Thursday, November 21, 2013

Food Shaming and Why This Shit Needs to Stop

[TW for disordered eating, food shaming]

For those of you who don't know what food shaming is, my definition is it's when someone judges you for the food you are eating and comments on it in an attempt to make you feel ashamed of your choices. When faced with the subject of food, a lot of people do something we feminists call "concern trolling," which is when you shame someone for something under the guise of actual, genuine concern for their well-being. This happens with food all. The. Time. People decide that it's OK to tell others (particularly women) what not to eat because it will make them unhealthy, when what they're really trying to say is that they shouldn't eat that because it might (GASP!) make them fat (which, if you know anything about anything, fat =/= unhealthy). Bottom line, what someone eats, how much they eat, when they eat it, how often, etc., is nobody's fucking business except the person whose mouth the food is going into.

Food shaming ties directly into the dieting industry, which targets women specifically and relies on women feeling bad about themselves, their bodies, and their food choices in order to survive; it's more than obvious from the advertisements that we see on a regular basis. For example, there is the recent pushing of the Special K Challenge that challenges women to replace two meals a day with Special K products, asks women to think about what they will gain when they lose (weight, obviously), and whose incredibly problematic and dangerously unhealthy nature Jezebel covered in a fantastic article. There is the onslaught of ads for Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, etc., that actively shame women both for their food choices and for (possibly) being fat. There are phone apps that encourage people to count calories and essentially take stock of everything they eat, which is a documented symptom of certain eating disorders. This is not to say that all people who count calories have an eating disorder, but promoting counting calories as an everyday activity can very easily lead people to develop one, especially when you consider the continuous assault of messages that are telling us to stay thin, no matter what the cost.

This is an issue that is particularly upsetting for me because I have dealt with disordered eating as a direct result of food shaming. (This is actually the first time I'm talking about this so candidly.)

When I was a kid, I absorbed the messages that the media was telling me. I was supposed to be small, delicate, proper. I was supposed to count calories and watch my weight, lest I take up too much space. If I had the choice between a steak and a salad, I was always to choose the salad, no matter how much I wanted the steak. Despite the fact that the average human being needs to consume 2000 calories to survive, calories were the enemy and the goal was to consume as few of them as possible. This was "for my own good" and "for my health." I also absorbed the indirect messages that my mother was sending me through her constant dieting and self-shaming. I listened to my dad tell me stories of when she used to diet until she was nearly a skeleton. I watched her weight fluctuate between the holidays and the summertime. I watched her mentally punish herself for eating things she liked. I watched her deny herself foods that I knew she loved and sacrifice simple treats all for the sake of a thinner figure. Right this very moment, she is on yet another diet and she's already talking about her weight loss plan for when she puts on a few "extra" pounds during the holiday season. I want to be clear: I don't blame her for doing these things, because this is the result of those same media messages as well as the messages she learned from her mother, who likely learned those messages from the same places.

As a result of these messages, I learned that eating was not something you did to survive. It was not a necessity to continue living. Eating was something you succumbed to when you were at your weakest. As a result of these messages, I developed a fear of eating in front of other people because I was afraid of what they might think of me. I don't know that what I had was an eating disorder, but it was definitely disordered eating (if that makes sense). To put this in perspective, right now I weigh 125 pounds, give or take. In high school, at the same height, I weighed only 98 pounds because I was so afraid of people thinking I was a slob for eating that I simply stopped eating in public and restricted my food in private. I skipped lunch nearly every day and ate very minimally at home. It took me many years to become comfortable with just the idea of eating to survive, and many years after that before I became comfortable with the idea of eating what I wanted without judging myself or caring what other people thought.

Then, just tonight, at a point in my life where I'm finally comfortable with my body (and its arbitrary, socially constructed "flaws") and no longer shame myself simply for eating or for having a snack when I feel like it--where a simple bag of potato chips no longer sends me into a spiral of guilt and panic--my dad made a comment about a snack that I decided I wanted, and for a split second I went right back to that "I must never eat again" mindset.

It's awful. And it's exactly why this shit needs to stop. Because my story is not the only story out there.

Not even close.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Schrödinger's Rapist and What He Has to do With That Guy at the Bar Hitting on Me

[TW: rape, rape culture, misogyny, sexual violence, denial of autonomy, privileged bullshit]

I posted the above graphic on Facebook a few days ago. Social networks being what they are, I wound up receiving comments from an ex-boyfriend that went a little something like this (my ex was responding to a comment from my aunt stating "Sadly, what they're respecting is the other man's PROPERTY!"):

"I've said I have a girlfriend before, am I her property? Cause I thought it was a polite way of saying, "Nothing personal, maybe some signals were misread. I actually am in a happy relationship and not looking elsewhere."...but that's just me. It's true that traditionally men make the advances, but my point is most will accept a "no" when they see one and it doesn't have to be a matter of possession."
This is a perfect example of male privilege: being able to reject an unwanted advance (or perhaps even multiple unwanted advances) without any kind of negative backlash or retaliatory action taken against him, and then being able to proclaim widely that "most men will accept a no when they see one" (read: a "no" by itself, without any sort of buffers such as "I have a boyfriend/husband" involved) when that is simply not the case. I'm glad that he has never had to go through the truly terrifying experience of someone refusing to take no for an answer in the context of an unwanted romantic and/or sexual advance, but the fact of the matter is that I, and most women on this planet, have.

There's a very big difference between a man saying he has a girlfriend and a woman saying she has a boyfriend in order to get out of a situation where there's an interested party and the other person is not interested. There is a power dynamic involved where women, unfortunately, have the shit end of the stick. If we say "no" by itself, we're labeled frigid bitches, and there have been many cases when women have been attacked (verbally and/or physically) for doing so. We say "no, because I have a boyfriend" because many men only respect other men, not women's autonomy and our right to say no to unwanted advances, and because we know we are less likely to be attacked if we use the excuse that there's a man in our lives (the implication, of course, being that the man in our lives will defend us physically, if necessary). We also don't know which men will respond nicely and which men will respond with violence to a simple "No thank you, I'm not interested."

This is where the concept of Schrödinger's Rapist comes into play (which you can read more about in this blog post on Shapely Prose). The fact of the matter is, women have been consciously and subconsciously trained through our social interactions with others, the way we are portrayed in the media, etc., to categorize any unwanted advances as potentially dangerous. We have to be afraid for our safety because the truth is that we don't know which men will not accept a no when they see one. Statistics state that 1 out of 6 women will be raped in her lifetime (and that's only including the ones that are reported: so many more aren't). I found out in the aforementioned blog post that when looking specifically at rapes where the man is the perpetrator and the woman is the victim (which accounts for most rapes), if you take into account that every rapist commits an average of ten rapes, that means that at least one out of every sixty men is a rapist. To put this into perspective, I graduated from Curtis High School in a class of about 700 people (give or take). Assuming the class was 50/50 men and women, that means there were about 350 men in my graduating class. Statistically speaking, 6 of them were rapists. And I have no way of knowing which ones they were. 

Over the course of their lives, between the six of them, they will rape at least sixty women.

These statistics are fucking scary by themselves. Combine that with the fact that women are told that we shouldn't have the right to say no, that a no can eventually turn into a yes if the guy tries hard enough, that a no is just a woman playing "hard to get" and she really means yes, etc., it becomes fucking terrifying. My ex may not believe this is true, but there is an element of possession in all of those examples, a belief that women "belong" to men and don't get the option of just saying "no thank you" and leaving the scene without a struggle. This is evidenced by the high number of rapes in this country - clearly a woman's no isn't really taken seriously.

When women are approached on the street by a male stranger, there's a 1.67% chance that he will be a rapist.  We have no way of knowing whether or not he is that 1.67%. We have no way of knowing whether or not tonight will be the night we become one of the 1 out of 6 women who will be raped in her lifetime.

There's a reason women instinctively use the "I have a boyfriend/husband" excuse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blog for Choice Day - Why I'm Pro-Choice

From the time I was 18 years old until I was 20, I was in a relationship with someone, and if I were to say that they were not a nice person, it would be the understatement of the decade. He was very controlling and was constantly belittling me and condescending to me. I wasn't allowed to be myself when I was around him; he didn't like my extroverted personality, and he made it known in no uncertain terms when I had displeased him by daring to be happy in his presence by giving me the cold shoulder and telling me that I embarrassed him. Eventually, he didn't have to worry about it, because he effectively killed my happiness. He would sulk and call me horrible names when he didn't get his way, and once he cheated off of my homework (without my knowledge) and put both of us at risk of not only failing the class, but of getting kicked out of the academic program to which we belonged. When I confronted him about it, he got angry at me for getting angry at him. Nothing was ever his fault, and he never took responsibility for anything. The real kicker was the time that, after I gave him a surprise hug, he grabbed me by my wrist, refused to let go, and told me that he was a black belt and that he was trained to react, therefore, if he ever hit me, it was my own fault. Thankfully, the violence never escalated past that, even though I stayed with him for another six months after the incident, but it very easily could have.

I chose to be in a sexual relationship with this person, and if it weren't for my birth control pills, I might have gotten pregnant by him. There were a couple of times where I thought that I might have, and each time I knew immediately that I would have an abortion. I knew from a very early age that I never wanted children, and I also knew that having his child would tie me to him forever. Despite his attempts to control everything I thought, said, and did, being tied to him forever was not an option for me, and while his controlling, abusive behavior killed everything else in me, it thankfully did not kill my belief that I had the right to make a choice. This is one of the many reasons why I am pro-choice--because there are so many other women who are in similar (and worse) situations. For many women, the right to a safe, legal abortion is their only saving grace in an abusive relationship, whether the abuse is physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, etc. Leaving an abusive situation is difficult enough--add a child/children into the mix, and it becomes nearly impossible.

Somewhere along the line, the term "pro-choice" came to mean "pro-abortion," and apparently any person who is pro-choice wants all pregnant women to terminate their pregnancies regardless of whether or not they want to. These accusations come from the anti-choice crowd, which is comprised of the Republicans, the "Religious Right," etc., who want all pregnant women to continue their pregnancies regardless of whether or not they want to...sound familiar? Apparently, it's perfectly ok to control women's bodies as long as your agenda falls into the right category. Unfortunately for the anti-choice crowd, pro-choice does NOT mean we want all pregnant women to indiscriminately terminate their pregnancies--it means we want all pregnant women to have a choice in the matter, whether she chooses to have an abortion or continue the pregnancy and parent the child or put hir up for adoption. Whether a woman is in an abusive relationship, she was raped, she had a casual encounter, or she's in a relationship, whether a woman had a consensual encounter and used some form of contraception and had an "oops" or didn't use contraception at all, she has the right to say no or yes to a pregnancy. It is her choice, and nobody else's.

If a woman chooses not to continue the pregnancy, for whatever reason, she should have the right to access a safe, legal, affordable abortion. If a woman chooses to continue the pregnancy, she should have the right to a safe and healthy pregnancy and birthing experience, whether it's in a hospital or at home. If she chooses to place the child up for adoption, she should have the right to ensure that the child goes to a loving, healthy family, free from abuse and neglect. If she chooses to parent, she should have the right to financial assistance should she need it, as well as parenting classes, support groups, etc. The fact of the matter is that pregnant women, whether they choose to terminate a pregnancy or continue it, have very little agency when it comes to their reproductive health, and this has to change.