Friday Fatshion: Lucie Lu

Here’s a sneak peek into the behind-the-scenes work here at SP: Practically every email thread among the five of us, whether it’s about blog biz or work gripes or righteous feminist anger, eventually turns into a discussion of dresses. What can I say? We like dresses, and I think part of the reason we cohere so well as co-bloggers is that we have similar ideas about how internet goof-off time should be spent: baby animal pictures, clips of Morgan Freeman in The Electric Company, and looking at pretty dresses. Oh and looking at shoes.

Pretty dresses are not without their political dimension, to be sure. There’s the cult of femininity, and class issues inherent in clothing purchases, and the problems of the fashion industry, and the narrow ideas of what’s “attractive” and “appropriate” in clothing (which, as Snarky pointed out in the recent fashion thread, are strict for most women but even stricter for marginalized groups within that group). But there’s also room for those of us who like dresses to just get excited about dresses. So when a commenter stopped by to alert me to the new store Lucie Lu, I thought “you know what? It’s so rare that there’s a new plus size store with cute stuff. I’m going to review this place on the blog. We can unpack the semiotics of dresses later.”

Lucie was nice enough to send me a few things to review for you, and somehow they got through last week even though the mailman only fought his way to our house twice and only pried open our iced-over mailbox once. And even though I barely got dressed in the last week, I managed to put them on! Below the cut, some thoughts on this new store for those of you who like dresses or pictures of dresses.

Continue reading “Friday Fatshion: Lucie Lu”

Friday fluff: Step up, step up!

Kate sent along an article this morning about the death of Bruce Snowdon, the last sideshow fat man. Mostly she was boggled by this bit:

Until the mid-1960s, traveling carnivals frequently featured fat acts. But sideshows declined in popularity as waistlines expanded and obesity became less of a laughing matter.

As the years went by, spotting a man who weighed more than half a ton was not that unusual – and that was bad news, if you were in Snowdon’s line of work.

As Kate pointed out, um, isn’t a ton 2,000 pounds? “More than half a ton” is 1,000+ pounds in English, 1,102+ pounds in metric, and people who weigh that much are still actually pretty fucking unusual. Unless we are talking about people who WOULD weigh more than half a ton IF THEY WERE STANDING ON THE SUN, in which case, okay. If that’s not what you mean, I suggest that your fact-checker commence vigorous head-desking.

Anyway, I was ready to spin that off into a rant about how NOBODY KNOWS WHAT WEIGHT LOOKS LIKE, MY GOD, DO PEOPLE REALLY THINK THAT “60% OVERWEIGHT” MEANS THAT FOLKS WHO WEIGH 1,000+ POUNDS ARE SWANNING AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE, but meh, we’ve done that post, and it’s Friday. Instead, I want to call your attention to the part of the article I really loved, where they reproduced some of the talker’s patter about Snowdon:

“He’s so big and so fat, it takes four girls to hug him and a boxcar to lug him,” Hall would say of Snowdon at shows.

“When he dances you’ll swear he must be full of jelly, ’cause jam don’t shake that way. And you know, girls, he is single and looking for a wife. He’ll make some lucky girl a fine husband. Why, he’s so big and fat, he’ll provide you with a lot of shade in the summertime, keep you nice and warm in the wintertime, and give you lots of good, heavy loving all the time.”

I kinda love that! I am not averse to talking (even in a fluff post) about the sideshow phenomenon and whether it’s okay that parts of it have been reclaimed, but I do think it’s interesting that as far as I know, patter about carnival fat men and fat women was generally othering but positive. People were there to gawk, yes, but not in an unfriendly way — the talker draws attention to Snowdown as a curiosity but not as a grotesquerie. In fact, the rhetoric is about him being attractive, even sexually attractive. Now, in the modern era there’s probably some irony operating there — the audience assumes a fat man is grotesque, and the patter feeds off of that assumption by turning it on its head. But I still find it appealing.

And really, we’re all curiosities in a way — not necessarily because of our bodies (though I will freely admit that I, for instance, am upsettingly double-jointed), but because of everything that makes us singular and unique. So, Shapelings, what would it look like if you wrote your own sideshow patter? Would it focus on your warmth and heaviness, like Snowdon’s, or your skills and talents, or your personal flair, or your tiny superpowers? What’s the script for the guy outside the Shapely Prose ten-in-one?

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?

Meat and metaphors

The wonderful Jenna Sauers of Jezebel posted recently on PETA’s attempts to be edgy and arresting in their support of animals at the expense of women, minorities, and basically all people except thin white patriarchy-lovin’ youngsters. Jenna outlined some of PETA’s worst antifeminist offenses — equating women with meat, putting them in cages, building campaigns on the naked airbrushed bodies of D-listers, basically extra-blatant versions of everything the fashion industry does with a little more subtlety. She also provided examples of PETA’s racist advertising, which equates farming and animal slaughter with slavery and lynching. It’s a thorough and stomach-turning denunciation.

What Jenna doesn’t address, though I’m sure she realizes it, is that PETA isn’t only trying to use shock and sex to get attention — they are also attempting a kind of satirical analogy. (In some of the ads. Some are just gross.) They intend to use our natural tendency to be shocked at cruelty against humans, a tendency they believe they can count on, to make a point by analogy about animals: why aren’t we shocked at similar treatment there? The imagery is (in some cases) not intended to be gratuitous, but to make a point about hypocrisy. I’m generally a fan of that approach — satirical analogy is used to great effect by my favorite political cartoonists, Jon Stewart, etc. So why does it fail here so thoroughly?

For one thing, there’s the naivete of believing that PETA’s target audience of class-privileged white teens is going to reliably experience shock at seeing women mistreated, or seeing historical images of the mistreatment of black Americans. Certainly there are white college students with a deep understanding of cultural pressures on women, an awareness of patriarchy and privilege, and a sense of how historical oppression feeds ongoing inequity, but they’re not exactly the go-to group for such things.

More than that, though, I think this reflects the power of conceptual metaphors. I’m not a linguist, though I sometimes think I should have been, but I’m fascinated by metaphors — both those we build specifically to illuminate, and those that are so entrenched in the way we use language that they actually affect how we view and speak about the world. I will let T-Rex explain.

What people in the PETA demographic fail to realize, or don’t want to realize, is that the WOMAN AS MEAT and POC AS ANIMAL and WOMAN AS PROPERTY and POC AS PROPERTY schema are still absolutely alive and well, absolutely entrenched in our current language and expression and understanding and visual rhetoric. That’s the status quo. I’m not going to go deep into the realm of example, because I think Advanced Blamers will see this as obvious, but just off the top of my head: LeBron James in Vogue, Naomi Campbell and Li’l Kim, gendered food, the entire “Objectification” tag on Soc Images (which includes both women-as-thing and nonwhite-person-as-thing).

This implicit metaphor makes the explicit metaphor fall flat. The PETA ads purport to say, for example, “treating a nonhuman animal as meat is just as bad as treating a woman as meat.” But the idea that a woman is an object for consumption is so ingrained that the analogy reads as “treating a nonhuman animal as meat is just as bad as treating meat as meat” — or, and this is probably more what the experience of viewing the ads is like to many, “treating a nonhuman animal as meat is just as bad as having more or less exactly the same images of women that we always have in every ad we see.” Not exactly a call to action. With the satirical content deflated, what’s left? Just a girl in a bikini in a cage — what the fuck else is new? (And of course, the preponderance of animal-women in PETA ads just reinforces the woman/meat metaphor, making every subsequent iteration even less surprising and therefore less effective.)

Metaphor is a minefield. When wielded well it’s a tool for revelation. When wielded badly, layers of intended and unintended analogy can lead to really stunning outrages (which will instantly be written off as “oversensitive” by people who are undersensitive, of course — part of the reason metaphors are powerful and dangerous is because they’re so often obscured). PETA’s attempt to pretend there’s something subversive about comparing a woman to food smacks of similar hamfisted analogies like “feminism is exactly like sexism” and “whites-only basketball leagues are just like organizations for minorities.” When I see these, my reaction is usually just to bang on whatever’s nearest and yell “it’s NOT the SAME!” This is part of why I am currently the least prolific contributor here — because most of the time I decline analytical writing in favor of the bang/yell approach. But we can, in fact, tease out why things that are NOT the SAME! are not the same. It’s because systematized oppression doesn’t cut both ways. It’s because there is not a finite amount of human dignity, and raising up one group is not the same as debasing another. And often it’s because of unexamined metaphors that scupper the intended one — because of the ways in which we unconsciously compare one group to something less-than or different-from. (For an example of how this can be exploited satirically, see the now-classic videos of people asking pro-lifers how much jail time women who have abortions should receive.)

I want to make clear that I’m talking here about PETA’s rhetoric, not its goals. I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of the value of animal rights activism, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vs. People for the Ethical Eatment of Animals, or anything. (Joke shamelessly stolen from NPR.) This blog doesn’t have an official position on meat-eating; I believe all five of us do it, none of us do it all that much, we all give a shit about unethical farming and its effect on both animal welfare and the environment because our capacity for giving a shit about important things is limitless, but it’s not our main focus because our energy is not. But the truth is that the messages and images I’m condemning here don’t forward PETA’s agenda whether you believe in it or not — quite the opposite. Here’s what SM said when we discussed this post:

SM: I actually think in some ways we might be MORE shocked by the animal images than by the people images, since there are huge industries dedicated to hiding the cruel aspects of factory farming — but there are huge industries SELLING US the cruelty to humans images.

Dang, that’s smart! The point here is that we do not live in a society where you can make a subversive analogy between women and meat, because that analogy is being used in earnest to sell us things or shut us up every day. These underlying metaphors are often so common as to be transparent, which is what trips PETA up when they make them overt — the image is all the more abhorrent because of the injustice that underpins it, and the satire is completely flaccid because the metaphor is a commonplace.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember transgender victims of violence. Here’s a list of the people we’re remembering in 2009. Please take a moment to read their names and stories — what is known of them — and think about these people, mostly young women, who suffered often exceptionally brutal violence for their gender identity or presentation.

But don’t stop there. It’s important to have a day to remember the dead, who are often in danger of being ignored, but there are victims of anti-trans bigotry every day, and that bigotry is also ignored or glossed over or made light of or even lauded. Liss at Shakesville wrote about how TDOR is about remembering the victims of discrimination and indifference as well as the victims of anti-trans violent crime:

Lacking federal employment protections, transgender men and women are at higher risk for lack of insurance, adding to the difficulty of securing routine medical care from welcoming practitioners. Transmen, for example, frequently have trouble locating accommodating gynecological services for annual pap smears, risking undiagnosed cervical cancer. The great 2001 documentary Southern Comfort spans the last year in the life of Robert Eads, who died of ovarian cancer after two dozen doctors refused him treatment.

That’s the kind of hate crime that doesn’t make headlines. Or even federal hate crimes statistics.

We remember all the victims of violence and apathy today.

Kate wrote about TDOR at Broadsheet, and highlighted the fact that many of the violence victims were members of multiple oppressed groups — not only were they trans, but most were women and many of those with photos seem to be people of color. She quotes Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia, who writes:

So it seems to me that to unite all trans people under one banner ignores the specifics of death – sex (the majority are trans women), race (Latina and black), class and occupation (sex work) are as important factors as transness.  Appropriating those deaths for political work seems dubious to me at best.

Queen Emily goes on to say, though, that while transphobia may not be the only contributing factor in these murders, it adds an element of silencing that TDOR is designed to counteract:

So what I want to acknowledge is that there’s a paradox, that no trans person can truly witness for the murdered–especially those we’ve never met.  And yet, with due caution, I think we should.  Not to further our own goals, not to get legislation passed that protects only the already-privileged or to wallow in self-pity, but to honour the memories of every single trans person murdered this year, and to acknowledge the violence that our community lives with as a whole.  To acknowledge that even in death, transphobia and cissexism mean that the murdered are not properly remembered, not even by the correct names and pronouns–and those people should be remembered as the right sex.

I’d add, for our cissexual readers, that the prevalence of intersecting oppressions in murders of transgender people, while it in no way lessens the need for transgender victims to have their own dedicated day of remembrance, should also remind us that standing for social justice means standing together, even (especially) with groups who are often still being relentlessly othered even by progressives.

I want to close with a link to Gudbuytjane’s terrific post about her struggle to come to terms with TDOR, because I basically just want to quote the whole thing:

I used to distance myself from the Trans Day of Remembrance. It made me angry, and in ways I couldn’t discuss with my mostly cisgender community (as some of that anger was directed at them, inevitably). … So I kept away, head down and earphones in as November 20th snuck past my peripheral vision, exhaling only when it was gone for another year. Still, on my own I found myself on the internet, reading the stories of the dozens of trans women who are brutally murdered every year. I learned their names and their faces, and soon this cisgender dominance began to slip. I felt myself reclaiming my own experience of the day, my relationship to these women who died, and ultimately my responsibility to them. …

In the face of a cisdominant culture that enforces false narratives to keep trans women marginalized, it is imperative we make our voices heard. I’ve written about this before, and I believe it is an essential process for dismantling cissupremacy. The most important voices to be heard are our dead, and the responsibility for those voices lies with those of us who are still alive. Not for cis culture to consume, not even for ourselves, but for these women who are no longer with us; By giving them dignity we give ourselves dignity, and demand it from a culture which withholds it from us. Even if it is only knowing their name or a tiny bit of their story, it gives back to them some of the humanity their killers took.

Although cisdominant media inevitably focuses on the murders of these women, pieces of the stories of their lives nonetheless get through. This is how she died is supplanted for brief moments by This is how she lived. Amplify that. Know the stories of their lives, and tell the stories of your own. Not just on November 20th, but every day.

Cissexual readers, please let this Transgender Day of Remembrance be a day of transgender awareness, not only of how transgender men and women die but also of how they live, and the silencing and othering they face in both. For trans readers, of course, every day is a day of transgender awareness, but please know we’re with you.

ETA: Just saw a post from Meloukhia that does a better job of what I was saying in my last paragraph than I did.

Wednesday One-Liners

• Remember how Starling gave a rough number of 1 in 60 when guessing how many men commit rape? And Dude Nation went ballistic about how it wasn’t a robust figure? They’re right. At least in some populations (in this case, college students of all ages) it should have been four times higher.

• The calorie recommendations have been telling you to eat too little, but this is NOT a license to eat more!

• Breaking: Some obese people don’t want to lose weight! They actually had the delusion they were healthy, even though they had incidences of high blood pressure and high cholesterol that were similar to or lower than the population as a whole!

Some applicants are more equal than others

Hey, remember when Sonya Sotomayor was first nominated for the Supreme Court, and the White Dude Cabal attempted to claim that having one fucking Latina justice ever was an outrageous act of racism and sexism, and every thinking person in America was furious that the WDC was unable to distinguish between the concepts of “shameful oppression” and “owning only 99.99 percent of everything”? Tom Mortenson, of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, missed that day. On NPR yesterday, he had the following to say about the fact that women have overtaken men in college admissions, with the result that some colleges are now discriminating against female applicants:

Mortenson: They graduate from high school at higher rates than men do. They go on to college at higher rates. They complete college at higher rates. And I see nothing right now that’s going to turn that around.

It’s so unfair! Maybe 150 years ago, men were the only people allowed in college, and now they’re not only forced to share, they’re getting outstripped? Someone needs to do something! What could make those ladies stop submitting strong college applications and getting accepted? Quick, deploy a fashion magazine!

Let’s not forget here that we’re talking about higher education — a pursuit that, just a hundred or so years ago, people thought would overload women’s fragile little mind-meat like botulism in a can of soup. Some people thought education would give women brain fever, whatever that is. But when instead of obediently falling down in fits, educated women start clawing their way to equality and beyond, the menfolk (and even some womenfolk, like a dean of admissions interviewed by NPR) apparently get the vapors.

Mortenson: And the people who work on these campuses say that boys, frankly, are not at their best where they are outnumbered two to one by girls.

Yeah, the Beach Boys beg to differ.

Seriously, do we really have to be saying things like “correcting an inequality is not the same as gaining an advantage”? Okay, maybe we have to say that to Pat Buchanan, but do we have to be explaining to researchers and college administrators that when someone climbs out of the howling canyon of disadvantage, you don’t really have to put your shoe on their face? This is like saying that if your broken left arm heals, you should probably rebreak it, because it’s going to get an edge on your right one.

Note to the Dudes in Charge: I understand that it throws you off balance when the people you’ve been standing on finally stand up. But that doesn’t mean you get to kneecap them.