Links: Ladies We Love

Kate writes a mash note to Gabourey Sidibe of Precious, who could not be any more fabulous if she was abducted by aliens from the Fabulous Nebula.

Long-time SP hero Lesley from Fatshionista is the star of today’s Boston Globe! Congratulations, Lesley, on your continued march toward world domination and a more fatshionable world. We adore you!

80 thoughts on “Links: Ladies We Love

  1. I agree with you about the fabulousness completely. Sidibe absolutely blew me away and that movie… to say it affected me would be one of the more massive understatements I have ever made in my life.

  2. I was hoping that you would mention that piece by Kate. She has really done some fabulous writing in the past few weeks at Broadsheet and that was one of my favorites.

  3. THIS. Kate has hit the nail on the head and expressed all those wonderful, inarticulate feelings I have had about Gabby Sidibe. She is so much more evolved, in terms of her psychology and her intellect and her self-expression, there is no way I could not admire her and strive to learn from her. And, in spite of the fact that I rarely encounter celebrities as part of my day-to-day life, I have been worried about how to express myself when I “bump into” Gabby Sidibe one day, and Kate has helped me enormously. Now, I’m ready to look like something other than a squealing fangirl!

  4. If it needs to be said, stay away from the comments on The Boston Globe piece about Lesley, they are horrid.

    I enjoy slowly driving myself insane with Salon comments which are sweetness and light, compared to these Boston.com ones!

  5. I was SO happy to see this in the copy of the Globe I picked up today. I originally was looking for “G” (the ‘lifestyles, arts, entertainment, and every other part of news that we downsized and crammed into one section’ part) for the review from my theater featuring my photo, and on the VERY NEXT PAGE (after my 1/2 page photo, I just *have* to add!) was this article! HOLY CRAP! Good day all around!

    I’m definitely staying away from the online version, though, because Boston.com commenters are the bane of my existence and I refuse to get into flame wars over something like this.

  6. I read the boston.com comments. And oddly enough, they were just so over the top in their negativity that they didn’t even deplete my Sanity Watchers store. There were also a number of supporters, which was nice to see.

  7. Someone needs to call Norma Kamali asap. I have a feeling another big fabulous black gal’s gonna need a gown befitting her fabulousness. Gabby needs to rule them Oscars.

  8. Gabourey Sidibe is indeed living breathing fabulousness.

    While we are talking about people we admire, I have loads of women that I really love to learn and read about – Mr Paintmonkey doesnt have the same equivalent in men though, and I wonder if men don’t admire other men in the way women admire other women. I’m glad we do though, I think you learn huge amounts from listening to and disovering other women’s lives.
    However, of late I have also been contemplating the philosophy of “Be the changes you wish to see”…. I think there is a lot to be said for that, and imagine if we all did it.

  9. I think men don’t tend to have role models of the same kind because virtually all of history, literature, art, film, sports, etc. is rife with fascinating, intelligent, successful, well-rounded men, and so they grow up assured that they, too, can have these qualities. Whereas I know I feel like I have to really search out equivalently cool women role models and hang on to them with a fearsome desperation when I find them, and even then most of them are skinny, middle-upper class hetero cis white women. Le sigh.

  10. That article about Lesley is AWESOME. The reporter did a great job. It is a “lifestyle” article and accordingly, we learn a lot about a very interesting person and her artistic and political endeavors. No boilerplate crap about “it’s fine for this one person to feel good about herself but 99% of the rest of you fat people are going to drop dead tomorrow,” or “rebuttals” from the likes of MeMe Roth. I love it.

  11. @DRST: That statement would’ve been way more awesome if it hadn’t been preceded by “like all women, I want to feel attractive,” and a statement that her health (as judged by her apparent fatness) is a topic for open debate, and then followed by the statement about struggling with her weight, implying that while health & fitness is not about dress size… 67% of Americans, including her, need to change their dress size…

    *sigh*

  12. Did anyone see Gabby’s interview with Conan O’Brien? He was completely bewitched by her—it was pretty adorable.

  13. If any of y’all are on Facebook, Gabby has a page there that you can become a fan of. It seems to be her own personal page that she updates herself.

  14. I really needed that piece by Kate today. Just reading about Sidibe and how positive she is has helped to buoy my spirits during a time that I’ve been hating how I look.

  15. Can I be abducted to the Fabulous Nebula?

    Did anyone see Gabby’s interview with Conan O’Brien? He was completely bewitched by her—it was pretty adorable.

    I loved it!

    I watched Gabby Sidibe’s interview on Conan, and just fell in love with her! I wish I was friends with her, she seems like someone I’d want to hang out with a lot. I really need to make an effort to see Precious and read the book.

    Lesley’s article in the Globe was wonderful! I think I’d like to hang out with her too.

  16. I saw Gabby Sidibe’s Ellen interview, and fell in love with her! I can’t wait to see ‘Precious’. I’m not sure when it’s coming out here in Oz (we often get Oscar bait movies later than the US). I hope I haven’t missed the boat!

  17. I kind of wish I had the stomach to watch Precious without burning through my allotted Sanity Watcher’s points for the day. I don’t think I do, so it’s probably better that I skip it.

  18. @LivingTheQuestions: From the article you linked to:
    Evidence shows that fat around the thighs and backside is harder to shift than fat around the waist.

    Although this may sound undesirable, it is actually beneficial because when fat is broken down quickly it releases a lot of cytokines which trigger inflammation in the body, say experts.

    These cytokines have been linked to cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and diabetes.

    Hmm… That sounds suspiciously like an argument against yo-yo/crash dieting.

  19. @closetpuritan: Sure. There is worth there–and I suppose I overreacted. I do have concerns about the article–but I’m learning the Ways of Blogs, and I think I’d better not derail this thread with my concerns?

    Lovely, positive thread about good articles. Thanks.

  20. I really really really wish Salon would implement comment ratings, like YouTube. Obviously they like busy comment threads, but I for one tend not to read 500+ posts (unless they’re in monster threads on SP!) I think it’s a particularly handy tool for essentially unmoderated comments areas, especially if you can customise a profile that will show threads of a certain score or above (viz. Slashdot).

    Another nice thing about ratings is that they can really demonstrate when a few morons are acting as an echo chamber to each other, while you’ll have 500 +1s to the sensible cogent comment near the beginning of the thread.

  21. Snarkysmachine – i know! the gist of all the comments was – ‘THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE TO LOOK AT YOU! Because it’s such a BIG DEAL if you don’t turn me on!’ just makes me shake my head. but i like her boldness :) the commenters say she’s promoting ‘fat is ok’ to teenagers and i’m like YES! This is great, if she’s telling young fat girls that they are beautiful just as they are – so much better that they hear that message, and enjoy an adolescence untainted by self-hate, than spend their teenage years dieting and, probably, gaining more weight.

    what’s this thing about obesity being a drain on healthcare dollars, anyway? don’t skinny people get sick and not have health-insurance too? this argument makes absolutely no sense, unless you believe that thin people never get sick, and fatness causes ALL illnesses, and the tone they use is kind of disturbing – like they kinda wish all the fatties would just die off so they could have their precious healthcare money.

  22. I wish I was friends with her, she seems like someone I’d want to hang out with a lot.

    Agreed. She would fit right in with all my awesome friends, we could go to lunch and the movies together and hang out on each other’s couches snarking on bullshit.

  23. I read most of the comments on the Boston Globe site and was continually running hot and cold with rage. Reading comments like that for me is like picking at a scab – I can’t help it. I know it’ll make the wound take longer to heal, but I just want to see what it looks like underneath. And this time, the result was bad. I bet every one of the nasty commenters has at least one fat friend that they’ll tell, “Well, not YOU, I like YOU,” or “you’re not that fat!” and they weigh the same as Lesley.
    There was also that stubborn refusal to believe that she could be happy or healthy. I blame the media and the weight loss industry for that. 99% of the time you see a fat person on tv, they’re unhappy and doing everything they can to become thin. Or they’re eating nonstop, hiding in their rooms, crying because they’re fat (and therefore ugly) and wishing to be ANYBODY else.
    And my favorite comment – along the lines of “If she could choose, I bet she’d be thin in a heartbeat!” Well, DUH! I’m sure the poor would choose to be rich, the disabled would choose to be healed, and so on and so forth (in most situations). It’s HARD to be different, to have to struggle with problems the privileged don’t. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I bet there are many people reading those comments who hate themselves because society tells them to – and here’s one more reason to continue hating themselves.

  24. Meggie said:

    “And my favorite comment – along the lines of “If she could choose, I bet she’d be thin in a heartbeat!” Well, DUH! I’m sure the poor would choose to be rich, the disabled would choose to be healed, and so on and so forth (in most situations)”

    I have been reflecting on this very sentiment as it relates to my own collection of -isms, and have come to the conclusion – rather surprisingly – that I wouldn’t choose otherwise. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Timequake, “If I had to do it all over again I would wish to be born in Indianapolis and become a product of its public school system…” and I feel this way too, though obviously not about Indianapolis or its public school system, neither of which I have any experience with.

    Though this doesn’t mean I haven’t pondered life across the river of what if, but I strongly feel that being who I am is probably the most useful as everyone else is already taken.

  25. Thank you, snarkysmachine. I’ve been realizing, as I learn how to construct effective FA arguments, that if suddenly doctor’s DO learn how to make a fat person permanently thin (without horribly risks and butchery and messing with our brain chemistry), I wouldn’t take it. This is shocking to me, to learn about myself–given how much time I’ve spent wanting to be thin. I’m so grateful for the wide diversity in human bodies, and for what I’ve learned from living in a fat body (and continue to learn), and I’ve learned to (much of the time anyway) love the way my belly is shaped, the way I take up space. Also, fundamentally what I’ve learned from FA is that my body’s cues and tendencies are very valuable to me, very precious, and that (usually) I can trust them much more than I can trust doctors’ recommendations regarding how I look.
    If I were immobilized by my weight, though, I imagine that I might feel differently. In other words, I don’t think that this new revelation–that even if given the choice to change easily, I might well stay as I am–means that that is or should be true of others.
    Anyway, thanks.

  26. @Meggie:

    I know, I feel like so many people revert to complete solipsism when confronted with body acceptance. “I could never be/am not happy at or near that size, so no one else possibly could be.” It’s such a ridiculously narrow viewpoint. Is it the idea that everyone has their own subjectivity and thus experiences everything in their own individual way so very radical?

    And I admit that it is my secret fantasy to meet Leslie on the T. Of course, I have no idea what I would say to her, but it would be cool nonetheless.

  27. And my favorite comment – along the lines of “If she could choose, I bet she’d be thin in a heartbeat!” Well, DUH! I’m sure the poor would choose to be rich, the disabled would choose to be healed, and so on and so forth (in most situations).

    Really?

  28. @meggie:

    I’ve (still—yay!) not read the comments on that article and don’t plan to, if only because I know I won’t hear anything new or interesting. However, I can say definitively that even if a painless and free method of being defatted were invented, and every single other fat person in the world were doing it, I’d still resist. Unfortch, the folks commenting over there don’t actually know me, and if they did they’d know that’s just the sort of thing I would do — partly because it’s my nature to be stubbornly contradictory (ask my husband), but also make a point that I, alone, get to make choices about my body, no matter how unpopular those choices may be. This body and these experiences are part of who I am. I wouldn’t give them up simply because it was easy to do so.

    @SJL:

    Agreed that the whole “no one could possibly be happy/healthy at X size” makes me think, “Why? Simply because you haven’t met a person like that yet?” I have a formspring question about this to answer soon, so I’ll save my longwinded thoughts for that, but I hear you.

    Also, I am totally going to shatter your fantasy by admitting I almost never take the T (embarrassingly enough, it’s because I am extremely prone to motion sickness). But if you did meet me there or anywhere else you’d say HI I READ YOUR BLOG and I’d say OH WOW AWESOME and then I’d ask you about yourself and we’d chat for a while and it’d be grand.

  29. On the intriguing question of “If I could be thin, permanently and without risk or expense, would I?”: I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I’m getting (slowly) to the point of liking my body. Carrying a bit less weight might help with my congenital knee problems, but it wouldn’t fix them. This is going to sound incredibly shallow, but, off the top of my head, I have one major pro and one major con.

    Pro: I like clothes. More specifically, I like cute, interesting clothes. I have a very hard time finding them at affordable prices. My younger sister, who has always been thin and probably always will be, does not.

    Con: I like to snuggle. So does Mr. Other Becky. He’s on the lean (bony) side. As Garrison Keillor once said, “Fat makes it possible for two people to sit very, very close together and not hurt each other.” I suspect that less fat would make for less enjoyable snuggles.

  30. Well, DUH! I’m sure the poor would choose to be rich, the disabled would choose to be healed, and so on and so forth (in most situations).

    I think a better way of framing this is that disadvantaged or oppressed people would choose not to be disadvantaged or oppressed — but that’s not an individual change but a societal change. I’d rather have a just world with diverse bodies and cultures than an unjust world in which all people are the same.

  31. I think in the heat of the moment and in my anger, I came across wrong. What I said was more aimed at the sword cutting through the Gordion knot that is priviliege, as well as my own frustration in living in a world that is made for people who meet some nebulous ideal of “normal.” When I’m confronted with so much hatred, contempt, and disgust because of what I am or look like or believe, it’s hard not to wish to be different because that’s how we’re trained to be – we want to conform, or at least be different in a way that isn’t painful in one way or the other. I don’t know if that makes sense.

    And I totally understand, snarkysmachine, about choosing to be you, just as you are. In my own life of mistakes, successes, and ordinary things, I would choose the same because I don’t want to lose who I am. I just think that in times of awful stress or fear or anger, just about everybody wants to be something other than they are to escape whatever it is. Maybe people outgrow that, I don’t know. I know I haven’t. I’m sorry if I came off as ignorant or offensive.

  32. Isn’t it funny how Gabby not conforming to the ‘fat woman’ stereotype reveals others prejuidices. When she talked about in the media, it’s almost as though people can’t get over the fact that she’s unapolegtic about her weight, assured in her confidence and talent and isn’t interested in changing who she is. Kudos to this brillant young woman for living/behaving the way a lot of us wish we could

  33. Meggie–I understand what you mean about conformity. Reminds me of jeans shopping, the part when you put on a pair of jeans and think, “Oh, no! They don’t fit! I better lose weight,” instead of, “These jeans suck because they don’t fit me.” Even though you know intellectually that it’s a silly standard, that’s still where the mind goes at times of stress.

    For me, the major struggle of FA is confronting a rigid, arbitrary and maddening standard and tearing it down. Has a nice revolutionary feel to it, actually. Like we ought to have berets, and meet in dank cellars with our own mimeograph machines, and possibly have whirlwind bittersweet romances with dark and artistic types who are doomed to die on the barricades. Anyone have a mimeograph machine or a dark, artistic type to donate to the Cause?

  34. I can be dark and artistic in a pinch, but I think we really have to have the mimeograph for Subversive Pamphlets. Not to knock the blogging format, but you have to admit it lacks something in the ambiance department. Perhaps we could also move this Cause to a cellar in Prague. (I’ve always wanted to visit Prague.) Although it’s probably not strictly necessary, since absinthe is now legal in the US.

  35. @Meggie – There are probably a few things I would change about my physical self if it would be effortless, inexpensive, and without negative side effects (like my sideburns and near sightedness). I don’t consider those things to be important aspects of identity. Would I change my class? Probably, because it would give me a greater ability to respond (that’s how a good friend of mine defines responsibility). Would I change my race? No; not because I think there is something inherently better about being black than anything else – but because of my relationship to others (namely my family). Isn’t that what it’s all about? Our relationship to others?

    Having said that I realize that maybe for some people it’s about their relationship to themselves. I’ve always considered myself a pretty individualistic person, so I’m surprised to “hear” these thoughts coming out of my own head. If everyone in my family chose to change their race to a single race, for example, I’d very likely change mine too, to match theirs.

    It’s an interesting question. Very hypothetical, of course.

  36. I am strongly of the mindset that oppression has very little to do with -isms, and if there was a magic de-ism-nator, there would be some other way to classify and oppress people, as seen in many dystopia novels and movies.

  37. @snarkysmachine – In a group I work with, we talk about the problem of hierarchy … the whole concept of a system in which some are on top and some are on bottom is problematic. There are categories that we tend to classify ourselves into, and then there is the tendency to categorize.

  38. @McFly – amazing post, thanks so much for linking to it here! (Though maybe a trigger warning is in order for its references to medicalized practices of sexual violation.)
    I’m beyond disgusted that we live in a world in which even people who identity as feminists tell women that they ought to trade in their bodily autonomy and emotional health for some ‘cancer test’ or such, because a tiny, tiny chance at a very slim chance at a possibly slightly longer life is worth all women being medically raped and living the rest of their lives with the psychological consequences of that. It strikes me as very relevant to the debates over ‘What if people *can* choose whether or not to be fat?’ Even for those who are able to alter their weights slightly with a great deal of effort, the consequences are often detrimental in ways that can’t be measured by statistics.

  39. Re: whether one would choose to be different, I have always figured that if I could magically become thin, I would do it in a heartbeat. It is just way easier and I’m not that mentally and emotionally strong a person.

    However… then I look at things like the boston.com comment thread and after I’m done being angry and wishing I hadn’t read them, I realize that I actually feel BAD for these types of commenters. These are people who truly believe that to weigh 200 pounds, or maybe even to be larger than a size 4, say, would be a tragedy of life-ending proportions. When you have been fat and have moved about in the world and known your whole life that your life is basically fine (at least as far as being fat is concerned, in a vacuum… of course anti-fat prejudice and other life circumstances might make things not so fine), you have such a different worldview that it’s almost absurd. I really, really wouldn’t want to be like those people whose understanding of their own self-worth as it relates to their appearance, and “understanding” of fat people and how they live their lives, is so unbelievably narrow. So you know, maybe I wouldn’t take that magic pill. I’m not sure anymore.

  40. *Ahem*

    Did someone say. “whirlwind bittersweet romances with dark and artistic types who are doomed to die on the barricades”??

    Oh HELL YES!! Sign me up for that!! VIVE LA REV-A-LOO-SHEE-OHN!!

    And the mimeo is so key. Subversive pamphlets are just not the same without them. I am also all about the Prague thing, and absinthe is still illegal if you brew it yourself. We will drink our own revolutionary absinthe made by the people for the people.

  41. When I was younger and full time busy hating on me, I would have grabbed that magic lamp, rubbed like hell, and changed everything. I would have been a different race, I’d have chosen different name, a completely different body, totally different hair and skin, lifted myself to royalty status, grabbed the kind of wealth that is never in danger of evaporating, and installed a perfect “man of wax” into my life.

    I’m older now and I’ve learned a few things about me. While I would still like to be rich because I hate worrying about money and fearing the rent man, I would never want to be rich without first having the experience of being poor. And super wealth simply does not interest me anymore. I would never want to be thin without first having been fat, and I’m coming to a new place in my life where I actually might not choose to waste a wish on the thin thing. I would not want to have Mr. Perfect without having lived through the horrors of all those Mr. Socompletelywrongs. Oh, and I don’t want Mr. Perfect to even be perfect anymore. Perfect is so godawful boring.

    I value my experiences, ALL of them. I have lived through some heavy duty shit that would have sent a lot of people over the edge. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of what my life taught me and that I did have the capacity to learn from it. I like who I am now after all that. I kind of dig me all the way around. LOL If you had told me that back then I would have given you a snotty look and totally not believed it.

  42. @McFly: that was a fabulous and informative piece at FWD. I do have one small complaint, however:

    “If a woman decides that she wants to have 12 children and she’s making an informed choice to do that, and it is not my business to tell her that she is engaging in risky behaviour and she is brainwashed.”

    I think the author is making a straw feminist argument here; I would imagine that most of us on SP, at least, would agree that a central tenet of feminism is bodily autonomy and that women should have the absolute right to decide when and how many children to have. I remember this being discussed at some length in a relatively recent thread. Otherwise, I was totally on board with the entire piece. /thread derail

  43. Jerome–I have to say that there are waaaaaaay too many feminist spaces where women who make that choice are treated like brainwashed idiots. When Michelle Duggar announced her 19th child, boy oh boy did that topic get beaten to death. SP doesn’t do that crap (thank you moderators) but there is certainly plenty of flak headed at the women who choose to have a lot of kids. I’m pretty sensitive to the issue as the liberal feminist childless daughter of a couple with nine children and strongly-held religious beliefs on procreation.

    Gail–Welcome to the revolution, comrade!

  44. @Starling: Thanks for responding, and I do see your point. SP is the only feminist site that I can consistently tolerate reading the comments on without instantly using up my SW points/triggering myself (for example, I frequently like what they have to say on feministing, but some of it is rather obnoxious and the comments are unbearable), so my view is admittedly quite limited as far as how the feminist blog-o-sphere treats this topic.

    As for Michelle Duggar in particular: IMHO, it’s her perogative to have as many children as she would like. Period, end of story. Do others share this view? I know this is getting into 101 territory, but it’s important that we support harmless choices made by others, even if we ourselves wouldn’t make the same choice.

  45. @Jerome – Personally, I don’t feel like I need to support choices I disagree with. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to try to take away their rights or infringe upon them in any way, either. But I don’t have to say, “Yay for you!” if I think it’s a terrible mistake or just plain wrong.

  46. I don’t see it as a harmless choice actually. I don’t care what any woman or man does with her/his body and I am not about to argue reproductive rights, they are a given. Let’s even forget that the world is suffering from a crippling population of humans, I don’t want to get into that either. We’re all here together and we have to find a way to deal.

    A family is a precious thing and more the merrier right? And these kids will have a unique experience and world view. Great.

    Here’s my bottom line beef. Parents of even one single child are busy, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home. When are these children ever going to get the individual attention and nurturing most kids naturally crave? Do you put them on an assembly line and dole out an even number of minutes to each? A woman or man who decides to have a child is NOT making that decision only for themselves, they are making that decision for the child to be born and any siblings involved. Having a baby ain’t all about YOU and what YOU want. Whether you like it or not there are other people involved.

    I don’t know. Maybe these parents are AbFab and it’s none of my business anyway, but… For me it’s like the cloning thing. SHOULD you do something simply because you CAN? It’s been estimated that a woman could have over 60 babies in her lifetime assuming she got pregnant as soon as she was physically able, there were no multiples, and she caught pregnant after each baby was born. Does that mean that she should?

  47. A woman or man who decides to have a child is NOT making that decision only for themselves, they are making that decision for the child to be born and any siblings involved. Having a baby ain’t ll about YOU and what YOU want. Whether you like it or not there are other people involved.

    Gail, this is a total threadjack and is also insulting to people who don’t have “nuclear” family structures, who do indeed often turn out just fine, thanks. Enough.

  48. hsofia: Yes, I make a distinction between what someone has the right to do and their best course of action. I would be pissed off if someone tried to pass a law about how many children one is allowed to have, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to have 19 children. There should be a distinction between persecution or restriction of rights and mere criticism. I also think that criticizing individual women’s choices is not an appropriate task for feminism, though.

  49. The number of people who chose to have children in the 6 or 7 + range is fairly small, and the parents, at least in this culture, have usually chosen the religion or movement that prioritizes offspring. So the Quiverfull moms, and the devout Catholics and Mormons, and the rest are often people who select their religious and political viewpoint for its stance on child-bearing. Most of the 8+ children families I know (and I know fourteen or fifteen of them) are the families of people who really, really wanted that many children. Us kids don’t immediately produce a round dozen of our own, either; I think parents with that many kids have a pretty realistic understanding that the financial and emotional costs are significant and that it’s not for everyone.

    In the Western world, choosing to have a lot of children is very seldom coerced or socially pressured, and the society-wide birthrate is falling, so I don’t regard the choice to have many children with any more judgmental an eye than the choice to have none at all. Neither is causing big-picture social harm, and both are individual reproductive choices. As FWD/Forward says, judging those choices as de facto damaging, or the result of social brainwashing, or Bad For The Children is no part of feminism.

    And if the Quiverfull thing bothers you? If you find the religious framework anti-feminist and worthy of condemnation? So do I. But consider this–if you happen to want nine kids, where else are you going to find a community where you aren’t automatically treated like a leper, or a brainless and uneducated serf?

    Lifestyle choices: let people make ‘em.

  50. Oh, and I really hate it when people say, “I don’t want to stop it, but I think it’s a bad idea.” Yeah. Well. There are parents for whom one kid is probably a bad idea, and parents for whom the cutoff is three or four or seven. There is no single number of children that is a universal bad idea. If you think the Duggars’ family structure sucks, send them a letter. They’ve made it part of the public debate by putting it in the public sphere. But it has little to do with what the family down the street does, or how it functions. The generalized condemnation is strangely reminiscent of the “Gay people can’t parent!” or “Biracial marriages hurt children!” crapola. I like to think we are more tolerant than that.

  51. *Applauds* Nicely said, Starling.

    Since educated women, in the aggregate, have smaller families, and since we really do need to stay the hell out of each other’s uteruses, I often suggest a good outlet for family-size-worry is donating to or working for causes that support women’s education, or donating to or working at a sexual resource centre.

    There will be a small number of women who want families of six or more, and women who want no kids or one, but it is women’s overall empowerment and respect for her childbearing decisions that in the aggregate allows us to have fewer children.

  52. I don’t really like the “X that I disagree with is like Y that we all disagree with” analogies. They tend to shed more heat than light, I think. (And include such classics as “people who deny the link between race and IQ are like the Creationists”, or “people who are skeptical about the link between fat and poor health are just like the global warming skeptics!”) At their worst (I’m looking at you, Saletan) they can feel emotionally manipulative.

    If I really thought that being gay was A) immoral and B) able to be transmitted by gay parents, I’d probably have the same position on that as I do on having 19 kids.

    Another problem with the analogy is that a large part of the reason I think having 19 kids isn’t a good idea, is that I’ve read that more than around 7 pregnancies can cause health problems, which is something that’s absent from the gay/biracial example. I know, I’m starting to sound like a concern troll, but I think there’s a difference between giving my advice to people who don’t want it, and thinking it’s a bad idea, or stating when the subject comes up that I agree that it’s not the best choice. I realize that this is usually not a big factor in most women’s disapproval of families this size, though.

    Starling, I agree that the upper limit is different for everyone. I think that the number of people who can handle a family of X size gets smaller as the numbers go up, and I don’t think that there are too many people where the upper limit is great than 15, at least in monogamous-couple setups like the Duggars. The Duggars do have some extra help in the form of older siblings, and extra help can lower the upper limit, but I find this problematic because the older siblings (disproportionately the girls) are basically forced to take on parenting responsibilities at a young age (admittedly to a lesser degree than if the kids were theirs). I have a big problem with forced parenthood.

  53. @closetpuritan – Sometimes I think the problem isn’t so much number of kids but parenting practices or living situations that rub people the wrong way. If someone has child rearing practices you don’t agree with (Duggars practice the blanket method, for example), and then make ten kids, it’s just ten times more aggravation. I think the Duggars represent something troubling insofar as religious views and gender issues are concerned, but it appears to me that their children are safe, fed, loved, and enjoying life. I do have a negative gut reaction every time I hear there is another Duggar on the way, but I don’t let it pin me down. There are plenty of 2-3 children families where the kids aren’t getting half of what they need because of limited income, substance abuse, or just plain depravity. I spent an hour the other day crying over yet another child (a toddler) in my area starved and tortured to death by his parents. The parents had four other kids in the home that have been removed. My point is, the Duggars and other high profile families are irrelevant. It’s easier to talk about unusual examples like theirs than to deal with actual child abuse.

  54. Closetpuritan–
    I suppose I don’t think of having many children as immoral, period. Neglecting children, abusing children, having children without regard to your ability to feed or clothe them–yeah, those are moral issues. Simply having children? No. Nor do I consider it something that can be transmitted to the kids, like a disease. Being a child in a large family gives you a good solid look at the costs and benefits of having children, and having a lot of children. Being like Mom and Dad is not a given.

    One thing to keep in mind is that having a lot of kids takes a long time, unless you are one of the few families with fertility-induced multiples. It’s a choice you make again and again, every time you decide to get pregnant or your case worker contact calls to ask if you can take another special-needs toddler. (And, yeah, of the fourteen families I mentioned, four are at 8+ because of adoption–in each case, special-needs adoption of older children.)

    By its nature it’s not something you enter into lightly, because the preacher said so or because they thought it would be cool when they were ten or because Mom and Dad seemed to do okay. Nor is it something you do without regard to your health; the woman having a seventh child has a much clearer idea of her physical tolerance of pregnancy and her body’s ability to handle it than the woman pregnant for the first time. Nor is it easier than not getting pregnant–your ob/gyn is going to give you a stern talk about birth control and termination options, all your friends and family are going to look at you weird, your living costs go up, and your sleep schedule is screwed again.

    The families who are having kid #whatever are doing it because, odd as it may seem, that’s how they like spending their time and money. Their choice. Not hurting anyone. Not a fair target for generalized condemnation.

    And, while the older Duggar girls may be pushed into a role that seems unhealthy, I bridle at generalizations about older kids in larger families. As the oldest daughter and second-oldest child of nine, I changed diapers, sure. But I mostly spent my teenage years drumming up donations for a women’s shelter, kicking some ass in debate clubs, and interning for Congress. The Cinderella-drudge story is one I’ve heard but not actually observed in a lot of real-life experience, so I regard it with suspicion.

  55. Starling,

    A lot of the things you mention are not views that I hold (“transmitting like a disease”, thinking that it’s easy to have a large family without thought), and I’m guessing that it’s something that is common for other feminists who talk about large families to say. It’s not a pet project of mine, and I find myself wondering why I get sucked into discussions like these sometimes… I was mainly just trying to make a point that disagreeing with the wisdom of someone’s decision and supporting their ability to make the decision are very different things. (If we only supported people’s ability to make a choice when we thought it was a wise choice, then that’s not really being pro-choice, is it? That’s just wanting to be the one who makes the rules.)

    I don’t think they should be a target for “generalized condemnation”, e.g. the way smokers are–I don’t even think smokers should be a target for generalized condemnation the way smokers are. I’m in favor of respectful criticism on any issue, but I’m sure there’s plenty of disrespectful criticism from a lot of mainstream feminists on this issue…

    I agree that fertility rates in the Western World are low enough that I’m not really concerned about the decision to have another child, in isolation from considerations about one’s ability to care for it, as a moral issue. I yield to your greater experience about how common the forced parenting is–the Duggars are occupying a lot of space in my mind on this one, as they’re the only family I know much about with more than 6 kids that weren’t a product of a multiple birth.

  56. Closetpuritan–
    Sorry, I read you as saying that there are moral and transmission issues to having large families, as there aren’t for gay parenting.

    I find this subject is one that is a common blind spot in a lot of liberal spaces, because there’s not much first-hand experience and the stuff you see in the paper tends to be polygamous scary or Gosselin scary, one or the other. It’s one of my pet peeves, along with religious = dumb. And I have the same kinds of arguments with my conservative family and friends about feminism not being man-hating and health care reform not being socialism. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the strange “other.”

  57. Gail, this is a total threadjack and is also insulting to people who don’t have “nuclear” family structures, who do indeed often turn out just fine, thanks. Enough.

    I didn’t jack the thread because I was responding to what someone else said, but I did think to myself that I should probably have not continued a discussion that was not part of the main thread right after I hit submit. For that I am sorry. I also would like to sincerely apologize for anyone who felt insulted by what I wrote. That was not my intention at all and it kills me to think I may have done so. I did try to include my idea of the positive aspects of large families as well as my idea of the negative aspects, but again this was not the place to do that.

    Again, I am sorry.

  58. Hmm. Totes guilty of EPIC threadjack myself. Sorry, all. I blame the Duggars and Octomom and Jon and Kate for making big families look like sideshows, and I tend to get a tad evangelical (little ‘e’) about the fact that there’s nothing inherently wrong or damaging in a larger-than-standard family. I blame the debate club.

  59. I come from a family of 3 and my brother had to help out with us little sisters. I think it has less to do with the number of kids and more to do with the age gap of the children (my bro is ten years older than me), if there’s a some kind of reasoning at all. I don’t know.

    I’m certain a fair number of us have been told, “Watch your sister/brother while I run a quick errand/take a nap/write my dissertation/whathaveyou.” It seems to be one of those things that tends to happen in families and I never have really considered it to be anything else.

  60. I’m certain a fair number of us have been told, “Watch your sister/brother while I run a quick errand/take a nap/write my dissertation/whathaveyou.” It seems to be one of those things that tends to happen in families and I never have really considered it to be anything else.

    Snarkysmachine, I have no real feelings on this one way or the other, but I think the point being made about older siblings being “forced” to look after younger ones in huge families is that occasionally watching or helping out with younger sibling(s) is a far cry from having 10 or 12 or 15 of them, such that your parents physically cannot look after them without your help (because the parents are, after all, only two people).

    I think that’s why people get annoyed about situations like the Duggars, because they perceive (correctly or otherwise) that the older siblings have no real choice about participating heavily in the raising of their younger siblings. Between the sheer size of the family and the teachings of the patrirachal big-family fundamentalist Christian movement about the role of girls/women, it seems really unlikely that the older Duggar girls have the option of stepping away from that role, and they didn’t have those children, so is it really fair they spend so much of their lives looking after them?

    As I said, no real feelings, that’s just where it seems like people are coming from on this. As Starling pointed out, a lot of the bother on this one comes from the fact that these days many people only know about big families from the exceptional ones that get tv shows. (How do you know they’re the exception? Because they get a tv show based on it.) So people are throwing around extreme examples in specific families, whose internal workings can never really be known to us.

  61. Caitlin,
    That pretty much sums it up. And I admit, a lot of the objections don’t apply to more “normal” large families. If you wean your kids early for the sole purpose of getting your fertility back sooner (as in the Duggars), you’re probably going to need a lot more help with your kids than if they’re more spaced out, even if you have a large family by modern Western standards. (Even some of the Catholics I’ve talked to who think abstinence as birth control in a married couple is immoral think that not getting your fertility back yet because of breastfeeding is “just as nature intended”, so yes, I admit this practice is pretty far outside the mainstream.)

    Some people have enough money or enough of a support network that they can get that help without over-relying on the older siblings for it, but most people don’t have those advantages… Obviously, if there’s too much reliance on the older siblings for these things, their ability to devote enough attention to their schoolwork to follow their chosen career path can suffer, as well as their ability to just plain do other things than take care of children.
    /threadjack (sorry)

  62. Oh, just to clear up any confusion, the thing I was trying to say about breastfeeding in my last comment was supposed to be “this is a indication of unusually close-spaced pregnancies”, not anything about when people “should” stop breastfeeding.

  63. It’s worth remembering that of the hypothetical 12 kids, it’s likely that 6 will be old enough to occasionally keep an eye on one of the other 6, so it’s not like the eldest two will be doing it all, either. More younger kids does eventually mean more older kids.

    Mind you, I’ve read the “No longer quivering” blog and been appalled, so I can see how you’d get inclined against big families in that context, but it can be nicely done.

  64. As Starling pointed out, a lot of the bother on this one comes from the fact that these days many people only know about big families from the exceptional ones that get tv shows. (How do you know they’re the exception? Because they get a tv show based on it.) So people are throwing around extreme examples in specific families, whose internal workings can never really be known to us.

    Well, only the white families get the TV shows.

  65. If you wean your kids early for the sole purpose of getting your fertility back sooner (as in the Duggars)

    That’s actually not true. Michelle breastfeeds all her kids for at least nine months, by which time she tends to be pregnant again and her milk supply diminishes, so she starts moving them onto other food sources. They don’t deliberately try to get pregnant any more than they try not to get pregnant. They leave it all up to god.

    Well, only the white families get the TV shows.

    Indeed.

  66. It’s worth remembering that of the hypothetical 12 kids, it’s likely that 6 will be old enough to occasionally keep an eye on one of the other 6, so it’s not like the eldest two will be doing it all, either. More younger kids does eventually mean more older kids.

    Eventually, but (say it’s 2.5 years between kids, not the tightest spacing possible) when you’ve got a 10 year old, a 7.5 year old, a 5 year old, a 2.5 year old, and a newborn, Mom’s going to spend a lot of time on her newborn, and that 10 year old is going to be busy. The 7.5 year old can probably mostly look after herself, but I don’t know that she could be relied upon to take care of the others. And then if the 7.5 and 5 year old are boys and boys aren’t expected to really help with the children, she’ll be even busier once the next baby or two comes along…

  67. I do think this is an interesting subject to explore and discuss, and to learn from. However, I got told in no uncertain terms that it was not cool to go off topic on this thread. Do as you like, I’m just warning you that being called out is painful and embarrassing.

    To get back to the main thread… I found this quote from GS about Mo’Nique:
    “All my life I’ve been hearing that I’ll never amount to anything until I am skinny,” Gabby said. “And she disproved everything that everyone has ever told me.”

    http://justjared.buzznet.com/2010/01/14/gabourey-sidibe-covers-v-magazine-issue-63/

    Hope that links. Anyway, for me that quote was a triumphant blow against the insidious FoBT.

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