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?

This one’s for the masochists

You all know that we get a lot of trolls here; usually they are discouraged by our despotic comments policy and give up after one or two bits of low-grade trolling. Of course, when Dude Nation descended upon us to wave their liberty sticks, the frequency and stupidity of the trolling went sky-high.

Here’s the thing about getting really stupid trolls: they suck and we don’t want them here, but sometimes the things they say are hilarious. I mean, we’re talking perhaps-you-are-speaking-moon-language territory. We can’t douchehound them all, but we often have the impulse to let you know just how inane the people who want to fuck with us (with all of us) are.

To that end, I’ve started a side project: the Helpful Comments blog. I’ve anonymized the comments so as not to feed the trolls’ little egos while still providing maximum amusement for you. I intend to keep this updated as often as men feel the need to come here and tell us how wrong we are because we’re ladies and shit. Think of it as a safe way to use up your leftover Sanity Watchers points on any given day. Enjoy!

Elsewhere on the internet

I wrote about anonymous cyberbullying for The Guardian’s Comment Is Free:

Yet all over the web, people operating under the illusion that their identities are thoroughly hidden continue to prove John Gabriel’s famous theory of internet behaviour: Normal person + anonymity + audience = total prat.* And too often, particularly when it comes to misogynistic attacks that not only harm women’s public reputations but drive them away from participating in online communities, citizens of the internet side with the prats. People become obsessed with hypothetical legal arguments about freedom of speech – even the kind of speech that’s never been protected – to the exclusion of looking at a larger, more important question: What kind of internet culture do we want?

And then I wrote about the fake controversy over Michelle Obama wearing shorts over at Broadsheet:

That’s right: Michelle Obama wore shorts. In August. To The Grand Canyon. Which is in Arizona. Which is really, really, really hot. And which is also in the United States, where it’s been common for women to wear shorts in public for decades. Not seeing the news angle? Neither is any other thinking person, but that didn’t stop outlets from the L.A. Times to “The Today Show” from discussing the American people’s ostensibly conflicted reaction (unfortunately, most journalists haven’t been able to locate an American person willing to express an opinion other than, “Seriously?”) or the Huffington Post from asking readers: “Does Michelle Obama have the right to bare legs?” … My favorite part of that poll is that the pro-shorts answer is, “Absolutely! It’s so modern!” Shorts. In August. “Modern.” Did Peggy Olson sneak in and write that copy? Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, maybe?

Talk about those posts, or anything else your heart desires, in the thread below. ‘Cause I am way too lazy to write something new here today as well.

*Gabriel’s phrase is, of course, “total fuckwad,” but the editor cleaned it up in a delightfully British way for me.

Douchehound of the Day

I just sent the following comment to spam:

I wish you huge obese would stop complaining and talking.

(Linkage mine.)

Because it’s not good enough that you can, you know, just not read our fucking blog. We need to actually become silent.

As usual, we don’t douchehound people because they piss us off; what pisses us off is otherwise smart progressive people acting fuckheaded, not dipshits being dipshits. Constitutional dipshits range from hilariously pathetic to just shrugworthy — you can’t stop a scorpion from stinging, and you can’t stop a person with no resources or capabilities beyond hostility from being randomly hostile. We douchehound when people clearly illustrate, usually unconsciously, some particular nasty and often unacknowledged characteristic of the brain trusts we’re dealing with here.

In this case, what usually gets glossed over is this: what they object to is not what we’re saying but the fact that we’re talking. We don’t just have the audacity to fail to live up to this guy’s standards of beauty — we also have the nerve to persistently not disappear! What kind of women ARE  you people? Sure, I could go somewhere else and not have to deal with scary scary critical thought, but I’d still know that somewhere, women were flapping their gums! FAT women! OBESE WOMEN are MAKING NOISES! LANGUAGE NOISES! SOMEWHERE! Oh why won’t they simply be quiet? Can’t you please shut up and restore order to my world?

The flip side of this, of course, is that you can rankle the hell out of these kinds of guys just by continuing to operate in the world as though you were real people and not just big fat walking vaginas. If you’re worried about being too inarticulate, too inexpert a speaker or writer, too much of an imperfect ambassador for fat, remember that some folks find it plenty subversive that you’re daring to speak at all. You don’t even have to talk about fat; just be a fat woman talking. That oughta get their goats.

Douchemail the Second

These are cracking me up. Eventually, I’ll get tired of posting them, but not yet. 

And you know, if I can get serious for a minute, here’s why I turn this shit into posts sometimes. An old friend of mine, who’s never seemed quite on board with the it’s-okay-to-be-fat stuff but tolerates it because she’s known me for 20-odd years, e-mailed me today and said, “Kate, I read some of the online comments on CNN. I see now why the world needs you to speak out. Please keep it up.” Of course, I do not recommend that anyone read comments at CNN, YouTube, Broadsheet, etc., for just that reason — but seeing the level of “discourse” around anything fat-related can be a real eye-opener for those who don’t get just how nasty and sophomoric the weight bigots routinely are.  (Or that they never know the difference between “your” and “you’re.”)

With that, Douchemail the Second:

Subject: You’re very uplifting CNN appearance!

Sucked balls. Now I know how you really look and sound like. Ugh! Very unattractive. 

yours truly,

Heart disease (I’m just around the corner and I’m going to get you fatty!)

Welcome, CNN Viewers

You’re gonna want to check out the comments policy before you try to join the conversation. Short version: I don’t publish comments from people who are promoting weight loss, insulting me, or insulting fat people in general. Don’t waste your time. 

If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on United’s policy, you can go here for the expletive-laden version and here for the relatively clean one.  (Note that “clean” relative to how I usually write around here is, uh, still not that clean.)

Regular readers who missed the segment, we should have video of it sometime in the next day or two. Meanwhile, here’s a pic my friend Jo took of her TV:


That was the purple dress, despite how blue it looks! And I’m really not digging how it coordinates with the cami in this lighting, but whatever. I had 110 lbs. of make-up and hairspray on, so hopefully, people were distracted by that.

Also, I would be psyched that Jo caught me with a total “bish, plz” face on, except I’m slightly afraid I was making it the whole time.  I’m waiting to see the video as much as everyone else. Eep!

Oh, last thing…  About 5 minutes after I finished, I got this:

Your arguments were ridiculous and you just made a fool of yourself.

Hey, thanks for writing, Mike! It’s so great to know that there are strangers who care enough to let me know they think I’m a fool. Because there is totally nothing foolish about taking the time to send a drive-by insult to a stranger from the teevee. That is the behavior of a reasonable, intelligent, all-around awesome person, right there. I have so much to learn from you!

Exceptions that aren’t

We frequently get commenters who stop in to tell us that they lost weight and kept it off for more than five years, which in their opinion utterly disproves the claim that 95 percent of diets do not result in permanent weight loss. This is probably because when they use figures like “95 percent,” they are pulling them directly from their asses (“maybe SOME people are fat because of genetics, medication, illness, etc. but 95 percent of them just eat too much”; “95 percent of your weight is determined by what you eat, not your genes”; “95 percent of straight guys would never be attracted to a fat woman”; see also “vast majority”) so they assume we must be bullshitting too. In fact, a) that figure is backed up by science and b) it’s 95 percent, not 100 percent, so a couple of exceptions are hardly going to make us tear our hair and sign up for Weight Watchers. But bless them, it doesn’t stop them from trying.

Neither does the cognitive dissonance. Just today, for instance, Kate and SM and I were laughing ourselves sick over an email from a troll who says she DOES believe in beauty and health at every size, just not for fat fat fatties. See, she knows that the VAST MAJORITY (95 percent!) of fat people just eat too much, and she knows it because she ate the exact same stuff as her thinner sister growing up but was still not as thin, but now she’s thin even though she doesn’t diet. Yeah, we couldn’t figure it out either.

But here’s the part of that email that I want to talk about: Part of her “proof” that we are all gluttons is that she once gained 30 pounds during a bout of depression, but lost it again soon afterwards. We get countless indignant emails like this (though I might add that they represent much less than 5 percent of our readership): “I gained weight when I was in a car accident and couldn’t exercise, but then I lost it again as soon as I recovered, so you all don’t exercise enough.” “I gained weight when I lived alone and ate out all the time, but then I lost it again when I made a Lifestyle Change, so you all eat too much fast food.” “I gained weight when I was binge eating, but lost it when I stopped eating so much, so you all eat in binge quantities.”

One thing that claims of this nature have in common is, of course, a particularly navel-gazing kind of hasty generalization — “because something is true for me, it must be true for everyone.” Of all the common informal fallacies, this one might make me see the reddest, because it’s not only logically unsound but fundamentally arrogant and egotistical. But another thing they have in common, and this is what really drives me batshit bonkers, is that they actually prove our point. “So, you say you have been roughly the same weight for most of your adult life, and when extenuating circumstances made you deviate significantly from that weight, it was like you naturally settled back to your usual size? I’ll be blowed… it’s almost as if you couldn’t effect permanent changes in your body weight! Someone should write a blog about this!”

Shapeling Randomquorum recently wrote about a publicity stunt by an Australian personal trainer and wannabe actor, who is trying to gain 40 kg (about 88 pounds) so he can “better understand obese gym clients.” The article notes that “his body had tried to reject the fat at first” — you don’t say! — but with assiduous consumption of “bacon and chocolate milk,” he is halfway to his goal. He plans to get to 120 kg (264 pounds), keep the weight for three months, then lose it by training at his gym. Here’s where the article names and links to the gym, of course. (But it’s all about understanding fatties! Really!)

As Randomquorum points out, this aspiring Spurlock is going to come out of his experiment thinking that all fat people must eat the same way he did, and all could lose weight if they stopped eating and started exercising. “If it required constant consumption of heavy foods for me to get to 264 pounds,” he’ll reason, “then everyone who weighs 264 pounds must eat as much as I could possibly stand, and anyone who weighs 352 must eat EXACTLY TWICE AS MUCH.” After all, it’s calories in, calories out! If only they’d stop eating twice as much as he could stand and sitting on their asses 24 hours a day like he did, they’d be just as thin as he is now. He knows, he’ll say, because he REALLY UNDERSTANDS what it takes to gain the weight (eat everything you see) and to lose it (stop eating everything you see)! Then, he hopes, he’ll get a reality show.

Of course, it’s possible that when this guy’s weight stalls out and then chugs back down, he’ll put two and two together — “I’m eating this much but can’t gain the weight permanently, my clients say they’re not eating this much but can’t lose the weight permanently… is it possible these things are connected?” Certainly it’s clear from the comments on volcanista’s guest post that many of our naturally thin readers came to FA because they knew perfectly well they weren’t doing anything to maintain their weight, and thought it was fucked up that they were still seen as virtuous, healthy, and disciplined. I don’t think three months is nearly enough time for that revelation, though, especially given the comments we get from people who have miraculously, exceptionally, virtuously managed to remain at their naturally low setpoint weight for years.

The most ridiculous trick of the asinine “calories in, calories out” oversimplification is the idea that human experience is additive. Someone who weighs 180 pounds MUST eat 60 pounds’ worth of calories more than someone with a similar activity level who weighs 120 pounds, and someone who weighs 240 pounds must eat 60 pounds’ worth again! This is a delusion so hard-fought that, like Aristotelian notions about the crocodile’s tongue, it is simply perpetuated forward against all evidence. To assert, as the scientific evidence seems to, that in most cases you just can’t turn a 120 pound adult into a 240 pound adult and even if you can she won’t stay there, and vice versa — that flies in the face of the idea that one body type is normal, acceptable, and virtuous, and others are aberrations.

Just as a disabled person isn’t a broken able-bodied person, and a black person isn’t a darkened white person, and a woman isn’t a wangless man, a fat person isn’t just a thin person who ate too much. To think so, to cling so assiduously to thinking so in contradiction to the evidence, is to assert that there is one default body subject to any number of deliberate or accidental mutations. It is to assert that the most privileged body is also the “correct” body, the one to which everyone else should aspire. Oh sure, if you deviate through no fault of your own you are to be pitied (how many times have we heard the oh-so-charitable “but black people don’t CHOOSE to be black, fat people choose to be fat!” as though that weren’t as racist as it is fatphobic?), but if you deviate in a way that’s supposedly controlled, woe upon you. But we don’t have variations on a thin white able male body — we have human bodies, in all their many forms and functions.

And one way in which human bodies seem to behave is that they like to be a certain size. Not all human bodies, of course — because of the multiplicity of ways to be human, some people will be able to lose or gain weight permanently, some will keep gaining weight indefinitely, some will fluctuate wildly for no obvious reason, some will get stuck beyond setpoint because of medication or illness or some other mitigating factor. And not all the time, either — it seems pretty clear, for instance, that dieting will inch your setpoint upwards. But if you’re one of those people, at one of those times, it doesn’t make you better or worse, closer to or farther from the way a body should operate — it just makes you another variation on human metabolisms.

Gaining temporary weight, putting on a fat suit, strapping fake fat blobs to your stomach — in other words, emulating a “defective” thin person — doesn’t mean that you understand what it’s like to be fat. But pushing yourself outside the range where your body wants to be, seeing the inhuman effort it takes to get there, seeing your best efforts to stay there fail as you inch back towards what you weighed before… that can certainly help you see what it’s like to diet, and show you that your body and a fat body aren’t all that different after all. Spurlockabee has a great opportunity to actually become more sympathetic to the painful, futile experience of pushing your body towards what you think it should be. I don’t think he’ll take it, though.