Worth Your Weight

March 21, 2008

Comparing oppressions

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 2:23 pm

Again from Pattie Thomas’ “Top 10 Things I’m Tired of Discussing” (PDF) (well worth a read if you haven’t already):

Number 8
Whether it is fair to compare other stigmatized groups to stigma placed on fat people.

African Americans have a history of slavery and oppression that shapes their experiences in a way that no other group in this country can share. Native Americans have a history of cultural and literal genocide that no other group in this country can share. Homosexuals have a history of repression, criminalization and medicalization that few other groups have experienced. Women, poor people, various ethnic groups and so forth all have unique experiences as social groups that shape their lives and limit their life chances. These differences in culture and history create differences in group experience that both enriches and limits members of those groups.

But all these groups have stigmatization in common. The social mechanisms of stigmatization are shared with any group or persons that face a cultural belief that they are not human.
Making comparisons between fat people’s experiences and the more well-known experiences of other stigmatized groups is useful in order to illustrate how stigma works. One of the most insidious aspects of fat stigma is the assertion that fat people can help being fat and therefore are worthy of scorn. I reject this belief and often use comparisons with other groups to illustrate that the plight we face as fat people has parallels to other groups.

Making that comparison an issue because it somehow is insensitive to the unique experiences of other groups is a quintessential straw man or red herring. If someone wants to debate on that level it is obvious that they really don’t want to address the issue at hand and just want the discussion to end.

[And just my own afterthought. I believe fat hate is the last acceptable prejudice. Note I did not say “the last prejudice.” There’s a qualifier there.]

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11 Comments

  1. I don’t believe it is the last acceptable prejudice at all. Just the latest among many. Other things are still acceptable in many circles (and unacknowledged all too often). And something else will be acceptable tomorrow.

    Personally, I sorta prefer this overt type of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination we face as fatties. It is far easier to point out than the subtler racism and sexism that go on undercover, often noticed only by those they directly affect.

    Comment by GiniLiz — March 21, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  2. But the fact that racism and sexism have to go undercover proves they are not accepted. What do you think the reaction would have been to the proposed Mississippi Bill No. 282 had it been intended to “force black people to make more nutritious food choices by banning them from restaurants”? The bill as it stands was intended as a stunt and to highlight the state’s obesity problem — or so the proposers say. The same would have never been tolerated or even joked about if couched in racist terms.

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

  3. First of all, comparing and pitting “prejudices” against each other is insane, because they work together and reinforce each other. So fat hatred is not just it’s own thing, it’s also a way to be (and a form of) racism, classism, ageism, ableism, sexism, etc. I remember hearing people during Katrina who felt that people there deserved to be left to drown because of how “fat and lazy” they were. Was that racism? Classism? Fat hatred? Can you really separate them out?

    People in any of these minority groups who belittle or feel threatened by fat rights are shooting themselves in the foot. NOW, the NAACP the AARP (just for a start) should be screaming about fat bashing and discrimination, since – whatever its sources – it’s hits minorities, women and older workers the hardest.

    And no, it’s not the last prejudice or the last acceptable prejudice. At all. Even in the U.S. there are many situations where it’s easier to be fat than non-white, disabled, a woman, queer, poor, jewish, hispanic, arab, whatever – and like Giniliz points out there’s a hell of a lot under “whatever” that we don’t even think about.

    Yes, there are situations where it’s easier to be any of these things than it is to be fat, but even if they’re the most salient to you, don’t magnify them so that you can’t see the big picture. That’s falling into the same trap as the people who belittle fat rights. These things are all of a piece.

    Comment by fatfu — March 21, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  4. Well, I can’t say much more at this point than I’ve already said in the Fatshionista comments and here. I agree with Pattie that the comparisons are useful. I see where you are coming from, but I’m not talking about what it’s easier to be — fat or black or female or disabled. I’m talking about what is allowed in the public discourse. Right now, it is only permitted to be derogatory about fat people. Try it with anyone else, you are getting fired and publicly chastised. (Imus, for example.)

    I 100 percent agree that fat issues are entagled with class, age, race, sex, and ability issues. That’s why I was so confused by Tara’s rant at Fatshionista. I see the interweaving talked about all the time. But what I don’t see is Weight Watchers being pushed because [insert race here] doesn’t know to eat right and exercise. It’s directed at the fat (even if some of those who are fat are also women of color).

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  5. OK, maybe I should reword this belief that “fat is the last acceaptable prejudice” to “fat is the last prejudice that is allowed to be flaunted in public without fear of recourse”?

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  6. I agree that drawinng parallels between different types of oppression is a useful tool in helping members of the privileged group to understand the situation of the oppressed group, as long as it’s kept in mind that they’re not all the same. It’s also important to avoid getting into the “my pain is worse than your pain” dispute. That doesn’t serve to benefit anyone.

    Racism, sexism, religious persecution, etc., are all very much still alive, and while I think fat prejudice is in some ways qualitatively different than any of these things, I’m not really comfortable saying it is “the last acceptable prejudice.” It seems pretty permissible to voice anti-Mexican slurs, and I’ve often seen it assumed that any Hispanic-looking person is a) Mexican and b) an illegal immigrant. Ask a Muslim person if they’ve faced open discrimination recently, and I can bet you’ll find some affirmative answers. My sister graduated with highest honors, with a BS in Computer Science, but ask her how many times male students and male professors assumed she would need extra help in the class or would not perform well, based on her gender. Ask a gay person who wants to get married if prejudice is still alive, well, and sanctioned publicly.

    That said, fat prejudice is very much the “it” topic of the moment, with all the attention given in the media to the “war on obesity.” I think it’s perhaps one of the least-understood and most widespread prejudices, as it seems to cut across class, race, gender, and other lines. In sny case, how important is it to debate whether or not this is “the last” acceptable prejudice? Whether or not this distinction applies, i think we can all agree on one thing – it should not be acceptable. So let’s focus on changing that.

    Comment by xsso — March 21, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

  7. “In sny case, how important is it to debate whether or not this is ‘the last’ acceptable prejudice? Whether or not this distinction applies, i think we can all agree on one thing – it should not be acceptable. So let’s focus on changing that.”

    Excellent point, xsso. I got so caught up in trying to explain what I meant when I’d been misinterpreted. Like I just read somewhere, “last acceptable” is just shorthand. I really do believe it’s closer to my rewording above. And I only mention it because I want the degradation of fat ppl to be as despised as when it’s done to others.

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  8. First of all, comparing and pitting “prejudices” against each other is insane, because they work together and reinforce each other. So fat hatred is not just it’s own thing, it’s also a way to be (and a form of) racism, classism, ageism, ableism, sexism, etc. I remember hearing people during Katrina who felt that people there deserved to be left to drown because of how “fat and lazy” they were. Was that racism? Classism? Fat hatred? Can you really separate them out?

    Blog that, woman. Please?

    I think comparing is one thing, possibly useful if it’s done in a focused, limited way. As Pattie Thomas said, there is certainly overlap between all forms of oppression, and it’s useful when building a civil rights movement to study others that have come before you to see how they made the progress they made.

    But pitting them against each other? Nuh-uh. Like you said, fat hate does not happen in a vacuum, it’s an intersection of multiple forms of prejudice, and separating them is like separating the ingredients of a cookie after they’ve been baked together. (And how fat of me to say so. :-P)

    I was trying to think of exactly what you said, and yeah, that’s it. Thanks, Fu.

    Comment by Meowser — March 21, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

  9. I’m really frustrated and angry and depleted after having my words skewed to fit someone else’s position … so this may be my last comment/post for a good long while. (Don’t break out the party hats just yet.)

    The most fatiguing thing is feeling like I’m crazy when I say that racism is unacceptable whereas fatism is acceptable. At least the party line of our society is that racism is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s gone or that it still doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean it isn’t practiced still. It means, to me, that you are going to face different consequences if you use a racial slur versus a fat slur or if you discriminate against a race versus against the fat. As in, you will actually face consequences.

    Racism and other -isms are recognized as prejudices. Anti-fat sentiment is not even to that stage yet (outside of small communities, like the Fatosphere, who are trying to lead the way).

    NO ONE is pitting oppressed peoples against each other. At least not me. Society thinks it’s okay to be anti-fat. It’s encouraged. It’s vocal. It’s laughed about. It’s “for our own good.” That’s about all I’m trying to say. I would never dream of reducing generations of experience to a single point and then go on to surmise who is worse off. Being told that’s what I’m doing when it’s clearly not is making me feel physically ill.

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

  10. “The most fatiguing thing is feeling like I’m crazy when I say that racism is unacceptable whereas fatism is acceptable. At least the party line of our society is that racism is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s gone or that it still doesn’t happen.”

    All I hear in that is that as long as you pay lip service to something being unacceptable, then it’s not as important if it still happens anyway. Until racism stops being institutionalized and integrated into our society – and often in ways that some people don’t even notice if it doesn’t affect them – I’m not going to call it “unacceptable.”

    Yes, it’s important that at least some people have recognized racism is wrong, and that laws have been passed in that regard. These are key achievements. It’s also true that the fat acceptance movement has not yet reached that point. That doesn’t make racism any less real for those who experience it, and are not saved by the laws or people who might condemn it. Whether it was your intent or not, the whole acceptable/unacceptable argument just smacks of “my oppression is worse than yours.”

    Comment by xsso — March 21, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

  11. “All I hear in that is that as long as you pay lip service to something being unacceptable, then it’s not as important if it still happens anyway.”

    Wrong. I’m saying that making bigotry unacceptable in public is a first step towards making it unacceptable in private, then in one’s heart, then at all.

    “That doesn’t make racism any less real for those who experience it, and are not saved by the laws or people who might condemn it. Whether it was your intent or not, the whole acceptable/unacceptable argument just smacks of ‘my oppression is worse than yours.'”

    Never said racism was less real for anybody because of anything. This is the type of misconstruing that is so infuriating. I don’t know how to make the distinction any clearer than I have. All I know is Don Imus got fired after making racially insensitive comments after years of ripping on fat people. That’s but one example of many.

    “My oppression is worse than yours” — that rebuttal is full of it. Has nothing to do with what’s considered acceptable behavior. Racism isn’t. Fatophobia is.

    I’m closing comments on this post. Sorry, but this is too disheartening.

    Comment by worthyourweight — March 21, 2008 @ 11:30 pm


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