1. “They are allowed to do that.” or “What they are doing is legal.”
When someone points out discrimination, there’s always someone who wants to come along and point out reasons that the discrimination is legal. These people are missing the point by so much that they can’t even see it from where they are. Activism isn’t about whether or not discrimination/poor treatment is legal, it’s about whether or not we are are going to stand for it. And if we’re doing activism then people can go ahead and assume that the answer to that question is no, we’re not. There is always someone willing to justify discrimination – ask yourself if you really want to be that person and, if you do, consider being that person somewhere else.
2. It probably won’t happen.
When I announced that I was going to do an IRONMAN triathlon, two people contacted me to tell me that they were going to register for the IM so that they could drown me during the swim. When I talked about it, people (many of them trolls from the same internet communities that the death threats came from) told me that I shouldn’t worry about it (and some suggested that I shouldn’t talk about it) because they probably wouldn’t do it. I’ve noticed this happens basically any time an activist discusses the rape, violence, and death threats that we receive – often the message comes from the same communities that issued the threats in the first place. Let’s keep our eye on the ball people, threatening someone with physical violence is never ok, and it’s hardly justifiable because they probably won’t actually rape, hurt, or kill us.
Another iteration of this is when we point out dangerous discriminatory things that are being proposed – like legislation to fine the parents of fat kids – and people say “don’t worry, it probably won’t happen.” The fact that these things are proposed is a massive problem in and of itself (using our legislation example, if the world were not in such a ridiculous place around body size, that legislation would never be introduced in the first place) If you don’t think that something is worth talking about, then I would suggest that you to not talk about it, rather than spending time discouraging someone who clearly thinks that it is worth talking about.
3. There are bigger problems.
The thing about this is that if we all only ever worked on the biggest problem nothing would get done because we would spend all of our time arguing about what the biggest problem is. Each of us gets to choose how, when, and why we do activism and if someone thinks there is a different issue that needs to be addressed, then I definitely encourage them to address it. (Note that this is not meant to discourage discussions about intersectionality, what I’m talking about here is someone saying that they want to do activism around what clothing sizes are available and someone suggesting that they shouldn’t because fat people’s access to medical care is a bigger problem.)
4. “If you’re happy just live your life and don’t worry about what other people think!” Other phrasing includes “If you were really happy with yourself, you wouldn’t have to talk about it all the time” and “Don’t meet hate with anger just be nice and stay positive!”
As always, people are allowed to deal with the oppression that they deal with any way that they want and I’m not suggesting that any of these are inappropriate reactions, I think it’s important to realize that they aren’t obligatory and it’s not ok to tell someone who is dealing with oppression how they should deal with it – especially if they didn’t ask for your opinion.
I think it’s important to talk about things that are oppressive, especially since it’s easy for those who aren’t part of a marginalized group to ignore them – not because they are necessarily trying to or because their intentions are bad, but because they don’t have to deal with them, so they don’t have to think about them. (And part of being a good activist is learning about and fighting oppression that other groups are facing.)
I also think that it’s important to look at the balance of power. The suggestion that if I’m happy I should just live my life and not care about what others say is a nice one, but I don’t think it takes into account the stereotyping, stigma, bullying, marginalization and oppression that fat people face, and the impact that has on our lives. The government is encouraging people to wage war on me because of my size. Doctors are allowed to refuse service to me based on my size, and it’s ok for them not to have equipment that will work for me – beds that won’t hold me, chairs the won’t fit me, instruments that are too small for me. Medical practices, and other business, almost everywhere in the country are allowed – and do – refuse to hire fat people or fire us strictly because of how we look, and regardless of our actual skills or job performance.
People who are dealing with oppression are allowed to ignore it, meet it with constant positivity, and carve out a life around it – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those choices, sometimes that’s how I react as well, but in general it’s not my style. Engaging in activism – including calling out oppression – helps me to know that I am doing something about the bullshit I have to deal with, and that helps me deal with it. I think that ignoring bullies allows them to bully in silence without any push back, I want to end bullying and dismantle oppression and for me that starts with speaking up about it, and the last thing I need is someone, however well intentioned, telling me to quiet down.
1. I want to get in touch with Beth Ditto for a possible collaboration – if you know her, I would love an introduction you can e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org
2. It looks like I’ll be in Europe later this year. I’m putting together a European speaking tour so if you’re in the area and interested in having me come speak shoot me an e-mail at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and we’ll work out the details!
Like this blog? Here’s more cool stuff:
I’m speaking tonight at the Brave Body Love Summit tonight at 6pm PST 35+ speakers (including me) offering tools to support and improve your relationship with your body. Week one is over and the recordings are now available. Check it out here!
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Buy the book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Book Me! I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!
Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details
I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com
A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development (casting, finding investors etc.). Follow the progress on Facebook!