Expanding on sexism

I recently wrote about this awful post from Thus Spake Zuska (“Zuska” is Suzanne E. Franks, an engineer and scientist). It’s centered on this image from a CNN story about problems obese women face while trying to get medical care.

[The above image is shown] just so you can be sure to remember that the world is staring at and judging you when you are overweight, young lady! No, we don’t need to see your head or even your whole body. Just the boobs and crotch – the pieces that define women’s worth. White women only need apply for our decapitated torso shot, please, even though the problems of access to adequate medical care and weight-related health issue are just as critical and maybe even more so for brown women.

There are some inherent problems in this post, ones Franks refuses to address because her feminism, which has obvious value, has taken her off the deep end. First, the image doesn’t focus on “boobs and crotch”. It focuses on the most obese areas of two obese women. The mid-section is often the focus in these sort of images, but sometimes butt shots are used to show the fatness of people. But does anyone believe Franks wouldn’t have objected to those sort of images?

And has Franks not seen the average TV news report on obesity? When it’s about men, these same sort of areas become the focus. When it’s about Americans, the focus is again the same but with both sexes shown.

What is being muddled by Franks’ deep-end philosophy is that this is not an objectification of women: it’s an objectification of fat people. She has no standing to raise concerns here based upon her sex. As a human she has standing because it can be argued that objectification is always bad, but that goes beyond being male or female.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that Franks is inanely trying to bring race into the equation by calling both of the above women white. The one on the right clearly is not white; she has the skin tone of Obama. Even in the comment section of her post, Franks won’t acknowledge this error (which was noted by both myself and another person).

CNN is basically re-reporting a story from Health.com, which is primarily aimed at women. That may explain why the story focuses on the problems being overweight causes for women, as if overweight men didn’t experience any issues with obtaining adequate health care.

The story does not suggest overweight men don’t experience difficulty in obtaining health care. It specifically talks about studies on women’s health care. Those can probably be generalized to overweight men, but that would be going beyond the source material. This is just an instance of Franks trying to find sexism where it doesn’t exist (what with her deep-end mentality).

But what I find really interesting is comparing the photo that Health.com chose to illustrate their story, as compared to CNN. It’s this:

First of all, the photo takes up a lot less real estate on the page than CNN’s photo does. It sits beside the story, instead of blaring across the top of the page as something you have to scroll past before you can get to the story. And finally, CNN’s photo says to the female reader “this is how the world sees all you fat bitches” whereas Health.com’s photo says something more like “you are taking control of your health”.

Okay, so here’s what Franks has told us: 1) Her opinion about website aesthetics not only matters but is somehow relevant. 2) Health.com’s picture is far more acceptable even though it says “accept” and “reject” based upon weight.

To be fair, Franks later goes on in the comment section to point out that she did not actually read the scale. But let’s just pretend it was a normal scale with straight forward numbers. Is that really better? In that it does not objectify obese people, maybe. But that isn’t Franks’ ‘point’. She believes it’s better because it doesn’t objectify women. Of course, that was never the point of the image, and I’ve already shown that female-ness isn’t the concern but rather obesity (as can be seen all the time in news reports; coverage of obese people is equally objectifying towards men and women – Franks just wants to see sexism where it does not exist; it’s pathetic).

But the most interesting thing of all this comes from the comment section. I responded there but again and again I get accused of “mansplaining” and only making my points from a male perspective. I guess it is inherently male-y to point out where the fattest part of humans tends to be. It’s male-y to point out that people are being objectified, not a particular sex. And most of all, it’s male-y to ever disagree with a deep-end feminist about sexism. But I’m the one being sexist, right? I’m the one making accusations based upon sex, right? I’m the one who is stereotyping a person because of his/her chromosomes, right?

Finally, of interesting note is that Franks’ comment section had been completely open until just today. Comments yesterday did not require her approval. Now they do. It will be interesting to see if my latest comment shows up at all now.

Update: Franks has since made a new post on another topic, indicating that she has logged in. My comment has not appeared. I take this as evidence that she is unable to defend her position.

Also, on a final note, I defended myself against criticisms of “mansplaining” and other non-sense by pointing out my assumption that I was reading a post from a man (I can’t “mansplain” to another man, I presume). It’s true that I often assume I’m reading writing from men on the Internet, but that’s simply a product of the fact that the main blogs I read are by men, not to mention the fact that most blogs are by men anyway. This is an explanatory claim, not a normative one, and should be understood as such. But that isn’t the whole truth. I said I hadn’t noticed Franks’ picture on her front page while reading her post. I actually did see it, but I still thought I was reading a post by a man – just one with long hair. That isn’t to say that Franks’ appearance takes away the value of anything she has to say; it doesn’t. I knew I was in hostile, deep-end territory, so any comment on the appearance of anyone* was likely to be taken drastically out of context. But to repeat the point I was making, I thought I was reading a post by a man. This effectively defeats the silly claim of “mansplaining”.

*And by “anyone” I mean only women since these people are sexist in that way.

Double Update: My post finally has shown up – well after this post.

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12 Responses

  1. Man, I can totally see wanting to derail the conversations on sexism and insisting that standard images objectifying women are really about something else, like obesity – great tactic! I will have to remember that! But, I am pretty sure that the blog owner of Thus Spake Zuska goes by Zuska on the internet, not by her given name. You know, what the blog being called “Thus Spake Zuska” and all. Not that bitches really deserve to be treated with respect or addressed in the manner of their choosing, but I thought I’d just point it out so us dudes could share a laugh about it. Love the way you turned her into a category. That is not sexist, right? Just a sort of objective classification thing. Or is that objectifying?

  2. There was no “conversation on sexism”. There were declarations, but any attempt to engage those were met with anger, mockery, and a general inability to rise to the occasion.

    And God forbid I address “Zuska” by the name she lists underneath her picture on the front page of her blog. Not only is that likely one of the worst things that anyone has ever done, but one can be sure I would never do the same thing to a man. And yes, it is logical to conclude that I view women as “bitches” because I use their real names.

    And goodness, how dare I place her in a category based upon her beliefs. As a man, I should never directly speak of anything a woman believes, much less try and define her beliefs based upon what she says.

  3. If you are actually curious about understanding this issue, I recommend that you check out _Fat is a Feminist Issue_ by Susie Orbach.

  4. What part of “two photos, one of a man and one of a woman that show the exact same body parts are not equal because of the cultural context in which those photos reside” do you not understand?

  5. What part of “two photos, one of a man and one of a woman that show the exact same body parts are not equal because of the cultural context in which those photos reside” do you not understand?

    Where has anyone bothered to say this? That’s concise, lucid, and substantial (i.e., not common of the feminist caricatures around here recently).

    Despite all the claims that there’s no way I could know anything about feminism (because disagreeing with caricatures equals not knowing), I’ve long found this cultural context argument overplayed. It’s little more than an excuse to find sexism where it doesn’t exist (like Franks did). The end result of this ‘philosophy’ (I use the term incredibly loosely for caricature ideologies) is that any picture of a woman which has any focus on her body (besides maybe her face) is deemed sexist. This is the deep-end I keep referencing. Try actually applying (rather than crying) this idea. Go to a sports store and look at the weight equipment area. There are pictures of men and women with great bodies in skimpy workout clothes all over the place (and if you go to a gym that’s really are pretty common). If we’re to take this ‘philosophy’ seriously, then half of the pictures are sexist, but the others aren’t. In essence, sexism has been defined not as “discrimination or objectification based upon sex” but instead “any objectification of only women“. It denies males can be subject to sexism, and that’s absurd. It’s like saying white people can’t be subject to racism. Something being uncommon does not make it impossible.

    But the worst thing about this deep-end abuse of feminism is that it exists at the expense of other context. The CNN picture objectified fat people. That was the point. Sex only became a factor because a study was specifically done on obese women. Or take the workout pictures. That objectifies a sort of ideal body. Sex only becomes relevant for the sort of products that women tend to buy more than men (such as those large inflatable balls or workout DVD’s.

    But now I need to backtrack – not on my major points, but rather that the worse thing is the ignoring of all the other context and nuance that exists in life. That should be amended as the second worse thing because even more awful than that is the fact that this caricature ideology tries to eliminate all discussion. The essence of what the caricatures have been saying over the past couple days is that anyone who dissents is just “mansplaining” (and that serves to trivialize as well) and that all instances of images of women’s bodies are settled as being sexist.

  6. All instances of photos objectified women’s bodies ARE sexist. So that point you got correct.

    Women with great bodies in skimpy workout clothes trying to sell you exercise equipment? Sexist. Pictures of obese women with no heads? Also sexist. There’s a lot of sexist stuff out there.

    Those same pictures of men? Not sexist. Why? Let me carefully explain it to you because you’ve missed the entire point with your sarcastic, silly quotes around ‘philosophy.':

    Culture at large (although we’re going to specifically talk Western Culture here) makes women’s bodies a commodity to be traded. That idea is reinforced top-down, from the idea that women need to wear makeup/be conventionally beautiful/wear skimpy outfits in order to be sexually attractive to heterosexual men and are shamed if they do not conform to that standard despite whatever other merits they bring to the society (I mean, just look at women’s magazines), to the casual jokes about rape that you hear all the time (“haha, it’s just surprise sex!”), to the idea that the onus is on a woman to stay virginal or protect herself from rape or whateverthefuck else they are telling me I need to do in order to be pure (but not too pure!).

    In that context, pictures of women selling you exercise equipment, pictures of fat women with their heads cut off, that is sexist. The point is HEY LOOK AT THE FATTIE SHE DOESN’T CONFORM TO OUR NARROW CULTURAL STANDARDS OF HEALTH AND BEAUTY LET’S LAUGH AT HER.

    The CNN picture objectified fat WOMEN in a way that added nothing to the article.

    And I can dismantle the argument that it is “immoral” to not TRY to be healthy (which you made in another post) because that is truly one of the most disgusting sentiments I’ve read from anyone in awhile, but I’ll leave you with the above.

  7. I didn’t make the point that all photos which objectify a woman’s body are sexist. That’s an awful point with no nuance. What I instead said was that there are photos which objectify bodies, some of which are of males and some of which are of females. Context is entirely important here. Of course, that’s in reality. In this caricature of feminist philosophy, all photos of female bodies are sexist (but I guess not photos of male bodies because sexism is no longer being defined by this crazy notion of discrimination based upon sex).

    Culture at large (although we’re going to specifically talk Western Culture here) makes women’s bodies a commodity to be traded. That idea is reinforced top-down, from the idea that women need to wear makeup/be conventionally beautiful/wear skimpy outfits in order to be sexually attractive to heterosexual men and are shamed if they do not conform to that standard despite whatever other merits they bring to the society (I mean, just look at women’s magazines), to the casual jokes about rape that you hear all the time (“haha, it’s just surprise sex!”), to the idea that the onus is on a woman to stay virginal or protect herself from rape or whateverthefuck else they are telling me I need to do in order to be pure (but not too pure!).

    The most amazing thing about this is that you’re the first person to try to articulate anything.

    Of course, this is still wrong. The logic you’re using is that because history and convention have forced particular norms upon women that anything which has any relation to that history and convention is sexist. It’s like this version of feminism was designed to specifically piss all over Kant (and a number of other logically sound philosophers).

    It isn’t appropriate to demand that everyone considers all the things a woman has to offer. Context matters. If you’re willing to say that when X Magazine prints a picture of Model Suzie Q, it’s being sexist because it isn’t also considering that Suzie is really good at her accounting job, then you have to go further. If that magazine instead does focus on her job, then it still isn’t considering that she may also be good at stock trading. That shouldn’t be considered sexist, but it should be considered discriminatory in a similar sense. Here the discrimination is not based upon sex, but is based upon a lack of consideration for all things of value tied up with Suzie. Of course, now we can see the error. If the point of the article is accounting, we shouldn’t expect stock trading to be mentioned. Then the question becomes, ‘Is the accounting being mentioned at the expense of the stock trading?’ That goes to the intention of the article, the consent Suzie, and what Suzie intends by giving the interview. Just the same, we ask, ‘Is the photo of Suzie being printed at the expense of her accounting?’ Is her accounting relevant in any way? Do we not care about her accounting because we care about her body? And would we do the same thing to a man? (This final question is relevant since sexism is, um, based upon sex (not just womanhood), but I know caricature feminism doesn’t really understand this.)

    So when we look at pictures of women selling exercise equipment, it cannot be logically concluded that those pictures are sexist. Whatever else the woman may do is not relevant. The other things she does are not harmed by her pictures (except maybe in politics). But what else would you propose? Should exercise equipment only be sold by male models? What about when the equipment is specifically designed for women or for the sort of exercises women tend to do?

    I appreciate the fact that you’ve actually tried to put in some substance here, but your final comment undermines all this. It’s just another declaration in this comment section. If it’s so easy to dismantle the idea that we should respect the well-being of humans, thus we should respect our own well-being, then by all means do so.

  8. Of course the most amazing thing about this is that I’m actually RIGHT and you are wrong. Entirely. (See, I can do it too).

    What you are trying to do is rationalize the way the entire culture treats women without being able to step outside the misogyny itself. Think of it this way: Misogyny (sub in racism or homophobia or trans panic if you like) is like a bad smell over EVERYTHING. You get used to it after awhile sitting in the room with it and can’t smell it anymore, but if you leave the room and come back in, you’re like “What the hell *is* that?” In your attempt to mansplain, you were talking to a bunch of people who’ve left the room when you’ve still got the stink all over you. You’re still stewing in it.

    Would you not argue that men (specifically white, cisgendered, heterosexual men) are given privileges over other groups? That is hard to argue with. I can’t imagine you can come up with an argument for that. So I’m going to assume you grant me that point.

    Further to that point, if that is the case, the culture is controlled by the rights and wishes of white, het, cis men. Everything is structured to maintain their primacy. And I know that you’re probably going to reach into the bag of men’s rights tricks and say “Well, what about divorce law/custody law which are inevitably stacked in the woman’s favor” but even that is premised on the misogynistic view that women are meant for child-rearing and child-rearing only and men are inherently less adept at that.

    So when everything is stacked toward white, het, cis men, which it is, where does that leave everyone who is non-white, non-male, queer or trans? Well, it leaves them in the position of essentially cultural servitude. Either you’re useful because you serve a sexual need (women) or you’re not useful and you get ignored (everyone else).

    Your example of Model Suzie Q is weird because you are again trying to rationalize a skimpy picture of someone without looking at what the message of a skimpy photo – ANY skimpy photo, including those trying to sell exercise equipment is.

    And that message advertisers/news organizations, whoever sends is: I’m female, and my body is open for business.

    Now I’m not saying that a scantily clad woman on the cover of a package of barbells is specifically promoting rape. HOWEVER, she is promoting:

    a) The idea that women’s bodies need to conform to a certain standard (the one she is portraying) in order to be attractive to het men (thus her so-called “aspirational” appeal to women as advertisers would have it) because God forbid a woman ever make choices about her appearances that have nothing to do with being attractive to me (like stop wearing makeup, or not shave her legs or dress in masculine clothes) EVEN IF she’s not even attracted to men. Primarily, your job on this earth as a woman, the culture says, is to be attractive to men. Suzie Q here who is selling barbells is attractive to men. Buy these things and you will be too!

    and

    b) The idea that she might be attracted to you, cis, het men, so you’d better exercise because she’s (or someone like her is) open for business!

    You’re whole discussion of stock trading and accounting – I don’t even understand your point here. If a picture shows a scantily clad woman, or a woman without a head, or a woman bent over staring sexily at the camera, it is sexist, no matter if it has a HUGE READ ARROW pointing to the image of the woman that then relates her big fat brains and stock trading prowess as well. It is sexist because the message of any image of an objectified woman comes with the cultural context of “women are here to serve you, white, het, cis men”.

    When the picture is of a fat woman, the context is “look at this woman’s body; she has failed your cultural standard of being attractive to het cis men because culture has said that fat isn’t beautiful. FAIL. Look at the fattie headless failure.”

    You might not read these images as such, but again, that’s because you’re steeping in the culture. I advise you to think really hard, step outside the room, come back in and smell the stink.

    ***

    As for the other argument:

    Your use of the word “immoral” is offensive in that context because what about people who simply – for whatever reason – cannot be healthy or strive for health? You ignore socio-economic factors, long-term illnesses, chronic or otherwise, or people who simply have other things to do with their time and do not put a value on their health. What you put value on does have anything to do with whether or not you are a good or bad person. It really has nothing to do with anything at all.

    That doesn’t mean that we should provide good health care, it simply means that people should stop assigning morality to whether or not health is a pursuit of yours. And if you bring up the “but I’m paying for other people’s choices then” argument I am simply going to point you in the direction of an actual insurance premium so you can take a look at why that argument doesn’t hold any water.

  9. *that should be “Huge RED arrow up above; there are probably other type-os as I wrote the above rather quickly

  10. …Oh, and, I am just explaining the situation and why these images in our current cultural context are in fact sexist, no matter how much you put your fingers in your ears and scream la la la la.

    The solution is to dismantle cultural institutions that promote the primacy of men and achieve real equality, but there *is* no other solution. It doesn’t matter if only pictures of scantily clad men appeared EVERYWHERE selling EVERYTHING. Until there is real equality there is real sexism in every objectified image of a woman. Including headless fatties.

  11. Of course the most amazing thing about this is that I’m actually RIGHT and you are wrong. Entirely. (See, I can do it too).

    I used it as a topic sentence when I said it.

    So when everything is stacked toward white, het, cis men, which it is, where does that leave everyone who is non-white, non-male, queer or trans? Well, it leaves them in the position of essentially cultural servitude. Either you’re useful because you serve a sexual need (women) or you’re not useful and you get ignored (everyone else).

    This is where you’re making the jump. “White men are a dominate institution in the world.” Okay, that point has value and we can generally agree on it to an extent. “Oh, and that means everything is sexual because two intrinsic properties of being white and male are sexuality.” You haven’t bothered to make a connection here. But I disagree, so let’s introduce this self-protectionist, pre-made ‘argument’ and just dismiss everything I say as ‘mansplaining’.

    That it is generally easier to be white and male does not mean that all pictures of women’s bodies are sexist. That’s just an absurd line of thinking. It would be like saying that all pictures of black people are racist. No. Damn it. They’re pictures. And context and intent matter – and sometimes, just sometimes, the context says ‘Hey, the subject is obesity’ and the intent is ‘Hey, I want to show something which will get people’s attention while also objectifying a particular trait.’ In this case, the trait is obesity. Stop ignoring this.

    You have little to no idea what goes on in gyms. Maybe you’re trying to ‘mansplain’ to me now?

    If the pictures of the women are meant to objectify them based upon sex, then so are the male pictures. In each case the intent (something you caricatures seem to hate to acknowledge) is to show an ideally sculpted body. The female body is lean and toned. ‘Hey, look at this! It’s highly desirable! And you can get it if you buy this product or lift these weights!’ With the male body, you’ll see the six-pack, the broad chest and shoulders, and pretty solid neck muscles, among other things. Again, ‘Hey, look at this! It’s highly desirable! And you can get it if you buy this product or lift these weights!’ This isn’t a damn case of institutionally based sexism: it’s objectification of the human body generally based upon what each sex finds attractive. It is not specific to one sex and thus is not sexism. (Of course, I’m assuming the correct definition of the term. You may be considering the incorrect, one-way street definition.)

    To your lettering,

    a) If the product is meant for women (or meant to also appeal to women), it is unreasonable to demand that there be no picture of a person using the product. It is further unreasonable to ask that the person be a man. No picture = no sale. Man = sale to men (assuming it isn’t a Pilates video).

    b) I work out three times a week. I also know plenty of people who exercise regularly. The number one motivation? To be fit. And in all the workout books do you think the focus is the ‘glam’ muscles? No. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many people, trainers, or books which think it’s a good idea to focus on the muscles best suited to making one look attractive. If those people existed as much as your analysis suggests they should, the bench press and curl would be the only thing anyone ever did.

  12. Your use of the word “immoral” is offensive in that context because what about people who simply – for whatever reason – cannot be healthy or strive for health? You ignore socio-economic factors, long-term illnesses, chronic or otherwise, or people who simply have other things to do with their time and do not put a value on their health. What you put value on does have anything to do with whether or not you are a good or bad person. It really has nothing to do with anything at all.

    Actually, I did address that issue.

    Those with disorders or disabilities? Presuming a reasonable effort is being put forth (which may be well less than what an average person can do), then of course [they are] not [immoral].

    I repeatedly put the emphasis on there being a reasonable effort made. The gives exception to those who are fat because they suffer some sort of disorder or even because they’re legitimately depressed. It also gives exception to those who have small lapses (which would be nearly the whole of humanity). I’m not demanding perfect health, only a reasonable, good faith effort.

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