So, after my lovely weekend of Disney goodness and hanging out w/people I care about, I came back to several comments, messages, and emails about my post, Is the “Last Acceptable Prejudice” Really the Last?
I’m so glad that I know, and am read by, so many intelligent and thoughtful people.
First things first. I mentioned in that post that I ultimately disagreed with discrimination against transgender people being the last acceptable prejudice, and I want to clarify what I meant by that:
- When I say something is an “acceptable” prejudice, I don’t mean that it should be acceptable. I mean that it’s considered an acceptable thing to reveal by society. I mean that it’s something that more people subscribe to than don’t, to the point that not only do they think they aren’t doing anything wrong, but they wouldn’t think that anyone would have a problem with their stray comments revealing that prejudice.
- When I talk about “acceptable” prejudices, this isn’t to inflate the importance of one over another. This isn’t a competition. If anything, I want to highlight a hypocrisy. Look, you have no problem defending this group or that group when it comes to discrimination, yet you’ll casually toss off a hurtful comment about this group? Why? Do you not see the correlation? The point is, LET PEOPLE LEAD THEIR DAMN LIVES IN PEACE.
- I see transgender discrimination, homophobia, and discrimination against women under the larger umbrella of “sexism.” They, of course, each have their own concerns that need individual attention, but at the heart of it it’s all about There’s male behavior and female behavior. One is better and more powerful than the other. We need to keep them straight and separate, because we need to keep track of the power. So if you do anything to screw with that, well fuck you. We’re going to keep women, gay people, and transgender people down, because they don’t know how things work, and we do. Straight, cisgendered men have more, and are entitled to more, because they deserve it. Because male is better than female. Because Nature. Because that’s just the way it is. So, I didn’t separate it out in my brain. I usually don’t – maybe that’s a problem? (If you think so, tell me why in the comments) But when I attempt to fight for gay rights or transgender rights, I do so because I feel it’s an extension of feminism. I do so, because I don’t think female is “less than,” so I don’t think that a woman has to sleep with a man to be a valid human being, nor do I think that a man can’t sleep with a man and be a valid human being, nor do I think that a woman has to be born a woman to be considered one and also be a valid human being, nor do I think that the only way to be a man is to be born one or to sleep with women.
- Sexism and racism are prevalent, and deeply ingrained, but they are also extremely obvious because of the level of deep hatred involved. Maybe that’s what makes prejudice against fat people in this country seem so much more generally “acceptable” to me? Because more people disguise it in concern for One’s Own Good. People fat-shame in the name of helping. They think that by correcting your behavior, you’ll change your ways and be better off. You’ll be healthier. You’ll wear clothes that fit you and be more pleasing to the people around you, and therefore, happier.
- I’d also argue that fat-shaming transcends race and gender in this country. If you had a thin transgender person and a fat transgender person standing next to each other, I’d argue that someone looking at them would think less of the fat one, especially at first sight, because of hir weight. Hell, that thin transgender person might feel the same way about the fat one.
Now, I’d like to spotlight some of the comments I received re: my last post. I thought people made some wonderful points:
I don’t think we’ve reached a point where any prejudice can be referred to as being “the last acceptable prejudice.” Prejudice, especially against women, is alive and well and stronger than ever. People may now pretend that it’s not “acceptable” but, deep down, it’s still condoned, expected, and allowed. - Lisa Marie Bowman
This came up in my conversation with the friend who originally brought up transgender discrimination. Perhaps a better way for me to have put it would’ve been “one of the few remaining acceptable prejudices….” I definitely agree with you that discrimination against women is alive and well and stronger than ever (it’s like the world’s gone bat-shit crazy lately as far as that’s concerned), but the whole point is that people DO pretend that it’s “not acceptable.” That’s what I mean. In “polite society,” people bother to pretend to be horrified, despite their hypocrisy. Whereas I’m saying that even those people would totally be OK with criticizing someone because of their weight, and making it a topic of dinner conversation without thinking they’re doing anything wrong.
[T]here are still plenty of cultures where particular prejudices are completely acceptable… and those differ. Just last night, another writing friend of mine was telling me that, in Iran, the government would pay for sex changes to men or women to prevent them from being gay. Gay = bad, Transgendered = ok? Enough to make your head spin.
However, if we specify among the people who are actively seeking to be aware of their privilege and combat as many forms of prejudice as possible – then I do think “fat” is still a more acceptable prejudice. This is not to say that there isn’t still an awful lot of prejudice against transgendered folk – because there is. Even among my colleagues in the queer and feminist communities, I see it and hear about it. Goddess weekends open only to women born women, debates on who gets to use what bathroom.
But among them all, I still hear “Did you lose weight?” as a default, automatic compliment. That Rainbow-themed T-shirt only goes up to a size XL… and don’t even try to get it in a women’s cut “XL” because that won’t fit over my thigh. You still get uncomfortable or scathing looks when you are unintentionally forced into someone else’s personal space because the chairs are locked in place and sized for smaller folk than I… and quite honestly, more than half the people at these gatherings.
In the fights for equal rights for all, we’re no where near the end to say the general culture – even the general American culture – finds such behaviors and prejudice properly unacceptable. However, there are definite prejudices that are more “ok” to condone than others. I know transgender folk are high on that list.
But there is nothing more pervasive in our culture than “fat hating.” It’s all over popular media, advertising, and the fabric of our culture. A day might go by with the majority of the population being able to ignore transgender issues, which is problematic, but you’d be hard pressed to find a day go by that the general public isn’t told how much being fat sucks and how bad and deserving of scorn it is to be fat. - Trisha Wooldridge
I should have clarified that I was specifically talking about the United States. I usually am, unless I specify otherwise, because our culture and society is the one I know. I can’t speak with authority on other cultures, so I generally don’t. My experience is here, so my opinions stem from that – again, unless I specify otherwise, and then I’ll generally cite a specific experience/source of knowledge.
For example, I know that in Mauritania they have the opposite of fat-shaming. There, being fat and having stretch marks is considered the height of sexiness – so much so that young girls are force-fed to prepare them for marriage. I first learned about that in this article in Marie Claire from a couple of years ago. Talk about head-spinning. So, yeah – worldwide? Sexism is a more “acceptable” prejudice. In the United States, I think fat-shaming still reigns supreme. Though I agree with you that transgender folk are high on the list.
In regards to labeling “making fun of fat people” as the “last acceptable prejudice,” I’m not sure I feel comfortable with saying this behavior is more acceptable than other types of prejudice that comes with oppressions like racism, sexism, and cissexism. In fact, I don’t think it’s helpful to put importance on one type of oppression over another because it lessens the experiences and struggles of others. – Rachelle Abellar
I certainly didn’t mean to place more importance on fat-shaming than on other forms of oppression, as I mention above. And like I said in response to Lisa above, perhaps saying “one of the few remaining acceptable…” would’ve been better. That said, the reason why I think the distinction between “acceptable” and “not acceptable” is important is to get people to question why they draw the lines they draw. Everyone should be treated with the same level of respect, right? So why do we make exceptions in certain cases? I think that in order to fight oppression, we have to think about the times when we support it.
For example, I LOVE the link to the article you posted in your comment (21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People), precisely because it allows that for me. I’ve been guilty of several of the things in that article…and I’m a fat person! And I’ve directed those thoughts/comments to people of all genders and races and sexual orientations. That’s how “acceptable” fat-shaming is. And knowing I’ve accepted it allows me to try and change it. (I think. I hope)
Anyway, I’m done for now, but feel free to keep the convo going below! Would love to hear from more of you about all of this. Thank you for reading…and try to be good to each other out there, OK? Because discrimination of any kind should never be acceptable.