Let’s Combat Sexism with Sizeism!

facepalmMarilyn Wann made me aware of a project by artist Anna Gensler.  She decided that it was time to do something about the objectifying messages that she was getting from guys on Tinder and Ok Cupid.

Awesome!

She decided that “I’m an artist, so my weapon of choice is art,”

Cool beans!

She “wanted to find a way to make these men feel objectified in the same way that they were making women feel.”

Ok.

So she decided that she would create naked drawings of them, created based on their picture but drawn to be “fat and not very well-endowed.”

Aw crap.

So what Ms. Gensler decided to do is attempt to make guys who are being jerks feel bad by drawing them to look more like guys she assumes they stigmatize for how they look. Basically, she’s trying to combat sexism with sizeism.  The idea of drawing guys who are being jerks to look more like guys who aren’t being jerks but do deal with a bunch of societal crap for the size of their bodies and the size of their dicks is seriously problematic.

The argument I’ve seen in support of this is that art, and especially art combined with humor, needs leeway.  I would argue if even if we agree with that, we should consider the use of what I’ve always heard of as the “Court Jester Rule” (though I don’t know and can’t find who to credit for the terminology) which is to say that in mocking someone as a form of humor – especially for activism –  you want to move up the chain of social power, not down it (such that it’s one thing for the Court Jester to mock the King, another for the King to Mock the Court Jester because of the balance of power between them.)  I think that the idea for the project is great, I think that including weight bigotry/sizeism is not.

In general I would suggest, no matter what their transgression, it’s not cool to try to make someone feel bad by comparing them with, making them into, or wishing them into, a group that is oppressed, even in an attempt at humor.

Marilyn wrote a beautiful e-mail about it that she agreed to let me share here. If you would like to e-mail Anna with your thoughts, she can be reached at gensler.anna@gmail.com (as someone who gets tons of hatemail everyday and someone who has definitely committed all kinds of -isms (racism, ableism etc.) out of ignorance and been (rightly, of course) called out on it, I would request that you consider writing from a place of education, but of course we each get to choose how we deal with oppression and The Underpants Rule applies here:

Hi, Anna:

I came across the Buzzfeed story today about your clever response to online-dating creeps.

I certainly share your vexation at these energy-drain wankers, from both personal experience and feminist principle. And I applaud your public critique of them.

However, I am opposed to your choice of using weight variation as a putdown in this project.

I’ve been a fat rights activist for 20 years. It’s a classic form of weight bigotry to imagine that being fat makes people who identify as men less manly and people who identify as women less “feminine.” That’s a great example of the intersectionality and mutual reinforcement of sexism and weight prejudice.

I see that you’re quoted in Slate as saying your drawings were “all based off of these guys’ profile pictures, so their faces and their general positions are the same, but from there I tried to make them look a little chubbier or scrawnier or just not particularly well-endowed.”

By using stupid mainstream ideas as a putdown (i.e., fat people can’t be hot or sexy; men should be big, not “scrawny;” men have to have big dicks to be good lovers), you’re reinforcing the same system of yuck that prompts men to be creeps online.

I’m sure that you can find a creative way to overcome such unnecessary and hurtful concepts in your art.

As my friend Jonny Newsome says, “The freedom bus doesn’t leave until we all get on.”

Wheee! – Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO?

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Published in: on May 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm  Comments (31)  

31 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “The freedom bus doesn’t leave until we all get on.” Oh wow, I love that.

  2. I think Marilyn said it all for me, and far more eloquently than the sputtering I was doing at my computer screen.

    • I agree. Marilyn is so eloquent and clear, there’s little or nothing else to add, and scant likelihood it could be better said.

  3. I was surprised to find that the men were drawn as just mildly-to-moderately fat– more evidence that the standards are getting more stringent for men.

    • I know! I looked at those pictures, and saw completely normal-looking, physically attractive men, who were saying stupid things. They shouldn’t be upset at the pictures, because the pictures are fine. It’s the LINES they say that make them look so bad.

      Also, that one guy looks like he’s eating the woman’s nose. GROSS.

  4. Brilliant response from Marilyn and the same excellent dissection of the issue from you. Thank you for addressing it.

  5. Thanks for writing about this, Ragen! People wouldn’t have heard of him. I met Jonny Newsome in San Francisco when he was organizing against a racist nightclub owner in the Castro, here in San Francisco, with a group he started called And Castro For All.

  6. It shocks and horrifies me that the EXACT thing we tell children not to do (be bullies, treat disabled people poorly, make fun of those who have a different hair style or clothing style than is the current fashion, etc ad infinitum) seems perfectly acceptable amongst adults who should KNOW BETTER. ??? I find it hard to believe that Anna Gensler would tell her child that a reasonable solution to the problem of other kids treating him poorly would be to make fun of the other kids’ weight or height, or call them “four eyes” because they wear glasses. If it isn’t okay in the school yard, why is it suddenly fine for adults?

  7. So happy to see you cover this. I commented here about this hoping you would, but I’m not sure if my comments are being posted or getting lost somehow.

  8. This is the type of bullshit that makes feminism look really bad.
    I’m not saying that people having an overall negative view of feminism is justifiable because of the few extremists and/or idiots who say or do ridiculous things supposedly in the name of feminism, I’m just saying, it doesn’t help.
    The rule is very simple: Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. There are other ways of trying to make people realize what it might feel like to have something happen to them without actually doing it to them.
    I understand to an extent why it’s tempting, I have occasionally heard guys say very disparaging things about women and their appearances, and they tend to be the kind of guys who are themselves incredibly far from societal’s conventional ideas of “hot” (at least in my experience). I think people making nasty comments about someone’s physical appearance is the lowest of the low, and whenever someone does it, I always start noticing flaws in that person’s physical appearance. Typically I try to see the beauty in others’ bodies, but when people openly criticize someone’s physical appearance, it opens them up to the same kind of scrutiny, and I find it hard not to see them as an ugly person (not just on the inside, but the outside too).
    That being said, dedicating oneself to a project of fat-shaming or in any other way deriding the physical appearance of such people is not something I think is justified, or even useful. Generally I’m not a fan of the supposed “feminist” response, “let’s do this shit to men and see how they like it!” No. Let’s just try to stop it from being done to anyone. More people will listen to what you have to say, and there will be more chance of success.

  9. Fighting one oppression should never ride on the back of another oppression.

  10. You know, maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but that thought never entered my mind. A very shrewd assessment!

  11. Dissenter here. For better or worse, this is how empathy is created. It’s that “aha moment” when someone really gets what the other person person is feeling, and gets what it means to feel that way. She is TEACHING with art, not mocking.

    • And part of what she is teaching is that being fat is bad and that it is acceptable to use a picture of someone made fatter in order to shame them.

    • Actually, no. That’s not what she’s doing. She is promoting the position that fat = negative. It’s not. She’s saying that these men are so bad they deserve to be fat. How is that teaching empathy? It’s only making fat people feel bad about themselves. These asshats aren’t going to learn empathy because someone painted them as fat.

      • Actually, yes.. That’s my opinion and I’m not accepting your reframing. Until she posts personally in response to our respective views, and out of my understandings of art, psychology and empathy, I’m sticking with my own opinion.

        • Would you feel the same way if she had painted them black?

          • Quite possibly yes. Art is not academia. The dynamics are different.But I really can’t say, since you are posing a hypothetical. Lots of rhetorical tricks up your sleeve, eh?

            I’m not playing anymore. Please don’t expect any more responses. I stand by what I wrote.

            • So sorry you thought I was “playing.” I couldn’t have been more serious.

          • This use of “painted them black” is dehumanizing to black people. Black people’s oppression should not be used as an example of what’s wrong with another form of oppression. No form of oppression should be used as an “example”, this is really insensitive.

            • And that’s exactly my point about painting them fat.

              • Actually, no… You’re a white woman using Black oppression as an “example” to try to make a point about your specific oppression. It is a false equivalency. It is racist. It is wrong. If that’s your point then it isn’t a very good one.

            • I bumped out my reply so it’s easier to read. It should never be about my ego; it should always be about the truth and what is right. If I can’t learn that, I’m a pretty lousy person, and I would make a lousy social worker (which is what I’m in school for). But I am not perfect and I’m still learning how much I *don’t* know in this world, especially as it pertains to privilege and oppression.

              (((((many, MANY hugs))))) I hope that you are continually able to speak your truth.❤

          • Hi Helena,

            Sorry I’m late to this but I wanted to provide my perspective here. This type of comparison is something that I am not comfortable with. While I understand that it’s possible that making a comparison like this might help to elucidate a point, I also think it comes at a price and that price is the further oppression of an already oppressed group of people because we’re using them and the very real oppression they face as a tool in an argument. I’m sure that I’ve done this and I’m definitely not trying to be all “better ally than thou” here, I just wanted to provide a perspective that helped me see this type of comparison as deeply problematic and not worth the price.

            There’s a piece about this here that a reader sent me that I think explains it much better than I could: http://www.gradientlair.com/post/78604958164/dehumanization-anti-blackness-racism-metaphors

            Thanks,

            ~Ragen

            • Ragen, thank you for the article. The last thing I want to do is add to another group’s oppression. I need to digest what she’s saying to make sure I get her point.

              • Thanks for being open to hearing this Helena.

                ~Ragen

                ________________________________

                • Always. I mean that.

                  • Thank you for this. I want to tell you that it was really intimidating to comment to you. For reasons that are nothing to do with you. I’d never have the courage to say to a white lady in person that using racism as an “example” is dehumanizing. It hurts to hear it. Especially to hear it from an ally. It took a lot to say something even behind the veil of the Internet. Because I love reading this blog. And I love reading the comments. And I was afraid that I’d be attacked. thank you. Thank you.

                    • Mich,

                      I really appreciate that you spoke up. As far as I’m concerned I should have been on top of this so that you didn’t have to. It’s my goal to make this space as safe and intersectional as possible and I know that I fall short sometimes and I sincerely appreciate you speaking up.

                      Thank you.

                      ~Ragen


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