8.03.2010

Where fat shaming and sex shaming meet

My friend Jaclyn Friedman (NAME DROP!) recently wrote a great article for Feministe called "My Sluthood, Myself". Its a great article that's about her experiences reclaiming her sexuality and learning that it was okay for her to have sex outside of a relationship and while this isn't for everyone, it is for some people and its important to be supportive of these sexual choices.

You will not be surprised to learn that this outrages some people. They are terribly upset that she isn't properly ashamed of herself and she's gotten several hyperbolic reactions bemoaning how she's going to destroy the world with her sluttiness or something. Part of their condemnation surrounds how Jacyln is not willing to give up searching for love while enjoying her sexuality. People can't seem to get that you can do both at once are are launching into her for her naivete, I guess. Doesn't she know she'll never get a man that way? Doesn't she know she'll only be horribly sad? Why isn't she crying? Hasn't anyone told her to be ashamed?

The attitude actually started feeling very familiar to me. This is what fat people get, too. "Why don't you feel ashamed?" Often, we get attacked by people who just can't process that we aren't ashamed. Or worse yet, think the problem is that no one told us to be ashamed. In spite of the fact that Jaclyn clearly talks about confronting this specifically in her article, people still act incredulous and insist she must not be aware of how sad she is and they ought to tell her so she knows to cry. They think if they just shout louder, we'll learn the error of our ways. And at the least, no one else who hears the shouting will make our mistake.

They want to redefine us for their benefit. Jaclyn talks about her positive experiences, so they just keep insisting that she's really horribly sad. Its pathological, but they naturally feel entitled to do this. Indeed, they feel smug about it. Like they've obviously proven her wrong simply by saying she is actually sad and ashamed. Fat people get that, too. If trolls bother to recognize what we are saying, they just insist its all a lie. We secretly know they are right and are horribly depressed over our lives. This is an especially insidious line of attack because it preys on our self-doubt. That is their key to introduce self-loathing. Because we are putting ourselves out there and making ourselves vulnerable. This manner of trolling seeks to take advantage of that. Having feelings of vulnerability are normal, though. Being brave is tough work and Jaclyn is pretty damn brave. I know from my own experience that self-doubt is normal. Healthy, really. I think a lack of it would strike me as somewhat pathological. Confidence doesn't mean not having those nagging questions. That is something our attackers will try to exploit, though. They want to use those normal anxieties to infiltrate our psyche and expand those anxieties. Multiply those doubts. Its a supreme act of disrespect .

Another similar attack are the death threats. No, not in the form of "I'm going to kill you". But they are still saying that if you disagree with them, you will die. Having casual sex? Don't you know that will kill you!?!? Fat? Don't you know that will kill you?!?! They use these impersonal threats as a form of intimidation. Again, as much to us as anyone else listening. They invent these extreme stakes that aren't really true as a means of scaring people into going along with them.

So, I keep babbling about what I'm learning as a fat activist in seeing how people are attacking Jaclyn for her own outspokenness, but that's not actually why I wanted to post about it. Sadly, I don't just need to draw parallels between slut shaming and fat shaming. The people attacking Jaclyn have shown that the two often go hand in hand. This is all about her attackers expressing ownership over her body, and they are just as judgmental about how that body looks as how she chooses to use it. They shame her for having sex and then turn around and shame her for not being someone they want to have sex with. While the lead condemners aren't making these fat shaming remarks, its illuminating to me that they aren't shunning them either, even as they get horribly infantile. The name-calling is disgustingly petty and immature, but because people think fat people deserve to be called names, supposedly civil people rarely find much offense with off-topic fat shaming. They might tut-tut it at most, but rarely even that. They don't seem to have much of a problem with it at all.

Fat acceptance is about more than fat. Fat shaming is a tool in the toolbox for many different kinds of oppression. It may not be something lead shamers will get their hands dirty with, but they sure don't care much when others do. Mocking someone for being fat is never okay. That includes the more limited times progressives do it, too, but the predictability of this coming up in reactionary assaults on feminism, civil rights, gay rights, etc is alarming. These kinds of oppression always get interconnected. We aren't just fighting for ourselves, but we're fighting to blunt a favorite attack against women, gays, African-Americans and others who stand up for themselves. Hate is rarely confined to one thing at a time.

I know I didn't really stay on track there, so for supportive articles that stay on topic, check out Not a Dirty Word and Pandagon.

UPDATE: More people supporting Jaclyn more eloquently and directly than I did. Jessica Valenti offers a devastating take on how the aggressively personal nature of the attacks is self-serving and self-promotional by the attackers. Particular "damn right" going to:
I also think it’s incredibly important that we not forget the personal and professional downfalls of being an unabashed feminist online. When we’re called whores, attacked and mocked online – those posts follow us forever. We take the hit so others don’t have to.
Damn right. (Emphasis hers, btw) Much love to Jaclyn and all others who expose themselves to speak out. Its not easy and you have my complete respect.

16 comments:

biglibertyblog.com said...

This is a brilliant post, absolutely brilliant. I especially loved:

"Another similar attack are the death threats. [snip] They use these impersonal threats as a form of intimidation. Again, as much to us as anyone else listening. They invent these extreme stakes that aren't really true as a means of scaring people into going along with them."

living400lbs said...

Both are about going outside what society expects and daring to be happy anyway. Naturally this is dangerous!

Notblueatall said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy sex. I'm also very fat. ZOMG IM A WHORE. lol.

fatbodied said...

I am also curious how much of the slut shaming was motivated by Jacklyn identifying as fat in her piece. I haven't seen anything consciously expressed, but wonder if a fat woman proclaiming her sluthood was one step too many for the haters.

Great post as always!

Brian said...

I think Jaclyn's post was going to incite haters no matter what, but her passing mention of her body size was going to color the nature of the most vicious efforts to silence her.

I was struck that Susan Walsh sought out a picture of Jaclyn to include in her post. In general, her post obsessively personalizes the debate, so I think her intent was just to try to expose Jaclyn personally. A digitized scarlet letter, if you will. The long-standing reality in shaming feminist bloggers is that there will be people eager to pick apart their appearance no matter what they look like. Posting her image, which while publicly known was not attached to her initial post, is a way of granting permission to those sexist trolls to attack her. Given the conspicuous reminder of her body size, it all had something of a dog whistle effect. Walsh is setting the table for sexist, sizest trolling about Jaclyn's appearance but can claim no part of it.

zaftigzeitgeist said...

I'm trying to figure out a way to comment that doesn't turn into "Oh hi! I wrote a post on a similar topic! Here's a link!" because I beleive that is bad blogging ettiquette? But I'm all for being sex positive/an ethical slut/whatever term one wants to use if that is what somebody chooses (I'm bisexual, polyamorous and kinky myself)

Leah said...

Thanks for mentioning my post. I think you draw a really strong parallel here - and the two (fat shaming and slut shaming) really are tied together. How many of us have dealt with the assumption that only skinny people get laid or hit on?

I have some body issues myself, but if anything, my hook ups and other sexual experiences have always made me feel better about my body, not worse!

silentbeep said...

"I enjoy sex. I'm also very fat. ZOMG IM A WHORE. lol. "

Me too anonymous! Fat sluts unite!

;)

Brian said...

It of course creates the circular logic of shame.

You're too fat to fuck! > Stop fucking people! > You're too fat to fuck > etc.

Maybe they are just mad that their desire to impose their physical standards on us by denying us sex isn't being universally enforced.

Anonymous said...

I think people resorted to calling names since they have no real argument. Since they can't do simple reasoning to discuss different points of view, they regressed to childish names calling.

Whoever posted the pictures did me a big favor since I now want the calender with all the hot women! Beautiful women with t&a !

Brian said...

I'm certainly enthusiastic about the beauty of fat women, but I think there may be better ways to put it than "t&a."

Bilt4cmfrt said...

Grud! The parallels are. . . Just wow. I almost had to make a list to keep the arguments / counter-arguments from blurring into an F/A frame. And the slobbering Troll from Schneiderman's Post? Was kinda like turning around and seeing Charley Manson walking down the street in a business suit with briefcase. Swastika tattooed forehead and all.

Thanks for calling this out.

Tiana said...

Ah, yes. I saw the similarity as soon as I wanted to bang my head against a wall in frustration and thought, "Don't I know this feeling from somewhere?!"

In both cases, there is one thing I absolutely can't understand: If somebody tells you they're happier now than before they discovered X, how can you possibly continue to believe that the fact that they're writing about it on the internet somehow demonstrates they are actually unhappy?? I don't get it.

wriggles said...

Yep, they want to shame you for one end or t'other. In the case of fatties, they get greedy and go for both.

Hey, what's it called when a fat hater is slut shaming?

Playing both ends against the middle!

Rubyfruit said...

This post makes me smile, because I've never seriously thought to make that connection before. Now, I have, and it puts the Sex Shaming/Fat Shaming thing into a different light for me.

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