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28 June
the worst article ever written
link : thoughts (2) (user/password is 'redpolka') : track it (3) : in fat & health stuff

If you're on any size acceptance lists or boards (on a side note, it's remarkable how all these sites focus their discussion on more or less the same things, and just have different approaches to the same issues), you've probably seen the worst article ever written.

The author says a lot of unfounded, rather mean things about fat people. And poor people. And southerners. It would be funny if it weren't clear she thought these things were true.

I think the point she started out wanting to make was this: poorer folk really are getting fatter and possibly less healthy, and we fail to recognize the class issues in this; also, the people who are most concerned with dieting these days seem to be wealthier people who have been duped into believing they're fat when they're not. I think she's actually wrong on the latter point, but if she'd actually written an article about these two competing trends instead of trying to be as clever as possible in her "editorializing", it might have been an interesting read.

And yet, what is the point she actually makes? That poor people are icky and slaggardly, and fat people don't read.

I find this interesting, because the source is a Charleston, WVA resident. Charleston is a coal town, a town with an overwhelming feeling of industry and poverty and at least one giant Wal-Mart. Experientially, it seems like the people of Charleston are fatter than average. It also feels like they're a lot poorer than average, and that the rest of the world ought to be paying attention to this.

Maybe we should be doing some more research.

Like, what are the statistics on people in industrial towns getting on weight loss drugs like Metabolife and such? It seems like my midwestern fat relatives have done that, and weightloss surgery and fad diets a hundred times. The influx of the South Beach and Atkins diets into my "higher class" professional workplace is relatively recent, but my aunts were on Scarsdale decades ago. Is it possible that diet marketing has a class consciousness? I don't know, because I tend to tune it out. But I wouldn't be surprised.

Like, how much do wages affect health or weight gain? I don't know how many of the fat folk in Charleston work more than one job, or weird hours, or whatever. I don't know how changes in the energy market around America impact their coal and manufacturing jobs and pensions and the care they get to give their kids. And I don't know if they're just fat, or if they're also unhealthy.

I don't know if it even matters that poor people are getting fat and rich people are getting more diet-obsessed (if that's even true). But if you're going to talk about it, you ought to present some information or at least ask some questions.

Cause otherwise, you're just rewriting the worst article ever written.

 

25 June
what marriage is.
link : thoughts (2) (user/password is 'redpolka') : track it (0) : in sexually liberated stuff

I was given Jon Rauch's Gay Marriage: Why it's good for gays, good for straights, and good for America by a pal who apparently wanted to make my head fold in upon itself.

We'll leave aside Jon's apparent distaste for all the things I think fondly of where gay culture is concerned, because there are many different queer cultures, and that's a nice thing. We'll leave aside his Log Cabin Republicanness, because the very fact of gay republicans is a testament to how far we've come - that gayness can be a personal identity and not a political one.

We'll just accept Jon for himself, and attack his ideas. Or rather, his ideas as I see them.

See, Jon has a very interesting concept about what marriage is for. His theory is two part. First, marriage is a social structure designed to make young people become "adult" - where "adult" is settled into a normal pattern of working and raising kids and building a little nuclear family. Second, marriage is a guarantee of caretaking for the aged and infirm. To expand Jon's definition, a family is a two-person structure, one that is fixed except for the addition or subtraction (in later life) of children should there be kids involved (kids are, I think rightly, not part of his definition). Only by having that family are people, especially men, officially part of normal, adult society. And only that family will commit to caring for you should you become broken in some way.

I have two problems with that.

No, I have three problems.

First, Jon's concept of adulthood. While he talks about monogamy as his key point about "settling down", there's a strong undercurrent of "be like me" in his notion of adult. Things I think Jon thinks are not adult include: not focusing on providing for a family, being non-monogamous, partying, participation in the wrong political organizations, living with someone, not having a "career", being single, wearing a neon pink muscle tee, voting Green, and having too much fun. Admittedly, I'm reading into things here, but Jon seems to buy into a relatively boring idea of what it means to be a grown up. Well, lots of people do that, and he is a Republican. I can hardly fault him for it.

Second, his assumptions about how family works. A marriage, given the failure rate of marriages these days, hardly looks like a guarantee for your future family. To go into marriage today starry-eyed and certain of growing old together is sweetly optimistic. To look with those starry eyes at marriage as a social institution is just silly.

But - siblings, close friends, roomates, parents, and the network of "urban family" that so many people have today are just as permanent as a spouse might be. The members of my urban family - my best friends, my partner's best friends, our parents, various other relationships - can be counted on to be there for either of us. And if we split up, my half of the family will always be there. They're part of the picture, no matter what. And if anything happens to them, we know we're responsible for helping out. This isn't a modern invention, either - whether family is biologically or legally related or not, extended family is the network people count on. A spouse or partner broadens that family but doesn't eliminate their responsibility for you.

There is a conceit that parents "give up" a child, particularly a daughter, to a new family, but that idea doesn't foot with the reality of urban family life. The things that have changed is biology - we used to have close proximity to our biological extended families, and now we choose family based on proximity (emotional and physical) - and legality - now the subunits of that family may be single, pairs, married folk and unmarried.

Wait, there are four. Four issues!

The third is his general bias against unmarried families ("marriage lite" he calls them) coupled with his insistence on reserving officially sanctioned unions for gay and straight couples. Polyamory he excludes on the grounds that, essentially, they're a very tiny minority of freaks. Why are they scary enough to exclude from marriage rights, if they're so tiny a minority? I felt pretty defensive of the polyamorous folk I know in reading his ready dismissal of the lifestyles they choose and the families they're painstakingly created. He returns to the old argument against polygamy as generally about some men taking up too many of the women, thereby creating a bunch of angry young men - and, oh yeah, polygamy too often occurs in weird religious orders where women are subjugated. The economic danger of men without potential for marriage seems much scarier to Jon (it certainly gets more space in the book) than the possibility that women might get beaten up, but then, I was pretty annoyed before I got to this part of the book. It's quite possible he's not the misogynist I found him to be.

It is entirely possible that the poly families I've encountered are by far the rarity, and that there's a larger group of cultists who would use the legalization of multi-partner marriage to accumulate harems, but I'd like to think that think that people are more sane than that. I think it's highly unlikely that, given as much as feminism and other equality movements have achieved, we're going to see a dramatic swing towards harem-accumulation as a status symbol for anyone other than Trump and Hefner. There's a whole other discussion about polyamory vs. our traditional view of polygamy in this, but suffice to say that I don't think we need to avoid legalizing one thing just because it's sometimes associated with something else that's bad and - by the way - also illegal.

"Marriage lite" he dismisses because... well, just because it's not marriage. It's not. It's also nicely divorced from all the weight that marriage carries - that weight including not only whatever personal meaning you attach to marriage itself, but the traditions of a wife "belonging" to a husband, of obedience, of relatively narrow gender roles that have relatively recently begun to change. As a feminist, marriage's history makes me uncomfortable entering into it. I don't think you can completely disengage marriage from the history of women's oppression, which is precisely why my longstanding cohabitation has remained just that.

To someone denied marriage, it doubtless looks like a more compelling social contract. But in many ways, marriage has been a burden to women for centuries. Other options aren't necessarily "marriage lite" so much as they're simply not marriage.

Which brings me to what bothers me most about Jon's theories - the way he reduces marriage itself.

The reasons people get married and their expectations of marriage are personal, and as numerous as married couples themselves. A thoughtful marriage is a unique contract between people for the way they plan to live their lives. For many people, there's a very specific religious reason. For others, it's about parenting. For others, it's about love (twue wove). Establishing marriage as the "gold standard" of normal adult family, as Jon would have it, reduces it to just a thing you're supposed to do after you grow up.

I know some people think that way today, but I find that really sad. I certainly don't want to be married, if that's what it means.

I think that modern marriage, apart from its history, is about formalizing your family creation, whatever that means to you (and whatever additionally you may think marriage is). I do think that it should be open to any family who wants to do that. And honestly, I'd rather see civil marriage (or civil contracts, unions, whatever) separated entirely from "marriage", with its various religious meanings and history of gender inequity, than see Jon's vision of marriage be a reality.

 

22 June
so... hawaii
link : thoughts (2) (user/password is 'redpolka') : track it (0) : in vaguely personal stuff

I wrote a little bit in my livejournal about Hawaii when we first got back. Then I got sleepy and busy and sick (not all at once) before I had a chance to post everything else I wanted to write.

So, the log of my Hawaii trip, for those of you who are interested.

but wait! there's more »


 

10 June
fun is good for you
link : thoughts (3) (user/password is 'redpolka') : track it (0) : in fat & health stuff

I wrote a little in my LJ about watching other bellydance/raqs sharqi/whatever students perform and how much the experience of dance training has distanced me from external body projects. That is, I do not think of my body as fat, or at least not of fat as problematic, in the context of training.

It's not an experience of being totally divorced from appearance [it's not that noble], but of recognizing exactly what you are as attractive in movement. Most belly dancers are beautiful. Except that they're not, as far as predominant cultural norms are concerned.

When you think about it, though, how much of your personal feelings about what is and isn't attractive matches perfectly to what you've been told? Not much in my case; I don't know about you. It's no big shock that people can be beautiful and not meet whatever the norm or ideal of your culture may be.

Most of the belly dancers I know are at least in their thirties, and many of them are quite a bit older. And size-wise, they're all over the place. The only common physical characteristic I can see is that even us beginners pretty quickly develop more prominent bellies than other folk. One of my friends has a particular fondness for belly dancers, a fondness that verges on pervy, really. Whatever.

As I thought about the belly dance thing, I assumed that the supportive, all-female environment was a key component of this "yay! my body!" thing. I don't doubt that the environment helps, but I realize that I also have this attitude in the context of all my other physical training, and in play or art - which constitutes the vast majority of the "exercise" I get.

[A total side note, but I've noticed recently that I use "the ______ thing" a lot. Sorry about that, lovely reader. Think of it as an homage to the use of "the ______ question" freaking everywhere in early 20th century political writing, and not in fact a sign of my own sloppy articulation.]

I remember, dimly, times in the past when I treated exercise as a punishment and kinda sought out the worst, most suffering-inducing, ways to exercise (not intentionally). And those are the times when my thinking most aligned to "ew, I'm fat and gross and bad" where things bodily were concerned. Which makes me wonder if the gym isn't hazardous to your mental health. Movement is undoubtedly good, but if you're moving and hating it, maybe you end up hating your body. And conversely, if movement is pleasing, maybe your body seems more attractive for its physical talent.

Not to mention all the other cool stuff that fun movement does for you.

You should read Go Animal, which is all about being healthy by having more fun.

 

02 June
lost women
link : thoughts (6) (user/password is 'redpolka') : track it (0) : in feministy stuff
A woman who has dropped out isn’t even a slacker or a loser or a beat poet or a romantic or a drifter. She is hardly worthy of mention at all... (from lilyrepublic)

I've been meaning to respond for awhile to this, and the entry behind it. It sparked a lot of thinking for me.

It seems that the path of legend for women is blank. Not blank, but relatively so. Lily talks about failure as her specific example, but there are missing legends for women's success, too. There isn't a female Jack Kerouac, but there isn't a female Horatio Alger, either. There just aren't that many legendary ideas of women.

There are, of course, iconic literary figures. But most of them seem defined in cohesion or counterpoint to men, to marriage, to being a "proper" woman. And entirely too many of them are Jane Austen characters (literally or in essential similarity). The companion of the drop-out, the failure, the artist who just needs to discover himself, the savantish baseball league inventor, the rogue, is I just just the loose woman. Or the reformed loose woman. Some woman defined by her sexuality or lack thereof.

Yeah. That's weird.

There are sources other than popular legend for better icons. There are some good religious/mythological archetypes for women to look to. There's a whole subset of Jungian feminists focused on just that sort of thing. There are wandering women in myth; you could think of Demeter as a sort of righteously angry beat poet, par example.

What the television tells us, though, is another thing.

The popular sitcom format is a formula. It's a formula for holding your attention well enough to sell you things while creating a feeling of entertainment. It's designed not to provoke thought (there is television designed for that, it's just not sitcoms) but to be consistent. You get relaxation out of it. Advertisers get a semi-captive audience.

So, in order to be consistent, this type of tv has to present the simplest image possible. Men are stupid at household stuff and don't remember their kids' names. Women entertain notions of elaborate projects and end up dependent on men. Kids, most of the time, are the least stupid people on your tv. It makes you feel better about yourself, not just with the Schadenfreude, but (as I mentioned in reference to chick lit some time ago) because people being stupid and surviving and continuing to be loved means that you can survive and stay lovable. [I should really get a job professionally reading things into things. I'm very good at it.]

So, sitcoms are the worst and silliest we are (assuming, of course, that the sitcom even remotely represents your social and economic situation). But advertising is aspirational. In between scenes of people failing at everything and making the worst choices possible, you watch ads that target what you'd like to be. Ads geared at women tend to show them perfectly thin and perfectly balancing every aspect of their lives cause we're kinda obsessed with that as a culture - women as jugglers, the body as a project. And probably women in focus groups knowingly chuckle at these ads... don't I wish? they might think.

Advertising is odd. It enforces these ideas of what we're supposed to be by showing us what people in focus groups say they want or wish they could be. It makes sense. Products associated with our "best" selves seem more desirable.

Who is the "best" woman from a pop culture perspective? Is it a beautiful one? One attached to someone successful? If so, maybe the romantically failed and redeemed woman is found in the Cinderella story. Maybe she's the girl who takes off her glasses over the summer to become a cheerleader in the fall. Maybe she's defined in relation to someone else. It seems sad to think of women as defined not as successful or failing but as with someone failed or successful.

Definitely weird.

 

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