The fantasy of oppressive fat activists

So, tell me, Reddit: how many days in a row will you leap to follow a link just because one obsessed weirdo tells you to? How often will you eagerly make yourselves into foot soldiers and enforcers of one creep's obsession? This is what makes you so proud of your fight against "Social Justice Warriors"? Doing the bidding of any stalker who spams your your little site?

This is just his latest profile. He'll delete it soon just like the last few dozen. Not that you ever notice or care. You'll keep swarming whatever sites people post like angry little lemmings.

Yuval Levental. That is the name of the stalker you are serving. He's from East Lancing, Michigan and his family shipped him off to France for school. He's a white supremacist and a violent misogynist, so I can see why he fits in so snuggly with you assholes.

This is your noble pursuit? Doing whatever Yuval Levental tells you to do? And you're surprised that people look at you as hateful clowns?

No one is telling anyone they are too fat to be in fat acceptance.

I keep feeling like I've talked about these issues before, because, well, I have. Oh, sure, the context then was dieting, but its still a pretty similar dynamic. People with privilege insist they are being discriminated against because they aren't accommodated in the way they are accustomed to. This dynamic was actually just discussed rather eloquently by a video game designer responding to complaints that a game ignored heterosexual men.
And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as "political correctness" if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don't see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what's everyone's fuss all about? That's the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.
-David Gaider, BioWare
I know little of the game, but that discussion of privilege is spot on. I think the dynamic is seen in many instances when a privileged group is not being catered to. No one is being told they are too fat for fat acceptance, but they are being told about how thin privilege operates on a spectrum. About how there are unique issues facing larger individuals. About how "exactly like" constructions can erase the experiences of those already disenfranchised. About how there can be spaces for different people to talk about the unique issues they face with others who face those issues. About a need to be mindful of their own privilege when they feel they haven't been constructively responded to by larger people.

Am I saying every fat activist has always been perfectly constructive in dealing with issues with the spectrum of thin privilege? Of course not. Not every feminist has been perfectly constructive in dealing with issues of male privilege. That does not justify someone accusing feminists of being anti-men. As I discussed in that post, I feel it is fair to expect a level of patience and understanding from the privileged. I say that as a person who experiences a lot of privilege. That's not too much to ask and it is not exclusionary. If a fatter person complains that you don't get what they are experiencing, you should always reflect on the fact that on some level, you really don't. If you are a thinner person, you can and should empathize, but you can't know from experience. It may or may not have been constructive to point that out, but instead of defensively taking offense, realize that there is truth in it anyway.

Because there is absolutely nothing constructive about coming from a place of privilege and accusing a disenfranchised group of discriminating against you. No matter how hurt you feel, that is not helpful or valid. Even if an individual did respond unconstructively to you, responding just as unconstructively will only seem to validate their reaction. No one is telling you that you aren't fat enough for fat acceptance. People may perceive that, but the perception is not fair or justified.

I keep saying this, but it really bares repeating. Most people get all of this. Most people who are trying to engage with fat acceptance are understanding about these issues and forge constructive relationships from that understanding. It may not be noticed, but that doesn't mean its too much to expect. Its happening all of the time.


Heidi said...

Well said, Brian.

I don't understand why this idea doesn't seem to be getting through. Surely it's been said over and over again?

William - I'd be curious to know what others have said to you because I've been lucky enough not to experience any feelings of not being good enough/right for FA, and I'm a 300+ woman.

Brian said...

Thanks, Heidi.

I also want to note that I removed the post from WIlliam because he's been told he is not welcome to post here. Mostly for a reason I don't care to drag up, but also because he has a very long history of not examining his own privilege. To continue doing so in a post about the need to check one's own privilege before accusing people with less of discriminating against you and instead doing precisely that is unproductive at best.

Abigail Nussey said...

Thanks for this post, Brian. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea of privilege, as likely it takes many people who enjoy some measure of privilege as being part of a privileged group (for me it's white, middle-class); posts like this have in part helped me personally to both recognize and talk about privilege.

That being said, in the context of the current situation I keep going back to the idea of active and passive forms of oppression. Active forms are like trying to jog in public while fat and being catcalled from cars, or having trash thrown at you.

Passive oppression is a fat person jogging 26.2 miles, then being told by other runners - many who didn't even beside him that day - that his experience was invalid. Not only that, but they start issuing passive-aggressive death threats (see Regan's recent post) about how trying to run at his weight will kill him (because of his health, naturally!) -- despite the fact that he just did what they claim will kill him without dying.

Anyway, just something I've been thinking about. Thanks for the great post, like usual.

JennyRose said...

Thanks Brian. Your posts have helped me learn and understand more about privilege. I have undersood its existence intuitively but have not been able to articulate my opinions very well. In the past, I have been stymied when someone says that it is only acceptable to discriminate/ridicule "white, christian men."

I hated hering it but I couldn't formulate a resopnse other than wanting to shout, that's absurd and I can't say why but I know it is.

This is a great post on many levels.

Samantha said...

Thank you for writing this Brian. I am so glad we have so many wonderful people like you in the FA space.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. you explain this so succintly.

Shade said...

I have had guys who are an XL try to claim that they are fat and have it "as bad as" me.
No, when you can still go into any store and find your size, you do not have the same experience as me. You can be part of fat activism, but you do not get to go into the same space as people like me who cannot find clothes in most stores--I'm currently at a 3x or 26/28, the upper range for a lot of plus size box stores. As well as if you're a guy, fashion is different--a guy can get away with shorts and a t-shirt every day, but not a woman. There are vast differences between what is expected between the genders, especially when overweight.
My roommates are both teeny tiny--FA is to keep them from experiencing dehumanization due to the size of their bodies as well--but they would not understand a conversation centering on how hard it is to find clothes that fit and don't cost a fortune. They would not understand a conversation on trying to find a chair I can fit my butt in. They are not able to understand spaces for large fats because their bodies have never dealt with surroundings that betray them at every turn. Safe spaces are about allowing free discussion and talk among people who understand the situation.

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