Guest Blogger Elysia: Evo Psych and Icky Girls

Friend of Shapely Prose Elysia (who writes the blog Born That Way) is an evolutionary biologist, and she had some choice words for the latest dude to use evolutionary psychology as an explanation for why he believes seriously douchey things about women. Please give Elysia a warm welcome. — Kate

My friend Sweet Machine brought a recent post by Amanda Hess to my attention.  In her essay, Ms. Hess discusses a blog entry on the Scientific American Mind website, written by one Dr. Jesse Bering. Once you’ve read her post, come back here to see me talk about how good (and bad) science can be totally skewed by reporters.  Even scientists.  Just so we start on the same page: Dr. Bering discussed the concept of menstruation as shameful or dirty.  He presented some good evidence for the social context of menstruation as having a huge impact on the way women experience/remember first menses (although he also seemed to be saying that Western feminism was wrong in concluding the same thing).

Dr. Bering is described as an evolutionary psychologist – a title which always makes me uneasy, because as “just” an evolutionary biologist (actually, I’m a population and evolutionary geneticist), I have seen very little thus far from the field of evo psych that actually gets the evolution part right.  (I’m always willing to give it a try, though, in hopes that someone will prove me wrong about the field.)  Let’s start out with the premise: a male researcher is curious about women’s first menses, and the psychological context and consquences thereof.  Fair enough.  What else does Dr. Bering have to say?

“Without a doubt, the best studies on the subject of menarche are those that have attempted to reconcile individual differences in age of female pubertal onset with various evolutionarily relevant variables in girls’ social environments.”

The best studies?  Not my field, so I can’t judge, although “without a doubt” with respect to a set of studies on a very general topic being the “best” of anything is a standard not often met in science. However – evolutionarily relevant is my field.  So the question becomes: has evolution, of either culture or biology, shaped human psychological response to first menstruation?  There follows in Dr. Bering’s essay a series of anecdotes and studies grounded in 20th-century data.  From a strictly biological viewpoint, this is hardly even the blink of an eye, and evolution simply cannot have occurred and been detected.  Let me repeat: citing only data from the last 100 years, approximately five generations, is insufficient to demonstrate that biological evolution has occurred.

“[G]irls growing up in homes where the biological father is absent but the stepfather is present tend to mature faster than those living under the same roof as their biological fathers (their bodies are essentially competing with their mothers for the attention of this genetically unrelated male …)”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying and discussing mammalian reproduction during my graduate work and professional life.  My response to the quoted passage: Wait, what?  The last time I talked about this type of interaction was during a lab meeting, in the context of mouse mating behavior.  Female mice experience an acceleration in sexual development because they are being influenced by an adult male’s presence, via hormones he produces – they’re not competing with their mothers for matings, but experiencing a side effect of cohabiting with non-parental males.  (Read more here and here.)  My evolutionary just-so story, err, hypothetical explanation for this observation is that some male mouse had a different body chemistry that could induce sexual maturation in any female nearby, which would mean he’d have more babies than other males because he’d be, you know, there when the females matured.  His sons might have that same capability, and if this provided enough of an advantage relative to other males (and survives a number of other conditions, including pressure by female biology working against it), you could end up with males generally affecting female sexual development – regardless of any relationship between the male and nearby females.  Please note that a juvenile female mouse’s mom does not appear in this model.  The implication of your phrasing – “their bodies are essentially competing with their mothers” – does hint at the lack of volition in this situation (the idea that girls’ bodies are simply reacting to a biological stimulus) but sets up a mother-daughter rivalry where none exists.  Mom has nothing to do with this, except having gotten remarried.  Not to mention, there’s no accounting in your summary for siblings, stepsiblings, the role of stress…it’s a fascinating observation, but there’s a lot of careful dissection of the situation that has to be done before it’s appropriate to flag this as mother-daughter competition.  (If such detail exists in the professional scientific literature, please, someone let me know!)

“reminds me of that shower scene in Steven King’s Carrie (you know the one).”

Excuse me, sir, your preconceptions are showing.  (Really?  A horror flick?  Really? Let me guess – you also consider menstrual blood to be dirty.  This and other word choice throughout the essay is consistent with that position – is that what you meant to convey?)

“[The Head Teacher] suggested that ‘nobody would want to talk about it’ and that there would be ‘hell to pay’ from his many ‘conservative parents’ if he put his name to the research.”

Sooo…because some parents might have been unhappy, this means that the girls themselves were necessarily ashamed?  Because that’s sort of how that reads.  The research study was challenging because of – oh wait! – a larger societal attitude that might or might not have accurately reflected the girls’ own feelings.

“Such anecdotes would appear to pose some serious problems for traditional feminist theories, which tend to argue that Western negative attitudes toward everything from menstruation to vaginas at large are simply the result of cultural constructions.”

When you follow this sentence by a paragraph of examples of how women in different cultures experience different responses to the onset of menstruation, it…doesn’t sit well with a lot of readers.  Especially when you go on to say:

“According to most Western females, however, nothing could be more nightmarish than the prospect of “leaking” in public, and so perhaps it’s not too surprising that so many teenagers say that, in retrospect, their preparation for womanhood amounted to little more than a how-to guide for hiding their menstrual blood from all other eyes.”

As a layperson in psychology and sociology, I can only say that this doesn’t surprise me, given how much Western culture seems to prize cleanliness in…everything, to the point where it seems to be backfiring.  (Hygiene hypothesis, anyone?)  Seriously, it seems like a viable alternative hypothesis is just that cleanliness is so highly valued that any and all sexuality gets shoved into the shadows.  How often do we talk about men remembering the first time they ejaculated?  Popular humor about boys suddenly doing their own laundry seems on its face to be consistent with the same “cleanliness above all” hypothesis.  I’d love to know if anyone has studied the influence of Puritans and other Protestant groups that largely shaped early American culture, the evidence of which we still see today, and how their feelings about cleanliness and purity have contributed to this. (Sweet Machine, editor/human extraordinaire, suggests the work of Mary Douglas for further information.)

In fact, Dr. Bering, you allude to something like this when you discuss Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s work.

Oh, and I’m not the local expert on this, but I hear there’s this thing out there – this idea that men have, for many years, tried to control female sexuality.  Wouldn’t propagandizing menstruation be a convenient way to do that?

” When the researchers asked 157 white, middle-class ninth-grade girls what advice and information they would give to younger girls about menarche, [...] one lone teenage girl of this entire group of 157 participants—ever linked menstruation to reproduction …”

Do you really think that this shows “clearly that, in the minds of these newly fertile adolescents, reproductive biology—that is to say, the actual purpose of periods—was a complete afterthought in their thinking”?  Or could it be that those girls were trying to pass on practical information to their peers, since they were asked what advice they would give?  Trust me, my public school sex ed made it abundantly clear that menstruation was part of reproductive biology.  But that’s not much comfort when you’re not ready to reproduce, and it’s not helpful in understanding the logistics of being a pubescent girl.

“I’m sure many of my straight male friends are indeed praising Allah for the invention of Kotex.”

If you have a daughter or a wife or girlfriend or sister – please understand that she may hear you say things like this and not want to discuss menstruation with you.

” … here comes my British accent—bloody companies and their concern with the bottom dollar.”

Your (public) Facebook page tells me that you hail from Ohio.  That doesn’t rule out a British accent, but I am rather curious.  Also, in making puns of the word “bloody,” you are actually engaging in a joke based on slang, not accent.  To perpetuate a quote I rather like, words mean things (link goes to an OT explanation).   And distorting those meanings as you do here gives me pause; were I grading this, I would become suspicious that you were attempting to sound smart so I wouldn’t notice any problems with your work.

“In fact, I’ve often wondered if the tremendous reservation that most parents have in communicating with their children about sex has the ironic consequence of making their children more curious about it—a curiosity that translates into earlier and more frequent sexual activity.”

Trust me, you’re not the first.  In fact, I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of people at or past their teens in Western society have pursued various “illicit” exploits because their parents forbade them or refused to talk about them.  (Also, have you ever studied Prohibition?)

“And that makes me wonder if there weren’t (and aren’t) perhaps some natural selection pressures at work here, forces favoring parental modesty over candor in the sex education of children.”

Seriously?  Your hypothesis is that modest parents will have higher fitness (i.e., in the long run, will have a reproductive advantage) than immodest parents (and the word “modest” is so subjective that I feel this is already a difficult hypothesis to argue).  That means that the children of modest parents must in turn be modest parents to their own children, or you simply have a fluctuation with a period of a generation, right?  My very own parents decried their parents’ modesty and had fairly frank discussions with me, as appropriate.  And while there’s such a thing as temporally-varying selection..this doesn’t seem to be such a case.  (By way of explanation: temporally-varying selection.  Put simply, sometimes the force that makes a particular feature favorable can itself change over time.  Say you have dandelions in your yard – the features of a dandelion plant that grows well in rainy March that let the plant have more babies may not do a lick of good for that plant’s offspring when dry July comes around.  Here, well, you can imagine that modesty might be bad if we were facing certain kinds of famine, as it would mean fewer babies and a higher chance that they’d survive, but it’s unlikely that every single generation – or every few generations – we’d alternate between stark feast and famine.  Even if it were true, biological evolution in humans takes thousands of years, so it would be extremely hard for me to come up with a plausible mathematical model in which relatively recent social mores affect biological fitness.)

No offense, but this is a poor reflection of the basic components of evolutionary biology.  No, strike that – I hope to offend you enough to get you to stop and think, because as an evolutionary biologist and instructor, I am left to deal with the aftermath of students who come in to my classroom with serious biases about a field they’ve only ever seen misrepresented.   Partly because essays like yours get into the lay media.  It’s especially infuriating to see sloppy or inaccurate science used to justify positions from the mildly offensive to the abhorrent.  Please don’t let the entire field of evolutionary psychology devolve into a mere shadow of the science it could be – I’d rather it be “based on” rather than “inspired by” evolution.

Yes, it’s important to realize that cultural constructs influence the way biological events are experienced and recalled.  It’s important to link biological and cultural evolution, and to remember that we humans are animals.  And as a male ape, you are well within your rights to wonder how female apes differ from you; just please remember while you call elderly women apes that you are one, yourself.  More importantly, it’s great for you as a human man to want to understand the human woman’s experience, and I encourage you to reframe your language to make it clear that you understand that distinction. Because your personal discomfort with my menstruation – or my feminism – does not a sound scientific discussion make, and dismissing my humanity when you examine my biology ill befits a doctor of psychology.

For the record: I make no claim to perfect impartiality here – this is just me, a professionally trained scientist and a self-identified feminist talking about why a particular piece of popular science writing raised my personal and professional hackles.  Like any good scientist, when I’m working, I try to minimize the impact of my own bias on my research, but you know what?  I’m human, and biased, and the best I can do is own those biases and be honest about them with friends, students, and colleagues.

That Lump in Your Pants is Not My Sexual Education Opportunity

Dear [name redacted]:

I get it. Discussing the fabulous ordinary whiteness of being as portrayed in Stillman films such as Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan is really hot. He creates fantastic, witty – albeit incredibly fatuous and pretentious – characters, giving them meaningful goals and interesting things to say. And I like what you said in terms of Stillman’s ability to put aside the snark in favor of crafting a substantial, sympathetic and realistic portrayal of a generally maligned group: yuppies (though often for highly understandable reasons). Your comments echoed those of reviewer Christopher Long of DVDTown who said:

Stillman isn´t here to mock. He had every chance to do it in “Metropolitan” with his privileged, self-absorbed young socialites who obsessed over literary criticism and televised debutante balls. But Stillman loved his characters not just despite but because of their foibles, and he treats his disco-loving drifters with the same gentle sensibility.

There was a lot of what I believed was appropriate passion in your voice as you quoted your favorite lines of dialog from the LDoD. That is until I glanced away from you face and noticed you were fumbling wildly with the lump rising in your rumpled and stained khaki pants. Okay, maybe fumbling wildly is a bit of an exaggeration, given that we were in Barnes & Noble, it was reasonably well lit and there were a few other patrons in our general area. That said, we can both agree you were conjuring up the contents of your boxer in a way that felt – well – problematic.

I’ll admit my share of the blame – as limited as it might be – because I am the kind of person starved for meaningful discourse about films. I have my mom and my boyfriend and that’s about it. Most people just don’t have the desire to delve that deeply into the kind of films I enjoy viewing. Now this isn’t to suggest my tastes skew towards the obscure, the pretentious or the punishing; they don’t. But rather, I tend to regard every film I view as ripe for cultural deconstruction, even if it does happen to feature Harrison Ford in the lead role.

I will also admit my eagerness to dish film whenever I get a chance does often causes me to act against my own best interests. That said, I’m just not willing to take on the responsibility for your wayward boner. That’s what the whole, “Motherfucker, please. Go bunch your slacks on someone who gives a shit!” business was all about. Yeah, I was kind of loud and indignant about it and I’m real sorry you were asked to leave the store before you were able to find some other fool to love you.

Okay, actually I’m not really sorry about that.

Now I’m really trying to get out of the telling business, but I feel I must give you this parting piece of unsolicited advice:

In the future if you’re talking to a gal who makes you go bunchy in the dockers region, and you’d rather not get cussed out in public (I could tell you didn’t much enjoy that one bit) or watch others get the attention you worked hard to cultivate, perhaps you might save your slack bunching for the privacy of your home, car or depending on your previous criminal record – a long subway ride.

I’m not here to judge, but oh c’mon. Seriously? Where exactly did you see this train headed? If you seriously did not realize the train was going to DERAIL, then consider this your painfully humiliating wake up call. Trust me, you got off easy – well technically you didn’t get off, ew, actually let’s not even go there. But I was a lot nicer to you because I was in a good mood and you had given me 3 minutes of non Skeevy Wonder time. I guess happy endings really are alike.

Well, maybe not for you.

Sincerely,

Snarky’s Machine.

PS: Nobody leans their dirty, bunchy trousers on Snarky’s Machine.

_______________________________________________________________
This entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine with a much longer title.

CNN Makes Jaclyn Friedman Sound Like a Victim-Blamer! Again!

It’s hardly a well-kept secret that journalists can make an interviewee sound like she said pretty much anything. Those of us who are asked to speak on controversial topics know we risk seeing our words twisted to fit a predetermined narrative — even to suggest the exact opposite of what we clearly meant — every time we agree to an interview. But it’s still quite a jaw-dropper to watch it happen as blatantly as it did this week, when CNN’s Carol Costello warped an interview with Jaclyn Friedman (friend of SP and co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape) into something about “raunch culture” and the pernicious influence of Ke$ha. The whole video (which purports to explore “what could be the ‘third wave’ of feminism,” because apparently, the last twenty fucking years have gone unnoticed by CNN) and a transcript are available over at Shakesville. But here’s the juicy part:

Costello: When it comes to binge drinking, experts say, sadly women are up to the challenge. According to Southern Illinois University, in 1996, 33 percent of women admitted to binge drinking or having five drinks in one sitting in the past two weeks. In 2008, that percentage shot up to nearly 41 percent.

Jaclyn Friedman, Editor, “Yes Means Yes”: It’s a really troubling message.

Costello: That’s disturbing to feminist editor Jaclyn Friedman. She says women having fun or making stupid mistakes is one thing, but adopting destructive, raunchy behavior is scary.

Friedman: When it comes to sexual assault, most rapists use alcohol to facilitate sexual assault.

Aaaand, bam, Jaclyn’s gone and we’re back to Ke$ha. That song is so catchy!

If you’re looking at that part I bolded and going, “WTF, Jaclyn?” well, you should be. You’re absolutely right that it sounds nothing like the position of a feminist activist who spends half her life explaining and decrying rape culture. Mostly because it’s not her position. Not even a little bit. On Twitter, Jaclyn’s explained that she actually “said there was a double standard worrying about girls’ drinking and not boys’, and that the trouble with the binge drinking culture in general is that it gives plausible deniability to rapists. And that we should be telling men that THEY need to drink responsibly, because alcohol’s not an excuse to rape! ARGGGGHHHHHH.”

So the real question is “WTF, Carol Costello? What the fucking fuck?”

Jaclyn was kind enough to G-chat with me for a few minutes this morning before she got on a plane. I could probably keep ranting about this bullshit for another 90 pages or so, but for now, I’ll just leave you with what she sounds like when the interviewer is not merely exploiting a subject’s feminist credentials to further a tiresome, sexist narrative about “dirty girls.”

Jaclyn: Part of the problem is one of nuance — the things I’m trying to say sound complicated, because they aren’t things that people have heard much before. It’s easy to understand the “OMG bad girls! Danger!” trope. Everybody knows it and can name that tune in three notes.

Me: And that tune is apparently “Tik Tok.”

Jaclyn: Hee. Yes. It’s a lot harder to say: “Wait. It’s not that simple.” To talk about women’s freedom to be “good” or “bad” or drink or even do risky things, just as men have that freedom, while simultaneously talking about the real danger that is violence against women, and how the “bad girl” trope is used to excuse it. But I also think they knew what story they wanted. And when I didn’t give it to them, they just made it work anyhow.

Me: Yep.

Jaclyn: Because they never once asked me about “raunchy behavior.” Or third wave feminism!

Me: I know! I can’t stop laughing at “what could be the third wave,” even though it also makes me want to cry.

Jaclyn: And I told them straight up that it was ridiculous to wring our hands over girls’ drinking and give boys a free pass. I’m just so angry. Because this is the second time I’ve been on CNN. Different producers, different reporters, different shows. And the EXACT SAME THING happened both times: I gave a smart, nuanced interview in which I steadfastly refused to victim-blame. And they edited me to sound like a total victim-blamer.

Me: Unbelievable.

Jaclyn: To be fair, I haven’t done this kind of soundbite interview for any other networks. So I’m not singling out CNN over, say, FOX or MSNBC. I have no idea.

Me: But if they’re going to keep spinning it like this, it’s like, what’s the point of having you on instead of just inviting someone from the Independent Women’s Forum or whatever?

Jaclyn: What’s the point? I have more cred. Which they are evidently determined to DESTROY.

Me: And then this goes out there as “what bona fide feminists believe,” and we have to spend even more time telling trolls that’s bullshit.

Jaclyn: EXACTLY. I mean, I’m CRUSHED to think anyone now thinks I actually believe that bullshit. I spend my entire life trying to UNDO that bullshit.

Me: I know!

Jaclyn: I am secretly pleased about one thing: All the people who bought Yes Means Yes b/c they saw me on that segment are going to have quite the surprise when they start reading. :)

Me: Ha! Right on.

Jaclyn: We did get a sales spike after it ran.

Me: That is terrific news… Although also sort of depressing news because it reinforces why we need to keep throwing ourselves to the wolves like this.

Jaclyn: Uch, I know.

Me: Well, thank you for taking one for the team YET AGAIN.

Jaclyn: NP. Wish it had gone better.

Zombie Playa Revisited

You know Spring is truly on its way when media outlets pick up every story matching the keyword, “Dating”. The latest being so-called “Nice Guys” seeking assistance in cultivating their inner jerk in order to rid themselves of such despicable qualities as: empathy, respect and appropriateness.

There is nothing new here; same rehash of the nice guys get nothing/jerks get everything false dichotomy. It seeks to frame the issue as a matter of female partners – since nearly all “Nice Guy” articles are written from a heterosexual perspective – finding “Nice Guys” categorically undesirable without any analysis as to why.

Frankly, it’s a bit cheeky to frame the issue in this manner when doesn’t explain WHY women tend to shun these men; only blaming women for doing so. In fact when closely examined I find there are little differences between so-called nice guys and the jerks they believe are getting all the ladies.

Skim through any dating forum and see folks hashing out this very issue without much in the way of clarity or resolution. For one thing, few can agree what is meant by the term “Nice Guy” and I suspect that’s merely a derailing tactic, rather than legitimate debate.

Look, here’s what is meant by “Nice Guy”:

  • A guy whose niceness is used in order to get something from you.
  • A guy who quietly seeks to infuse every atom of his being with yours without directly stating his intentions (when asked)
  • A guy who believes it’s possible to fake care his way into your heart and underpants
  • A guy who is unable to discern subtle cues of disinterest or willingly ignores said cues.
  • A guy who believes he is entitled to a certain level of treatment simply because he’s pick a specific woman as his mark. Often leading him to behave in decidedly “not nice” ways when his advances are decisively rebuffed.

From the above linked article:

Dean Melcher was the kind of guy who befriended girls easier than boys. He was a tad shy, consistently thoughtful and surrounded by women, but he still couldn’t get a girlfriend.
“I think I was kind of clueless and oblivious,” admits Melcher, who spent his early 20s lingering in the friend zone. “Women wanted the bad boys.”
Everyone probably knows a Mr. Nice Guy like Melcher, who is now 46. He’s the guy who patiently listens to a girl complain without interrupting her. Because of his sweet nature, he puts the girl’s demands first, altering his weekend plans to fit her schedule. He may be uneasy about making a decision for fear of being domineering.

So much fail going on here.

Newsflash, Mr. Melcher, you lingered in the friend zone because these women were simply NOT attracted to you. There was nothing short of a gun and rope that was going to motivate these women to date you.

Moreover, I suspect some of those women felt it odd that you did not play well with those on your end of the gender spectrum. That is one of my GLARING red flags for anyone. If you can’t play well with folks in your own sandbox, I view it as a HUGE SCARECROW and I run out of that cornfield ASAP.

Also, nothing here has suggested why you feel you’re in fact – dateable. I mean chow chow about your perceived qualities – all of which are easily framed as manipulative when viewed through the “nice guy” lens – I’m not seeing anything approximating “great catch” at all. What I am seeing, however, is a dude who was secretly a jerk all along finally ditching his faux nice guys ways in hopes he can better attract partners who are still NOT GOING TO DATE HIM. I’m seeing a lot of “me” in all of this. Where are the women? Oh yeah, it’s not about them!

Since my name is Snarky’s Machine I’m going to reiterate the “ugly” truths of dating for the dudes in the cheap seats:

  • You get what you get.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, lower your damn standards.
  • You get someone if you’re actually willing to adhere to points 1 and 2.

It would appear in this case, the “Nice Guys” have told themselves lots of fantastic tales using evidence such as the catalog like set up of most dating sites and the fact that lots of schlubs such as themselves have hot girlfriends in Gross Out Comedy films to support their flawed world view. Far too much celluloid has been wasted instructing men that hounding the hell out of a women after she’s repeatedly rebuffed his advances is just one tool in a well stocked dating arsenal.

Want to see a “nice guy” turn jerk faster than potato salad goes bad at a picnic? Ignore his unsolicited emails on a dating site or tell him directly that you do not find him attractive and he has no hopes of ever securing a date with you by any means except coercion.

When his eyes light up, remind him most forms of coercion are in fact – illegal.

As for why women pretend they don’t notice or give the appearance of actively encouraging the behavior? Well I can’t speak for all women who have their own hell to raise, but I do it because I’m not about to have a motherfucker go all Dressed to Kill on me simply because I do not find him dateable.

It’s just not worth arguing with that strain of stupid.

The premise of the “nice guy” defense is they are entitled to whatever women they are attracted to as long as they have devoted sufficient effort and resources in the form of performing “niceness”.

And, honestly, how nice does that sound to you?

___________________________________________________________________
crossed posted at my pop culture blog I Fry Mine In Butter

Gobsmacked

According to the Vancouver Sun, there’s a new way to torture yourself through dieting. Literally:

The medical procedure involves stitching a small piece of polyethylene mesh onto a patient’s tongue, making it painful to ingest solid foods and forcing a low-calorie, liquid diet.

You pay a nice man named Dr Nikolas Chugay to spend 10 minutes to stitch a torture device into your mouth, and you pay him $3,000 for the privilege, and then you eat 750 calories a day for a month. And you lose weight! And also you forgo all pleasure in life because you are combining constant pain with a sub-torture level of sustenance!

According to the article, “Since last September, Chugay says 35 people have opted for the surgery.” That’s 35 people who hate themselves so profoundly that they paid a doctor $3,000 to sew a pain patch into their mouths.

Can someone please wake me when we’re in that post-feminist world full of jolly fat people that I keep hearing so much about? I’m going to go huddle in a closet with T-Rex till then.

Kevin Smith Kicked off Southwest Flight for Being Fat

So, a famous person has finally been fucked by an airline’s fat policy. Director Kevin Smith got booted off a Southwest plane tonight, after he was already settled in “WITH ARM RESTS DOWN,” as he put it on Twitter, where he’s been documenting the experience. The captain apparently deemed him a “safety risk.” I’ll let Smith take that one:

@SouthwestAir, go fuck yourself. I broke no regulation, offered no “safety risk” (what, was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?). I was wrongly ejected from the flight (even [attendant] Suzanne eventually agreed). And fuck your apologetic $100 voucher, @SouthwestAir. Thank God I don’t embarrass easily (bless you, JERSEY GIRL training). But I don’t sulk off either: so everyday, some new fuck-you Tweets for @SouthwestAir.

(That’s 3 tweets cobbled together.)

I am so sorry that Kevin Smith, human being, had to go through that. But quite frankly, a part of me is really happy that Kevin Smith, Famous Person With 1.6 Million Twitter Followers, is holding an airline’s feet to the fire over this bullshit. While watching him tweet furiously @SouthwestAir (and sending a few of my own), I could only think, “Oh, please, let this be Southwest’s Maytag moment.” And let the other airlines learn something from it. I’m the kind of person who thinks it was awesome that Heather Armstrong used her platform to shame Maytag into offering decent customer service, and I’d like to see more corporations realize that word of mouth is a whole new fucking ballgame in the age of social media. And the only way to make sure you don’t get burned is to offer decent service to everyone. Famous or not famous, fat or thin.

To Southwest’s meager credit, they’ve got somebody working their Twitter account who’s at least savvy enough to have apologized to Smith already and promised to make things right. For him. Smith is already on another flight, and has offered the airline his fattest look from there. But there are still probably millions of fat people who dread getting on flights — and not just on Southwest — because they don’t know if they’ll actually be allowed to use the tickets they paid for, or if they’ll be removed from the plane like criminals, forced to fly standby and in some cases, forced to fly standby and pay twice as much for it.  (That’s part of United’s policy, which I bitched about on CNN last April. Fillyjonk also wrote about airline douchebaggery here.) For instance, friend of SP Tari, who cheered Smith on, but then tweeted, “The @SouthwestAir / @ThatKevinSmith thing makes me acutely aware, though, that I’m flying to Atlanta this week. Delta: please don’t suck.”

I am really happy that Kevin Smith, human being, is on his way home, but I also hope Kevin Smith, Famous Person With 1.6 Million Twitter Followers keeps up the righteous indignation on behalf of all the fat people who aren’t in a position to say, “WELCOME TO YOUR PR NIGHTMARE, ASSHOLES.” And even though he is, and he did, and he doesn’t embarrass easily, and a whole lot of us thank him for all of that, his last tweet tonight says it all:

The @SouthwestAir Diet. How it works: you’re publicly shamed into a slimmer figure. Crying the weight right off has never been easier!

Update: Moving this up from comments — Smith’s back on the ground, and one of the first things he tweeted was, “Hey @SouthwestAir? Fuck making it right for me just ’cause I have a platform. I sat next to a big girl who was chastised for not buying an extra ticket because ‘all passengers deserve their space.’ Fucking flight wasn’t even full! Fuck your size-ist policy. Rude…”

Thanks, dude.

Quick hit: Fat Barbie

No, not that fat Barbie, sadly. According to WWD, shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who recently designed some high fashion Barbies, had to “reshape” the dolls because “He found her ankles were too fat” (according to a spokesperson).

Cankles? (photo by melloveschallah)

Cankles? (photo by melloveschallah)

I’ll let you sit with that one a minute.

*wanders off, pours some booze, comes back*

Barbie’s ankles are too fat for fashion. Barbie, the fashion doll. Barbie, the legendarily disproportionate model of femininity, whose feet are permanently molded for high heels, has cankles.

(Hat tip Broadsheet.)

SP Round Table: Fat baby denied health insurance

Kate started us off by pointing to this horrifying story about a 4-month-old baby in Colorado who was denied health insurance for being too fat. Super fun quote from the article:

By the numbers, Alex is in the 99th percentile for height and weight for babies his age. Insurers don’t take babies above the 95th percentile, no matter how healthy they are otherwise.

We began this roundtable with general email screaming. Once we calmed down, here’s what we had to say.

Tall Chairs Round Table (by moriza)

Tall Chairs Round Table (by moriza)

Kate:
A) The kid is at the 99th percentile for height AND weight, so WTF? B) This is exactly why we need universal health insurance. Because, setting the height thing aside, let’s say the kid really is bizarrely fat at 4 months. There’s virtually no chance that this is the parents’ fault in any way. (Not that it would be the parents’ fault if the kid were old enough to eat solid food and exercise, mind you, but go with me here.) Which means that if this kid IS much fatter than one could reasonably expect him to be, it’s almost certainly because of * the possibility that it’s a genetic disorder — of the sort that gets older kids stolen from their parents because authorities are convinced it’s all calories in/calories out — becomes increasingly likely. And I would not be one fucking bit surprised if that’s part of the insurance company’s calculation here — not that fatness will make the baby expensively sick down the line, but that fatness suggests the baby might ALREADY be expensively sick. And of course, the important thing is making sure we don’t spend money on sick children.

Sweet Machine:
I find it really sad that the parents in the article are joking about the diets they’ll have to put the baby on. Because of course that’s the kind of joke that I’d make, too, but it actually points to the problem so well: is this what the insurance people want? What exactly can you do to an infant to make them skinnier that does not constitute grievous harm? I’m no pediatrician, but really, what the hell?

Fillyjonk:
That upset me primarily because I’m not sure how long it will remain a joke. It’s one of those bits of satire that’s so close to some people’s reality that it’s uncomfortable. I mean, people switch their babies to skim milk, and put them on diets while they’re still in diapers. Making a crack about weaning the kid to Slimfast is funny, especially with the jab at expensive weight-loss products, but it isn’t even far enough outside of the norm to function as satire. Some people hearing that joke are going to say “and well you should.”

If they’re in a position where they can either let the kid remain uninsured or put him on a diet, they’re going to put him on a diet. It’s all very well to recognize that feeding a baby Slimfast is absurd, but a) it’s not absurd for a lot of people and b) how long can they afford to acknowledge its absurdity?

A Sarah:
My first thought was of how incredibly, incredibly fragile the first year of life has been for most of human history.  Getting babies adequate nutrition and hydration to live on is a GODDAMN SERIOUS ISSUE for our species, seeing how human newborns come into the world VERY dependent relative to the young of other primates.  (Tradeoff for the bipedalism and the big brains.)  Plenty of healthy babies still are one infection, bout of diarrhea, or disruption in the food supply away from life-threatening malnutrition.  The arrogance of saying, “Well, the baby’s fat, and healthy… but FAT, and FAT babies might become FAT GROWNUPS, and I mean… EW! and anyway, all the other insurance companies are doing it.  I mean, there’s MONEY involved, y’see.”

FUCK.  I mean, FUCK. Have these people ever seen a sick infant?  A truly sick infant?  Or, hell, a WELL infant?  I’m so angry.

SM:
That is such a great point. I mean, there’s a reason that chubby babies have traditionally been seen as desirable, right? It’s really obscene.

And of course this points to, once again, the complete clusterfuck that is the US health system. Which will make me all rantypants if I say another word about it.

FJ:
As infuriating as this is, denying obese adults health insurance might be even more infuriating. Babies who can’t get health insurance are the top 5 percent of heavy babies — the adults who can’t get health insurance are, as we hear over and over again, the top 30 percent.

SM:
Have y’all read amandaw’s post about pre-existing conditions and how ableist it is to be, like, extra-angry about only the more outrageous cases? It’s on my mind because she reposted it on the new FWD blog, and I’m wondering how this plays into it. I think basically it actually highlights the ableism involved in denial of care, because, as amandaw says, the underlying assumption of our ableist culture is that if someone’s sick, they did something wrong. Somewhere, somehow, sometime, they secretly brought it on themselves (though of course some patients are “more deserving” than others). But a 4-month-old, pretty much by definition, can’t have done anything wrong. It really points to the identity-versus-behaviors problem of the “obesity epidemic.” Here is someone who is innocent in every way we understand that word — but who is being treated as guilty by a system that assumes that if adults are fat or sick, it’s their fault.

AS:
Throwing this into the mix, not sure how it fits: I was astounded, when I had kids, to realize just how vulnerable even a very very very healthy young baby (like, 6 mos.) is. Up to some point (can’t remember how many months) a fever over 101 is a medical emergency and you don’t call the doctor, you call 911.  To have the misfortune of getting chicken pox and strep at the same time can be life-threatening.  Diarrhea is pretty serious.  Frequent well baby checkups if you’re going by the AAP recommendations.  Lots of things that are vaccinated against now routinely killed children before immunizations (and very rare vaccine reactions injure babies today.)  That’s not to be all OMG PARENTING MEANS MARINATING IN FEAR — because it also turned out that a bump on the head or an accidentally-burned finger or the TV being on or some store-bought baby food does not in fact teach babies NEVER TO LOVE OR LEARN — but since we’re talking about things that send babies into the healthcare system, it seems pertinent.

So we have these poor little innocent babies (and yeah, I mean, who doesn’t love babies?) but when one considers how great are the healthcare needs even of young babies with NO known medical conditions, it just seems so ridiculous and disingenuous.  So, okay, insurance company, you’re concerned that the baby might be eating too much breastmilk (omgwtf?!?) and, what, will be fat and expensive and selfish and lazy someday?  Right. Couldn’t be that babies are big consumers of healthcare, or that they’re one of the groups for whom there sometimes are public programs, or that you’re just looking for a way to save a buck without appearing like the hater of human life that you are.

*ETA: My original language there was problematic. –Kate

Polanski, Polanski, Polanski

kateiconThat has been my entire week. Since my first post about it here got a lot of responses, I figured I’d share everything I’ve been doing on it in one place. (Trigger warnings on pretty much all of it.)

But before I get to that incredibly depressing shit, please go watch Chris Rock going off on Polanski on Jay Leno last night. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing an actual big-name celeb I like join Team Child Rape Is Bad (see second Thursday post below). The clip is both painfully (and I mean that) funny and quite satisfying if you’ve been waiting like I have, though not perfect. In any case, it’s ABOUT FUCKING TIME.

Monday
Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child

Tuesday
Letters from Hollywood: Roman Polanski’s Rape of Child No Big Thing

Wednesday
Sharon Tate’s Sister: It Was A Consensual Matter

Peter Fonda and Roman Polanski on Rape vs. Murder

Thursday
Lynchpin of Polanski Misconduct Case: I Lied

Are Anti-Polanski Celebs Afraid To Speak Up?

Oh, and Thursday was also the day I appeared on The Today Show to talk Polanski, because that’s just how bananas shit had gotten by that point. (If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t get excited. They literally left in one sentence of my 15- or 20-minute interview.)

Speaking of shit being bananas, I was also on Nightline last night, though that was not Polanski-related. They finally aired a teeny part of an interview I did weeks ago (I got like two sentences in that one!), squished in among Crystal Renn, Brooke Elliott and headless fatty B-roll. Woohoo!

Friday
Polanski, “Hounddog” and 13-year-old voices (After Monday’s post, this is probably the one I’m proudest of.)

And, finally, The best Polanski you might have missed this week — a round-up of other people’s posts I loved this week, though it doesn’t include two amazing ones by survivors: Lauren’s at Feministe, and our own Tari’s – which, if you read one Polanski post, should maybe be it.