3.23.2011

Safe for me, not for thee

I gather that recently an individual has been attacking fat positive spaces for trying to maintaing a safe space for fat people. The argument goes that this is discriminatory against thin people. Which is just plain unfair. I talked about this a little last month when I explored privilege as operating on a spectrum. I believe there is something just inherently wrong about people with privilege accusing those without of discrimination. That's not a license for the stigmatized to abuse the privileged, but that we need to view such disputes with a respect for what it means to have privilege and what it means to be disenfranchised. The fact of the matter is that most people are capable of this respect just fine. Most people don't rush to make things about them when they feel "put upon" by an oppressed group. Most people can find ways to object to genuinely troubling things with a respect and understanding that is warranted and not unwarranted cries of being victimized by the oppressed. Most people can respect safe spaces.

So, what of those who don't? In this case, the person in question has a long history of, well, exactly this. I don't really get the surprise here. Before he insisted that spaces for fat people must be accommodating to thin people, he insisted that fat acceptance spaces didn't have a right to be fat acceptance spaces. I can tell you that after I made that post, he harassed me repeatedly for a couple months. Aggressively emailing me over and over while I made no response. Writing multiple blog posts to attack me for not engaging him in his attempts to start a feud. It was strikingly similar to attacks I got late last year from a Men's Rights Activist who objected to me writing about rape culture. Its actually a pattern that's pretty common among people who object to safe spaces as being "discriminatory" to privileged, dominant views.

I have begun to recognize that for all their insisted opposition to safe spaces, what they actually want is to enforce the "safe space" of privilege. Privilege affords you a "safe space" of everywhere and that is something many privileged people seek to protect. They insist they represent inclusiveness, but this is nothing more than craven appropriation of progressive language. Appropriation of our language is something fat acceptance should be quite sensitive being in a culture where "diets are mean" is a slogan for a diet company. Their brand of inclusion, though, is all about excluding marginalized view points. Ensuring they remain crowded out by their privileged positions. They believe in having a space which is safe to express their views. They just believe that space is everywhere. Safe for me, not for thee.

We can't put up for this. The fact is, there are a lot of people who read fat acceptance blogs who aren't there yet, but they don't think to demand that fat acceptance adapt to them. There are a lot of people who feel shame for their body but recognize that the experience of fat people is not "exactly the same" as what they are seeing. Most people don't feel excluding because some spaces are maybe not all about them. They don't make much noise about being respectful of our spaces because that is how you are respectful of other people's spaces. We should remember that these people are there. We shouldn't expend much concern on the few who can't just respect our views and our communities, but demand we respect them. We shouldn't take seriously those who want to create safety for privilege. Respect isn't too much to ask. Fact is, lots of people are already offering it.

15 comments:

Sleepydumpling said...

To be honest, I think something else is at play here that sets the arrows from those quarters straight at you. I think there is a certain desire to be seen as the saviour of Fat Acceptance, to ride in and fix the problem, and be the voice that says "Ladies, ladies, calm down now, there's room for all of you in MY world."

I always feel like this person sees himself as a rooster striding in to stop the hens squabbling amongst themselves with his authoritative crow.

In fact, that is how I was first introduced to this individual, by him deciding that he would become my saviour against a particularly vitriolic troll. And I was happy to accept it at first, until I discovered that as well as putting the troll in their place, I apparently needed putting in my place by this individual. In a public and upsetting manner, when a private conversation could have been had at any time.

You have spoken before of "White Knight Syndrome" and how it is used to derail allies such as yourself in speaking up on feminist issues. I think in this case, it's an apt description of the behaviour coming from this person.

I never feel that you speak for me or about me, instead you speak with me. But that is not how I feel about the individual behind the current fracas.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I think Sleepydumpling actually has it. I was sitting here just wondering about the whole fracas. Frankly, I'm bored with it. The longer it goes on, the less I want to pay attention to it, but it gets reblogged on and on and on, consuming acres of text that are better used on other topics of interest. I remember something like this popping up on BFB with the person in question. It must have been a couple of years ago. Yet...

Sleepydumpling's comment brought to mind something from the late 80's for me. In a nutshell, a local chapter of a feminist organization was holding pro-choice events. The husband of one of the members kept injecting himself in the proceedings and (in general) acting EXACTLY like this. I had completely forgotten it, but it totally fits. He wanted to lead us, the "ladies" to freedom I guess...

And Thanks Red No. 3. I really like the way you have summarized the kerfuffle.

--Andy Jo--

meerkat said...

As usual Red3 provides a voice of reason! This is becoming one of my favorite blogs.

CTJen said...

Yes, I was right, it is who I thought it was. ;-)

Thank you for protecting FA spaces.

silentbeep said...

This b.s. stuff keeps coming up, because it keeps being brought up. This person takes it "there" over and over again, with different people, different circumstances, repeatedly.

There is a pattern here. It happaned to me too, I had to ban this person. And then I saw some disparaging comments made about me, in blogposts this person had written. I'm frankly tired of it, and I can see now, that I'm not the only one that had to deal with this b.s. I felt really bullied at the time. I dropped it. I wish I hadn't and had the gumption to stick up for myself.

notblueatall said...

Thank you for putting it so eloquently! I checked out of this latest thang because it's all the same. Day in and day out. I do think that this person does have positive things to offer, but for some reason enjoys the tug-of-war that these things bring. Ugh! Oh well. Thanks for this post and this blog!

Brian said...

"I never feel that you speak for me or about me, instead you speak with me."

I very dearly appreciate that perception and it is certainly my perspective. I don't want to get into someone else's motivations, but rather a pattern of what strikes me as entitlement from a lot of individuals to march into a community and demand things from it. This person has been talking at FA communities for a year and a half and he almost instantaneously stylized himself as a heroic authoritative voice empowered to tell Fat Acceptance to stop being Fat Acceptance. When progressive movements talk about empowerment, its about empowering the powerless. But here, he is express the empowerment that comes with privilege. Privilege to tell a community that has existed for decades that it needs to stop and accommodate him after mere weeks of participation. I don't think anything positive comes from that attitude or approach. Its also, sadly, something very routine. I've been participating in fat acceptance communities for 16 years and this set of behaviors repeats on a consistent loop. Its not about the latest guy who wants us to be impressed that he things fat girls are hot and to care when he tells us we're not fat acceptancing correctly. Its about all the people empowered by privilege to march into communities with demands rather than respect.

I really can't stress enough that this isn't excluding newbies. Its about expecting respect from everyone and following up on that expectation. Most newbies that still lack the knowledge or experience to fully get what FA is talking about have the respect and decency to sit back and listen first. They aren't vocal or visible about it, because that's precisely the point. They know that you don't march in somewhere and demand everyone else hold your hand and answer to you. Those who DO actually do those things should be called out for it.

Brian said...

Silentbeep, you are absolutely not the only person bullied by this guy. I almost spoke about it at the time, but eventually decided it'd just give him what he wanted which is why even now I'm talking around the subject. Because even now, I'm not interested in making it about him because that's precisely the problem. I just wrote him off, but its frustrating because obviously others keep validating and I just can't agree with that. Not only his actions, but his purposes have been consistently destructive and consistently informed by his feelings of entitlement. Even just engaging people like that directly just fuels the construction of their own martyrdom at the hand of the disenfranchised.

Moose said...

I am, personally, a zillion miles past being fed up with people with privilege telling me what is and isn't right.

Recently I called out some men whose response to a woman talking about how she was clearly having sexism issues was, "But that happens to men, too!"

When I pointed out the problem with that, complete with a pointer to the right link from derailingfordummies dot com, I was emphatically told "F*** You" and "If you were anyone else we would make fun of you for being a jerk."

Because when men get that crap it's so much like when women have it happen. Just like the women who tell me they understand how hard it is to find clothing in my size because "nobody carries a size 2!!"

fatwaitress said...

Why do I feel like I am reading something completely different? I have never had a bad experience with this person so I will admit that I am not coming from the same perspective, but I haven't seen anywhere that he was attacking fat spaces. He was pointing out that one space was not actually a fat only space, and many people have said things about this space for a long time.

I have been keeping track of everything written and unless I've missed a huge portion of this whole mess I just don't see this.

Sandra @ Dark Urban Fantasy said...

"Privilege affords you a "safe space" of everywhere and that is something many privileged people seek to protect."

What a great observation! I'm going to have to think this over a bit and see if I can use it as stepping stone to get past some of the slippery communication problems I run into when I talk about my experiences with others. Thanks!

Brian said...

@fatwaitress I don't want to get into arguing the specifics of this situation. I feel his points like that necessarily mischaracterize the arguments others were making and asserts as fact something which I don't see any compelling reason to accept. I feel it is part of a very lengthy pattern of bullying by someone who has definitely tried to bully me and redefine fat acceptance to suit his needs. I find this all to be a very troubling pattern, but also in no way a singular one which is the real issue I have.

fatwaitress said...

Brian, I totally get where you are coming from now. Thanks for clarifying.

Brian said...

I know its a poorly kept secret whose behavior sparked this discussion, but as I gather from my referral log that he's made a predictably classy behavior, I really want to stress that I'd want any future discussion to try to focus on the larger dynamics I outlined and not specific individuals except where necessary as examples. I've probably been too forgiving already in the comments of letting it be about he who I'm not naming, but my intention is entirely not to get drawn into an attempted "feud", I hope if anyone cares to continue the discussion that you steer clear of talking about that one certain someone and consider the wider patterns. What's troubling is not one individual's privilege, but how privilege drives a lot of attempts to bully and silence spaces for disenfranchised people. I know the discussion was probably done, anyway, but thank you for the consideration.

Miriam Heddy said...

One of the things about this savior impulse is that it succeeds because fighting privilege is often uncomfortable, and there are a lot of people who want FA to be about validation without the discomfort of activism. I think this is especially true among women--the feeling that it's imperative to include everyone and validate everyone--even if doing so means privileging the privileged.

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