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22 August
liberation!
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I love love love love love what Tish says in her Big Fat Blog introduction.

A radical fat liberation movement does not accept. We assert. We assert the right to make our own choices about how to experience our bodies. Some of us like being fat. Some of us celebrate our bodies. And some of us still struggle but we know that our bodies are not inherently wrong.

Beautiful.

And yet there's more. I want more.

I'm looking for a revolution that covers all bodies. It isn't enough to have a revolution of fat bodies queer bodies women's bodies trans bodies. It isn't the revolution we need.

Because the revolution we need is about liberation from the duality of bodies entirely. We think that to have beautiful must also mean to have non-beautiful, just as to have woman is to have man, fat thin black white queer straight rich poor.

We like pairs, don't we?

I'm coming around a corner on the intersection of all the movements I belong in. This is the intersection, the body. The lines drawn upon it to mark acceptable and not. To differentiate.

The pairs assume the existence of A and B where key parts of the definition of each is the opposite. To be A is to be A, but most importantly, to be A is to be not-B. It makes sense psychologically, that there's this desire to define oneself as something and not something else, but I think there's also a cultural component to that psychology.

It's like survey methodologies. People respond to the choices put before them. If I'm two and I'm wondering what I am [Is that when you're two, or later? I'm not sure.], it makes sense to define myself as girl, as not-boy, because no other alternative is present.

I must be A or not-A. I cannot be AB, or BA or ABBA. Why not?

Perhaps it would lead to too many options. There are so many possible combinations already that it would be virtually impossible to define people as anything but themselves if every individual had some uniquely AB sexual preference, some uniquely BA gender, color, size, perspective. The usefulness of definition is that it creates a certain predictability, through the implications of the behaviors associated with each binary body. Simply, a woman is and looks certain ways, does certain things.

An element of predictability seems essential to societal interaction. But what if it weren't?

I've read two books lately that have given me the push more and more to the fringe, farther from binary. Genderqueer (which Ms. 9 generously leant me). And The End of Gay. While one is playing very much in the transgender space and the other very much in the queer one, they're both playing with me in the space where definitions are and should be blurring.

We are. I believe. About to be - if we aren't already - in the midst of the great fucking radical body liberation.

The great fucking radical body liberation will widen the definitions of A and B so much that ultimately, they'll just be one big bubble of difference. In the meantime, though, I'm glad of the fat and queer and gender and race activists who keep their individual revolutions growing and growing and growing. Until, eventually, they jut right up against each other.

And pop.

 

19 August
focus groups
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I've clearly been tagged as someone who will attend focus groups at the office.

It's a little like junk mail, but more productive. One person gets your name and invites you to a focus group. You say hey, sure. You go. And then I think they start selling your name to other focus-group starters all over the company.

How can we make the way you work better?
What information would you like to hear from us?
How can we...?
What do you think about...?

Sometimes, they even just send me requests to "attend a focus group". Not even any information about what it is. Currently I'm cranky enough about my job that anything unrelated is enough to prompt me to accept a meeting invitation, but how do they know that?

I can only include that certain people get branded as "likely focus group attendees", and the focus group gurus know this, and presume the LFGA's don't even need to know why or what - they just want to provide feedback. Suckers.

 

18 August
out there today
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Sometimes you need a few minutes. Or a few hours, actually. To deruffle your feathers. Today I took my feathers on a ramble through the eatonweb portal looking for something outside my sphere.

This is what I found. Rather, this is what I found and enjoyed.

Across, Beyond & Through: a Unitarian minister's thoughtful insights on spirituality, history, et al. The "scattered bits of god" piece is particularly good reading.

Deviant Savant: generally, comparing anything to an adolescent boy isn't a compliment in my book, but this inspired a very "heh, yeah, I remember" feeling.

the photo retouching site everyone keeps sending me: it's interesting.

Setting the World to Rights: their tagline "ideas have consequences" and the philosophy it represents were intellectually reassuring.

 

not anti-male, but possibly small-minded
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Once more, fellow feminists have proven me wrong. I may never learn.

But then, it's not a failure to learn but a belief that the fight is still a good one, even if not everyone conforms to my ideal of a good and reasoned mind with the soul of a dogged activist. I laugh at it, but this sort of shit makes me want to weep.

Honestly.

Enough of this woe-is-me, though.

What I'm talking about is the first handful of responses to the question I posed this week on WHB about the possibility of anti-maleness. Says I.

But what about the idea that society is anti-man? It seems to me that a lot of righteously angry men see aspects of modern society that oppose them in some way as the result of feminism. While that's a vast oversimplification, I do think there are ways in which we culturally hamper and discourage men (particularly when you consider the contributing factors of race and economics). And it seems that feminists have a tendency to dismiss this idea out of hand.

What do you think of this concept - have we evolved into a society with anti-male government policies or cultural biases? Is feminism responsible?

One woman says essentially that men don't deserve sympathy until women get more. One calls the question itself absurd for feminists to even consider. [I have to give some credit to Meghan, the third respondent, for actually answering the question reasonably - and for bringing up the body image issue, which I surprisingly had not planned to include in the response that was building in my head.]

I would really, really like to shoot holes in the anti-question responses. I'm trying to restrain myself because that would be counter to the reasoned debate quality I try to foster on the site. But.

Another time, perhaps. It's funny how stirred up and pissed off I get about people not being reasonable. I am unreasonable about being reasonable. Anyhow, I'm sure that some of the other people who haven't responded yet are just thinking on it. Not silently agreeing.

So. What I actually think about the question I posed. It became something of a manifesto as I wrote it.

Well. It frustrates me that there is no vehicle I seem to be able to use to convince some of the anti-feminist folk linked on the WHB post that I am not out to get them. That we are, in fact, out for the same things. To a degree.

They tend to assume that there are these inherent differences between men and women, and subsequently to add value judgements to those differences. I think we need to work with the differences we see, while simultaneously analysing the cultural and other bases for difference with a long-range plan to burst open gender into a spectrum of possibilities rather than accepting a boundary of duality or no boundaries. No boundaries never being quite as fun as they sound.

How does society injure men? And how could feminism contribute to that injury, or to healing it?

I think we do our worst to boys and girls together. We educate a range of gendered behaviors and needs into them (and it starts even before they're born), and then we fail to school them appropriately to meet those needs and understand those behaviors. We think of boys as aggressors and men as powerful, increasing the chance that they'll respond as the former when they don't feel the latter. And we blame it on the same violent entertainment that helps many people deal with powerlessness and violence of the world around them. Feminists, some of us, have helped this happen.

We've enculturated the language of feelings into daily life, but assumed it was something men would fail at. We've created heterosexual women who believe themselves to be feelers and heterosexual men who believe themselves penis-ruled. And we blame the rate of divorce not on the cultural pressures to conform to these two alienated gender ideals, but on women working. Feminism didn't cause this, but I don't think it has helped a lot.

We continue to believe that mothers are the best caregivers and educators and fathers are the great providers (while economically making it more difficult for women to be providers - even adjusted to include only childless women, the statistics on earnings still show women making about 83 cents on men's dollar), which injures men and women who'd like to raise their kids differently. And injures divided families by continuing to place the burden of support on men and nurturance on women. Family courts favor moms, period. Feminism has tried on this one, but we're not done.

We have slowly extended the audience for increasingly narrow standards of beauty to men as well as women. A look around your workplace, if it's anything like mine, should confirm that men are just as vulnerable to claims that slimness and dieting are equivalent to health.

We have mocked a men's movement that attempts to look seriously (albeit sentimentally) at spiritual and emotional difference and given entirely too much press to men's organizations that claim oppression without grounding that oppression in fact. We have allowed entirely too many people not to ground themselves in fact, not surprising considering our taste for media and science that entertain and titillate. Feminists, some of us, might have contributed to that.

We have instituted social programs that are ostensibly about balance and then given them press as if they're about retribution. And we wonder why straight white men think they're being discriminated against (because one person can encounter discrimination, even though society favors his group as a whole, and because we don't talk about this in a balanced way).

And feminism is all about these things. Feminism is supposed to be about balance, about widening what counts as valid choices. And that can't just apply to women. It certainly applies more to women and queers and poor people and people of color and people of size and people of difference - but you know, those people are men, too.

I don't like to talk about The Patriarchy, because it doesn't resonate for me and I don't think that resonates for most people. Let's call it the How Things Are. And the How Things Are isn't great. It's not great for everyone, though it might be pretty darn good for quite a few of use. Still. It could use some changes.

That's how feminism, and equality in general, can help.

 

14 August
work and identity
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Some time ago, I posed a question about work to the WHB crew. Do you define yourself by your job? Visit WHB for the whole question and comments.

I am someone who defines herself by work, more than some - but hardly all - other aspects of my life. I think of myself as an artist, then as an activist, then as a manager of projects or a trainer or a person in IT (all various perspectives on what I do), and only after that in terms of the other people and things in my life.

Said I:

Do you feel that your gender has influenced your choice of work? Has it influenced your success at work? How has what you do for a living influenced your perspective on other things (be they feminism, work, life, etc.)?

I don't believe that my gender has had much influence on what I chose to do at an obvious level. My field isn't particularly gendered, nor my role. While IT was something of a guy's field even a few years ago, I came into IT when it was like drinking cheap beer at high school parties - everyone was doing it.

However. What I planned to do when I left college would have put me in a female-dominated industry (arts management) where I would have been paid very little to do quite a lot; that seems to be the tradition for women and "women's professions". And what turned me off that profession was the money (which is, presumably, very manly), but also the people I worked with. I came to doubt that people who worked in regional theatre really cared about art, and came to be quite sure that arts administration isn't where all the smart, interesting people were at.

In a way, thinking I could get by on little money was a traditionally feminine prerogative. Not only are women paid less, but middle class straight women can often afford to take low-paying, high satisfaction jobs because they have or will have financial support. And of course, there's the assumption that women are more likely to choose "giving" careers.

It turned out I wasn't personally very giving, and that the brilliance and creativity I valued so much were more likely found in the wild new crop of technology kids than in old crusty theatre folk. One could argue that choosing a career in part for the people was also "feminine". Maybe it was.

The first job I had when I left the theatre was also fairly low-paying and somewhat administrative. Intriguingly, none of the women I worked with or for ever acted as if I were anything but an equal in class and stature, but I recall men being surprised that I'd gone to college - and *gasp* even to a better college than many of them. So, there I believe being female and young hurt me somewhat, career-wise, at least in terms of the assumptions people made about me. Men in positions of power assumed I was secretarial when I was actually an analyst who occasionally ran meetings. I'm sure this was because I was a girl. Probably also because my professional demeanor is such that people always think I'm joking. Or cute. [It's true, but now everyone who knows me outside work is laughing their asses off.]

I have, however, also used the traditionally "feminine" skills of communication and bargaining and generally being pleasant to do well at work. I tend to work relationships, anticipate needs, and to facilitate rather than command. Are those traits a result of being female? I don't know. I suspect they're more a result of my behaviorist mother, if anything. But these are traits that lead me to be good at what I do. There aren't enough people-savvy people in technology.

And does it, in turn, influence me? Of course.

Working in the arts pushed me towards a do-it-yourself aesthetic, and an understanding of art apart from work. Working in the tech sector made me even more of a geek than I had been, which led me to grow my political beliefs online and (with that DIY thing) to form communities here in this space.

I think the biggest contribution of my fairly normal, fairly corporate work history to my other aspects is in giving me an appreciation for and understanding of normal. Normal was something I rather rejected as a kid, but grasping what normal is and could mean is key to being a successful activist (in my opinion at least). What I think rarely aligns with the average, suburban opinions of many of my colleagues (though I've also encountered others at work who make me look very, very moderate), and I appreciate the struggle to change their minds. It's a microcosm of the struggle to change society.

I won't say that my choice of career is ideal. I can think of a thousand other things I'd also like to do. But I will say that what I do at work and in other spheres is very much a part of who I am.

 

(mis)information proliferation
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I've taken to writing letters to people more and more these days. I figure, if you're going to act like an idiot, the least I can do is try to educate you.

Part of the problem is the proliferation of opinions on the internet. Things get passed around and occasionally misread, then the misreadings get interpreted as fact. I used to ignore these misread "facts", but then I started seeing the same numbers cited in different places. It turns into things like the legendary feminist bra-burnings that never quite happened, or even simple things like the notion that a woman who weighs 100 pounds and is 5'8" might be curvaceous.

So, yeah. Now I write letters the first time I see these odd little things cropping up. I stand in front of what could turn out to be media tanks.

At least I can say I did something.

Case in point. Guy takes a scientific article about a possible new thyroid medication (thyroid meds help burn calories more quickly, among other things, but they also speed up the heart rate). Guy turns article into a lambast about fat people and their inability to control their appetite.

One thing in particular intrigues: he talks about fat people eating these ungodly numbers of calories per day. And maybe some do, but I doubt 6-10K calories a day is even sustainable by most people. That's like sumo calories, yo. You have to work hard to convince yourself to eat that much.

So, I suspect that this might be the next randomly stupid "fact" that enters circulation.

but wait! there's more


 

proof we're all still insane about fat
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One thing the fat movement has going both for and against it is this: when you look at people's responses to the idea of fat, particularly the new "obesity epidemic", you can't help but realise it. These people hate us.

Is that hate is a result of misinformation or just plain meanness? Hard to say. But it's clear there's a problem out there for the fat movement to solve. A more obvious problem than those that face, say, feminists or queer activists. It makes for a depressing and exciting challenge.

Case in point - the (selected by Time staff) reader responses to the Time question of the week: How can America end its obesity epidemic?

Now, one can expect two things from these responses given the survey method. One. The implication of the problem - how can we end it, not is it a problem. Two. Given the implication of the question, the likelihood that the Time staff are selecting responses to publish based on their own bias that obesity is, in fact, an epidemic of health. Compare that to the more balanced (widely varying, but balanced) published responses to the gay marriage question from last week. The question no doubt prompts a different sort of discussion when it doesn't also leverage its own judgement.

Duh. Any half-decent survey developer knows that.

But enough of surveying methods. Let's pick on some of the respondents, shall we? Nothing is more fun than casting aspersions at your unwitting detractors when they can't respond.

Suzanne, for instance, is just plain creepy. Is she being ironic?

The way to reduce obesity is this: Mandatory running period for the last hour of every school day... The government wants tough soldiers, and the media craves superstar athletes and hot bodies, correct? Reform physical education class. Start training them early. [italics mine]

That's right, Suzanne. Train up them good little soldiers for the gub'ment. I am well and thoroughly creeped by that concept.

Then there's Gregory's otherwise semi-reasoned post that misses the whole Clinton-era governmental war on tobacco:

Simple: [Society] can't. Individuals can certainly change their lives... Think of the smoking epidemic. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that smoking negatively affects your health. And what has been done, on a national scale? Nothing.

Apparently nothing is a synonym for "tax the hell out of it, and while you're at it, pursue civil action from all sides". What's his idea of "something", I wonder?

Wait. This is my favorite. It's a brilliant mix of libertarianism and bleeding heart socialism (with a solid economic point thrown in).

The poor and the uneducated are the predisposed targets and ultimate victims of greedy corporations who exploit their weak predicament in the name of capitalism. Government should regulate the activities of these corporate predators in order to harmonize nutritional choice irrespective of economic status. Only then will the responsibility rest with the individual.

Our pal Yervant (above quote) must have had his Adbusters magazine open for that one. Corporate predators! Victimization by greedy corporations deliberately targeting the poor! It's hard to take that seriously, yet he has a good point - poor people are vastly more impacted by the societal shifts that result in less healthy lifestyles.

And there's Pat, whose take on the way the world works is beautifully simple. What if we all did get exactly what we deserved? But what do we deserve, anyhow?

The way to reduce obesity is to stop blaming our genes and seeing ourselves as the victims. The way to health is through eating good food, getting off your ass and doing some exercise. Simple. We all end up with what we deserve regarding our weight.

Unfortunately, when it comes to weight and size, I think Pat's viewpoint represents that of too many others. It's not your genes, it's your unwillingness to starve yourself to fit someone else's idea of health! That, my friends, is bunk. Nothing is as simple as that.

That seems to be a trend - the answer everyone gives is simple - if we'd just do this one thing, no one would be fat, ever.

And yet. Every "one thing" we try seems to just make people fatter and fatter. Maybe the answer is that there is no answer.

Maybe. The answer is that there is no problem. Or rather, only a problem that we've created through paranoia that there was a problem.

 

13 August
hang on to that man
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It seems pretty common for people to say "hang on to him" or "hang on to her" when they hear about acts of good romantic partnership. In exemplia: citing the fact that my partner cleans our house results in comments like "hang on to that one" and "he's a keeper!".

While yes, technically, I do agree that my partner is a valuable addition to my life (AKA a "keeper"), this is bothersome. [On an unrelated note, I think of the "keeper" as a little cup-shaped device some women stick up their cunts to bleed in, and I don't feel quite right calling anyone that. It implies to me you are a useful holder of goopy blood. Not entirely complimentary. And I'm going to use the word over and over and over for the rest of this commentary.]

What bothers me is twofold: first, the assumption of needing to "hang on to" a partner seems a little creepy; second, this type of conversation is invariably connected to a level of implied sexism. A man who cleans is a keeper. A woman with gymnastic sexual abilities is a keeper. Essentially, in the heterosexual context, a person should be kept for things that are stereotypically desired by one gender and stereotypically not performed by the other. Clearly, every straight woman is not a fanatic for clean socks, no more than every straight man desires a large-breasted gymnast.

Aside from that sexism, there's the implication of what makes a good straight relationship. People are to be hung onto as a result of attributes that really don't effect relationship quality. They're relationship hygiene factors (things like pay, or workplace structure in the work world), if anything.

And, of course, the notion that a partner is preferable to no partner. It's not true for everyone, and certainly not true for all possible matches of people, no matter their gymnastic or laundry capabilities. When you tie into that the frequency with which women will tell each other to hang on to a man versus the opposite, it evokes this notion of "catching" a man that really ought to be dead by now.

Why not just say - "hey, that sounds like an okay guy" - or even - nothing?

 

08 August
hee.
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Commented on my blog:

ok shes not goat chese but she is evil bye for now ps michael jackson rulez

Enough said.

 

06 August
baby
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This week Roni has a baby and Kerri wonders what we wish we knew all along.

What is something you wish you had either known or been able to do since birth? How do you think your life would be different now if you had this knowledge or ability from the get-go?

There's a whole bit about how Bean (the main character, yo) remembers being an infant because he's semi-superhuman in Ender's Shadow. I'd like that.

I don't mean being semi-superhuman, but it seems like having memory and consciousness of self from origin would be. Well, cool. And have some practical value. If you realized the implications of all the preconceived notions around you before they became your preconceived notions, you might have a sense of yourself more distinct from culture. You might not have to create that sense, I mean.

And it would be cool.

On a more serious note - what people miss from day one is personhood. American social and legal structures don't really count children as people (certainly decision-makers in any way) until they're adults. Sure, a fetus is a person when it comes to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, but a twelve year old has no real say in how public schools work, or whether and where and how she goes to school at all. Maybe that's why kids are such vicious little creatures (socially speaking).

The only real power we grant kids is the power to seduce us with "cuteness". I think that sets up the notion of the people as powerless and the government as powerful - versus the truth: that the government is just our proxies.

Eighteen is too old to be told you might have some power after all.

So. My short answer to this question is: power. Not all the power in the world, but some power that you could see effecting the world around you as soon as you had a consciousness of it apart from yourself.

 

05 August
the mirror
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I got this article in my inbox from the DTMWSIMB list today about mirrors in gyms and health clubs (link to the original study & this article weren't to be had, not even for ready money).

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, focused on young women who exercised less than 15 minutes a week...

..."The mirrors make women more self-aware, they think of their shortcomings. Things like: 'I look fat, I should be more active'," said Kathleen Martin Ginis, lead author of the study...

...And whether the participant felt comfortable about her body or not, the outcome was the same -- women who did not have to watch themselves exercise felt calmer, more positive and more revitalized at the end of their session.

I alternately exercise in front and out of sight of this mirror from my adolescent baroque period (when everything in my room was white, jewel-toned, and flowered). The mirror itself is somehow quintessentially girly, but my response to it isn't.

I don't know that exercising in front of or away from the mirror effects me much. I do find I last longer when I can't see what I'm doing. I know a lot more about my relationship to mirrors in general. It's not much different from the idea of female to mirror tension.

A woman's expected response to a mirror is a sort of magnetism. We're expected not to avoid the mirror, but not because it's a source of pleasure. Rather, it's a source of self-examination and unkind criticism. This is acceptable. This is ugly. This is too round, too small, too... Perhaps an unexamined life is not worth living, but I could do without some of the implications of an examined face.

We think of the mirror as a blunt, occasionally cruel, reflection of our true selves. As if a true self can appear in two dimensions. And reversed.

So. I'm not surprised that anyone might find exercising in front of a mirror less refreshing. Particularly considering the American approach to exercise as a tragic necessity in the fight against fat and aging (oh, and health - but only if you look thin and young). Exercise, particularly something as uninvolving as the average stationary bike, presents another opportunity for unkindness to oneself. The mirror-gym combination might have a tormenting appeal. I can see the unpleasantness.

Yet I look at the stereotypical gay male relationship with the mirror, and I see the same self-examination - but with a sort of joy and freedom in it. Perhaps it's a co-opting of an unallowed gender behavior? I wonder how a group of variously feminine-performing gay men would feel after a bike ride into the mirror? Stressed? Anxious? Refreshed?

I'd like to look in a mirror and feel nothing. Just - oh, look, there I go... Why does that seem like primarily the province of [straight] men?

 

04 August
hiatus
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I consider it every blogger's obligation to periodically stop posting and see which readers stick around. It weeds out the riff-raff. Especially if you precede the hiatus with a lot of soul-searching about the meaning of blogging, life, the internet, then get really pissed and storm away from the computer one day. And if you then sashay back onto the scene, proclaiming you've had a lot of deep insight along with some serious shit going on in your life - well, that's really the ideal.

[Please note. Preceding paragraph laced with sarcasm. Don't do any of those things.]

Yes, I've been on a sort of unannounced hiatus. I was going to let it go unnoticed, but some of you have asked, so I'll tell you.

Hiatus is Latin for "yawn" or "gape" or "gap". My subjective experience was nothing like that. I got used to not being on the internet. I stopped feeling compelled to write. I started feeling compelled to do other things, lots of them (which I guess I already was, but I became more so). Life is pretty good. I'm complicated like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

People work in cycles.

In a very "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" way, I've undergone a microcosm of my own historical relationship to the internet in the past couple of months. Email only. Exchange with close friends. Designing. Lurking on blogs/diaries.

I think I'll be writing [regularly] again shortly. I have over a month worth of WHB topics that deserve responses, after all.

I might even have opinions. Ones that aren't all about myself and work.

 

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