Slightly Pre-Friday Sorta-Fluff: I’m Kate Fucking Harding

So, the other night, I went to see my friend (and sometime Shapeling) Tari play at a local bar, and as usual, I was slightly surprised by how awesome she is. Not because I have any good reason to underestimate her, but because A) I just don’t hear her play all that often, and B) it’s always a little surprising to see someone you mostly know in one context (in this case, the internet and $5 martini night at another local bar) in a different context, where they happen to kick a hundred kinds of ass. I have all sorts of friends who are writers and artists and performers, all of whom I know are tremendously talented and hardworking, and yet, when I see evidence of their tremendous talent and hard work, I still go, “Oh! Right! You really aren’t fucking around, are you?” ‘Cause it always seems a little magical, even if you know better.

So I did that the other night, when Tari came over to talk to Al and me in between sets. I was all, “Holy shit, that was so awesome!” like she’d just spontaneously done a backflip off the bar or rescued a kitten from a burning building or something, as opposed to doing something she has spent basically her entire fucking life training to do, and which she practices continuously, and which makes up a substantial portion of her identity. Like, WHO KNEW?

You know who knew? (I mean, besides me, if I’d thought about it for half a second.) Tari. She is, after all, the one practicing and performing and listening to herself all the damned time. And here is the actually surprising (well, not if you know Tari, but still) awesome thing: She said as much. Instead of just being all, “Aw, shucks, thank you, you’re too kind, and really, XYZ didn’t go as well as I hoped, and I’m still working on ABC, but I guess I’ve had worse shows…” she said something like, “Thanks. Yeah, I like to think I’m good at what I do. I could act all self-deprecating, but it is, you know… what I do.

And Shapelings, I am ashamed to tell you I had a moment there — just a little one, like a second long — of thinking, “Wow, that was –” Except, before I could even get to what it was — arrogant? cocky? inappropriate? — I was like, KATE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WHAT THAT WAS WAS THE TRUTH. And P.S. You think exactly the same thing about yourself.

And so I said as much. Something like, “Yeah, I know what you mean. After 25 years or so of practice, I’m pretty sure I can write.”

And we laughed. And part of my brain even noted, in that moment, that what just happened was unusual and very cool: Two women had just had a conversation in which they admitted out loud that they were good at something, without feeling the need to qualify it with a bunch of stuff about how they’re not as good as they could be, or how other people are so much better, or how the things they’re good at aren’t really important in the scheme of things. I almost said “a bunch of bullshit” there, but you know, it’s not bullshit. We’re not as good as we could be, because who is? (Also, the years ahead would be pretty bleak if we had no improvement to look forward to.) And there are people who are much better at what we do. And in certain schemes of certain things, at least, who gives a rat’s ass if you can write or sing well? So none of those statements actually qualify as bullshit, in and of themselves. But that compulsive need to acknowledge all of those things whenever someone gives you a compliment, to make sure no one could ever accuse you of being arrogant or cocky or inappropriately self-congratulatory about a demonstrated skill you have worked really hard on building? That’s bullshit.

And I thought maybe I should write a post about that, about how qualifying anything that might sound even vaguely self-esteemy is such an ingrained habit for so many women, we not only do it to ourselves, we police our friends when they don’t. About how I sat there for that one second, even if that’s all it was, and thought “WTF? She’s not supposed to say that!” when Tari said the exact same thing about herself that I’d just said. And there is a whole other post somewhere in my brain about how believing that only other people had the authority to determine whether I was good or bad, pretty or unpretty, funny or unfunny, etc., was at the core of my self-hatred and miserable body image for oh, 15 or 20 years.

But right now, I don’t want to talk about that. Right now, I want to talk about Sady fucking Doyle.

Sady fucking Doyle, if for some reason you’re not familiar with her, is the proprietress of Tiger Beatdown. And she recently went gloriously apeshit on a troll called Freddie, who was your fairly typical, if impressively relentless, mansplainer who totes considers himself a feminist but fears for the future of the movement because it’s full of all these lady feminists saying things he doesn’t agree with and/or things he ostensibly agrees with but not presented the way he would say them (note: joking makes feminists seem unserious, even if everything else makes us humorless), and if we would all just shut up for five minutes and listen to reason, we could work together and really get some social justice going! But tragically for womankind and indeed humanity, all these unpleasant, talking, joking women everywhere make feminism a hard sell to normal people! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT, YOU GUYS?

So, yeah. Sady went off. And then she went off some more and some more and some more and there were a lot of delightful boner jokes, and the phrase “I’m Sady fucking Doyle!” was invoked, and you should go catch up on all that if you missed it. I just got myself fully caught up today, and that’s when I learned that Sady has already pretty much written the post I wanted to write about that little moment with Tari, which you should read all of, but here’s the paragraph that says it all:

And, yeah, the “I’m Sady fucking Doyle” thing turned people off. You think I didn’t know it would turn people off? Women are not supposed to say that shit, even when it’s true. And it was there completely on purpose, with full acknowledgement that people would call me a narcissist, self-absorbed, in love with myself, etc, for saying it. Because I wanted to convey to Freddie that Freddie ain’t shit, largely because he actually ain’t. But I also wanted Freddie, who is hugely terrified of women who assert their authority and primacy in the feminist movement, to be confronted with the sight of a woman acknowledging, accepting, and reveling in her own authority and power. That shit is terrifying, often even to women, but definitely to men. So now Freddie’s sulking that Sady Doyle is “telling everyone about how impressed with herself she is.” And I am. Because I knew that would piss him the hell off. Because I’m a woman, and I have accordingly been taught my entire life to view myself as lesser-than, to devalue my own accomplishments, to accept it when other people treat me as lesser-than and devalue me, which they (if they are men, especially) have been taught to do. And I refuse. I say no. I tell you I’m Sady fucking Doyle, and I expect you to believe it. Being a woman who likes herself, is proud of herself, is impressed with herself, in public: There might not be a more subversive act.

I believe it.  And  you know that opinion is worth something because I’m Kate fucking Harding.

So this is actually not a very fluffy topic, but it at least struck me as an opportunity for some positive feel-good commentary (in addition to the usual analysis). Because Shapelings, I want to know what makes you awesome. We’ve actually done “toot your own horn” fluff threads before, but this time, I’m not interested in anything so ladylike as a mere toot. Today, I’m not interested in your tiny superpowers; I’m interested in your power. I want to know what makes you Screen fucking Name.  Lay it on me.

Me? A mansplainer? Let me mansplain.

There is some hilarious shit going down over at Zuska’s. See, she posted a definition of “mansplaining” that included stuff like this:

You May Be A Mansplainer If…

1. You MUST explain why everything I said is beside the point, and wrong, and silly.

2. You MUST explain why you are not a mansplainer, then re-explain things to the wimminz. Also, call them sexist.

4. Ignore everything everyone says, then accuse everyone else of being sexist to you. Follow this with some SERIOUS explaining! Teh wimminz are slow, but they will surely understand someday! Because you are a MAN! And you are SPLAININ’!

And she got comments that included gems like these:

  • If someone is sure they’re right — and you’re sure they’re wrong — there’s no discussion to be had. Either one or both are idiots, right? I guess there’s more male idiots who don’t know it, but I’m not sure if that’s a special problem — I don’t know whether a wishy-washy idiot is any better than a hard-ass idiot.
  • Maybe this thread would have involved less argument if you had a “WOMEN ONLY” label on it. There’s a lot of men on SciBlogs who can’t help but feel perturbed for being singled out, and can’t help but commenting when we are perturbed (because we haven’t been socialized to always stuff our feelings like girls are).
  • Members of every gender, race, height, sexual orientation, and religion on this planet probably “explain” things in a way that is condescending. What’s condescending is trying to make it momentarily exclusive to men just because you’re a woman.
  • As a Feminist XY, I feel like you’re shitting on us for being XY, and not sufficiently Feminist because I feel hurt at being shat on. … Go ahead and condescend and trivialize and rationalize my emotional responses away now.

It’s silly to talk about mansplaining! I’m not doing it, or I’m only doing it because you made me! And you are SEXIST!

Here’s a thing about mansplaining and why I care a lot about it: it is annoying, and frustrating, and insulting, and deeply rooted in institutionalized sexism, and often profoundly harmful to women. We talk about all of that. What we don’t always talk about is how easily it shades into gaslighting: your reality is false, my reality is true. The biggest mansplainer I’ve known made me doubt my sanity for years; I am still recovering. This isn’t just a supremely sexist and problematic internet habit. It can be a psychologically violent act.

That said, it’s more fun if we treat “you might be a mansplainer if…” as a fun meme, right? Over here, we have a tightly controlled commenting policy, a (usually) reliably feminist readership, and less visibility to d00dz than Zuska. So I invite you to continue the game. Feel free to use comments from Zuska’s thread, and the ensuing post “Men Who Cannot Follow Clear Directions from Women,” as jumping-off points for your signs of mansplainerism!

Also, at almost the same time that SM sent me the Zuska link, another friend sent me this:

(click to embiggen)
(I have no idea who to credit for this so please let me know if you know)

This is a great structure — I’m already testing out yelling “CIRCLE 8!” when faced with certain behaviors — but it needs to be tweaked to apply to feminist blogs. Where do you think mansplainers should go? (I think 8th circle.) What other behaviors should go on here? (I think “people who post off-topic links” should be up near the top, “people who announce they haven’t read the comments” should be further down, and “people who complain about echo chambers/their free speech being compromised” further down still.) What should the poetic-justice punishments be?

Items… Of … Interest!

Please read the post title in a Futurama announcer voice.

Welcome to 2010, Shapelings! Have some links.

Kate takes on the “no fatties” dating site controversy at Broadsheet.

Jezebel’s Jenna discusses V Magazine’s latest plus size fashion shoot, which features back fat and belly rolls! For reals!

Lauredhel talks full body scanners, disability, and privacy at FWD.

Latoya inaugurates “Moff’s Law” at Racialicious, and we are totally copying her on that. It starts so deliciously and just gets better:

Of all the varieties of irritating comment out there, the absolute most annoying has to be “Why can’t you just watch the movie for what it is??? Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have to analyze it???”

If you have posted such a comment, or if you are about to post such a comment, here or anywhere else, let me just advise you: Shut up. Shut the fuck up. Shut your goddamn fucking mouth. SHUT. UP.

Read the whole thing.

World domination: One step closer

Our fearless leader is beginning a fortnight of guest blogging over at Jezebel! This is an explosion of awesome, as you’ve probably guessed, since Jezebel has lately been one of the most reliable blogs around for feminist news (often with a fat-friendly slant) as well as pictures of Zachary Quinto.

This means that Kate won’t be posting quite as much over here as usual, but the rest of us are still around (though busy and be-jobbed and unreliable about posting and all that). And, of course, you can still get your usual dose of Kate at Jez and at Broadsheet.

Have fun, Kate!

Midweek link roundup

When I was in school I always used to get in trouble for talking or passing notes with my friends instead of doing my work. Little did I know it would prefigure my blogging habits. Sure, we haven’t turned in a lot of essays, but here’s a peek at what we’ve been passing notes about in the last week or so:

Adams’ argument applies on several levels here. The ad displays both the meaty sandwich and the female body as objects ready for masculine consumption. The woman in the ad is not meant to enjoy the burger, for this is not about her. Like the meat, she is a thing to be consumed, a thing that will provide the viewer with a hearty dose of masculinity and virility. In an interesting twist, this ad, which is clearly intended to sell a piece of meat to straight men, also presents the phallic stand-in as something desirable. Men are supposed to see this image and think something along the lines of: “I like BJs and burgers, cuz I’m a real man. I need some BK,” yet the ad makes the meat into a sexualized, fetishized masculine object.

So is it “natural” for me to weigh 300 lbs? I have no fucking idea. Maybe if I hadn’t lost and regained (and lost and regained, and lost and regained) so much weight as a kid and teenager, I would weigh less now. Maybe if I hadn’t started dieting at nine years of age and possibly affected what would have become a normal adult metabolism, I would weigh less now. I have no way of knowing. And I can’t travel back in time (….yet) to find out whether doing things differently would have led to a different result. And even if I could, I don’t know that I would bother.

  • I’m curious about this article — the thesis seems to be that obesity has always been treated as a product of metabolism and genetics, but maybe instead it should be treated as an eating disorder. Was this published in Proceedings of the Bizarro Academy of Sciences?
  • BMI may be even less accurate for African-Americans. There’s increasing evidence that race needs to be a factor in at least some medical decision-making, but as in so many other areas of life, able-bodied white men are the default and everyone else is considered an outlier or a deviation. It’s good that research is being done, but I’m thinking the medical community needs to listen to Lesley: bodies are not variations on a narrow template.
  • Friend of the blog Robin Abrahams (otherwise known as Miss Conduct) wrote an excellent piece about how to handle situations where the rules of etiquette and one’s personal preferences for treatment are at odds. We’ve been kicking around ideas about a post on “safe space” (and also a very belated review of Robin’s book) so look for those in the future, but meanwhile, you get a slightly-less-belated link.

Just as we expect more than etiquette strictly demands from those whom we love, we should be willing to accept less than etiquette demands if there are no emotions at stake. That’s how it works with those whom we love and who love us: we learn which buttons to avoid and which ones we can happily pound away on all day.

And it’s absolutely vital to sanity to realize that when you step out of your circle of loved ones, you no longer have the right to that kind of customized treatment. People will say things that are hurtful to you, and if those things are within the common bounds of civility we’ve defined as a society, you cowboy up and answer them politely.

  • Hanna Rosin at Double X writes about a new documentary on sex changes in Iran and makes our heads explode. Don’t tell me I’m “used to thinking of ‘transgender’ as the last stop on the gay train to freedom and self expression,” Rosin  — believe it or not, I think that the ability to become the opposite gender is not actually all gay folks’ ultimate goal. (Watch also for the part where she claims to have a better idea of “the universal truth about being transgender” than trans activists do!) Still, the documentary sounds very interesting.
  • Sweet Machine’s looking for a go-to dress for summer, something as versatile as this one (or at least, as versatile as that one would be if you weren’t a total remixing GENIUS). Do you have a go-to piece that acts as the underpinning of infinite outfits?
  • “The pudgy John Hodgman” hit a home run with his astute and funny speech at the Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner:
  • ETA: Holy shit, just saw this from Jez. Ableism doesn’t get a lot more blatant, folks.

So what have you guys been talking about?

Yes Means Yes Virtual Tour Kicks off Today!

So hey, over the next couple of weeks, there will be a “virtual book tour” for Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, in which Jaclyn, Jessica, and various contributors will be dropping by various other contributors’ and friends’ blogs. 

It kicks off today at Feministing, with a live chat at 3 p.m. EST, featuring Jessica, Jaclyn, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Miriam Perez, and Cara Kulwicki. 

On February 12, I’ll be posting a Q&A with Kimberly Springer, author of the essay “Queering Black Female Sexuality.”

And on February 20, Jill Filipovic at Feministe will host the “grand finale conversation” with Rachel Kramer Bussel, Toni Amato, Javacia Harris, Stacey May Fowles, Hanne Blank, Heather Corinna, and yours truly. 

Other stops on the tour will include:

The F-Word – 2/3
Q&A with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

RH Reality Check – 2/4
Live chat with Julia Serano & Latoya Peterson

Our Bodies Our Blog - 2/5
Q&A with Brad Perry & Lisa Jervis

Shakesville – 2/9
Live chat with Jaclyn

Scarleteen – 2/10
Heather Corinna 

Angry Black Bitch – 2/11
Q&A with Tiloma Jayasinghe

Bitch Ph.D. – 2/16
Guest blogging with Jaclyn & Jessica

Shameless – 2/17
Q&A with Jill Filipovic

IMPACT - 2/18
Q&A with Anastasia Higginbotham

Radical Doula – 2/19
Q&A with Hazel/Cedar Troost

Please check it all out! And of course, buy the book!

Yes Means Yes is out!

yesmeanscoverYes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti is in stores now! I contributed an essay, “How Do You Fuck a Fat Woman?” to it, and I just got my copies the other day — the book is awesome. (Even though I realize now that I said “fuck” way too many times in my essay. And I say that as someone whose typical response to “Why do you swear so much?” is “Fuck off.”) Go buy a dozen copies, please.

You should also check out the Yes Means Yes blog, to which I do not contribute, because — as you may have noticed — I can barely keep up with this blog. Lots of the fab contributors are active over there, so it deserves a spot in your Google Reader.

Finally, check out the event listings for launch party/reading dates in several American cities. I’ll be at both the Boston events (January 29) and the Chicago one (February 19), so I hope to see lots of Shapelings there!

Quick hit: Bodybuilding and body-shaming

After the comment thread to a fascinating post at Feministe about female bodybuilders blew up into a melee of “I don’t think these women are fuckable therefore I refuse to engage in intelligent discussion” nonsense, Roy at No Cookies for Me posts a great followup about why body-shaming is antifeminist no matter what kind of bodies you’re targeting.

When you start talking about women’s bodies with terms like “disgusting” “grotesquerie” “disfiguring” or disturbing”, you’re engaging in exactly the kind of body shaming that a lot of us have been fighting against. So, thanks for that. A woman who can bench 450 lbs without breaking a sweat is no less deserving of respect than a woman who weighs 450 lbs. It’s one thing to question the social forces that lead us to view our bodies in various ways. It’s quite another to look at pictures of particular women and proclaim them gross.

If you can’t talk about about the ways that our society idealizes unrealistic body types without calling another woman “gross” or “disgusting”, then you’re doing it wrong, and you should take a minute to figure out why.

Right on, Roy. The kneejerk reaction of “I wouldn’t hit that” to a picture of a woman who doesn’t conform to the Western beauty ideal is antifeminist because it rests on the assumption that women’s bodies are only valuable insofar as they conform to that ideal. Just as some readers (and scientists) out there are shocked, SHOCKED!, that fat women have sex even though that particular reader doesn’t get a hard-on from looking at them, no doubt these bodybuilding women have just as varied, interesting, and intense sex as the rest of us. But even if they don’t? That’s not the fucking point. They are doing something with their bodies other than looking pretty — and if that disgusts you, the problem is with you.

Baby, Remember My Name

So Rebecca Traister has an interesting post up over at Broadsheet about the recent bloggy kerfuffle over the NYT’s coverage of BlogHer. There’s lots to talk about there, but I want to highlight one point that I don’t see discussed very often (although I might actually have mentioned it here before — I think that was in comments, not a post, but if I’m repeating myself, fuck it):

A blog about personal experience and illness certainly needn’t be named with an eye to political urgency, but what about starting from a place of self-regard and personal authority and naming it after yourself, like Kos, or Drudge, or one of the women who does get taken seriously online, Arianna Huffington? Think about how much easier it would be to get the respect that some of the BlogHer women crave if they started taking themselves more seriously.

I think it’s a bit of a leap to equate not naming your blog after yourself with not taking yourself seriously, especially when one of the primary reasons why so many women bloggers don’t name their blogs after themselves is because there are very real risks that go along with that. Even if your name is an open secret, there’s a difference between that and naming the blog after yourself. People refer to me as Kate Harding whenever they mention me, but they refer to The Rotund as The Rotund, for instance, even though she doesn’t hide her real identity. And Heather Armstrong has “I’m Heather B. Armstrong. This is my website” right at the top of the page, but how often do you hear other bloggers refer to her as anything but Dooce? Naming the blog after yourself, as opposed to merely blogging under your real name (or not hiding it) does make a real difference in terms of your online visibility — which can be a blessing and a curse.

That said, I did name this blog Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose — and decided to keep that name* even after the co-bloggers came along — for pretty much the reasons Traister is getting at. As much as I’d like to pretend I started blogging strictly out of the goodness of my heart, the fact is, I was not only a budding fat acceptance activist but a writer looking to establish a readership and brand myself. I could have called myself “Lucysol” (after the dogs), which was my online handle in the very few places I hung out online before I blogged, but that wasn’t the name I wanted people to remember if, ahem, I ever got a book contract or something. And honestly, what pushed me over the edge — apart from the fact that I was already using kateharding.net — was seeing blogs with men’s names show up on WordPress’s top blogs list every damned day. I don’t even know what any of those blogs were about, but I know those names were burned into my brain just from checking that list periodically. And I thought, hey, why the hell isn’t my name burned into people’s heads? (A little over a year later, Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose currently appears at number 18 on that list. Ahem again.)

Having said all that, I still struggle with feeling like keeping my name up there is too egotistical — conduct unbecoming a lady blogger! — especially when I’m not the only (or best) writer here. The fact that my co-bloggers don’t use their real names makes that somewhat less problematic, as it’s not like I’m inhibiting Filllyjonk’s or Sweet Machine’s efforts to brand themselves. And I did start this shit from scratch and blog all by my lonesome for some time, so I can justify it. But I can’t help feeling that if I were a guy, I wouldn’t even be thinking about justifying it. I wouldn’t be worrying that having my name up top might affect the community spirit or make FJ and SM feel unappreciated, or whatever the fuck. I’d just be thinking, “Yep, that’s my blog.”

Of course, any number of male-owned blogs, including some Traister mentions, aren’t named after their founders. But the fact remains, I can easily name a dozen eponymous male-owned blogs off the top of my head, and pretty much no female-owned ones other than this here blog and the HuffPo. (Help me out in comments, ’cause I’m sure I do know of other lady blogs named after the ladies, but I’m drawing a blank.) You almost never see Jane Doe’s X or Mary Smith’s Y, no matter how internet-famous Jane and Mary may be. And that’s exactly why I ultimately went with Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose, even though it felt a little oogy — because it fucking pissed me off that it did feel oogy. Why should it? It’s my goddamned blog.

I mean, of course it’s also Fillyjonk’s Shapely Prose and Sweet Machine’s Shapely Prose and — in a different and arguably even more important way —  Shapelings’ Shapely Prose. But I think (hope, anyway) all of that is quite clear even with my name at the top. Meanwhile, in less than eighteen months, I actually have achieved the goals I set for myself when I started this — a significant readership and paid writing opportunities that flowed from blogging. On one level, that still surprises the shit out of me. There was a whole lot of luck, good timing, and indeed privilege involved. But on another level, I do think it’s partly attributable to the fact that I took myself seriously and believed I was producing something valuable even when I had about 12 readers, 11 of whom I knew personally — and naming the blog after myself was a big symbol of that for me.

Of course, I’m nowhere near as internet-famous as a Heather Armstrong or an Allison Blass — the blogger whose title set Traister off on that train of thought — and I couldn’t live off of blogging or my checks from the book and Broadsheet. I feel like this has been a hugely successful project because I’ve exceeded my own wildest expectations — which weren’t actually all that wild — but by real-world standards, I’m still pretty much a starving no-name. So, you know, take all this with an entire salt lick.

But I’m still fascinated by the question of why so few women bloggers have eponymous blogs. What do you think about that, Shapelings?

*You might have noticed that the last couple of headers haven’t said “Kate Harding’s…” but that’s because I was putting my name elsewhere and felt stupid doing it twice. If you look up at the top of your browser, you’ll see KH’s SP remains the official blog title.