Eilis O’Hanlon’s definition of equality


Yesterday I asked Eilis O’Hanlon precisely what equality means to her, in response to her claim that she is “in favour of full equality” for trans people. My query was in response to a rather vile article she published recently. TW on all those links above, btw, for transphobia.

I have yet to receive an answer.

One thing I’m pretty sure that equality doesn’t mean to her, though, include being treated with equal dignity to others. It also doesn’t include not being singled out, mocked, and stereotyped because of one’s membership of a particular group. It doesn’t include having equal access to cultural and legal institutions as others.

So, Eilis. I’m going to ask you again: If equality is not about equal rights, equal access, equal dignity, or the right to not be singled-out and derided because of your membership of a particular group, then what exactly does it mean?

 What, precisely, is left?

This Is How You Do It: words, privilege, and the stuff you don’t know.


Full disclosure: I think Tim Minchin is great. Massive fan. The guy can make me righteous, giggly, and teary pretty much on demand. All three at once, with White Wine In The Sun.

He’s also straight and cis and male, so it’s not terribly surprising that every so often something a bit ignorant will come out of his face. It happens. Foot-in-mouth disease is one of the more embarrassing symptoms of all forms of privilege. Fortunately, it’s also eminently treatable- even if the treatment involves a little bit more self-awareness and humility than most people are willing to shell out for. But just in case you’re in this situation, here’s a good timeline on how to clear up the vast majority of foot-in-mouth infestations:

Find out that you’ve done something ridiculous, ignorant, and offensive:

It’s quite likely that you won’t have realised it at the time, but you’ve just Screwed Up Royally. Oops! If you’re unlucky, then you’ll never find out. However, if you’re very very lucky, then someone will point out to you that you did a thing and now you’ve a giant foot hanging out of your face:

Chances are, your first reaction is going to be somewhere between denial and disbelief. For the sake of that foot not lodging itself permanently halfway down your esophagus, let’s hope it was closer to the latter.

Acknowledge it

By now you’ll have realised that you’ve Screwed Up. Again, you’ve two choices here. You can keep with the denial, or you can begin the process of dislodging that foot by, well, acknowledging your screwup.

And look at that, some of that foot’s coming loose already. This is where many people stop treatment. However, unbeknownst to you, you still do have a few toes between your teeth. It’s okay, treatment for this is very straightforward.

Try not to be too defensive

This is the hard part. You see, nobody likes being told they have a giant foot sticking out of their face. They probably think they have a perfectly lovely face with just a nose and maybe some glasses sticking out of it. A little bit of defensiveness is, unfortunately, almost inevitable. Just try and tone it down a bit, or you’ll run out of feet.

Oh, and you might want to do a bit of accepting that there are bigger issues at stake than your own ego also.

Prevention is better than cure

Foot-in-mouth can be a recurring condition, and it only gets worse with repeated exposures. Fortunately, there’s a reasonably effective method of vaccination! Vaccines are great, aren’t they? And just like a quick jab or three can prevent you from coming down with the pox, a little bit of knowledge can keep your feet firmly attached to your ankles where they belong. This kind of vaccine is also cheap ‘n’ easy to mass-produce and to spread throughout the population, and doesn’t even need a visit to your GP. Nifty, huh?

And there we go! Foot pretty much reattached to leg.

Now, I’m not saying that Tim did everything right here. However, engaging with the people who you’ve offended, listening to what they have to say, doing a bit of research, being public about what you’ve learned, and a commitment to changing future behaviour? Is pretty frickin’ awesome, as far as I’m concerned.

Also, have a video:

What do you think? I’m very aware that I’m a cis person pontificating on how to not be an ass to trans people and am a bit on the privilegey side myself here, so would be very very interested in hearing other perspectives.

Learning to stop worrying and love my bum. Also, privilege. Damnit.


Don’t you hate it when everything you do seems mired in some kind of foggy maze of constantly messing up somehow? I know I do. You know where it really gets me? Body image.

Yes, body image. That one. What I would call an Achilles’ heel, if it weren’t that Achilles seemed to have a pretty darn good image of himself and didn’t spend much time worrying over whether anyone was noticing the dry skin on his heel, and whether his heel was too knobbly or not knobbly enough.

Working out a way to feel happy in your (okay, my) own skin is notoriously difficult. We’re all supposed to want to lose 10 (or 100) pounds, to be darker or lighter, to detest every stray hair or uneven skin tone or boniness or squishiness or muscliness or… I could go on. But I won’t be the first, and you’ve all heard it too many times before.

I’ve tried a lot of different strategies to be okay in my skin, with varying success. Once, I even tried dieting and exercise. At once. That was not a good, er, fortnight*.

So instead, I work on accepting myself as I am and working on showing myself the same kindness that I would others. I look at my body not as something to be perfected, but a canvas on which my experiences are written- from the squishiness of my thesisbum, to the stories that come with scars. To the way that my eyes wrinkle when I smile in exactly the same way as my relatives do. These things are who I am. They are where I come from.

But the thing that’s done the most for me in terms of feeling good about my body? Was a complete paradigm shift. I started to Exercise More (and also eat more. Because nothing makes a girl hungry like actually working up an appetite). Gradually, my body stopped being a thing which was there to (fail to) look a certain way. It became a thing that did things. A thing that would run this far- just a little further than before. A thing that could pick up a thing just a little bit heavier than the thing it could pick up before. Get a little further up a wall. A few weeks ago I walked a couple of hundred kilometers, and my body became a thing that hurt like hell and kept going.

And I stopped caring too much what it looked like. And then I started really appreciating what it- what I- looked like. I used to hate showing my legs- all knobbly knees and too-pale skin. But I’m not going to be ashamed of legs that walked me for miles and miles and miles. Legs that held up me, my backpack, and litres upon litres of water. Legs that dragged us uphill and hurt like hell and kept on walking. Those aren’t just plain good legs. Those are bloody brilliant legs. Hell yeah, I’ll wear skirts and shorts. Who cares about pale skin, knobbly knees and more bruises than you can shake a stick at? These legs rock.

And feeling that- feeling that sense of power and purpose in my body- I get angry. As women, we’re told too often that our bodies are there to be pretty. To look a certain way. There’s barely any mention of how wonderful it is to have a body that does things. In fact, there’s a whole lot of shame even there. How many people do you know with not-socially-considered-ideal bodies who don’t feel even a little self-conscious at a gym? Or going for a run, or a swim? How many people don’t do those things, and therefore lose out on the joy of having bodies that slowly but surely can do more and more things, because of the censure- internal and external- for simply being open about the shapes of our bodies? For being seen to be ourselves in public? For daring to not be ashamed?

Of course, here’s where you get to privilege. Not just the kind where it’s safe- physically, at least- to be embodied in public. Or the kind where you’ve managed to scrape together the gutsiness to brush off whatever’s going to come your way. The more basic kind. If the only way I’ve been able to be happy with my body is by making it stronger, isn’t that a wee bit ableist? Isn’t the very idea that bodies need to be somehow redeemed- either through excessive prettiness or physical ability- ableist as all hell?

Having a body that’ll run, climb, swim, row and pick up heavy things is one hell of a (temporary!) privilege. Having a body that’s gender/size-normative enough to pass without comment in a swimsuit (god I love swimming) is one hell of a privilege. Then again, existing as a (queerish, femme-but-not-the-right-kind-of-femme) woman trying to navigate my way into being happy with the body I walk around in sure as hell ain’t a privilege.

And this is the thing. Here’s the thing where we inevitably fuck up, because there’s too many cards stacked against us from too many damn directions.

Bodies shouldn’t need to be redeemed. Bodies don’t need to be redeemed. They’re fine just the way they are. But all of us walking and rolling our way around in them are living in a society that demands we redeem our bodies. That we make up for taking up space by being pretty, by being capable, or by being decently ashamed of our very shape and our very skin. Ideally, all of the above.

And we deal with that any way we can.

 

*The large quantities of cake and cheese afterward, on the other hand, made a very good evening.

A Linkspam To The Past


Since I disappeared from the internet for a while, the first few links here are going to be ancient history. Things which are multiple weeks old. Several decades, in internet time.

I still think they’re worth sharing. And want to do so before everything in this post becomes truly paleolithic, so it’s going up today instead of on schedule, next Wednesday. Because it’s my blog, and I can.

 

Geekery and the Humanities: A defense of the humanities, of subjectivity, and why they’re as much a part of geek culture as the STEM fields. Also, why Sheldon is a dick.

I’m not anti-logic or anti-science; I do think these things are valuable, but they can only be convincing and powerful when they take into account emotion and the humanities (for lack of a better term). None of these things work best on their own. Which brings me to my real argument: the idea that the humanities are less important than STEM is an idea that geeks need to drop, because the humanities are constitutive to geek culture, just as much as science, technology, and math are.

Why Does She Stay With That Jerk? TW for domestic violence. Holly Pervocracy looks at reasons why people she met through her work in the ER stayed in abusive relationships. I’m not going to quote anything specifically, so I can keep the TW at the other side of the link. It’s essential reading, though, if you’ve ever wondered why people stick out relationship abuse. On a similar note is autumn whitefield-madrano’s post over on Feministe,  “I Can Handle It”: On Relationship Violence, Independence, and Capability. This post is a lot more personal- it was a lot more difficult for me to read, because of this. It’s her story of what it felt like for her, from the inside of an abusive relationship.

Cisgender News is the best. If you’ve ever facepalmed at how trans people are discussed in the media, you’ll love it. If you haven’t, then you should probably read it anyway to get a snarky, snarky feel for how messed-up it is. Then you too can facepalm!

Rebekah Wade – a cisgender woman who has now quit as News International chief executive – not only conquered the macho cis world of tabloid journalism to become its queen but did so with astonishing speed. What was behind her rise to power?

Rebekah Brooks – as she started to call herself following a second marriage – courted power but avoided publicity.  She started receiving female hormones via her ovaries during her first puberty, and intends to continue with them.

And now for something a little more current.

I’m an atheist. Is that a problem? Kate Hilpern writes about being an atheist godparent. What does being a godparent really mean? Is it as much a purely religious role as the church would have you believe? Is it okay for atheists to participate in religious baptisms?

some will say I have no integrity. As its name suggests, a spokesperson from the Church of England points out, at the heart of the role is a commitment to support someone in the journey of faith. An atheist can be a wonderful influence in a child’s life, but being a godparent is to be a representative of the religious community and an example of godly living (which is why they should be baptised and preferably confirmed), in addition to supporting them socially.

I’m an atheist. I’m a godparent as well. When I was asked to be a godparent I was still technically a member of the Catholic Church, not having yet registered my apostasy, but was a nonbeliever. The reasons why I happily went into a church, crossed my fingers behind my back and took part in that ceremony? Because I was incredibly honoured to be asked. Because my own relationship with my godparents has always been about love, not doctrine. Because there are very few people who I’ll engage in Catholic ceremonies for- and my godkid’s dad is one of them. Am I entirely happy with that decision? I have no idea.

Finally, today’s Awesome Person Of The Week is Sally. Who has a thing or two to say about being described as a precious pearl. Or a lollipop. And also a few things to say about preventing sexual assault. (Hint: not assaulting people is a good start).

Enjoy!

All is full of linkspam


Johann Hari says that peace in Ireland depends on ending educational segregation. I couldn’t agree more.

PZ Myers takes some time to remind us why his day job involves teaching. Dear Emma is an (unsent) letter to a child being coached my creationists to undermine science. Ever wanted to know how to explain radiometric dating to a nine-year-old? With a side-order of the wonder of scientific inquiry? Without talking down or patronising? Now you know how.

Michael Barron compares the smear campaign against David Norris, and similar attempts to discredit BeLonG To.

With the recent palaver surrounding ElevatorGate, a very-frickin-useful piece on what privilege means: On the difference between good dogs and dogs that need a newspaper smack. Also Nahida at the Fatal Feminist has responded to my response to Dawkins, from a Muslim feminist perspective. Check it out!

And finally, Rachel Rabbit White talks to sex workers about questioning anti-trafficking organisations.

For your entertainment while you’re reading all of those, check out this video. In honour of the last Shuttle launch, and all the (fictional) women in space. I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched it about six times already and I can’t get sick of it. I love how the ways these women are depicted changes throughout the video- how much more we have become in our imaginations.

Enjoy!

Weighing in on ElevatorGate: Perspectives and Privilege.


  1. Before I start: Trigger warning for talk of potential sexual assault and misogyny. Oh, also orientalism and Islamophobia and talk of FGM. Also describing the opinions of MRAs, PUAs, and an immensity of mansplaining, so even if you don’t need TWs, you might want to affix a small pillow to your forehead.

Also, if you happen to be my mother, than I’m warning you that I use several different swearwords here. If you’re Richard Dawkins, then you’re not my mother and you don’t get to complain if I swear.

If you’re lucky enough to not have been in the more skeptically and atheistically inclined corners of the internet this weekend, you’ll probably not have heard of ElevatorGate. Here’s a summary of events. For those of you who are already well aware of what’s been going on, I’ve popped some headings up so you can skip the summary, if you like.

What Happened at the Convention

Last month was the World Atheist Convention here in Dublin. One of the speakers was Rebecca Watson. Rebecca spoke on a Communicating Atheism panel. Her talk focused on her experiences as a female atheist activist- particularly her experiences of misogyny and inappropriate sexualisation. That night she went to the hotel bar with other attendees. Stayed up chatting till 4am, at which time she said to everyone that she was exhausted, that she’s had enough and was going to bed*. She gets into the elevator. A man follows her in to the elevator, says that he finds her very interesting, and would she like to come back to his room for coffee. She declines, goes to bed.

A few weeks later, Rebecca puts up a vlog in which she talks about the things she’s been doing, including this. If you don’t fancy looking through all of it, she talks about the afternoon panel from about 2:30, and her comments on Elevator Guy start at about 4:40.

Here’s her criticism of Elevator Guy:

“Just a word to the wise, guys? Uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable. But I’ll just lay it out that I was a single woman, in a foreign country at 4am in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. And I.. Don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and it makes me uncomfortable when men sexualise me in that manner. So.. yeah”

That’s it. She didn’t call ElevatorGuy a rapist. She didn’t say that this was the worst thing that has ever happened. She didn’t say anything, in fact, about the intentions of ElevatorGuy. She said that a thing had happened, that in that context it was highly inappropriate and made her feel uncomfortable, and she advised people to not do things like that in future. She then, by the way, goes on to say that loads of other people- both men and women- at the conference were awesome.

What Happened Next.

I’d love to say that what happened next was that the internet said “oh, right”, and toddled on about their business with just a little bit more of an idea of how to not make people feel incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe that some people asked for clarification on what had happened, got it, and than moved on. Because this? This should not have been a big deal.

But these things are always big deals.

Accusations fly of how Rebecca hates men. Of how she’s a feminazi who doesn’t want men to ever be able to talk to women. About how men can do nothing these days without being accused of being rapists. Of how she’s making a big deal over nothing** and should Get Over It. Of how she’s villifying poor, innocent ElevatorGuy*** who was probably just a shy, socially awkward chap who wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee. Of how she’s some kind of big-headed vanitybot who can’t accept that obviously an offer of coming back to someone’s room for coffee and a chat at 4am is hardly ever an invitation for sex, and how dare she think that anyone could be attracted to her.

All because, by the way, she said that a thing made her feel uncomfortable and that people should probably not do things like that.

But then things got worse. So, so much worse. Because here is where Richard Dawkins got involved. Yes, that Richard Dawkins.

What Richard Did Next.

Richard Dawkins commented on this. Fortunately for me, Jen McCreight has done a marvellous job of covering this one, so I don’t have to. But because I’d like to keep at least one or two readers here for the moment, I’ll quote RD’s original comment (as posted in Pharyngula):

Dear Muslima
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

If your forehead’s all bruised from the headdesking, don’t blame me. I told you you’d need that pillow. I wouldn’t be surprised if RD finished this screed with an entreaty to Watson to finish off her vegetables because there are poor hungry kids in Africa**** who’d just love a plate of mushy, overcooked broccoli.

There are a few things I’m not going to even start with here. The lumping of all Muslims into one big, amorphous blob. The assumption that no Muslims are, in fact, Americans. The equation of a religion with a billion or so incredibly diverse followers and the actions of assholes who choose to interpret that religion in a very particular, very narrow, very fucked-up way. Because those things? Those things are important. They are big deals. They are not things that I wanted to leave unmentioned here. But they are also things for another day, and another post. Because here I want to focus not on the ways that the skeptical community can be prejudiced against other groups. I want to focus on the ways in which we have just treated one of our own.

What RD did was not unique, or special. It was not particularly different to what many other people had done. All it did, really, was fan the flames. And oh, what flames there were! Flames and flames and flames and flames and flames. And flames. And that’s just the flames on my own little RSS feed.

Wherein I get to the point.

And here is where I get to what I would like to say about this. What I’m talking about is mainly about how the discussion of this has gone- which is, in turn, a thing which mainly exists in the comments of the posts I’ve linked to so far in this post.

I want to talk about how what happened has been framed. And what that says about who is and is not privileged in our society.

Let’s go back to those accusations against Watson that I mentioned earlier. They tend to fall into a certain small number of categories.

  1. Rebecca is, herself, privileged. Loads of worse things happen to women every day and she needs to get over herself.
  2. ElevatorGuy wasn’t a rapist! Why are people being mean to ElevatorGuy? Can’t a guy catch a break around here? Why did Rebecca call him a rapist?!
  3. Rebecca wants to outlaw flirting. If a man can’t approach a woman in a suggestive manner, then nobody will ever have sex with anyone, ever.
  4. This is totally just another way that women make false accusations against men. Just like those false accusations of rape that happen all the time. ALL THE TIME, DOODZ.
  5. So, yeah, women get raped. But what about the poor non-rapist men who feel uncomfortable being associated with rapists?
  6. …yeah, I’m just expressing my opinion. You want me to not express my opinion now, huh? Fuckin’ feminazis, trying to silence men.

Okay. So I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liberty or two with phrasing here. Guilty as charged. But the concepts are reasonably true to form. And here’s the thing about them:

They’re almost all talking about how men feel, and how ElevatorGuy felt.

This is a problem of framing, and one of perspectives. You see, Watson didn’t actually accuse ElevatorGuy of any terrible intentions. She just said that a thing had happened, and how she felt about it, and that people shouldn’t do those kinds of things if they don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. Particularly if the person in question has specifically stated that they don’t want that kind of interaction.

The responses don’t talk about that. The responses don’t talk about Watson’s perspective. They don’t frame the issue as one which is about her. They frame the issue as something she said, which is about men. Men are the people who are relevant, in these responses. Men are the ones whose feelings we should worry about, and think about, and consider.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and the discussion surrounding this is all about how the men felt to hear about it.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to having discussions be framed around them, that even when the thing being described is mainly about a non-group member, they are able to alter the discussion to be about them.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and is immediately villified and told that her concerns are unimportant.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to having discussions be framed around their needs, their issues, their comforts and discomforts, that they are unable to see a thing from an outside perspective.

A woman mentions a thing that made her feel uncomfortable, and her concerns are brushed off and compared unfavourably to a relatively-marginalised group.

This is systemic privilege. A group of people are so accustomed to their privilege that any marginalisation that is not incredibly extreme is invisible to them. So accustomed to their privilege that they cannot imagine anyone can walk in the same circles they do, exist in the same society, and not share it.

There are many, many more things that I could say about this. About why ElevatorGuy acted inappropriately. About the contexts in which this happened. But this post is about framing. About who gets to talk, who they talk about, and what that means. About whose perspectives are seen as worthwhile.

* Can’t fault her on this one, since I, lightweight I am, had begged off about three hours beforehand.

** She wasn’t the one making the big deal here. A minute or so of talking on a vlog? Not. Making. A. Fuss.

*** Did you see anything in that quote where she says ElevatorGuy is a bad person? Because I didn’t. She says that he did a thing, that she felt uncomfortable, and that people shouldn’t do that thing. I’m not a bad person because I ate the last of your cookies. I just owe you a damn cookie and should probably not do that again.

**** Just Africa, of course. And all of Africa. Because Africa’s a country, not a continent, and everything is the same there and everyone knows that all the kids in Africa are poor and hungry, and all the kids in Europe and the US are rich and full. (yes this is snark)

Unconscious Prejudice and Climbing Shoes.


Yesterday, me and my entirely lovely housemate C were in the unfortunate position of having no option but to go shopping. In Dundrum town centre. On a Saturday afternoon. Yes, it was every bit as bad as you think. But we’re recovering nicely.

One of the things that we needed to do was buy some climbing shoes for C. She knew precisely what she wanted the shoes to do, she had been to all the outdoor shops in town to no avail, and the only thing left for it was Dundrum, where there is a very lovely Snow & Rock where she got some perfectly good climbing shoes* a while back.

It was late-ish by the time we got there. There was only one person working in the climbing section, who was busy discussing shoes with two guys when we got there. We figured the polite thing to do would be to wait for him to be finished with them, and in the meantime we had a bit of a browse around. C tried on some shoes that were already out, I checked out some climbing books.

Those guys took ages to pick out their shoes. No biggie. They’re pretty specialised kinds of shoes, it makes sense that people would take a while picking them out. When the sales guy walked past us (frequently- we were between the other customers and the storeroom), we tried to catch his eye to indicate that we were about when he was done with the others. But he didn’t seem to pick up on us. Odd.

It took them about a half-hour to pick out their shoes and go. When they were gone, the SG came by where we were waiting again- but didn’t interact with us at all until C asked him if she could try on some shoes. He looked up, surprised, and said that the shop was closing now.

C told him that we had been here waiting for a half an hour while he was with the other guys. Again, surprise. And then, “Oh, I thought you two were here with them!”

Let’s go over some things, shall we? We entered the shop at a different time to them. We didn’t say hello to them or talk to them. We spent our time in a part of the shop several metres away from where they were trying on shoes. During this time we picked up shoes, C tried shoes on, and I browsed climbing gear. During the half-hour we were waiting, we didn’t interact with them in any way.

But we were two girls, they were two guys, we were in an outdoor shop- so I guess we must be their girlfriends?

After that, the SG was more than polite. He wasn’t patronising in the slightest. He asked C what kind of shoes she wanted and for what kind of climbing. They discussed it, he made recommendations, she compared a few different shoes, and twenty minutes or so later we left the shop with a brand new pair of lovely shoes to climb in. He treated her like just another climber, he was very professional. And once he realised his slip-up, he did let us stick around in the otherwise-closed shop for as long as it took.

And that is what unconscious prejudice looks like. People who don’t know that they’re prejudiced. Those of us who, when we’re aware of it, treat people equally. Who, quite likely, act in an egalitarian manner the vast majority of the time in our circles of friends and family. Who don’t see ourselves as sexist, or racist, or homophobic or ablist. But lurking in our subconscious, there are so many tiny ways that we can’t get past our conditioning. Conditioning, often, by equally well-meaning people.

It’s why it’s so dangerous. Unconscious prejudice lives in the cracks between the actions that we’re aware of and the things we do automatically while our minds are elsewhere. It’s in the snap judgements that we have to make hundreds of times a day to function in large-scale societies. And because it’s in the things we are unaware of, the things that we don’t even remember doing, it’s incredibly difficult to do anything about. And it does have real-world effects. While that incident yesterday was only a small thing, it’s one of many. It’s one of many that was notable enough that me and C both remarked on it. It’s ordinary enough that we were both able to come up with several similar instances and patterns that we have grown to expect. The vast majority of which are carried out by people who don’t know they’re doing them. And none of which are those which I’m sure we carry out ourselves every day, in a throwaway comment here, an extra few seconds of attention there. Innumerable tiny things.

By the way, before I finish: I’m not saying anything against Snow & Rock, or the salesperson there yesterday. Like I said, he was entirely professional, and they had some great shoes. I’d recommend the place, in fact. I’m just using one instance to illustrate a widespread phenomenon.

 

*Which have now been passed on to me. Yay! No more climbing failing abysmally to scramble up a wall in trainers!

Why I don’t get to say I’m not a racist.


I’m all for self-identification. People figuring out who they are and who they want to be? People finding words to describe things about themselves in ways that finally make sense, damnit? Finding out about these words and identifications and learning more about the different ways that people can be, can live their lives, can feel and think? The ways in which this adds so much richness to all of our understandings of ourselves, each other, and the very human world we live in? Awesome. Really, incredibly, fantastically awesome.

I get to say that I am many, many things. And I get to say that I am not many other things. And by doing so, I get to make more sense of who I am and what that means.

But I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist. Or ableist, or transphobic, or classist, or even sexist or homo/biphobic, or anything like that. You don’t get to say the same about yourself, either. And the reason for this is not just because of the inevitable immediate consequences of a phrase like “I’m not a racist, but..”. While that would be a good reason itself, there’s a more important one.

Being any of those things isn’t about me. It’s about the effects of my actions on others. Replace any of the above words with ‘asshole’, or your favourite non-specific insult of choice, and this will start to make sense. I can say that I’m not an asshole all that I want, but if people perceive my actions as assholish? If I consistently do things which can be defined as assholish? I’m an asshole. Because being an asshole isn’t about me, it’s about how my actions impact on others.

So I don’t get to say that I’m not a racist, or any other thing like that. Because being not-a-racist- or any equivalent for other categories- has nothing to do with what I feel myself to be, or how I identify. It isn’t about me. It’s not a box I can put myself into. It’s the constantly changing sum of the stuff that I do, and what that does to the people around me.

Oh, and I think there’s a rule on the internets that whenever these sort of things are mentioned, the mentioner gets to link to Jay Smooth. So here you go, for your not particularly tangentially related viewing pleasure:

Being Privileged (and not being an ass about it)


Jen McCreight over at Blag Hag just posted about a rather predictable thing that happened when she mentioned her disappointment at an impressively-skewed gender ratio of speakers at a conference. Namely, that only 2 of 15 speakers were women, which would be impressively skewed if it weren’t so darned common.
A predictable reply, of course, ensued:

Jennifurret, do you think the organizers are being sexist? Should they seek out more women to speak? Do you have a list of such speakers you could give them? If you feel there need to be more women at such conferences, then by all means, go to such conferences. Get involved, write articles, get invited. I’d do it except I’m not qualified to be a woman, so you have to.

Now, Jen has perfectly marvellously demolished most of this person’s, eh, ‘arguments’, since she’s got the list, writes the articles, and speaks at the conferences. Booyeah! This is the woman behind Boobquake, fer feck’s sake!

The thing I’d take issue with is that last sentence. You know the one. Just so you don’t have to strain your eyes too much looking up at it, I’ll copy it here for you again:

I’d do it except I’m not qualified to be a woman, so you have to.

This, my lovely readers, is one of the major essences of Being A Privileged Ass. Not only do you get to have bucketloads of privilege, but you also get to completely deny any responsibility for doing anything about it! It’s up to those lazy oppressed people to get up off their asses, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and work as hard as all the privileged people have been working all these years! Privileged people have no responsibility whatsoever to even be aware of their privilege, never mind actually giving a damn and doing anything about it. Right? Right?

Which would be great, if it weren’t, in fact, the other way around. Members of any oppressed class you care to mention tend to have a whole lot more to deal with than their relatively privileged counterparts. In addition to this, they tend to be less likely to be in positions of power, and are less likely to be listened to. Not to mention being at higher risk of all sorts of hassle and violence if they do speak up. Because of this, people who are relatively privileged- and as a white, able-bodied, college-educated cissexual Westerner, I’m counting myself in this- have an absolute responsibility to do something about the structures which privilege us. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to add our voices to those calling for more representation of, and necessary accommodations for those who do not share our privilege.

Or, you know, we could all throw up our hands and say that it’s nothing to do with us. That’s sure to help.

Attention: women! You might be fat without even knowing it!


According to this charming article which has been lurking about the internet for a few weeks now (several decades in internet time, I am aware), a full quarter of women who are overweight perceive themselves as normal.

Oh, and this is a problem. A terrible, terrible problem, because all of those women? They might not know about all of the horrible health conditions they could be suffering from right at this very minute! These women might even be eating a normal amount of food and not starving themselves, because they don’t even know that they’re disgusting, sick freaks of horribleness possibly maybe kinda unhealthy. Maybe. Because, of course having a BMI over 25 automatically makes a person unhealthy than their 24.9 counterparts. Because a woman could never know herself if she is healthy or not. Because the only way to be healthy is to eat a restricted diet. Because, of course, a person who is overweight can’t be normal.

But less of the snark, and let’s get to actually looking at the article, shall we? Most of the article focuses on the fact that a reasonably large proportion of women feel themselves to be in a different BMI category than they are. Some women who are ‘overweight’ see themselves as ‘normal*’, and vice-versa.
Okay, fair enough. Not all of us have the time or the inclination to constantly check our BMIs. We might be more interested in how our bodies feel and look to us than how this relates to a height-weight ratio that is, frankly, of very little use on an individual level. We might be busy with actually getting on with our lives and have different priorities.

But then we get to the discussion, to what is talked about, what is left out, and how topics are actually discussed. While the research itself appears to have included ‘underweight’ as a category, this article defines ‘normal’ weight as a BMI under 25. Can anyone else see the large, glaring problem here? Particularly when being severely underweight comes with rather more acute health problems (actual starvation) than being equivalently overweight (claims that certain chronic conditions are more likely which, contrary to popular opinion, are frequently contested).
When contrasting unhealthy behaviours among people who misperceive their weights, there also seems to be an imbalance in discussion in this article. While ‘normal’ weight people who perceive themselves as overweight are more likely to smoke or take diet pills- both activities which are dangerous in themselves- those who are ‘overweight’ might simply not be restricting their diets. How… terrible?
Later, however, we get to the really peachy stuff**. The last section of the article talks about how the ‘fattening of America’ could be causing people to feel themselves to be ‘normal’ when they are really abnormal ‘overweight’- how seeing other people of similar weights around them causes people to normalise higher weights.
Leaving aside that this is problematised? Again, okay, fair enough. I can see how seeing people like you around you would lead you to think that being like you is pretty much normal. However, let’s go back to the numbers, shall we? Some back-of-an-envelope calculations give me, in this study, 22% of ‘overweight’ women seeing themselves as ‘normal’, and 16% of ‘normal’ women seeing themselves as ‘overweight’. While there is a disparity between the two, I’m going to guess that it isn’t a hugely significant one***. It’s around the same range, ish. Oh, and no numbers at all are given for women classed as ‘underweight’. Surprised?
Which is where we go back to the problematisation of ‘overweight’ women perceiving themselves as ‘normal’. There simply isn’t an equivalent problematisation, in this article, the other way around. It’s not there. The idea that there are every bit as significant a fraction of women who think themselves to be ‘overweight’ when they’re not? The fact that we’re shaming women of all sizes into behaviours that are both unhealthy and damned un-fun in the pursuit of a certain body type, and then writing damning articles about them when they have a healthy self-image? Not there either. And all of this without even a mention of the 49% of the human race left out of this discussion entirely.

There’s just one more thing I want to talk about, regarding this article and the women it criticises. And that is that it appears to me that one of the people they’re talking about here? The people they’re criticising like this for not restricting their diets and being suitably ashamed of their bodies? Is me.
See, I did some calculations over the past few weeks after this article came out. It turns out that my BMI? Varies between 23-ish and 25-ish. If I’m feeling a bit bloated, a bit on the PMSey side of things and happen to have eaten recently? If I’ve decided today that I’m probably closer to 5’2″ than 5’3″? I could, without even noticing, cross that great divide between Normal and Abnormal Overweight, between Healthy and Should Be Starving Herself. Today? I have no idea, and I have no interest in getting on the bathroom scales and taking out my calculator to find out.

*Here I recommend tying a nice pillow onto your forehead to avoid bruising from the inevitable headdesking and facepalming. If you don’t happen to have any pillows of appropriate size, you should be able to McGyver something with, say, some nice thick socks and some string or elastic.
**You might want to make sure that pillow is firmly attached to your forehead before going any further.
*** Feel free to jump in here please, statisticians!