The Problem With Laziness

To many people, laziness is a moral failing. We use it to denote someone who doesn’t deserve things because they don’t try hard enough. It’s used to slam someone, to decrease their credibility, to insult them for not being good enough.

I don’t think that laziness is a moral failing.

Whoa whoa whoa, I’m sure someone out there is saying. Shouldn’t people be willing to work for what they want? Isn’t it bad to just sit back and make other people do work without putting in any effort yourself?

To this hypothetical naysayer I say hold your horses. Lazy is a huge term that refers to all kinds of behaviors. Let’s take a minute to pull apart all the different things it might be referring to and all the potential downsides of adding a moral judgment to calling someone lazy.

The first and largest problem I see with the term lazy is that it’s unclear (making it a somewhat lazy turn of phrase itself). Some people use lazy to mean that others aren’t working as hard as they do, or up to their expectations. Some people use it to mean people who are doing things in an easier or more effective way. Some people use it to mean entitled. Some people use it to mean selfish. Some people use it to mean they can’t see another person doing work.

Many people use lazy to point out behaviors that don’t make sense to them. People who are disabled, have mental illnesses, are chronically ill, or are in some other oppressed get labeled as lazy because their behavior doesn’t make sense to people with privilege. When I’m depressed it can take all of my energy just to get out of bed and make it in to work. I sleep a LOT and cannot get by on less than 10 hours of sleep a day. Many people would label that lazy, but I’m physically incapable of doing much different.

So first and foremost, I don’t necessarily know what someone is criticizing when they call something lazy. In many cases it is a fundamental misunderstanding of mental or physical illnesses that assumes everyone should be able to keep up with an able-bodied, healthy person. I don’t hold with that. It’s oppressive and is one of the ways people keep disabled and ill folks from having access to basic services.

Second, calling another person lazy often relies on a lot of assumptions. If you really do only mean it’s bad to be lazy if you’re choosing not to work when you could be working, then you better know someone’s situation quite intimately before you call them lazy. You need to know how hard they’ve tried, their health (both physical and mental), their abilities, their family situation, every other drain on their time and energy…so really unless you’re best friends or living with someone I don’t know how you can reasonably call them lazy and assume it’s justified.

But really what kills me about accusations of laziness is that more often than not they’re about someone getting some kind of payoff without trying hard. And I hate to break it to you all, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s no moral law that says you’re a bad person if you get nice things with some ease. What IS a problem is when your behavior affects others. If you aren’t willing to do work but you expect others to take care of you, you’re being selfish and entitled. Yes, also probably lazy, but that’s not the problem so much as your attitudes towards others are.

Every single human being has times when they don’t want to work. Probably lots of times. If that were a moral failing we’d all be screwed. All of us have some times when we choose not to work, despite technically being capable of doing it. That is actually incredibly healthy most of the time. The problem then isn’t “not working” it’s “not working and forcing someone else to do work for you.” Those are two very different things, and I’m not so sure we can even call the second one laziness.

Beyond all of the issues with what we’re actually referring to when we say laziness, I also see people calling others lazy when they ask for help or support. This is especially troubling to me because most of the people I see doling out accusations of laziness are relatively privileged people. People who already have basic support systems that help them out if they can’t make rent or if they need a new car or if they need help moving. All those things that they seem to think others should do on their own. It’s easy to look at someone asking for money to help raise their kid and say “they should have thought of that before they had a kid.” But most middle class people get the benefit of a baby shower and hand me downs and grandparents as baby sitters, and all kinds of other hidden benefits of having a supportive family.

 

 

I worry that the language of laziness is another way to berate people in oppressed groups for not having the same privileges that “normal” people do. I worry that it’s a way to shame fat people for not being able to exercise the same way as thin people, a way to shame queer people for not having family supports, to shame poor people for having poor families and neighborhoods, to shame atheists and non-religious folks for not having a church community to support them.

I am happy to see people asking for more. I am happy to see personal fundraisers, and people openly talking about their welfare or food stamps. I am happy because I like to see people asking for what they need. It cultivates a culture in which we can all speak up about our needs and wants and all take responsibility for how we respond. And I’m happy because I don’t know anyone’s situation, but I do know it takes a lot to get past the shame of feeling lazy and worthless.

Internalized Prejudice

Society’s prejudices and assumptions are tricky. They can sneak in in all sorts of ways you don’t expect and wish you could get rid of.  It’s nearly impossible to grow up without internalizing some sort of prejudice or judgment, and it’s incredibly difficult when you realize that the assumptions you grew up with are wrong. Doubly unfortunately, many of those judgments often intersect with our oppressions: e.g. I have a great deal of internalized fatphobia thanks to my eating disorder, which is incredibly difficult to control and combat. Another example of this might be radical feminists who vehemently oppress trans women. When you’ve been oppressed, you often end up with a lot of hatred towards other people or even towards yourself. But the most interesting examples of internalized prejudice (at least to me) are the times we actively work against ourselves in ways we would never do to others.

It’s often easiest to recognize our own prejudices by how we treat ourselves. Oftentimes our behavior towards ourselves is far more honest than our behavior towards others. Our behavior towards others is more often moderated by societal norms, group expectations, shaming behaviors from others, and empathy. Interestingly, many people appear to find it easier to express empathy towards others, whereas towards themselves they rely on rules and “shoulds”. We fall back on the things we’ve internalized because trying to inhabit our own emotions can be more difficult than inhabiting someone else’s.

But the ways that we treat ourselves in comparison to others can reveal a lot. If you have a great deal of privilege and treat yourself super well and think awesome things about yourself while you simply treat other acceptably, that says something. Or if you treat yourself like crap over things like weight, gender, or mental health status, this might reveal some internalized prejudice. Oftentimes these are things you don’t even notice at first. But if you take the time to examine each judgment and negative thought you have about yourself, you might realize that it rests on a myth about how people should be.

As an example, I’ve been incredibly insecure for some time about my sexuality. I don’t have a high sex drive and I’ve often felt that I’m broken or that something is wrong with me when I’m not actively attracted to someone that I love and want to be with. I’ve often avoided thinking about it out of fear that I have some sort of trauma in my past that I haven’t processed, or that I don’t really trust people. It was only after reading a number of websites about asexuality that I realized that some people are simply wired to not have a strong sex drive. There’s nothing wrong or broken about it. The judgment that I had towards myself was actually reflecting an attitude about anyone who differentiated from the sexual norm. I was even medicalizing my own difference, telling myself that asexuality was a mental or physical defect, or that I would get over it when I was healthy. While I thought that I was simply making a judgment about myself, a closer examination revealed that I had some assumptions about what sexuality should be that were highly offensive and erased the experiences of many people (including myself). Many of us have experiences like these.

So what do we do when we make realizations like this? I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with the fatphobia I know I have because of my eating disorder. It’s hard. You don’t know how to treat yourself or others, and you certainly don’t know how to convince your mind that it’s wrong. How do we argue against ourselves? How do we learn to treat ourselves better?

In general I am not a huge proponent of guilt. Generally if you’re feeling guilty you already know you’ve done something wrong, the guilt has already played its role to tell you that you have behaved inappropriately, and from there on out it just turns into self-flagellation. Particularly with internalized oppressions that are directed towards yourself, I can very rarely see guilt being helpful (I can just imagine someone feeling fatphobia towards themself, feeling guilty about it, hating themself even more, and then proceeding to link fat with shitty once again).  When you turn oppression and stigma against yourself, it does not help for either you or others to guilt you or tell you how shitty you are or how you don’t understand. You are the one suffering here, and while your suffering is contributing to negative conditions for others, you do need to take yourself into account. Here are some suggestions:

1.Sympathy towards yourself and others.
Cut yourself some slack! Cut other people some slack! Now I know that this borders dangerously on telling people to just calm down and let prejudice and stereotypes and oppression go cause it’s no big deal. That is not what I mean. I mean that if someone is already struggling, feeling guilty, and really working to improve their actions and mindset, then you don’t need to beat it into them any further. You can offer them praise for things they do well or simply tell them that yeah, things suck.

2.Imagine whether you would do these things towards other people.
Oftentimes we’re far more willing to be jerks towards ourselves than towards others. I call myself horrific names I never would call others, and expect ridiculous diets out of myself that I would tell others they should never engage in. It can be helpful to spend some time imagining what your reaction would be if the offender was someone else. Sometimes I have to imagine that I’m speaking ot my best friend instead of myself so that I can understand how cruel I’m being.

3.Try to explain why you’re mad at yourself so that you can see what myths you’re using.
This might seem somewhat useless, but it can be incredibly helpful. Taking the time to examine what you’re actually saying about yourself, to read up on some of the social justice literature surrounding some of your issues, and to really dismantle the hidden assumptions that you have can make it much easier to fight back. Once you put those assumptions into plain English it’s often obvious how stupid they are. From there, you can remind yourself of these myths when you start to beat up on yourself again.

4.When calling someone out who is the victim of their own stigma, try to be more gentle than you might otherwise: they’re probably fighting a really hard battle.

It’s incredibly hard to recognize our own prejudices and to act against them. It’s particularly hard to fight them in our own lives. Unfortunately we rarely talk about these internalized elements of oppression, and they can be one of the fastest ways that oppression reproduces itself. Let’s start that conversation.

Before and After Stories: Time and Social Justice

What do narratives about trans* people, fat people, neurodiverse people, immigrants, and chronically ill people have in common? Yes they are all narratives about oppressed groups of people, but what sets these sorts of narratives apart from the narratives we hear about people of color or women? These stories almost always neatly fall into the narrative of before and after stories, with the before identity being the oppressed identity.

We rarely think about time in relation to social justice. Generally we view oppressed individuals as having characteristics or traits that don’t disappear with time. We may think about how these traits fit into categories, systems, treatment, prejudices, and the like, but we rarely think about how they change with time, or how the concepts of change and time are used as oppressive tools by majorities that wish these minorities to disappear. Oftentimes these stories are told as a journey with a movement from bad to good.  The acceptability of these minorities is often tied to time, and where they are in relation to a journey or a movement in time.

Recently I read an article on academia.edu that explored weight loss stories and how fat individuals have subverted the before and after weight loss narrative to empower themselves. In particular, “fat” is nearly always painted as the “before” and “thin” is the desirable “after” status. I was struck with this discussion, because this same narrative is often used in eating disordered stories wherein sick is before and recovered is after. This type of narrative is applied to many kinds of individuals, and could be an interesting lens with which to understand certain tools of oppression and new ways to empower oppressed people. Let’s start by looking at what is common across many of these narratives and how they are used to create binaries and enforce the view of society that certain halves of the binaries are acceptable.

One important thing that social justice advocates often talk about is that oppressed identities are often viewed as something that should change, generally in movement towards the “normal” or acceptable identity. When we speak of the identities I mentioned above, that identity is rarely viewed as the true identity of the individual, but rather it’s seen as a layer that needs to be shed to reach the “real” person underneath. You can see this for fat people in movies like Shallow Hal, or for people who are neurodiverse when you see narratives about the disease “possessing” someone, or that “functioning” is supposed to be the end goal. Oftentimes we don’t hear people tell stories of being this identity in the present tense: you don’t hear “I am anorexic and this is what it’s like” or “I am fat and this is what it’s like”. You hear “I was a teenage anorexic” or “my weight loss story” or even “here is my journey of transition from male to female, but now I am firmly female and no longer challenge the gender binary nuh uh”.

This use of the past tense does a great deal to undermine the experiences of these individuals, because it distances them from their experiences, and paints now as reality and the past as distant unreality. We are told that these experiences don’t persist through time: that it’s “just a phase”, or not enough of who we are to continue to be a part of who we are. Particularly when an individual does change, that process and the experience of change through time are often erased by creating a simple before and after picture that does not illuminate the complex and personal procedure of change. We get a sentence as simple as “I recovered” that erases the growth, the change, and the incorporation of the past into a new identity.

These are not always the stories that individuals with oppressed identities want to tell, but they’re the frameworks that society provides for us and appear to be the narratives that society wants to hear. They require us to give up ownership of parts of our lives, to distance ourselves from what we used to be and to look down on it as miserable or wrong. This means that the ability to claim full ownership of your entire life and to see positive and negative elements across time is a great privilege.

The other element of these narratives is that you’re considered fair game for judgment, pity, and condescension when you’re on the “before” end of the spectrum, and most people assume that you’re trying to reach the “after” end of the spectrum. They view you as unfinished until you change, then they see you as complete or acceptable. If you don’t want to change, you are often labelled lazy, wrong, stubborn or broken. It’s considered tragic if you never change. These views of individuals as simply on their way to something better completely erases the day in day out experiences of time, of change as a choice, or of narratives that don’t fit this pattern. The time that you were “before” is often considered lost, and you don’t get to claim it as your own. Relapse, or change back, is completely erased. These kinds of narratives, and the dominant societal interest in the before and after narrative take away many of our choices and remind us over and over again that we are so unacceptable that we are not even real until we have changed. Our experiences are changed from “lives” into “journeys” without our consent, and we are absolutely not allowed to be in between the two poles. These identities are only acceptable if they’re in the past.

So what do we do about these narratives? Are there ways  to rewrite our oppressed identities as things that persist through time, or to subvert some of the narratives? I think there are, but they require us to be extremely vigilant about when we talk about our lives and how we talk about our lives. It’s important for us to tell true stories about our lives at all points in time. When we have an eating disorder, we need to speak up about what it’s like. When we are fat, we need to speak up about what it’s like. When we are transitioning, we need to tell that story as the here and now. But we also need to remind ourselves over and over, and remind each other, that every iteration of us is the real us. You are always you and your experiences are always valid. There is no time when you are becoming yourself. You already are. When someone else tries to paint you as changing, in flux, or incomplete, fight back against that. Remind them that YOU ARE YOU right here and right now.

Stop using the past tense. Talk about now. And beyond that, ask for services and recognition in the here and now, not for the you that you will be. Ask for adequate medical services for yourself WHEN YOU ARE FAT. Ask for respect of your voice and your opinions, support of your struggles and confusions, and good relationships WHILE YOU ARE STILL STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS. Finally, find ways to rework the narratives. Use a frame that doesn’t have a clean ending. Make your oppressed identity the end rather than the beginning. Parody the narratives that exist a la Judith butler. Claim your identity right here and right now in any way you can.

Our identities are not a step on the path to acceptability. They are who we are. And ya know what? They’re pretty fucking awesome in the here and now. I have an eating disorder. That’s me. Get over it.

Orphan Black: Who Owns the Clones?

I have a new TV obsession and I’ve got it BAD. Orphan Black is a new show on BBC America that just finished up its first season, and I’m already ripping my hair out waiting for the next one (which doesn’t come out until next spring. Uncool BBC, uncool). If you aren’t watching it, then a.SPOILER ALERT and b.start watching it. Right now. Go to your TV/computer, find it and watch it. Back? Ok. Good.

 

The most fascinating things to me about Orphan Black are the themes of owning your body, identity, and patent law. Today I’d like to explore some of the themes about ownership of body, and how the show provides some extremely interesting and insightful commentary on women’s bodies and liberation. The whole premise of the show is that there are a handful (possibly more?) of women who find out that their bodies and their lives are not what they think: they are actually clones who are being monitored by a scientific project. All of these clones are female, and over the course of the first season they begin to come together and find ways to fight back against whatever forces are trying to influence their lives or take ownership over them. There are clearly parallels between this clearly sci fi world and some of the forces that women feel in their lives every day. I’d like to explore how women’s experiences of becoming self-aware of oppression and then fighting back against that oppression parallel the experiences of the clones.

 

1.Our lives are not our own: we’re viewed as property even when we don’t know it.

There is a parallel between the existence of the clones, and the everyday existence of women. We are viewed as property and treated as property even when we don’t know it. The clones are watched and used by scientists as test subjects, as objects to understand. Similarly, many women today are watched and used by men or corporations or other sexist and oppressive forces. They are the subject of the male gaze, which reduces them to a sexual object rather than a scientific one. However in both cases, our bodies are being used for something without our consent, and often without our knowledge.

 

2.We often don’t understand how we could be property, and try to act as if we are not.

Very often it seems like a foreign concept to us that someone could own us or have power over our bodies that we don’t. It seems unfathomable that we wouldn’t know everything about who owns our bodies. But we are rarely the ones who hold the power or the knowledge, and are often left trying to make the best decision possible in bad circumstances.

 

In the case of the clones, they had no idea that there could be a patent written into their genes: this seems impossible. And so they made their choices as if the option to walk away and ignore Leaky actually existed. When they finally discover that they don’t have the autonomy they thought they did, they have to try to come to grips with the limited choices they have, and they do their best to create new options that allow them more freedom.

 

In a similar way, I think that few women grow up fully aware of the sexist culture that we live in. Girls may grow up not knowing that their father thinks of them as a possession, or they may have a boyfriend and not realize that the boyfriend is possessive. Many times women and girls simply take it for granted that they’re expected to care for others without much in return. They don’t realize the danger we all live in of having our bodies violated, abused, or possessed in ways we don’t like.

 

When someone becomes aware of these dangers, of the way that women’s bodies are rarely their own, the way that they’re expected to be beautiful for public viewing, conform to certain stereotypes, be available for sex in the appropriate fashion, etc. it can be a jarring and painful experience. Sometimes it comes in the circumstance of rape or other violence. And when this becomes part of one’s awareness, you have to try to build new choices that create autonomy for you, just as the clones did. Discussing ownership of women’s bodies head on often gets dismissed as “overreacting” or the “feminazis”. It’s hard for many people to accept that we don’t have full ownership over our bodies. However Orphan Black takes a more subtle approach and decides to act out a kind of thought experiment on what it might literally be like to not own your body. Through this lens, it can explore the reactions and defense mechanisms of the women involved. Hopefully it will help some people take feelings of disenfranchisement more seriously.

 

3.This show illustrates clearly how a “feminine” impulse towards nurturing or family can be channeled into strength and identity, as well as how it can be used to try to subvert those forces that might push us into societally defined identities.

An interesting element of this show is that while it looks at how women’s bodies are used for purposes that aren’t their own, it seems to pinpoint reproductive freedom as the base of Sarah’s independence (and in some ways as Allison’s motivations for trying to get her life back). Kira is her rock, her reason for living, the thing that was all hers until she found out about the patent. In many ways this seems to be metaphorical for how women’s reproductive systems are co-opted for purposes they don’t want (e.g. lack of access to abortion/being forced to carry baby of rapist), when in reality it should be the thing that we are most in control over. However even while it mirrors that lack of power that women have, it also illustrates how the maternal impulse, and some of the “feminine” traits of the women portrayed can be the most powerful and give the most strength.

 

It shows that when women want to take control of their bodies, that often means taking control of their families as well, and that this means cutting themselves off from toxic people (Vic) and taking independent control of their lives. Interestingly, it also means deciding where they want to build their family: for Sarah this involves trusting Felix, and for Allison this involves trusting Donnie. When you take back some power over your body, you seem to gain the power to decide for yourself who you want in your life, where you want to be, and who you want to be around. You may still make mistakes in trusting the wrong people (like Allison), but at least you are consciously making decisions about what’s best for you. Allison took steps to protect herself and her family, and while they were wrong because more information had been kept from her, her children and her family were her motivation, and her self-awareness made her able to stand up.

 

This show illustrates the power of bringing together a variety of traits and reclaiming things that may traditionally have been “feminine” or weak to fight against things that are harming you, as well as how the bonds of a mother to a child can be powerful. I’m uncertain as to whether this enforces a kind of gender essentialism, but we’ll see how it plays out.

 

4.The best part of this show is how the women whose identities are not their own come together to understand their situation and to take steps to rectify it.

The clones rely on each other, the people who are in the same oppressive situation that they are to build clearer identities and to take control of their situation. The most strength that the clones have is when they come together. Each one has a variety of talents and insights, and they contribute to each other’s well being. Interesting, Helena is the most destructive force in the show yet, illustrating that a break in the solidarity can absolutely destroy a coalition. Because each of these women are going through similar experiences, by talking to each other they begin to understand who they are. They don’t get much help from those who aren’t clones, not even those who supposedly have the “answers”. Those people who have experienced either being clones or giving birth to clones seem to have the best understanding of who each clone is. In the real life of women, it’s often important to talk to someone else with similar experiences to your own. Men can obviously help form solidarity and help you understand your identity, but there is something about being around those coming from a similar place and experiencing the same things that can be extremely beneficial to understanding those experiences. People who are living oppressed lives, banding together that creates more strength than anything else I can imagine. This show in my mind embodies some of the ideal ways of fighting oppression.

 

5.Unfortunately at the end of the day, no matter what they do, the game is rigged.

The big reveal at the end of season 1 shows that their DNA is patented: everything they do, their offspring, all of it belongs to someone else. Metaphorically, this speaks strongly to the state of women today, particularly the idea that a woman’s children don’t belong to her and that her body does not belong to her. Our game is rigged. No matter how talented we are, how intelligent we are, how independent we are, in all likelihood we will have far more difficulties succeeding than men will, and someone will want to put us in our place. There is a high likelihood that we will face sexual assault. There is a high likelihood that our ability to have children will be held against us in the workplace, and that our choice to have a family may be held against us. Again, we may feel that we have choices, but our choices are constrained.

 

6.The surrogate mothers are an interesting element as well and one that I would like to see more of: their bodies were used to perpetrate a kind of violence on others (the lives of the clones and their status as property is a kind of violence in my mind), and their “children” were taken away from them without their consent. They didn’t have the choice to continue or end the pregnancy or of what to do with the children afterwards. In many ways, women in this world have no choice but to bring their children into a world of violence and oppression. Especially with baby girls, when the girl is born she begins to become public property. She doesn’t belong to the mother, or to herself. Society takes ownership of her body. The pain that Amelia felt, and her desperation to protect her children appear to be similar to what many women feel when they bring their children into a world where their bodies may be used or objectified.

 

If you’ve been watching Orphan Black what are your thoughts? How do you see the interplay of gender, identity, and ownership?

The Future of Feminism

I had a job interview today that was both exciting and terrifying, and one of the questions that I was asked was “How do you see the state of feminism today?” Well I was a bit overwhelmed in the moment of answering that question and got out something about being in flux, but the thought and the question have been hanging out in my brain ever since. I think it’s a very interesting question, but I’m almost more interested in where feminism should go. As it stands, there is a lot of splintering in feminism. We have everything from evangelical feminists to radical feminists, to intersectional feminists, and each of those groups has very different aims and beliefs.

Now overall I think most feminists are struggling with how to overcome some of the slanders that have been leveled at them from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and remind people that feminism isn’t a dirty word, as well as remind people why feminism is necessary. There’s a lot of education about the struggles that women still face, and particularly education about structural sexism as opposed to individual sexism. The focus has moved from overt beliefs that individuals might hold about women being inferior to men to the structural ways in which women are still oppressed. These are what hold feminism together today, as well as the desire to keep feminism relevant through new media forms.

 

There’s a lot of conflict in feminism though: how do women of color feature, how do women of non-Christian religions feature, what about intersectionality, are transwomen women (answer: yes). In addition, there’s a lot of conflict about what issues to focus on: abortion, healthcare access, equal pay, media representation, street harassment, rape culture…oof. There’s a lot going on, a lot of people doing different things, and a lot of styles of feminism. One of the things that I think characterizes feminism’s current state is its sheer diversity.

 

But if I were to characterize where I think feminism SHOULD go, it would be a very different matter. So without further ado, here is Olivia’s List Of What Feminist’s Should Do (If I Ran The World).

 

1.Recognize intersectionality. Holy shit have feminists been bad at this in the past. Particularly white feminists. Particularly upper class feminists. We CANNOT fight for women’s issues without recognizing the diversity of women’s issues and the way they intersect with and inform other issues. We need to draw on the diversity we have and embrace it, rather than trying to say “well my oppression is more important than your oppression, so stop talking about your issue”.

 

2.Take responsibility for past failures. This means listening to black women in particular.

 

3.Take a more global approach. Feminism as it exists in the U.S. does not recognize that its version of feminism may not be appropriate for all locations. It also doesn’t recognize cultural contexts, and that what it views as oppression may not be oppression for everyone involved. A good example of this is feminists who try to save Muslim women from the hijab. Islam has its own feminists. If you want to talk to them and work with them and discuss how feminism can become a more global movement, that’s great. If you want to walk in and tell everyone else how to be feminist, shut up.

 

4.Focus on choice. Many feminists are already doing this, but I think this message needs to get out there more. Any time you allow women more choices and more freedom, you are helping to reduce their oppression. While we all need to be aware of the context of our choices (for example stay at home moms need to be aware of the history of working in and outside of the home and understand the pressures that might have led them to their choice), we should never tell anyone that their desires and choices are wrong.

 

5.EDUCATE EDUCATE EDUCATE. Get out the information about why rape jokes are not ok, about why street harassment is harmful, about how attitudes in workplaces are discriminatory, about how we can make more opportunities available for women. Use evidence, research, and anecdotes. Give examples. Make it personal and make it universal. Many people don’t understand how harmful their actions are: she deserved it, it’s just a joke, it’s just a compliment, that’s just how things are, she could ignore it if she wanted to. Make it clear why these are BAD excuses.

 

6.Spend more time with the GLBT movement focusing on breaking down the gender binary. While we are still focused on “women’s rights” (and I realize I’ve used that language throughout this post because of convenience but it’s not the best language to use) we are promoting the idea of women and men, when perhaps the best way to allow freedom for all individuals is to allow for all gender presentations and identities. Not perhaps. Definitely. Read some Judith Butler.

 

So if I were queen of the world, that’s how things would go. Does anyone have suggestions for how they’d like to see feminism go? Leave em in the comments!

 

Written by Olivia James

Intersectionality: Mental Illness and Fatphobia

Ok so this should be my last super subversive post for a while because I need to have some time to learn how to deal with comments and disagreement (yay learning adulthood)!

 

But since this is a followup to one of my recent posts I figured I should post it now rather than later. I recently posted about fatphobia and thin privilege, and I got a few comments from people who said that I “just didn’t get it” because I straight out said “I have a hard time accepting my privilege”. Now I’m still slightly confused as to what this means. If anyone can parse it out, I would be forever grateful. I was under the impression that when you’re trying to accept that you’re privileged sometimes it can be difficult to accept but that as long as you keep reminding yourself of your privilege and listening to those people who are oppressed and trying to get better, then you’re being an okish ally.

 

However when someone tries to call me out on something, even if I can’t quite tell what it is, I do try to think about it. And so I spent some more time with my experience of weight, my experience of thin privilege, and I came to a realization, which is that I think the intersection of eating disorders and thin privilege is one of the most confusing ones there might be in the social justice world, because it is the only one that I can think of in which someone may understand that a certain privilege exists, but refuse to believe that they are part of the privileged group.

 

I objectively am thin. If I look at my BMI, it is on the low side of average. It has dipped into underweight a few times, and is always hovering around there. If I look at my clothing sizes, I am thin. If I ask my friends, family, or even strangers, they will tell me I’m thin. By all objective measures I fit into the group of privileged people who benefits from their size based upon the attitudes of society.

 

However despite these facts, I cannot believe that I am thin. My brain reminds me every day that I’m not. No matter how many times I look in the mirror I cannot see myself as thin. I try over and over again to remind myself that yes, I experience privilege from something I cannot believe is true of myself. I cannot think of another form of privilege where this happens: is it ever the case where a white individual firmly believes they’re black? I wonder if any trans* individuals can speak to this. It seems like a unique situation to me. How can accept my privilege when I don’t believe I am thin? How can I be a good ally when I don’t see myself accurately, when my perception of reality is so distorted? How can I fight against oppression when I’m too busy fighting against myself to even accept reality? I think that as an ally being open about our hangups makes us better allies. It means that people can call us out a bit easier and help us when we need it and ask. It means that we’re not lying just to say the right words. So I want to be open when I have a hard time getting past my privilege so that we can more thoroughly understand what helps entrench that privilege.

 

This next section I want to be very careful about. I absolutely do not want to co-opt any experiences of the fat community or reduce their experiences in any way. I am trying to be honest about my experiences though. So in addition to having a hard time accepting my own privilege because I have a hard time accepting my thinness, I believe that I have also experienced some forms of fatphobia. These have never been forms that come from society. They are not external. They come exclusively from my own mind. It reminds me every day that I am fat, and that when I am fat it means I am lazy and worthless and useless. I am reminded that the most important thing in my life is to lose weight. I am told that none of my accomplishments mean anything unless I am thin. I am told that everyone is staring at me when I go out, and that I should be ashamed. I’m told people only like me despite my body. I am told that I shouldn’t wear revealing clothes because my body is too disgusting to be seen. I’m even sometimes told that I should hurt or starve myself because I take up too much space.

 

Is it possible to be oppressed by one’s own brain? Probably not. Obviously there is a HUGE (hugehugehuge) qualitative difference between this and true fatphobia because I cannot systematically oppress myself. Again, I 100% understand that this is NOT the same as the experiences of fat individuals and that it is NOT bad in the same ways and that it is NOT oppressive in the same ways. However it certainly leaves me feeling confused about how I could have privilege for something that I’m also firmly ridiculed for. It is distinctly a mind-fuck that the same thing which causes other people to give me privilege is also the thing which causes me to hate myself and compromise my health.

 

And I believe that this is one of the most important things that we need to be aware of as allies and as privileged individuals: WE DO NOT GIVE OURSELVES PRIVILEGE. The thing that gives us privilege is not INHERENTLY giving us privilege. It is only the reaction of others that gives us privilege. It could be anything in the world, but society has chosen things like whiteness and maleness and able-bodiedness and thinness. My brain may hate whatever piece of me has privilege. I could despise being white, and still have white privilege. I KNOW these things. And I know that I always have to be aware of them. I know that while my experiences differ hugely from those of the average thin person because of the intersectionality between my mental illness and my thinness, that doesn’t change the attitudes of society and I need to continually fight against those attitudes.

 

But I also want to be open about the fact that I’m actively fighting those battles in my own head. Each of us has to do our best to eradicate the bad beliefs we hold. When I admit that I struggle with my own privilege, that is what I’m doing. I’m saying that I have had some fatphobic or thin privileged beliefs that went unquestioned for a long time, and now I’m trying to challenge them and remove them. And it’s a struggle. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. I think it’s the work of every person who wants to fight oppression. And it’s hard. I’d rather be open about the work I’m trying to do so that others can see it’s possible than hide it so as to be a “better ally”. But maybe it does do more harm than good. Thoughts? Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I am doing something really wrong by publicly admitting to these struggles. What do you think?

 

PS-the reason I post so many pics of myself is a.I talk a lot about me and b.I’m nervous bout copyright issues.

Social Justice 101: Racism

So one of the reasons I decided to start writing up this social justice 101 series is because of the word racism. In the dictionary, racism is defined as “Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.” However within social justice and sociological circles it is understood that that is not really how racism works, and that racism is a much more insidious and deep-rooted thing than that. What many people term “racism” (or reverse-racism) is extremely different from the sociological concept of racism, or what minorities experience as racism. Calling them by the same name is demeaning to the experience that minorities have of real racism.

What most people term racism, and what the definition above provides could better be called prejudice or discrimination. Racism as minorities experience it and as it is understood in most social justice circles is a systematic kind of oppression. When we use racism as a term in social justice conversations, it is impossible to be racist against white people (at least in the US). Racism as minorities experience it is the lack of privilege that every minority person has by dint of being a minority. White people as a whole are born into this world with privileges: they are considered more trustworthy, they are far more likely to have connections and money, they are more likely to be born into a better neighborhood, teachers treat them differently, they are not affected by stereotype threat, and their families have not had to struggle to get out of the poverty caused by slavery. Racism is all of those entrenched things that make it easier for whites than for anyone other race in our society.

These include overt bias and prejudice. But these also include things like the prejudice against AAVE, things like the fact that neighborhoods that are primarily black quickly lose funding for schools, things like the fact that tests and measurements of success are often subtly biased against people of color, things like the disproportionate number of people of color in prison or the unequal treatment of people of color at the hands of law enforcement, things like the differences in health care access or diagnosis between people of color and white people, things like the expectation of black bodies to be public property, things like accusing hip hop of being sexist but ignoring sexism in predominantly white music…all of these things are things that white individuals will never experience in the same way.

These same arguments are relevant to terms like sexism, homophobia, cissexism, mental health stigma, ableism…any of those terms. Each of these is a systematic oppression and until the oppressed have enough power to systematically oppress the other group, the terms will never make sense the other way around.

For a more in-depth explanation see here: http://urbanviewsweekly.com/2013/02/26/what-is-racism/