I’ve given my general opinion on feminism before, but I’ve stayed away from what modern feminists are saying today largely because I think it’s more important to look at what feminism has already accomplished than to look at what silly nonsense modern feminists are blabbing about, especially when it seems that few young women are listening. I don’t mean to argue that these women can be safely ignored, though. I just think it’s more constructive to examine the effects of the social and legal changes of the last 40 years and attempt, where it seems prudent, to undo those changes. Still, I thought I’d try to dissect a modern feminist blog post, for once, just to see how that goes.
This one comes from Feministe.us and is called Shameful Behaviour. It’s a long-winded complaint about “slut-shaming” and “fat-shaming”, with basically no concrete examples of what those things are. It was written by a woman who goes by wickedday and was orignally posted at her blog, This Wicked Day. I don’t know if she’s fat or if she’s a slut, but her basic argument is that one person’s promiscuity or obesity are none of your business. She makes this claim without qualification, making no distinctions between anonymous internet “trolls” and people who might legitimately care about you. If I had a wife and cheated on her, I don’t think it would carry much weight for me to explain that what I did with my body was none of her business.
One of the historic and ongoing aims of feminism and feminist movements has been the attempt to eradicate what’s known in the feminist blogosphere as slut-shaming. Even if you’ve never seen the term before, you’ve almost certainly observed it in action: somebody or somebodies abusing someone else on the basis of their (real or imagined) sex life, where ‘acceptable’ levels and types of sexuality are a) wildly inconsistent and b) liable to change without notice (assuming anyone states them in the first place).
Shaming is a useful social tool. It is not abuse. Acceptable levels of sexual activity vary wildly in the West because of cultural diversity and modern views that differ greatly from traditional views. Here, I would like a better explanation of what they’re talking about. I have a real-world example.
A man in his twenties woke up one morning in the bed of Sarah, who he’d met the night before when Sarah’s sister knocked on the front door. She’d come to pick Sarah up and take her to her car that she’d left at the bar where the three had met. Sarah was unable to conceal the fact that her new friend was there with her, and when the two of them got in the car the she spelled out “W-H-O-R-E” (her kid was in the car). That’s some pretty blatant shaming, and I don’t really see anything wrong with it. In fact, I wish more women were subject to this sort of judging.
Of course, feminists insist that a woman is free to do as she wishes with her body, and that whatever she does should be of no consequence to anyone, but that simply isn’t the way of the world. Man or woman, actions have consequences. For many young women, there are little to no immediate negative consequences, but they occur eventually, and it might be helpful if someone around them warned them of this. Promiscuous behavior in women is often pathological, and a girl who sleeps around a lot is not a good candidate for a serious relationship. As rapper Kurupt said, “You can’t make a ho a housewife.” A man doesn’t have to be involved with too many different women to learn this.
Take Sam. Sam is not any of the Sams I know; Sam is a purely imaginary person, who has had sex 20 times in the last year. That’s a number: a neutral statement. But twenty sexual encounters in a year will be read very differently depending on whether they were all with a long-term partner or with twenty one-night stands. Both those situations are also likely to be perceived differently depending on Hypothetical Sam’s sex, sexuality and gender. And race. And dis/ability status. And age.* And what exactly they were doing. And how many people were involved. Andtheir sex/race/age/etc. And fuck knows what else.
So what? A woman’s “slutiness” negatively impacts her desirability as a mate, and this isn’t really true with men. Complain all you want about this “double-standard”, but it’s part of our genetics and part of our culture because the material consequences of promiscuity are different for men and women. Man or a woman, what if Sam is married and cheated on his/her spouse two of those twenty times? Should that impact what we think of him/her? I can’t accept any cultural taboos against making such character judgments based on actions that actually tell us about someone’s character.
Slut-shaming is the shame directed at the many, many Sams who fall down, or who are alleged to have fallen down, on one of the myriad unstated Rules About Sex and are therefore designated as sluts. It happens less than it used to, but there’s still plenty of it, as is readily imaginable from the range of differing reactions to the cast of Sams posited above.
Before the feminist revolution, these rules were much more concrete. Girls were more likely to be taught by their parents/grandparents/clergymen which behaviors were socially acceptable and which were not, and what one girl heard was probably not all that different from what the girl next door was taught. Today, young women are told what is acceptable by feminists, Cosmo, Oprah, their clueless friends, and sometimes their often clueless mothers. Now, people who are part of the same society (especially the internet society) have wildly differing views on what’s normal or acceptable.
The practical argument against slut-shaming is simple: it doesn’t work. […]
The difficulty of persuading people to give up something that they want, that they enjoy, and that in itself is harming nobody means that pundits in the business of persuading people to do so – whether they represent a religion, a political party, or any other organisation – have a tendency to fall back on faux-altruistic yammering about your physical and/or mental health. Here on the internet, we call them concern trolls. Theirs is the argument that goes “But if you do X you’ll get mocked/pregnant/ill/injured/killed/sent to hell/never find true love!! I only want the best for you!!”
Pundits? Is that who this is about? If the shaming comes from family members or close friends, as in my example above, can we safely assume the concern isn’t genuine? There could be other motives, but I don’t think we can dismiss authentic concern. Where the people do not know each other, a “concern troll” might simply be trying to convince others that there are negative consequences to sexual promiscuity. While this is different than genuine concern, it’s not dishonest.
The more I think about it, the more I think that the best answer to the concern-trolling “But we’re shaming you because we care!” line is “What the fuck is it to do with you? Did I ask for opinions on my sex life? Why are you even here? In fact, who the hell are you and why are you so freakishly interested in what I do in bed?”
It all depends on who you’re talking to and why you’re talking about such things. If it’s your mom or dad, it’s their job to care. If you’re promoting promiscuity on the internet, you’ve invited the argument. It would be very helpful to have a concrete example of the slut-shaming that elicits such a response from the author.
The only focus of outside interest should be on ensuring that nobody gets harmed: if it’s satisfactorily established that no nonconsenting parties are getting harmed, then everything else is A-OK.
It may harm non-consenting parties (children, significant others) in the sense that drug abuse harms others, but there are no victims in a criminal legal sense. I would argue in either case that free individuals ought to have a legal right to do as they wish with their bodies, but they are not entitled to do so without being shamed for it. Importantly, that consenting parties may be harming themselves (as humans are often prone to do) is the impetus for concern.
I say ‘nonconsenting’ there, surplus though it may seem, because you can consent to harm. […] Smokers abuse their lungs, drinkers abuse their livers, athletes their joints, motorcyclists and cliff divers put themselves voluntarily and joyously at risk.
So, following the logic that people should be able to do as they wish without being shamed, we can also conclude that people have a right not to be cautioned against or shamed for any of the above activities. Now, I think it’s rude and pointless to caution strangers against the dangers of smoking when they already know about them, but how do you feel about a parent who pleads with their adult child to quit smoking or to get treatment for their alcoholism?
After this she summarizes this all as something she considers a central tenet of feminism – the principle of bodily autonomy, “my body, my business” and tries to stuff the god-awful “fat acceptance movement” under its umbrella. Yuck.
Food and sex share certain characteristics. Notably, they are both strong instinctual drives – eat or die; fuck or die out – that (most) humans find pleasure in, as well as simple satiety. Both have innumerable variations. People’s tastes vary wildly: in both kitchen and bedroom, what makes X swoon will make Y vomit.
It’s interesting to, for once, have some acknowledgement that genetics drive human behavior, but what’s she getting at?
Perhaps because of those similarities, modern society is weird about food in the same way as it’s weird about sex. The rhetoric of health directed at fat people bears striking resemblances to the equally hollow rhetoric directed at people having sex: it’s all about how you’re putting yourself attremendous risk of disease and death and ruining your life prospects – oh, and probably never being able to find love.
First of all, people are not shamed for having sex per se, but for being promiscuous. Neither are they shamed for eating or enjoying food, but for being fat, and overeating is not the primary cause of obesity, even though most people believe it to be. I don’t see obesity as a cause of disease, death, or poor health, but it’s a strong sign of having a poor diet which does cause such things. And of course, being significantly fat is the number one way for people to ensure a very low value in the sexual marketplace.
Fat-shaming concern-trolling is almost always couched in the language of health. Fat is unhealthy! You’ll die of heart disease! Or diabetes! Or both! And once again, as with the slut-shamers, I have to answer with a resounding “. . . And?”
No, seriously, why are you concerned? What’s it to you? Why the hell does it matter to you so much? You don’t know me. You have no personal emotional stake in my wellbeing. My health is, in fact, of no possible consequence to you. My body: not your business.
Once again, it seems that this is directed entirely at anonymous internet “trolls”, but it is quite reasonable for people to be concerned for the health of people they care about. And really, I see nothing wrong with actually being concerned with the health of strangers, especially in the aggregate. My general concern with such a large number of women being fat is that it ruins the dating pool for us men. Grossly overweight people are also quite the eyesore and they take up a lot of space in crowded places. Further, there’s a lot of confusion about what causes obesity, and it frustrates me that obesity is largely the result of poor diet and poor understanding of what causes and prevents the accumulation of body fat in humans. “If only people knew!”
The usual response to the hard-to-argue-with point that my body != your business this is the argument from government, as it were. The argument that, because we live under the same healthcare system, this somehow makes it your business – your tax money is being spent repairing myfragile arteries, or whatever, and this is apparently grossly unjust and I’m depriving cancer patients of their drugs or something.
Such is the moral hazard of socialized healthcare, or socialized anything really. As evidenced by the spelling of “Behaviour” in the title, we’re apparently dealing with someone in the UK. That’s really all I have to say about that argument. What follows is hardly worth a response:
Being aware of where your tax is going is a good thing. But wanting my tax to cover your health needs, whilst simultaneously fulminating against your tax helping to cover mine, is stupid, and arrogant – and, when combined with hand-wringing over Britain Getting Fatter or how the French are skinnier or whatever, tends to lead into jingoism. Who actually cares what nation tops the average-weight list? Why is it so damn important to people that the country they happen to be a citizen of has to be the best at everything?
What a stupid thing to complain about! Such things are worth looking into, especially (as with anything else) if you find them interesting. If you notice that the French are thinner on average, you might wonder why. If you investigate this, you might actually learn something useful. After that she offers statist-socialist counter-solutions for the problems identified by slut-shamers and fat-shamers:
[…]Things like free contraceptives, free care, good sex ed including the emotional side of things, good and accurate information on all kinds of sex and how to have them safely. Friendly environments. An end to public sex-hostility. An end to judging people based on their sex lives, maybe, even.
These suggestion are of no use to slut-shamers as they do nothing to curb female promiscuity, which is their intent.
A similar list of things applies to health. If we eliminated food deserts, made cities more walkable, reduced pollution, enforced better food standards, cut a working week so that people actually had time to cook, taught decent cooking in school, tightened up the regulations surrounding advertising re: body image and diets, and maybe stopped viewing food-as-pleasure as some sort of mortal sin, probably you’d have a lot more healthy people . . . of all sizes, natch.
After trying to argue in favor of “fat acceptance” she acknowledges that obesity is a problem when she suggests solutions for it. I wonder if the solutions are to be implemented via legislation or some sort of social movement.