Tag Archives: chauvinism

The “F” Word: Why Misogynists Love Scrutinizing Our Weight

20 Apr

It is a word I’ve heard thrown at women over and over again: at celebrities, at friends, at acquaintances, and even at myself. It is a favourite among misogynists and slut-shamers and it is cherished by celebrity gossip websites — I’m talking about the “f” word. It is a word that most women will have directed at them at one time or another in their life, regardless of size.

This is something that used to confuse me. Why “fat”?

Why not call me stupid, evil, or cross-eyed? What makes this the insult of choice  among chauvinists? Why is commenting on a woman’s weight used as such a trite, automatic insult? What is it about this word that preoccupies us women so much?

And what is wrong with being fat? My being fat or thin states nothing about my character. It makes no comment about who I am as a person. It says nothing about my values, thoughts, opinions, or accomplishments. It does not even indicate my beauty. As the viral mermaid-or-whale Facebook beauty campaign proved a few months ago, many gorgeous women are fat. Meanwhile, many women with looks outside of traditional beauty conventions are thin. So why is “fat” used as synonymous with “ugly”?

Moreover, weight alone is also a poor indicator of health. It is unhealthy to be obese, yes, but it is also more unhealthy to be underweight than overweight. Another factor given little analysis is why the person weighs what they do. Is it an illness? Diet? Over/under-exercise? Bone density?

If we take away all the stigma around the word “fat,” we will see that fatness has little to do with the content of our character, our beauty, and even our health. Therefore, I believe that there is a deeper reason that chauvinistic men so frequently opt for this “insult” when they critique women; it’s about policing women’s bodies.

“Fat” is a word loosely thrown around at women of all shapes and sizes, from women with bare-bones frames to the very voluptuous, by notorious woman-haters such as Dick Masterson and Nik Richie. It was even used recently in a vicious media frenzy to attack the stunning, successful actress Ashley Judd (who was having none of it, by the way!). They use it because with this one word, they can police us. While we may go on to have more fun, fulfilling lives than these miserable misogynists, they can use this one-word weapon to show that they still have the superiority on the social scale. It is away of asserting their superiority and our inferiority. It is a playground-esque way of telling the girl you like who has just pushed you off the see-saw, “Well, at least I’m still better than you!”

When a man attempts to hurt a woman by calling her “fat,” he is devaluing women’s achievements by indirectly arguing that a woman is nothing without a body. In fact, she is her body. She is an object, whose value is determined by its appeal to a man. Such men believe that a woman can be admired by a man, but she can never be equal to him.

Fat-phobia and slut-shaming go hand-in-hand. Like I asked earlier, what is a man even trying to say when he uses a word like “fat”? Much less an even more subjective word like “slut”? What does that hateful, sexist word even mean? You can ask 10 men and get 10 different answers, but as with other slurs, the smart men won’t even reply because “slut” isn’t an insult that any intelligent person would ever use. I mean, these misogynistic men are easy enough to see through. Often, it is a case of unrequited love that has made them so bitter. Other times, they are just complete psychopaths, with their sexism on the same level as a neo-Nazi’s racism, or a gay-basher’s homophobia. Usually, it is a combination of both. In all cases, it manifests due to the dangerous combination of low self-esteem and a big ego.

Such men do not realize that we are not our bodies, therefore, they use slut-shaming to police women’s behaviour and our bodies.  As Kerry Howley articulates, this objectification of women is justified with the ideology that “women need be preserved in glass so as not to “ruin” themselves, lest they diminish their sexual value by “giving it away” [...] None of the slut-shaming makes sense unless you assume women live to give themselves to men in their purest possible form.”

When a man calls a woman “fat,” he is demeaning her. He is suggesting that a woman can be admired, but never truly respected. Judged, evaluated, but never appreciated. The maid, never the mistress.* The [willing] victim and never the protector. These men love to scrutinize our bodies and our sexuality, believing that a woman’s sexual  appeal comprises her worth. If her body is “imperfect,” her worth is diminished. If she acknowledges female sexuality, her worth is diminished. Misogynists actually think that they have a right to scrutinize us — that this is what we’re there for; we exist solely for their praise, which is what gives us our value. On our own, we are nothing but an object. They make this assertion every time that they dare to call a woman “fat.”

This hurts women not only because we are bombarded and brainwashed with media images every day that constantly tell us that “thin is in,” but also because the contemporary woman often associates the word thin with success, and even with a certain level of glamour. The modern woman’s role is shifting. Many of us pursue a career, an education, volunteer opportunities, and more. We travel. We drive expensive cars and buy expensive clothing. To us, the thin woman seems more avant-garde, more stylish and chic. We’ve come a long way, and this image seems like a far step from the matronly Martha or Monroe.

Yet the cruel irony is that this word is used against us, to take us back to a time and place that I hope never existed. Misogynists logically realize that confident, successful, beautiful women like Tara Lynn and Katya Zharkova wouldn’t look twice at them in the real world, so they relish this fantasy wherein they have the power to put a woman “in her rightful place” by dropping the f-bomb.

Whether the woman in question is built like a figure-skater or a 17th century rubenesque model, a man who encourages a woman to alter her figure beyond its natural, healthy weight wants only to weaken her and nothing more. This is why, regardless of size, these chauvinists will invariably prefer an unhealthy and unconfident woman over a strong, independent one. Their idea of what it means to be “thin” is meant to infantilize, control, and condescend us, and is not even congruent with the equally problematic slim, high-powered businesswoman cut-out that the magazines are trying to sell us. A misogynist’s standard of “beauty” is rubbish. They are attempting to rob us of our agency. So don’t let them.

If you ever again here a misogynistic man calling you, your friend, or any woman around you fat, laugh in his face. Do not give him the dignity of a response. Do not tell him that you’re in the gym five days a week, that your BMI is actually lower than 18, or that the woman in question is clearly eight times hotter than him — none of it. We should never have to justify our bodies. Due to his own low self-esteem, this man wants to take your power away from you, and it isn’t his to take. Do not even try to enlighten him about how incredibly ignorant he is being, because there’s nothing a dumb jerk hates more than being told they’re a dumb jerk. Misogynists hate women, therefore they use this word primarily because they know it hurts us. Most of us like looking good and they just love reminding us that they still think they’re better. If we stop taking the insult, they’ll slowly catch on. In the meanwhile, it’ll have much less ammo.

_______

*It upsets me that there is no true female version of the word “master.”

Feminism and Chauvinism in The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness

8 Apr

You know a book is good when after you finish reading it, you just can’t stop thinking about it.

I just finished The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp, the memoirs of a woman who found herself homeless during the recession despite years in the workforce, a great resume, and a seemingly stable job. And yes, this post will contain spoilers.

I could not put the book down.

One thing I really admire about the author is her borderline self-deprecating honesty. A former Jehovah’s Witness, she openly admits that stigmas attached to homosexuals and racial minorities have been difficult for her to overcome, and in fact, she still struggles to un-learn them and think beyond instinctive gut-reactions.

Even sexism dies hard with her, and she explains why. When she talks about the things that she’s had to overcome with such brazen clarity, I feel almost voyeuristic for reading on, yet I couldn’t stop. I really wanted to see her triumph in the end. She knows that America is a patriarchy, and in certain circumstances (dealing with cops, etc.) she even finds ways to use her social disadvantage to her advantage, in a sense, which made me admire her. There is something about her–perhaps this reflective honesty she possesses–that makes you instantly like her. As a middle-class North American woman of about her age, I felt an instant bond with her. I felt that despite my liberal-minded parents and much easier upbringing, I could relate to her, and I rooted for her. Her sense of perseverance was inspiring, and made me want to root for her even more.

One thing I found unsettling was her love interest. She had met and fallen in love over the internet, which made me sceptical, but I supposed it could work in our tech-y age–the guy seemed all right from what she’d said about their e-mails and Gtalk sessions. But as soon as he got off the plane to meet her, something seemed off. He made snide comments about his ex-girlfriend, infantilizing her, which I found incredibly chauvinistic. All of his “you’re-so-much-more-intellectual-than-my-childish-ex” crap seemed shady. She adored him, of course, but he needed someone more cultured. Why were you with her, then? Why would you be with someone you have no regard for and use-and-abuse her just because you needed the place to stay and the emotional pick-me-up? Doesn’t that say more about you than it does about her?

His other favourite compliment, “you’re-so-unlike-how-I-imagined-you-shallow-American-girls-to-be” line, I found equally unimpressive. He even mocked her parochial upbringing and shamed her for the remnants she couldn’t shake loose. To be honest, it seemed a bit like Karp just lapped it up because she was in love with the idea of being in love, thrilled that someone she truly admired and e-loved (because there is no real “love” over the internet) had taken an interest in her. Her feelings were requited for the first time in her life, which was a self-esteem boost. Although he gave her backhanded compliments that might serve as red-flags for other women, she liked being different from stupider, shallower women. What she called “two crazy kids madly in love with each other” I called one young lady and one kinda-sleezy mid-thirties divorcé with a mid-life crisis that came early.

All right, so this guy’s lame, but I love this girl, so I’ll hope the best for them, I thought. But the chauvinism continued: despite his admission that a bout of depression lead him to indulge in promiscuous sex for a while, he was super judgmental when Karp confessed a racy tale of her own. To me it seemed like the kind of thing most men genuinely interested in a girl would brush off, or even find kind of impressive, especially for someone with a sexual history typical of a Jehovah’s Witness. His judg-y attitude showed me as a female reader that he thought that his emotional and sexual experiences were somehow more legitimate than hers, and that he had more  right to a sexuality. And he actually seemed a little jealous, which was creepy.

Then came the xenophobia (176): “I’ll never understand your American system. Do you realize that in the UK, everybody gets free health care–homeless people go on a short waiting list and get a free flat, and you can live there the rest of your life if you want to, never even have to get a job or anything if you don’t want to. That’s why I was only homeless for a short time. It’s all cradle to grave there. We care about our people there.”

Hmmm, that seemed like strange talk to me coming from a homeless activist. If homeless people have it so easy in the UK with their government handouts and free flats, what’s this dude advocating for? And if the UK is anything like Canada, that whole free health-care schpiel is a lie, too.

I was also really pissed off that he said “WE” care about “OUR” people…as opposed to you and “YOUR” crazy backwards American system.

If you try to feel superior to me because of the country you happened to be born in, I’ll leave you right there.

This man was totally disregarding her feelings when it came to seriously important topics, like having children. He insisted that her fears were irrational and that if it was so bad, women wouldn’t keep doing it. This type of devaluing of women’s experiences really unsettled me. Why is she irrational for voicing her deepest concerns? Because she is a woman? Because she doesn’t feel ready to have your children when you are both essentially homeless?

Ridiculous.

I was fuming at this privileged white British man, with all his sexism, xenophobia and smug superiority. Why had he escaped his great life and free flat in the UK for a fantasy getaway with an e-love? It didn’t make sense.

Then Karp went to meet the douche in his homeland, and suddenly it did.

She found him in his flat with his ex, and suddenly she was no longer the fiancé, but the other woman. She was not allowed in the house, and he was verbally abused by this woman who had been described to Karp as the sweet and loving, but simply not-up-to-my-level ex-gf who could not take a hint and move on. Suddenly it became clear: he was the abused, not the abusee. He could not get out. She owned him.

Much like petty officers who morph into petty tyrants upon promotion (ex. Henry Morton Stanley, General Dyer, most colonizers, really), Doucheface enjoyed being able to escape his shitty life and put himself in the position of power when he ran away to meet his e-fling, as he put on an uppity British air that was never his own. He delved into his would-be life with her, living in a Victorian mansion raising snottishly “cultured” children with shelves full of leather bound (EW!) antique classics. Worst of all, he let her buy into it, too. But he never had any intention of leaving this so-called “ex” of his. Still, he let Karp make sacrifices for him. 

As I finished the book, I still got the impression that Karp is unaware of the full extent of his douchebaggery. In lieu of her unusual ability for self-reflection, and even self-critique, when she reflects on her former romance with The Douche, she becomes all butterflies and irrationality.

I was almost relieved when he left her after abandoning her in the snowstorm (And you’re a homeless activist? Seriously?) because I knew that she wouldn’t do it herself. Which is sad because she can do a lot better than him, and she will.

 

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