women

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More on That Louie Scene

Published May 25, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I had intended to run this post a few days ago, but the working week got the better of me (the crescendo of the financial year is always so intense), and I’m a little bit later than planned.  But it’s still important and I know some of you want to expand the discussion more from the previous post – thank you for your patience and keeping in topic!

So last post I was talking about the scene from Louie with the rather amazing Sarah Barker giving a stellar performance as a fat girl on a date.  My last post was a response to the criticisms of her statement that it sucks to be a fat woman were not a win for fat activism.  If you still haven’t seen the scene, or need a refresher, you can check it out here.

It’s important to note that I do have issues with Louis CK and his TV show.  But I’m not talking about those here.

Today I want to respond to some of the fatosphere criticisms of the scene with regards to dating and relationships.

The major criticisms that I have seen that bother me are:

  • She is begging for attention/to have her hand held.
  • That plenty of hot men want to date fat women, why did she go out with one that was reluctant to date her/be seen with her.
  • Men don’t want to date her because she is whiny and annoying, not because she’s fat.
  • It portrays single fat women as “pathetic” or desperate.
  • She’s “settling” when she says she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a husband.
  • Why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?

I find these criticisms extremely problematic.

The first thing that I have a problem with is the way that many perceive her as begging/whining/annoying.  I think that reaction actually reflects the point she makes to Louis about the double standard between when men and women talk about how hard it is to date while being fat – how he can get up on stage and joke about being single and a fat guy and people think it’s adorable, but if she tries to talk about how hard it is for her, people call the suicide hotline.  To me, suggesting she is begging/whining is deeply misogynistic.  She’s being very clear about what bothers her about the way she is treated, and she’s also calling Louis out for behaving in a way that she finds really disappointing.  She expected better of him.  But because she is a woman, it is instantly read as whining/begging.  However if a man were to outline when someone’s behaviour bothered him, he’d be considered assertive and honest.

The next point that bothers me is the suggestion that there are “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” and “why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?”  I think that this reaction to the scene also demonstrates exactly what she is talking about.  She asks Louis if he has ever dated a fat girl, and quickly pulls him up when he starts to say yes and says “I didn’t ask if you’ve fucked a fat girl, every guy has done that.”  She’s calling out the constant fetishisation and objectification of fat women.  Those “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” on BBW sites are in the majority not looking to date a fat woman – they’re fetishizing/objectifying us.  Hands up if you’ve ever been involved with a man who is all too happy to sleep with you in private, but won’t take you out for dinner, or hold your hand in public, or introduce you to his friends?  She quite rightly says that if she had offered Louis sex, he’d have taken it up straight away… what if that’s not what you want from a partner?  There is nothing, NOTHING wrong with wanting to have a romantic relationship with someone, and to want them to put some effort into that relationship.  She’s right, any woman who is willing can get laid.  But it is exceptionally difficult to find men who are willing to date fat women in the same way that they would a thin woman.

Another criticism I find difficult to accept are those asking why she is bothering with Louis if he doesn’t get it (settling).  That’s the judgement we all have to make on all of our interpersonal relationships with people who don’t quite get fat activism.  We don’t live in a bubble of fat positivity, we live in the real world and it means making decisions about whether people are worth having in your life.  Do you take up the challenge of educating them, getting them to see how their behaviour is problematic, or do you just move on.  Sure, pick your battles, some people really aren’t worth your time.  But some people are.  Some people, while initially not getting it, are more than willing to listen and work through it.  That’s what you have to decide.  I’ve not that long ago dated a guy who kept putting his foot in it, not quite understanding what bothered me, but he was willing to listen, and asked me how to get it right.  Sure, it gets frustrating at times, but I never felt that it was “settling” for me to continue to see him.  One of the greatest moments with someone who “doesn’t get it” is that moment that the penny drops and they DO get it.  I love that moment!  Some of the most important people in my life today were really defensive at first, but I thought they were worth keeping around, and now they’re my staunchest allies.

But the one that really sticks in my craw is the suggestion that this portrays a fat woman as “pathetic”.  Why?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to call a man out for a crappy attitude/behaviour and state clearly what she wants?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to say that she wants a man who will be proud to be with her and put some effort into dating her?  It’s interesting that whenever a man shows vulnerability or wants a romantic relationship, it’s sweet and romantic, but if a fat woman does the same, it’s “pathetic” and “needy”?

Interestingly, those within fat activism that have been the most vocal in suggesting that this portrays fat women as pathetic are those who have the privilege of being in a relationship of whatever form themselves.  It makes me really side eye them as supposed allies… do they really think those of us who are single and are interested in dating a man who is proud to be seen with us and puts some effort into us as “pathetic”?

I want all of you to know there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable.  There is nothing wrong with speaking about what you want and expect from relationships.  There is nothing pathetic about wanting to be in a relationship.

Personally, I found this entire scene empowering, because it articulates a lot of things that I feel and represents situations I have been in myself.  That’s what I want to see in television – realistic portrayals of the lives of fat women.  I don’t just want to see us lampooned or turning ourselves into cariacatures (a la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids).  I want to see realistic fat women in realistic situations. Awkward conversations, guys being jerks and then getting called out on it, fat women who are angry, disappointed, exasperated, and fed up, people who don’t quite get it but are willing to try, and sometimes getting that wrong too.

I want to see all representations of fat women, not just those that tick all the Fat Activism 101 boxes.

Unapologetically Ugly

Published May 1, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Every day, when I open my email, there are a plethora of emails detailing how ugly I am.  Every day, someone leaves a comment here on this blog, or sends me an email, or trolls my Tumblr, deeply intent on declaring me the ugliest person they’ve ever seen.  They equate me to pigs, whales, elephants, hippos, manatees and all manner of animals, all of which I personally find awesome and absolutely adorable.

Once upon a time, this would have hurt me deeply.  I would have been terribly upset, it probably would have made me self harm, or driven me to isolate myself more, or stopped me from dressing the way I love to dress.

But it hasn’t done that for a long time.

Now before you deny my ugliness, which is a lovely thought of you, I want to say, it’s OK.  I’m not writing this to have people dispute the accusation.  You don’t need to tell me I’m not ugly, or even that I’m beautiful, to undo the shitty things that some people say to me.  Because other than some irritation at having to deal with continued abuse and harassment, the actual words themselves don’t hurt me at all.

I realised why today when I responded to an email that was actually lovely (not abuse, I don’t respond to those) from a woman who had always felt ugly and she told me about her journey to find her own beauty.  I got to thinking about that need to be beautiful, and I realised I don’t have that need myself. Not that I have any problem with other people needing to feel beautiful, but it’s just not there for me.

I feel absolutely no obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to others.  Oh don’t get me wrong, it is always nice when someone refers to me as beautiful, but I don’t feel it defines me or adds any value to me as a person.   Now admittedly, mostly women are expected to be beautiful, or at least aspire to beauty.  Women are often seen as prizes or trophies measured by their beauty.  I want more from my life than being aesthetically pleasing.

My having beauty does not define all of the important things in my life.  It doesn’t diminish my intellect, my humour, my compassion, my dedication, my enthusiasm, my strength, my ability to love.  These are, for me anyway, the yardsticks which I measure my success as a human being – not beauty.

Let’s not forget, beauty is entirely subjective anyway.  As much as there is a societal beauty ideal, it is not the default of what all people actually find beautiful.  People find all types of features beautiful – for every single feature of appearance there is, someone out there will find it beautiful – even the very things we ourselves might find deeply unattractive.  We can also find polar opposites of features beautiful – you can be attracted to more than one body type, or more than one eye colour, or more than one skin tone, and so on.  I know I am.  Think about the famous people that are seen as beautiful.  One movie star or pop singer may be deeply desirable to one person, and then completely off putting to the next.  Except perhaps for Tom Hiddleston, it seems EVERYONE finds him deeply desirable!

Personally, I’m attracted to people for more than just their physical beauty.  A person can be physically stunning, but deeply repulsive to me.  I can think of several famous actors who are lauded as being the “sexiest men alive” yet I find them very unattractive because I know that they have been violent towards previous partners, or have bigoted political beliefs, or are ignorant.  What I find attractive in a person extends much further than external appearance.  For example I am attracted to an infectious laugh, gentle hands, quick wit, deep intellect… I also like crooked teeth, skinny legs, smile wrinkles, hairy bodies, big feet, fat bellies… all things that other people would consider very unattractive.  A person doesn’t have to have all of those things for me to find them attractive, but I notice them on people and am attracted to them, particularly when accompanied by those non-physical attributes that I like.

That said, I don’t expect every person on the planet to meet my aesthetic.  I’m not personally offended by encountering someone that I do not find attractive.  There seems to be this mentality in men in particular that if a woman fails to be sexually attractive to him, it is a personal insult to him.  I’ve heard it referred to as The Boner Principle.  Any woman who “fails” to inspire an erection in a man loses her right to basic human respect by default.  It is the most unbelievably conceited attitude to think that you are owed attraction by every woman you encounter.

I’ve got no intention of buying into that bullshit.  My life is worth far more than being a pretty ornament that pleases others.  If people think I’m ugly, I offer no apology and feel no shame.  For some time my personal motto has been:

I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Published March 8, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Yes, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate/acknowledge it, I’d like to talk about just how life has changed for me as a woman, and with women over the years.

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All my life, I felt like I wasn’t “girlie” enough.  When I was small it was because I was poor and didn’t have the pretty clothes and things that other girls had, and because I was repeatedly told I was fat.  I felt like being a girl was a competition, and because I couldn’t compete, I wasn’t “girlie”.  Then along came puberty and I really did become fat.  Add hairy and spotty into the equation, that made me feel like I had even less of a right to girlhood.  As I passed through my teens and into adulthood, I still believed that because I didn’t fit what the media, my family, and men in general told me a woman should be, I still didn’t feel like I belonged to womanhood.

My response to that was to internalise misogyny.  I started to tell myself that “I’m not like other girls” and consequently I couldn’t be friends with women or girls.  I surrounded myself with male friends, denounced anything that read as “feminine”, shaved my head and wore big clunky boots and a lot of flannel.  I thought if I couldn’t “compete” with women, I didn’t want to be like one.

You see that’s what misogyny is.  It’s the myth of “femininity”.  The myth that womanhood fits one narrow band of features and behaviours, and that womanhood is a competition between the female of our species to appeal to male of our species, and only those that “win” the attention of men are allowed to consider themselves “feminine”.  Femininity is measured by how pleasing a woman is to men – by her appearance, her voice, her behaviour and her sexual availability.

Not to mention that fat women are so othered by society in so many ways that rob them of the things that are supposed to mark femininity – society sets the standards of femininity and then denies them to fat women.  When you cannot buy the clothes that are considered acceptable, when you are not seen represented by marketing and the media, when you are treated as sub-human, you cannot participate in society as a peer.  When you are led to believe that life is a competition, and that you are not a peer of the population in general, you tend to opt out.

There is no wonder that so many fat women (as well as other marginalised women) internalise the misogyny that is continually poured on us.

But for me, somewhere about the same time as fat liberation, I found feminism.  I started to question the way women are treated in our culture, and I started to see just how girls and women are forced into competition with each other to prove this thing called “femininity”, to prove their worthiness as human beings.  I learned to value myself not only as a woman, but as a fat woman.  I learned that girlhood and womanhood are far more diverse than society leads us to believe, and that there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a woman a woman.

I also began to see just how badly many of the men in my life, those who I believed were my friends, were treating me.  I began to recognise just how many of them dismissed my opinion, ridiculed my feelings, refused to respect my physical boundaries and generally just treated me with disrespect.  I finally put an end to the friendship with the man who was supposed to be my best friend, but had been repeatedly sexually assaulting me for the entire span of our 15 year friendship – assault which I had been groomed to believe was my fault and that I deserved it, and that I was silly for feeling uncomfortable and upset about.  I began to expect better of the men in my life.  Which meant that many of the ones I already had in my life either left or had to be removed, but it meant that there was room in my life for good men (y’all know who you are fellas) who treat me with respect.  The men I have in my life these days are amazing, and I’m honoured to know them.

Another factor that changed for me on discovering feminism and fat activism is that I’ve enjoyed participating in things that are coded as “feminine”, where I did not before.  I wear dresses.  I love anything pink.  I enjoy having my nails done and growing my hair long so that I can pin flowers and bows in it.  These things are not any indicator of womanhood, but are things usually denied to women who are seen as unacceptable.  It’s nice to have the option to participate in things that are seen as traditionally feminine.

That doesn’t mean you have to perform “femininity” to be a woman, after all “femininity” is a social construct.   What  it means is that you give yourself permission to enjoy those things that are coded as feminine regardless of whether you fit society’s narrow definitions of womanhood.

I’ve realised that how others judge me is not indicative of my womanhood.  My womanhood is my identity, not for others to bestow upon me if they deem me worthy.

However the greatest benefit of feminism and fat activism for me has been the discovery that now that I don’t feel in any way competitive towards other women, I’ve discovered I really like women.  I’ve made far more women friends and they in turn have enriched my life in more ways than I can express.  I enjoy the company of other women immensely and found that we have more in common than we have in difference.

So this is for you, all of the women in my life, all of the women who read my blog and all of the women who have been convinced by others that they’re not good enough, not “feminine” enough, that they don’t belong to womanhood.  YOU determine your womanhood, not others.

Here’s to the women of the world.  May you see your own value.

Her: The Movie

Published January 25, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I just got home from a day out at the movies (with a little brunch with a friend and shopping interspersed amongst it).  I saw The Book Thief, which is wonderful, I can highly recommend it, and then I saw Her.

I want to talk a little bit about the latter, because I came away with many thoughts buzzing around my head.  Luckily I had a bit of a wait for my bus and then a good half hour bus trip, so that I could begin to gather my thoughts on the movie into some coherence to write about here.

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Let me start by saying that Her is beautifully written, shot and acted.  Visually it is gorgeous, the language of the film is quite poetic and the cast are excellent, they all give nuanced performances that felt very human and real.

But the concept of a man falling in love with an artificially intelligent operating system-woman really stuck in my craw.  At first I couldn’t work out why, humans falling in love with robots/computers/artificial intelligent beings isn’t new, but when I sat with it for awhile, I realised what bothered me.  This perfect woman that Theodore (Joachin Phoenix) has found, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen), has no body.  She has a brain, she has emotions, she has humour, she has intellect, she even has sexuality, but no physical form.

The perfect woman in this film is a woman whose body has been effectively photoshopped out of existence.

We’re all used to the concept of a woman’s body being photoshopped/edited to be something it isn’t.  We’re even used to seeing the results of that editing rendering women’s bodies smaller and thinner and more unrealistic.  All the “messy” bits of women’s actual bodies have been edited away for a long time.  Cellulite, wrinkles, stretchmarks, body hair, fat… even women’s genitals are edited to the point of “perfection”, which is completely unattainable by any living human being even after extensive cosmetic procedures.  Human beings are animals and we’re innately messy.  Our bodily functions are like that of any other animal – messy.  In this case she has been edited completely out of having a body at all.  All her physical “flaws” have been removed until there is no physical form left.

It reminds me somewhat of Alexandria’s Genesis, a fictional “condition” prevalent in science fiction where female characters have purple eyes, pale white skin, dark hair, slow ageing, no body hair or periods (yet they can still conceive) and they don’t get diseases.  This condition is a lazy writer’s way of making the “perfect” woman, who doesn’t have any of the messiness of things like illness, body hair or a menstrual cycle.  Because actual women are seen as dirty, messy, leaky things.

It’s inherently a misogynistic view of women, that suggest we are somehow unacceptable for being living creatures, as human beings.  It’s acceptable for men to be hairy, flawed, smelly, sweaty and physical bodies.  But somehow it is considered far worse a crime for a woman to be any of the above.

I also take exception to the idea that the “perfect woman” is entirely there to please her man.  She is created entirely by and for him, and while she sometimes has emotions that he cannot understand or takes exception to, she never argues with him, never disagrees with him and spends much of the movie apologising to him for her questions, assumptions and actions.  In fact he gets angry when Samantha starts speaking with her peers – other operating systems, and befriends a male operating system.

If this behaviour were replicated in a human relationship, it would be an abusive relationship.  However this makes Samantha the “perfect woman” that Theodore has found.  There are other moments that are deeply problematic, but I don’t want to get spoilery on you all.  Ultimately when Samantha has very human reactions and feelings, things begin to turn sour for the relationship.

Ultimately while I could see the beauty and talent behind the film (both the cast and the director/cinematography) I came away feeling like the film was a very harsh criticism of actual women, that suggested the only way to make a woman meet the standard men are seeking was to erase her physical form and make her sole purpose to please her man.  Take away a woman’s personhood and she becomes “the perfect woman”.

A deeply misogynistic premise… and misogyny in films is so dull, we’ve seen it all before.

Permission to Geek Out – Granted.

Published October 19, 2013 by sleepydumpling

It’s no secret to anyone who follows my Tumblr that I am a massive fan of Tom Hiddleston.  It all started with his role as Loki in the Avengers films and grew from there.  This is because I’ve always been a complete geek, when I get into something, I get really into it.  I love to dissect every nuance and really get into the minutiae of a topic that I’m into.  So I’m one of those people who gets on Tumblr with a bunch of other geeks of the same flavour, and we talk about all the details of that thing we love.  Right now for me, that’s the world of Marvel’s Avengers with particular focus on Loki.

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It has always been like this for me.  I can remember being obsessed with everything Roald Dahl wrote when I was about 7 years old.  At 11 it was US Civil War history, after reading Janet Lunn’s “The Root Cellar”.  At 15, it was everything Titanic, after reading Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember” for a school assignment.  That particular obsession came back when James Cameron’s film came out in 1996.  At 16 it was the world of the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  At 18 it was Dublin Soul music, thanks to The Commitments.  All through my life, I’ve been the kind of person who really likes to delve into stuff at a detailed level when the bug bites me.  When I discovered the internet in my early 20′s, I joined so many forums and chat groups (and remember IRC?) just so I could talk about stuff I love.  I still have friends now that I met online in Titanic, SeaChange, Mythbusters, and Tank Girl forums (among others) many, many years ago.

Science fiction, fantasy and superheroes are awesome.  I used to have an extensive collection of indie comics until my stepfather dumped them all (my favourite was one called Greener Pastures, followed closely by Tank Girl).  I have played some form of computer game almost every day of my life since I was 10 years old.   I work with technology for a living.  Every working day has me designing integrated AV systems and implementing IT solutions for everything from training customers in social media to 3D printing.  I squee over shiny new gadgets.   I’m a shameless Apple fan.  I’m a librarian for God’s sake.

Yet I’ve noticed something.  I don’t qualify as a “geek” in general geek culture.  People roll their eyes at my TARDIS lock-screen on my iPhone.  They scoff at the little Thor figurine that lives on my office desk.  People make snide little comments about “fangirls” in reference to our online discussions about Doctor Who and Marvel Avengers.  When I wear my PacMan earrings guys call me a “fake geek girl”.  Dudes often explain things to me at work (and outside of work) as if I’m stupid.  A particular bugbear is some guy who has never worked with AV in his life lecturing me about what kind of TV I should buy, five minutes after he’s watched me explain to my AV vendor what integration I want in a three room combinable meeting room system.  Or the friend who asked the teenage boy working in JB HiFi which DVD/Bluray to buy even though she had already asked me and I had given her some recommendations.  Because a bored looking teenage boy in retail clearly knows more than a 40 year old woman who works with AV integration for 35 large public sites.

In general, a woman’s interest in anything geeky is dismissed and patronised.  Women are treated like “silly fangirls” and “fake geek girls” while the dude sitting beside them is wearing a wookie hoodie or has only seen the JJ Abrahms Star Trek films.  Of course, there are always a million reasons given.  Let’s look at a few shall we?

You’re only wearing that because you like the look of it!
So no dude has ever worn some form of geek culture because he liked the look of it?  How many dudes have bought an Iron Man t-shirt because it looked cool?  So what if it looks cool and a woman wants to wear it.  How is that hurting anyone?

You’re only into [insert geek culture] because [insert attractive celebrity] is in it!
Oh and dudes don’t buy comic books because the female characters are drawn hot?  Like they don’t drool over Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia or a whole bunch of other actresses who have been in sci-fi/fantasy/super-hero roles.  It’s a good thing if a popular actor is a gateway drug into a fandom.  How different is it having Matt Smith or David Tennant draw a woman into Doctor Who than an actress in a skimpy costume do the same thing for another fandom?

You’re only getting into it because “geek culture” is trendy right now!
I’m sorry?  I played my first computer game when I was 10.  That was 31 years ago.  I read science fiction and fantasy, watched anime and bought comic books from the same age.  For chunks of my teens I was ridiculed for it, so I hid it away a lot, but I’ve been into geeky stuff longer than many of the loud anti-fangirl crew have been alive.

You only play girly games, not real ones!
Firstly, lots of women play games that are traditionally aimed at men.  I work with a 40 year old woman who has played WoW ever since I’ve known her and that’s over a decade.  A girlfriend of mine loves Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Mass Effect, Call of Duty and such.

Secondly, how welcoming are these traditionally male oriented games to women?  Are there any decent female characters for them to choose from, or are women just treated as tits and arse for the male players to ogle?  If they’re multi-player games, how are women treated when they join in to play?  One only has to follow Anita Sarkeesian’s work to see why many women shy away from these games and environments.

But finally, why are male oriented games considered more “real” or valid than other types of game?  Why is Grand Theft Auto  more “real” than The Sims, Tetris, Animal Crossing, The Simpsons Tapped Out or even Cookie Mama and Farmville?  Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds are as valid as games as any shooting or driving game marketed to the dudes.  Why is spending your time playing a game that shoots people more “valid” than spending your time playing a game that slices fruit?

You don’t know anything about the history of [insert geek culture]!
How many male Lord of the Rings fans don’t know diddly squat about Tolkien?  Or male Star Trek fans know nothing about Roddenberry?  Or male Doctor Who fans who have never watched an episode prior to the Eccleston reboot?  How many male gamers out there never played PacMan, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or have even heard of Pong?  How many male science fiction readers have never read Orwell, Wyndham or Wells?  How many comic book readers have never seen a vintage copy of The Phantom (or never even heard of The Phantom!) or collected indie comic books?  I could go on.  Why is it perfectly acceptable for men to pick and choose what geek culture they engage in, but women are quizzed and tested to prove their worth?  Besides, how often does something that is new and popular draw people into the history?  So, maybe they are only getting into Avengers because of Joss Whedon’s film, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to get totally into the whole Marvel universe and start collecting comic books.

Silly fangirls are ruining everything!
Ruining everything for who?  For men who like the status quo of no female characters of substance, of never having to feel inadequate next to a handsome male character, of not having their fragile masculinity threatened by a dude shown in a sexually attractive light.  They’re not the only people on the planet, and they’re not the only ones who are willing to fork out their hard earned cash on fandom.  So something needs to appeal to women as well as men now to make money and stick around.  Good!  Not only is there more money to be devoted to keeping something alive if both men and women can dig it, but women have as much right to stuff they can dig as men do.  We have as much right to be treated with respect, given diverse and detailed characters and to be considered when developing, writing, casting and marketing content.  Besides, if we have to sit through a movie with some woman in a gold bikini, the fellas can sit through one with a dude with his shirt off and tight pants.

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The reality is, women are not considered valid human beings, so our interests, knowledge and skills are not considered valid either.  Our wants and needs are considered “add ons”, not the default.  Our fandom is considered an irritant rather than the integral part of the machine of geek culture that it is.  Don’t let people treat your interests and hobbies as silly or unworthy.  You have every right to the geeky that any man does.  Embrace your fangirl nature if you have one.  Squee over the things you love.  Learn about technology and gadgets if you are interested in them.  Wear, create, use whatever geek culture you want, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not worthy, or you’re silly for filling your life with geekdom.  You keep these geek culture items alive as much, if not more, than any snarky dude in a Yoda t-shirt!

And don’t get me started on other systems of privilege in geek culture either!

Part of a Solution, Or Part of the Problem?

Published July 28, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I don’t know if you saw this article from the Herald Sun over the past few days.  It is a piece by the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, calling for men to both listen to women when they speak about domestic and gendered violence, and for men to speak up against all instances of violence towards women, not just the big horrifying stuff.  It asks men to take a look at their own attitudes and behaviour, and whether or not they are contributing to a culture that excuses violence towards women.

It’s an excellent piece and I am happy to see such an influential man standing up and calling out the dismissive attitudes that many men have towards domestic and gendered violence.

I of course, shared it on my Facebook and asked the men in my life, who I believe are good men, otherwise I wouldn’t have them in my life, to take some action themselves.  I saw the article shared by many, many women but had not once seen a man share it.  So I asked the men in my life to ask themselves if perhaps this was an indication that they were not listening to the women in their lives, and could take a little more action to speak up against violence against women.

Two awesome dudes in my life took the time to post the article themselves and openly condemn violence towards women, no matter how big or small.  I’m so proud to know those two guys are listening, and are not afraid to step up and say that violence towards women is unacceptable.  That’s the kind of man I want in my life.

But I’m not so pleased about is the responses to the article that I saw.  They were the same response in every place I looked regardless of the gender of the commenter, or their age, or whether they were commenting on it posted by a man or by a woman.  Now while the actual wording of the responses were different, they all said basically the same thing:

Men are violent towards women because of [television/pop music/the economy/culture/parents/insert other excuse here].

Over and over and over again, something was to blame for men being violent towards women.  The shit kiddies watch on telly today.  Those awful rappers.  The economy, men don’t feel respected when they can’t be breadwinners.  Young people today.  Because women are sometimes violent too.  Porn, porn makes men violent.  Religion, religion makes men violent.

All these excuses.

I’m sick of the excuses.  Can we not just stand up and say that when men are violent towards women, it’s because those men believe they have the right to be?  And by making excuses and pointing the blame at external factors all the time, we’re GIVING them an out.  We’re telling men that we “understand” that things “make” them violent towards women, instead of placing the blame exactly where it lies, with the men who are violent towards women.

The one that bugs me the most is the whole “young people today with their television and pop music” argument.  I’m 41 this year, so I’m in my 5th decade.  I’ve been around since the 70′s, and guess what, the past isn’t some rosy place where no woman was ever subjected to violence.  Popular culture is no  more to blame for men being violent towards women today as it was in the 70′s when my father was kicking the shit out of me.  I’ve survived violence from men through every decade of my life, be it overt or subtle, it has always been there.  From the domestic abuse of my childhood, the sexual abuse of my teens and twenties, through abusive partners in my 30′s and I still have men groping or grabbing me in public, spitting at me, calling me a cunt in the street or sending me death threats online.  Music and telly didn’t cause that at any point in my life, the cultural excuses for violence against women did.

The same goes for the economy/breadwinner argument.  If violence towards women were based on economy or employment, then no wealthy man would have ever murdered, raped or assaulted a woman in history, which we know is not true.  We would never have had violence towards women in boom times, like after the second world war or through the early 2000′s.  Men in jobs they love that provide them with excellent incomes are still violent towards women, this is not about whether or not a man is “respected” as a breadwinner.  It’s pretty disgusting that anyone would demand that men should be “shown respect” through the struggling economy when women can’t even be respected as human beings whether the economy is good or not.

When we constantly try to find something to blame for violence towards women, we are contributing to the problem.  We’re building the culture that tells men it’s not their fault that they are violent towards women, instead of telling them that violence towards women is inexcusable.  We have to tell the perpetrators of violence that they are responsible for their actions, not find something else to blame.  Until we do, this culture is never going to be broken.  And women are still going to be living their lives in fear of “triggering” violence from men.

If you’re making excuses as to why men are being violent towards women, I want you to listen to yourself.  Whatever your gender, I want you to ask why there has to be an excuse, why you have to find something to blame?  Ask yourself, is this part of the solution, or am I part of the problem?

*And before you start in on the “But what about violence against men?!” crap, read this, and then read this.

Embracing our Bodies – University of Queensland Women’s Collective Event

Published May 19, 2013 by sleepydumpling

It’s short notice, but I just got this great poster for the event I’m speaking at on Tuesday night. If you’re in Brisbane, and you can make it… come along!

Embracing Our Bodies poster

Embracing Our Bodies: A panel discussion and information session on eating disorders in Australia
Date: Tuesday 21st May, 2013
Time: 6pm
Location: UQ Student Union Complex Innes Room 2

No Excuses – No Victim Blaming

Published November 22, 2012 by sleepydumpling

This Sunday is White Ribbon Day.  I blog about White Ribbon Day every year, because it is a cause close to my heart.

This year, White Ribbon Day is particularly important to me.

What is White Ribbon Day?  It is the one day per year that is devoted to the cause of ending violence against women.  It generally has a domestic violence focus, but it is in fact a campaign to end ALL violence against women.  I’ll give you a few Australian statistics:

  • Every week, a woman is killed by a current or former partner.
  • One in three women over the age of 15 report physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
  • Domestic violence is the major cause of homelessness of women and children.
  • 33% of women have experienced inappropriate comments about their body or sex life.
  • 25% have experienced unwanted sexual contact.
  • 1 in 5 women have been stalked.

Be aware these statistics are of reported cases.  This does not cover the hundreds of incidents every day that go unreported.  Violence against women is not just physical or sexual.  It is also mental, emotional, financial and institutional.  Every act of dehumanising a woman is violence against women.

This week just past has been hellish for me.  In the week since I attempted to launch a project for marginalised women and was forced to shut it down due to the amount of harassment, bullying and threats aimed at me and anyone who expressed interest in participating, I have been subjected to a constant barrage of abuse from complete strangers.  Everything from anonymous hate on Tumblr, days and days of harassment on Twitter, someone creating fake Facebook accounts in my name (with stolen photographs of me) and attempting to spam all of my friends and colleagues to actual death threats.

This abuse does not exist in a vacuum.  This abuse happens because culturally in Australia, and the rest of the world, violence and abuse against women is considered culturally  acceptable.  Not just the kind of abuse I’ve experienced this week either – rape, physical assault and murder are excused repeatedly.  Victims are blamed for their abuse – either they are told they actually did the wrong thing, ie were in the wrong place, wearing the wrong thing, behaving the wrong way etc, or if they do speak up, they are accused of “playing the victim” or “drawing negative attention to themselves”.

The most horrifying fact is that many women internalise these dehumanising messages and then turn them on their fellow women.  Just this week in my own experience, many women actively recruited men to help them abuse me online when I refused to apologise for telling them to fuck off out of my space.  This is disgusting behaviour, and a prime example of internalised misogyny.  “Women aren’t allowed to say that!” or “What a bitch, she’s going DOWN!”  Not once did I initiate contact with any of these people, nor did I go to their online spaces to leave abuse or even respond to them, the only time I responded was when they approached me, and mostly it was simply to tell them to fuck off out of my space.

There is NO excuse for violence against women.  There is NO reason that a woman is to blame for being abused.  No matter how she dresses, where she goes, what she does with her own body, what she drinks or consumes, what she says or how she behaves.

Women do not have to be nice, polite or submissive.  Women are allowed to say NO.  Women have every right to tell someone who comes into her space, be it physical or online to fuck off.  Women don’t have to give someone “the benefit of the doubt”.  If she does, and that person then abuses her, she is then blamed for not protecting herself.  “What was she thinking!?” people cry.  She was clearly thinking that she should give someone “the benefit of the doubt” like she was told to do.  Women are allowed to be loud, to swear, to dress themselves however they like, to have consensual sex with whoever they wish to, to be angry, to inhabit any public space without it drawing violence to her.  Women are even allowed to be rude, cranky, impolite, abrasive, abrupt, nasty, bitchy… and all those other words that are shame code for “women being assertive” without it drawing violence to her.

THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

If you do not like a woman, walk away.  Don’t pursue her into her space either online or physically.  Do not force her to pay attention to you when she does not want to.  Do not bully her anonymously to try to shame or silence her.  Don’t try to passive aggressively shame her by claiming you are offering “constructive criticism” when she does not want it and you are in her space.  You are not “offering” anything, you are forcing her, and that is violence against her.  Don’t recruit your friends or men to bully her if she doesn’t respond to your demands.  Do not abuse her for being rude if she walks away from you or tells you to leave her alone, even if she says “fuck off” in doing so.   She has every right to do so and owes you nothing.

If you really believe you are superior to someone, then you will walk away from them secure in that knowledge.  A better human being always will.

We live in a horrifically victim blaming culture.  We harass women online and off, threaten and bully them into submission, shame them when we deem that they are unworthy or inferior.  We get angry at women who stay in abusive relationships, but also deny them support and protection if they leave those relationships.  We shame them for not standing by their man, not standing on their own two feet, not caring enough about their children, not trying hard enough to make things better.  All the while we absolve the perpetrators of any responsibility.  We deny women support financially and emotionally when they leave abusive relationships, shame them for being “single mothers” or “sluts” or “a drain on society” for needing financial assistance when a partner has financially abused them and their children.  In the same breath that we tell women to give men “the benefit of the doubt”, we then blame her if she does and it turns bad.

But most importantly, we must speak up.  We must speak up as a culture and say “This is not ok.”  It is scary to speak up, as I’ve seen particularly painfully this week, and I am sure this very post will draw it as well*.  I am not “special” or “brave” for doing so – I’m just a woman who has had enough of being treated like shit by society and then blamed for it and treated even more like shit.  I have just reached a point where I can’t survive any more being pushed down for being a woman who is deemed unacceptable or inferior.  You too can speak up whether it’s loudly and publicly like I do, or amongst your own family or friends.  Big or small, every statement made against the violence women suffer gathers, accumulates and gets louder and louder.  Every voice, wherever it is, makes the world a bit safer for women and gives women courage to stand up to abuse and expect better for herself.

Tomorrow and through to Sunday there are many events happening around the country to raise funds and awareness for women who have or are suffering violence.  Every small donation for a white ribbon, every raffle ticket, every cocktail party or rally makes a difference.  If nothing else, donate a couple of bucks, buy a white ribbon and wear it to work, around your friends and family, on the street.  It is a tiny symbol of hope for women who have suffered everywhere that someone cares, that someone will stand with them, that someone believes that campaigning to end violence against women matters.

If I had seen that tiny symbol when I was suffering domestic abuse, I know I would have been empowered a whole lot earlier in life than I was.  I know I feel a whole lot more empowered now seeing it on men and women everywhere.

And if you are a woman suffering or have suffered abuse or violence of any kind, know that I care, as do many others.  I do this for you as much as I do this for me.

*I will be reporting any abuse I receive to the police,  including IP addresses and all other details.  I will also be publishing this information online.

Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

Published February 28, 2012 by sleepydumpling

A few days ago I was writing an email to a friend of mine about fat, fashion and marginalisation, and while I was doing so, quite a few things kind of went “Ping!” in my head, and I realised I wanted to expand upon the subject in a general sense here on my blog.  We were talking about how many fat women feel about clothing and fashion, and the desperation so many of us feel when trying to find clothes that fit us, suit our lives, we like, make us feel good, and that are fashionable.

Those of us who engage in fatshion, the act of dressing/styling ourselves with pride and personal expression as fat women are outside of the acceptable cultural meme for fat women.  Fat women are expected to constantly be expressing their shame at having a fat body and doing everything they can to hide those fat bodies.  Regardless of whether or not that suits our lives, our needs or our personalities.

That’s the thing with inhabiting a fat body.  People see you as just that – a fat body.  They don’t attribute anything else to you, like a career or family, hobbies or convictions, let alone sense of humour, or intellect, or talent, or kindness and caring, or passion, or dedication… the list goes on.  The world sees you as FAT.  It’s the first thing people use to describe you, even if you have other more noticeable traits.  In my own personal case, my fat even trumps my candy coloured hair and tattoos as the most noticeable thing about me.  People notice that I am fat, before they notice a single other thing about me.

But of course, if you identify as fat and actually own this quality about yourself that the world constantly reminds you of, then the vitriol intensifies.  How DARE any woman not be ashamed of being fat.  She must be reminded that she is of lesser value, she must be brought down to the level that she belongs.

Clothing, indeed fashion, is one of the ways that society does that.  By restricting the options to fat women, it is another reminder that we are other.  That we don’t deserve the same things as “normal” people.  It serves to make us look even more different to general society, and then of course it is very effective in making us FEEL different to general society.

Having access to clothes that are fashionable and on a par with general society is both empowering and deeply emotional.  Because it takes away that demarcation of being socially other, and brings fat women to a point of being able to not just dress like, but BE peers to others in society.

I’m old enough to span a few decades of awareness of clothing and fashion.  I remember what it was like in the 80′s to try to find clothes to fit my fat body.  It was agonising.  So as a consequence, I spent most of my teens through to my early 30′s hiding.  Hiding in black, navy, burgundy.  Hiding in shapeless boxes.  No personal expression, no style, no fashion.  I never got to engage in fashion as a social event, so I was distanced from other girls/young women.  Therefore I never felt I could be friends with girls/women – and consequently only had male friends until my 30′s.  Of course, I didn’t know back then that this was institutionalised misogyny – teaching me that if I couldn’t “compete” with my peers, I couldn’t participate with them.

See how this shit works to push fat women further and further down the cultural hierarchy?

Then it came to work, and I couldn’t find clothes that matched those that my professional peers were wearing.  Instead, more shapeless, sloppy, dark sacks – which in turn made others (and myself) believe that I was less capable, less committed, less able than my thin peers.  After all, if you can’t dress yourself confidently, surely you can’t do anything else confidently right?

It just keeps going on and on and on.

I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are.  That’s always a special feeling.  I’ve been the one that the person with the fucked up food obsession uses for thinspiration.  I can’t tell you how it feels to have someone in a position of power use you as their metaphorical piggy-on-the-refrigerator, stalking your every move around food… and because they’re in a position of power, you can’t say “Fuck off.” or if you say anything to anyone else you get told you’re imagining it or over-sensitive.

I understand.  I know how it feels.  I live it every day of my damn life.

My only way of coping is to take it on and try to change the world.  I did 35 years of trying to change me to fit the world, and it didn’t work – it almost killed me.  Now I intend to devote the rest of my life to changing the world to fit everyone.  After all, the world is a big diverse place, there is room in it for all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like or what our lives are.  And we fat people have as much right to it as anyone else.

Rage Against Injustice

Published February 8, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Following on from my last post, and after the good ole ranty pants I had on Twitter this evening, I want to talk some more about anger.  Because you know, the minute a woman stands her ground and says “Enough!” she is accused of two things – being selfish and being angry.

I think there is a whole lot of shame attached to anger, particularly in women.  We’ve talked before about how accusing someone of being angry is meant to derail and silence someone who is speaking up/out about something.  I want to expand on that a bit further.

Particularly on the accusation “You’re such an angry person.” that so often gets thrown in the direction of women.

When it comes to social justice, which is what fat activism is a form of, anger is a completely understandable emotion to feel, and to see from social justice activists.  Because really, we’re talking about injustices here.  We’re talking about the oppression of people based on their size.  We’re talking about the open hatred of people because of their weight.  We’re talking about social and medical discrimination of human beings.  We’re talking physical, emotional and social abuse of a whole swathe of people, simply because their bodies don’t fit into a narrow, arbitrary measure of “acceptable”.  I say there’s something wrong with you if you’re not getting angry about this.

In fact, I get angry about ALL forms of social injustice, be they based on gender, size, race, sexuality, spiritual beliefs, physical ability, economic status or beyond.  I get angry at the marginalisation and oppression of human beings for any arbitrary reason.  Because it’s fucking wrong!

If that shit isn’t making you angry… there’s something wrong.

Of course, speaking up about any of this gets that dreaded accusation “You’re such an angry person!!”

What many people fail to understand, is that they so often only see one aspect of someone.  Many readers of my activism work know little more about me than what I write here, or tweet.  They see just this perspective, Kath in her activist boots.

We’re all a whole lot more multi-faceted than that.  Yes, as an activist, there is a good amount of anger expressed through my work.  But then there’s my career – those people only know me through my employment.  They see a different side of me, and many of them don’t know about the activism I do.  They see dedicated Kath who loves her job to bits and most of the time, has a whole lot of fun doing it.  They see Library Kath, in her librarian hat.

Beyond that, there are people who know me primarily through my hobbies.  They see yet another facet of me.  They see someone who loves to have fun and laugh.  They see playful Kath, who loves to try new things and expand her horizons.  They see Leisure Kath, in her leisure dress.

Then there is Kath the friend.  Kath who cares about the people in her life.  The Kath that wants to hear when her friends are going through good times and bad.  They see Friend Kath, in her friend socks.

Then there is private Kath.  This is the Kath who enjoys her own company, likes quiet down time on her own, away from any need to perform to other’s expectations.  Almost nobody sees this Kath, since she likes to keep that side of herself to herself.  That is Kath, in her private underpants.

Some very special people in my life get to see all those facets, and they know me better than others, so they see the whole outfit – dress, hat, socks, boots and if they’re really lucky, underpants.  They see all of me, the whole outfit.  They see that the anger is tempered by the humour, which is balanced by the caring, which is strengthened by the intelligence.  Now sometimes parts of those aspects of myself get a bit worn through, and I have to lean on the others.  That’s how it is with everyone – we sometimes focus on one aspect of our lives more than others, until we are refreshed about our careers, our loved ones, our activism, our hobbies etc.

Yet because people may only see certain parts of the whole, they decide they can judge someone only on the strength of the part they see.  So in my case, lots of people know me as the angry fatty, who rants and raves about how people treat fat folks.

I hold no shame for my anger.  Just like love, or humour, or sadness, or passion, or worry, or dedication, it is part of who I am and a genuine emotion that I have as much right to express as any other emotion.

Many people equate anger with violence as well – but the two are not the same thing.  I believed they were until my late teens, because that’s what I was taught anger was.  I was taught all my childhood and most of my teens that if you made someone angry, the repercussion was violence.  It wasn’t until I met a dear friend of mine at 17 (hey Big Dude, love you!), who taught me that someone could be absolutely livid, totally pissed off, and not engage in violence at all.

Anger can be damaging, for sure.  It can be damaging if we direct it towards the wrong things.  It is also damaging if we let it fester inside us and don’t deal with it.

So often, we bottle up our anger.  We suppress it to be “nice” or “polite”.  Particularly women – women are expected to be pleasant and nice, caring and gentle.  We’re not allowed to express anger at hurt or injustice.  If we are, we’re aggressive, unfeminine… bitches.  So instead, many women learn to be passive-aggressive, and engage in snark or spite.

For the first… well most of my life, I didn’t express my anger at injustice.  I held it in, worried about what people thought about me.  So it came out at things.  Instead of allowing myself to be angry at people for behaving like complete arsehats, I let it fester inside me until I took it out on something inanimate.  I can’t tell you how many appliances I’ve destroyed in complete rage that was boiling over from the way I had been treated as a fat woman.

Now, I focus my anger on the injustices of the world.  Instead of swallowing my anger at bigotry and ignorance and hate, which forces it to surface later, in my job or at my loved ones, I let that rage out at where it should be -  at the injustices towards human beings.

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