Street Harassment: Being “Nice”

WCP blogger Amanda Hess has a post up today detailing how responding in a polite fashion to more apparently benign forms of street harassment doesn’t deter but encourages it.

I experienced this type of outwardly friendly yet completely creepy behavior during the summer of 2008 when I still lived in Midwestern College Town. It was an absolutely beautiful day – not too hot, sun shining, light breeze – and I was walking down to the City Pool to enjoy myself. I was also visibly pregnant. It was a short and enjoyable walk; I had the option to drive, but no need.

As I was making my progress along a residential street, a middle aged man in a red pickup pulled up to me and offered me a ride. I don’t remember the precise exchange, but it boiled down to something like this:

He: [smiles] Can I give you a lift somewhere?
Me: [likewise friendly but wary] No thanks, I’m enjoying my walk.
He: [still smiling] Are you sure?
Me: [no longer smiling] I’m fine, thanks.

I sped up my pace a bit, made it more purposeful, and the man drove on. I changed my direction slightly, going first to a local coffee shop where I knew there would at least be people. I endlessly debated whether or not to report this incident to police, but my gut instinct was that they would just slough it off, as nothing identifiably bad had happened. I already had one dude thinking he knew better than me (as evidenced by the offer + “are you sure?”) – the last thing I needed was a (chances are) male cop added to the mix.

As I approached the coffee shop, the truck reappeared – he had apparently circled the block in order to continue following me.

It’s entirely possible that this man just thought he was being kind, practicing the sort of benevolent sexism present in all kinds of thinking about women: that we are to be protected, especially when pregnant, so far that if we’re out by ourselves, we can’t possibly be protected enough, so some dude had better hop to and assist, being all gentlemanly, etc. Trouble is, there’s no way for us to distinguish benevolent vs. malevolent intention until it’s too late.

It was abundantly clear that this man, while he may have had the best (if sexist) of intentions, was acting in a way that patently denied my agency and self-determination in favor of whatever random thought was in his head. That alone told me he was to be avoided at all costs.

But see? I was “nice”. I didn’t do all the things we’re told to do (be rude, put up a fight, shout for help) only after being conditioned to be polite or else. It didn’t “save” me, even though “nothing” happened. In fact, something did happen: that dude was demonstrating, yet again, that men’s desires trump women’s in every single case, no matter what mundane thing she has chosen to do. Even seemingly “innocent” encounters like this smack of patriarchial privilege, and serve to remind women of their designated place, which is certainly not making decisions for themselves to take a nice walk on a pretty day.

Why I <3 Twisty

I forget sometimes, and then TF delights the mental ear with tunes like this:

Am I glad that my mother didn’t think I was a blastocyst and a parasitic growth that she had to suffer through? Well, Lonni, I’m afraid my mother did think that I was a blastocyst and a parasitic growth that she had to suffer through. She still does. — Twisty Faster, “Invasion of the Babyists

What I wanted

…and didn’t get, due to understandable circumstances. But this is what I wanted when I gave birth.

If I weren’t so happy for her, I would envy this woman. As it is, I’m just a bit sad things didn’t turn out for me that way. At least I didn’t have to have a C-section, so that’s something.

(Video below the cut is potentially NSFW, esp. if you’re in the U.S. We’re such prudes about the naked human body, especially the female body, even in completely non-sexualized instances like this.)
Continue reading

Plug: HAES Gym Reviews

I’m co-moderating a new blog inspired by a comments thread at Shapely Prose last week — a blog listing recommendations for gyms that are Fat Acceptance and Health At Every Size friendly. We’ll also be listing particularly unfriendly gyms to avoid, as well.

I’m not a gym-goer, but I am a geek with time on her hands; hence my involvement.

In any case, I thought I’d pass along the URL to all y’all here, just in case it’s something you’re interested in.

HAES Gym Reviews (http://haes-gyms.blogspot.com)

And, just in case you’re not familiar: What is HAES?
Also: But Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy? at Shapely Prose.

[x-posted various places]

FA, HAES and Pregnancy.

I’ve noticed something about people, since I’ve gotten pregnant.

They like to commend me on my lack of appetite for sweets. For those of you who know me personally, you understand precisely how bizarre a turn of events this is for me, and that it must be dictated by pregnancy hormones, because I would rarely pass up on the opportunity for dessert, or something sweet, no matter the reason, occasion or time of day.

People say what a Good Thing (TM) it is, that I don’t want a lot of sweet foods these days. They congratulate me, like it’s some sort of moral achievement or personal victory.

Newsflash: I’m just eating what my body tells me, just like I did before I got pregnant. It’s called Intuitive Eating, folks.

The problem that is tangled up with all this is the (erroneous) assumption that there are Good Foods (TM) and Bad Foods (TM). I can assure you, that from the standpoint of a pregnant woman’s stomach, the only bad foods are the ones that sound like they’d do a number on my digestion, i.e., foods that would not be the best choices for me at the moment.

That, however, is absolutely NOT what is meant by Good and Bad Foods (TM).

We have somehow come to this notion that foods have some sort of moral value. If it’s something you’d eat to try to lose weight, it’s Good (TM). If it’s something you’d be told to avoid on a diet, it’s Bad (TM).

Food doesn’t have moral value. It has nutritional value. Any food. Anything that your body can derive energy from (described as “calories”) is food, and if your body can fuel itself with it, then it’s got nutritional value.

I see, so often, in discussions of FA/HAES, this formulation when discussing Intuitive Eating or refuting the Good/Bad Food assumption:

“Sometimes I eat X, sometimes I eat Y.”

In these instances, the given value of X is “some food associated with good health and/or dieting” and the given value of Y is “some food associated with poor health and/or fat shaming”. I don’t think that FA advocates are missing the point when they use this phrasing — I think it’s an attempt to communicate with others who are still under the delusion that some foods are morally good while others are not*, when all that distinction is used for is trying to bully people who don’t fit the mainstream ideal “Thin” into complying, or to bully folks who DO fit the ideal into continuing to comply.

There’s something complicated in all this too — about keeping people in line, oppressed, although I can’t quite tease it out yet.

So, if I say, as I might in normal conversation, “I don’t really want any Y; I don’t have much of a sweet tooth these days” — that is precisely what I mean: Food Y doesn’t appeal to me at the moment, thanks. It has nothing to do with any moral value others may ascribe to Food Y, nor does it stem from any desire of mine except what my stomach dictates.

Believe me, I miss sweets. I can’t wait until half a cup of homemade pudding doesn’t give me heartburn, or the thought of chocolate cake doesn’t turn my stomach or simply not appeal at all. I take no particular delight, as others seem to expect me to, in the fact that I can’t enjoy the foods I loved before I was pregnant.

There is no “side benefit” to not wanting dessert. I don’t want to lose weight. I’ve long since given up on the dieting myths that say self-deprivation is the way to socially-accepted health status. My goal is my actual health — not some outside view of what that should look like.

This is Fat Acceptance. This is Health At Every Size. That I get to define, for myself, what healthy feels like, and do what I consider the best things to achieve and maintain that health. Weight is an arbitrary number, and size is not an automatic indicator of health. I’m more healthy now, because I listen to my body and do what it tells me it needs to do, than when I was starving myself in high school or trying to avoid the candy dish so as not to top 150 lbs.

Because I love my body, and want it to last a long time, I do what it indicates is good for me, instead of trying to force it to be one way or another. I, and my health, are much better for it.

*Leaving aside people’s personal beliefs regarding moral eating practices. Veg*nism, religious beliefs, etc., aren’t something society at large touts as moral food choices, at least not in the U.S.

I was part of something good.

I sent a rather nasty letter to Picasa, expressing my disappointment with them that this woman‘s post-breast-cancer-surgery pics were pulled yesterday, but I managed to find pornographic images still on the site.

Late yesterday, the pictures were restored. Apparently, the outpouring from friends and internet acquaintances and coverage in The Consumerist were enough to get Google to look at the photos more closely, or simply put them back up, complete with comments.

I am really very glad that I did something. It wasn’t much, but I was so angry that, yet again, images of women in scanty-if-existant clothing arching their backs or, in the case of the example photo I linked in my message, bound and gagged in a pose more like torture than anything else, that these were “acceptable” (they aren’t) and this woman’s scars weren’t.

For now, I’m keeping my Gmail account. For now. This was one instance, but it would be naive of me to think that it’s the only one there has been, or ever will be.

The Fantasy of Being Thin (follow-up)

So, I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading.

And having discussions about weight, weight loss, and weight gain with people. Coworkers. Family. Friends. All this has been sneaking up on me, or rather, surrounding me, giving me multiple chances to express and explore where I am with Fat Acceptance / Health At Every Size.

Ideas like this give me pause regularly:

For [Las Vegas] to thrive the way it does on the backs of gambling tourists, you need a combination of bad math and each individual’s deep-down belief that no matter what the odds are, s/he will be the special one who hits the jackpot. Which kinda reminds me of something else, come to think of it. Hmm.

As I followed along the inevitable link trail that started in that paragraph at Shapely Prose, I found more and more that this one nebulous thought drifted upwards into my conscious mind: I will never be thin again. I can never be thin again.

If I’m really honest with myself, I still want to be. I’m still buying into the great fantasy that says some combination of exercise, nutrition and willpower will somehow guarantee that I can mould my form back into the version I had when I was 16 and depressed, or 23, when I was so upset about my newly up-to-size-ten body that I bought a swimsuit with a skirt.

Today’s conversation was the same as all those posts: Diets Don’t Work.

I also realized:

During the few times I didn’t diet before gaining weight, I was either coming back out of depression or severe stress-induced not-eating.

AND:

The only times I have maintained my weight have been when I quit worrying about it.

Despite having actual experience with the concept of Diets Don’t Work, to the extent that my entire journey from skinny child to lanky teen to average-size college student to chunky woman is a textbook case, I still, somewhere in my mind, am holding onto the idea that I will, someday, because I’m taking care of myself and being healthy and getting good nutrition, someday I’ll get skinny again.

I know I’ve read them myriad times, but I don’t think the real ideas described by Fat Acceptance and Health At Every Size have truly sunk in yet. I mean, Fat Acceptance: accepting that I’m fat, that fat is okay, accepting that fat happens. Accepting the reality that my body is not supposed to be 36-24-36, size 6 or 120 lbs., which is what the images in my head look like*.

With HAES, the same thing. My focus has to be my health. I have to eat green vegetables because the vitamins and minerals are good for me, I enjoy the flavors and textures, and my body feels good once I’ve eaten them. The magical thinking has crept into my thought processes, in the form of “all those dieters don’t know the right way. I know that it’s nutrition and exercise that will make me thin!”.

It’s insideous, the way even good habits can be bent to promote the Fantasy.

I am stronger than ever. I am enjoying good health. I have a moderately active lifestyle. I have more energy than I used to.

All these things I still forget, when faced with the thought that I need to be smaller than I am. The Fantasy bullies its way to the front of my mind, and flaunts itself around gaudily, so as to outshine those drab little images of health and vitality.

So I’m not well yet. I am learning, and struggling to see, and accept, myself for how I am, with no reservations, and to finally see the Fantasy of Being Thin as what it is: a phantasm plaguing my mental, emotional and physical health, with absolutely no basis in reality. It’s the nightmare from which I’m struggling to awake.

*They look this way, because in my mind I look thin and healthy, and the idealized images we’re given to compare ourselves to portray thin, as described by arbitrary guidelines such as measurements, clothing sizes and weight, as healthy. The disconnect between my mental image of myself and the bill of goods we’re sold is where the magical thinking happens.

Courage

Declaration: I am a feminist.

I. Am. A. Feminist.

I am a radical feminist. I believe with all my being that all women are human beings, inherently worthy of all the rights and dignities that other human beings (men) enjoy.

I have been hesitant to ‘out’ myself to certain people I know; mostly conservative men, all of whom have no actual authority over me, some of whom are relatives, all of whom I consider to be friends. I have been afraid of losing their friendships and love because of my beliefs.

No more.

If I can remain friends with them, despite having serious objections to some of their beliefs, then they can remain my friends, if they don’t agree with me. If they can’t they were never friends to begin with. If they can’t love me and know I believe these things, they cannot really love me.

We women are asked, every day, to be silent about disagreeing with others so that we don’t upset them, so we don’t ‘rock the boat’, so we ‘aren’t a bother’.

No more.

Listen up: I am a radical feminist.

I don’t believe in limiting a woman’s control over her own body; I don’t believe any man has any right to exercise any control over a woman’s body, mind, speech or actions; I don’t believe any woman has any right to control other women either, whether of her own choosing or in the name of a man.

I believe anyone who attempts to control women’s bodies, minds, speech or actions are misogynist: including rape apologists, rape celebrants, Men’s Rights Activists, promoters or supporters of pornography, promoters or supporters of prostitution, people who seek to limit or obstruct women’s access to health care, contraception, safe and legal abortion, STD prevention, higher education, a living wage, food for her children, her choice of partner(s), her choice of clothing, her choice of sexuality and sexual expression, her bodily autonomy.

If any of these terms or concepts are confusing to you, or if you aren’t sure what I mean by any of them, you may read for yourself at any of the sources listed below. I will be happy to have a civil conversation with any of you about any of these things, where ‘civil conversation’ means you listen to what I have to say, and I listen to what you have to say, and we respond to each others’ concerns. Basically, all the caveats of this blog apply.

If you cannot understand, that is fine. If you will not try to understand, or will not read those things which I suggest that might help you understand, I will have neither sympathy nor time for you. If you cannot treat me like a human being, I will not stay around for the abuse.


Places to Learn:
Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog
Official Shrub dot com Blog (right hand menu)
Andrea Dworkin, I Want Twenty-Four-Hour Truce In Which There Is No Rape