so can maleness!

The article I linked, surprisingly enough, touches on some of the ways men are injured by "the patriarchy", particularly by the cultural system of defining masculinity and femininity.

The study also links the disparity to cultural definitions of what it means to be masculine, hindering men from projecting any sense of vulnerability — including seeking health-protective behaviors. Men are less likely see a doctor or follow medical advice.

It sounds innocuous, but if part of the proscribed course of acceptable "manly" attitudes is not seeking help when you need it (even if, as most fat people know, doctors' advice sometimes amount to little more than speculation), that could be a pretty big problem. It's not the only way we're culturally unfair to men (that same role division tends to keep men more distant from family and defines violent responses to stressors as "manly", for instance).

One of the things feminists are frequently accused of is hating men by opposing a patriarchal system. But gender role divisions are a key part of that system, and feminism's fight there isn't just for women. It's for men, trannies, whoever. None of us benefit from an environment that eliminates choice.

 

06 May
junk science ate my baby
link : thoughts (4) : track it (0) : in fat & health stuff

Is the science promoted in popular media getting more absurd?

It might be. Take, for example, the background on the latest "Fat causes cancer! story. It sounds scary. More people die of cancer because they're fat! Well, maybe. And maybe not. What's more shocking is that the study seems based on little actual science.

The ACS collected the data in 1982 by soliciting 70,000 volunteers to interview 2 million friends and family about their health and lifestyle characteristics.

That's right, the data is collected by people who interviewed their friends and family. Not appalling, if done by people trained to give the same message, ask the same questions, and investigate well. But how well can 70,000 untrained amateurs do when asking people they know invasive questions?

Anyone who did a school science project that expected you to ask the same questions of several of your close friends and family knows the temptation to just guess, rather than bothering these people, is pretty great. So, not only are questions not consistently posed, there's a decent chance they weren't always asked at all.

Add this to it, and it becomes absurd that we even bothered reporting on this data:

None of the health and lifestyle data were verified for accuracy. The researchers don't really know what or how much the study subjects ate, smoked, drank or exercised, for example. Not even the study subjects' height and weight was verified.

Stupid science. Or stupid public?

If we're actually paying attention to this drivel and taking it seriously, we are indeed pretty stupid. At times I think most people have long since completely tuned out discussion of things that might give them cancer. And yet - it's clear that people are quick to hop on the latest "scientific" diet or medical treatment to make them younger, thinner, "healthier". So maybe the junk science is just what we asked for. Maybe we're not interested in real research at all.

The people who fund these studies certainly aren't. How many studies do you see about the effects of dieting? Not many.

We are not the hapless pawns of marketing and alarmism, however much we might blame things on the media. Media are crafted to sell what we want, based on what we've already bought. Advertising, particularly, is a reactive medium. It doesn't shape, it responds - and now, I'm afraid, that's just what scientific research is becoming.

On another, cheerier, note. Happy No Diet Day. In theory, at least - there doesn't seem to be as much press about it this year, which makes me wonder whether it's actually an annual event or not (it is, really it is).

 

04 May
fitting
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Tish was talking a little last week about the chair problem. Specifically, that - even in Tish's world, which seems friendlier and more accepting of difference that many - there aren't always enough chairs for fat people.

It's a minor annoyance when looked at as simply not being able to find a comfortable - or even sittable - chair. But the fact that reasonable chairs are often not provided in places from doctors' offices to airplanes to amusement parks isn't just an annoyance; it's also a symbolic representation of our cultural assumption of normal. A normal that fat people aren't.

Take away any feelings of whether fat people can be healthy or not (they can), whether dieting is any good (it's not), whatever value judgement one might make about fat or thin, and you still have this - you, the fat person, are not normal enough to go to the doctor, to the movies, anywhere you might want to fly.

I got a laptop recently that came with a case. The shoulder strap on my case, like the shoulder strap on the seatbelt in my car, is too long. My seatbelt at best cuts across the base of my neck. My laptop case bangs my knees if I don't carry it by the short little hand-handles. These things aren't a sign of a larger cultural bias against short people; they're minor inconveniences. But they're also daily reminders that I'm not average, not normal. The irony of this is that I'm actually only 2 inches shy of "average" height for a women, which means my car and my laptop were probably tested only with men as users.

Eris had a signature on a (now defunct) messageboard about the impact of design on our everyday lives (something about walls around urinals saying urination is shameful). It's quite true. The way ordinary things are designed reinforces cultural ideas, the idea of normal size, normal things we do. Everything from the height of shelves to the width of office chairs to the sizes of clothing in stores points to one thing as normal and average and something else as not.

So I suppose it's no surprise that so many people think they're the wrong size, the wrong something else - there are so many indirect messages that they're right.

 

the comic book store
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Yesterday we were at the comic book shop. Fun.

Comic book stores are one of the few grounds exclusively reserved for the hard core. The geek. Each store's organization is slightly different, organized by publisher with the store's favorite publishers up front. [A hint about identifying good comic book stores in my opinion, is to look for independents at the front of the store - if you don't see anything but DC or Marvel in the front, try the next store. But then, my idea of what makes for a good comic is stuff like this and this, not the sort of comics movies get made from.]

So, yeah. I don't get comic book stores. The organization confuses me. The shopkeeps and patrons slightly intimidate me. I basically go in and browse, hoping the things I like will leap from the shelves and assault me. I do not ask questions, having been subjected to the disdain of comic book store employees in the past.

Comic geeks aren't like gamer geeks. Meaning, specifically, that comics have a distinctly male, slightly territorial quality. Gamers, male or female, recognize the geek nature of what they do and are not only serious about it but eager to share. Ask a stupid question and you generally get a sincere answer. There are, of course, the rare, territorial gamer dorks, the boys who don't really ever grow into social skills - they'll be unwelcoming - but the bulk of serious gamers are smart, friendly people.

I don't know if girl comic book geeks are different from the geek boys. Honestly, I don't think I've even met a true girl comic geek, one who wasn't at heart a gamer who happened to hang out with comic fans. I read some of the books they write/draw, though, so I know there are some. I imagine it must be odd to be female in that environment. Not for the cliche of the unrealistic female bodies and objectification of women (contemporary male and female comic artists are creating some superb female characters), but for the extremity of the dorkiness, the disconnection from most people's reality. And, you know, the lack of other chicks.

That said, you have to respect the comic book geeks for creating a space that locks them in and others out so effectively. It has to be satisfying, as a geek, to mock the accidental patrons in the comic store - the ones who don't know what they're looking at, let alone what they're looking for. I think every geek has some core part of them that sits judging the intelligence of others - and mostly finding them lacking. How much fun must it be to express that on a regular basis?

 

smart women
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Alison's WHB question this week is about self-doubt - specifically the doubt a woman might feel about her capability and her competence. This one touches somewhat on my personal experience.

A preface to all this: doubt isn't a condition of gender, but there are certainly aspects of self-doubt and its expression which may be gendered. All the men and women I know have episodes of self doubt; I think that's a key component of intelligence and self-awareness.

but wait! there's more »


 

03 May
paul campos on the fat-cancer link
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Paul Campos wrote a great, to-the-point article debunking the fat-cancer link from the latest study. Read it.

[Link from Big Fat Blog. Thanks, Paul. And, um - Paul.]

 

02 May
privatizing charity
link : thoughts (1) : track it (0) : in generally political stuff

A common conservative perspective is that charitable giving would increase if rich people didn't have to pay all those darned taxes. So, cut taxes and, from a trickle-down theory perspective, everyone who needs a little help still gets it. In fact, with the minds who run corporations able to contribute more to charitable organizations, everything would run better!

Leave aside the implication that monetary success is all about innate ability and has nothing to do with one's economic class of origin (an assumption that sociological study after study has proven to be flat-out untrue), and you see what so many conservatives don't admit to: wild idealism and impracticality. See, the problem is that a large proportion of those rich people are quite conservative, and also quite convinced of the whole innate ability argument. This lends them a certain perspective on charitable giving.

I started thinking about this again last night. Chris Matthews (not entirely conservative pundit and former host of Hardball, a show I never watched) was on Celebrity Jeopardy with someone from ER and Lorelai from the Gilmore Girls. They played for charities like OxFam and children's hospitals. He played for his private schools' scholarship funds - actually, for funds he himself endowed, which seemed rather cheap. While equal opportunity in schooling is damned important, I doubt that funding scholarships at private schools really bridgets that gap.

If the Chris Matthewses of the world were to take charitable policy upon themselves, would they actually give to the causes that needed it? Would they sponsor universal healthcare and education? Or would money get inequitably bestowed upon their pet schools and churches? Would money get distributed at all if it were left up to individuals to decide?

The tax-and-spend approach to government may result in misguided funding, may glaze over areas that need it, but if you think that privatization on that count will solve those problems, you're dreaming.

 

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