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SEXIST BEATDOWN: Oh I Couldn’t Possibly Tell You Which Edition It Is, I Am Just A Girl Edition

Ladies! How are you feeling lately? Hopefully, the answer is “TERRIBLE.” For, ladies, I cannot have a conversation with you unless we focus on your many physical and personal failings! I am a lady too, you see, and that is how we roll. Have I mentioned that my hair looks like something DIED IN IT today?

Yes, as your stunning cap-off on “My Navel Is So Interesting I Think I Might Just Jump Right In There and Drown” Week, it is time for a Sexist Beatdown! In which the delightful Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper’s The Sexist and I continue the discussion re: the weird rounds of mutual overt self-deprecation and covert social maneuvering that take place amongst the ladies. And come up with solutions for all your problems in that regard! Except, well: not.

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ILLUSTRATION: Okay, but, seriously: one of the questions that a lot of people were stuck on was, “how do I bypass the Fat Talk?” And my answer is, GO SOMEWHERE THAT THEY SERVE THIS BUSINESS. No-one wants to eat the Hangover Pizza alone.


AMANDA: Before we begin this conversation, I should inform you that I am fat, and also that I think it’s so great that you’re the type of girl who could post a long, introspective essay on self-esteem and female relationships, because I would never have had the nerve to say such a thing in public.

SADY: I think it’s really brave of you to admit that in public, Amanda, considering the sort of backlash you are likely to get from people who think it is stupid! Although I, myself, have a hard time concentrating on what you are saying, because mostly I am thinking about how ugly I am at the moment. Have we done the rounds yet? Do we need more backhanding?

AMANDA: I think we’re fine for now. Until you start to get too confident! Then, I will commence with the outright shaming.

SADY: HA. This is something I have been thinking a lot about, the shaming! And it had two causes: one, the Clay Shirky piece I read and then used as a platform for my particular dive off the Deep End. And, two, the fact that I Googled myself.

AMANDA: Oh continue!

SADY: And the first thing I thought, after commencing the Googling, was – not that there weren’t nice things and bad things and one bad thing from a guy who wrote a bad thing about me before and then had to list it in his top-trafficked blog posts of the year, I think because I read it 9,000 times – the FACT THAT I HAD A GOOGLE PRESENCE sent me into this weird shame spiral. I was like, “Oh, no! For every person that knows about me, there is ONE MORE CHANCE for someone to HATE MY ASS SEVERELY!” And this led a very strange series of reflections. Which I will not dominate the discussion with, because they are boring.

AMANDA: I’ll reflect on something: I feel like for much of my adolescence, I was both repulsed by and unable to ignore the self-shaming hallmarks of female bonding. I hated myself, for sure, most furiously during the 7th-8th grade years, but I was also extremely uncomfortable with other girls expressing their own imaginary failures – the “I’m too fats” or the “I’m too uglies” or the “I’m too dumbs.” I think I did realize at the time that this was an odd form of bonding that had to be engaged with in order to prove your friendship to the other person – “you’re not fat! you’re not ugly!” – but I never felt comfortable engaging in those kinds of proclamations.

SADY: Right. And I think this is something that I actually ran up against when I started to engage with other feminists: like, people would point out that I apologized for something trivial ninety thousand times over the course of the discussion, or couldn’t have a conversation without being like, “By the way, have I pointed out that my outfit is horrible?” But it was very hard to get over, even though I could notice it when other women did it and provide support for them in that respect. And I think that it’s interesting, in that those things can become social currency among girls – you have to apologize for taking up whatever space you take up – and is pretty clearly part of the Patriarchy deal which is that women aren’t supposed to take up space. But it gathers a new level of nuance. Like, somehow, we’re so caught up in this that it exists even when no dudes are present in the room, and we self-lacerate and lacerate each other to the same degree.

AMANDA: I agree, and now thinking back on it, I think part of me, as a kid, just wanted my friends to deal with all that horrible shit silently. I didn’t want to talk about that stuff, so when my friend in the 8th grade who was stick-thin repeatedly complained about how fat she was, I got annoyed at her, instead of understanding what a fucked-up situation she was in and talking about THAT. I didn’t have that kind of awareness then however, and I wonder where those kinds of conversations would have situated me in the female social group I was in.

SADY: Right. Like, allow me to present you with two ways I have handled this conversation in the past: “What are you talking about?! YOU WEIGH LESS THAN I DO.” Which amounts to, basically: shut up, your body insecurities are not worth my time. Or: “What are you talking about?! THAT IS SO SELF-LOATHING.” Which, while engaged in with a slightly purer intent, still translated to: shut up, your bodily insecurities are not worth my time. Like, instead of engaging women on their insecurities, I would try to shut them down. Which is clearly super feminist, right?

AMANDA: Right? I think the way that I handled those situations was to, again, put it in the perspective of this hierarchy where a) someone skinnier than me was saying she was fat, which b) implied that i was fat, which c) made me lash out at this person in some way. It’s certainly interesting to see how boys in our culture at least have defined their social hierarchies by boasting, while girls have done it by passive-aggressively cutting themselves down in order to lift themselves up in another way.

SADY: Right. And I think that this is where “Odd Girl Out,” the book I have been reading that I think everyone should read, and also the “Trashing” essay from forever ago, comes into play. Because, the thing is, we are dealing with this excessively complex hierarchy wherein (A) Women aren’t supposed to value themselves over and above the people around them, (B) Women, to demonstrate how not-selfish they are, are supposed to be nice all the time, and (C) Women find it easier to lash out at OTHER WOMEN for violating these tenets than to examine the fucked-up rules in the first place, but (D) You still have to win the Nicest Person in America trophy, so you can never express the lashing-out in a direct way. It has to look like something else.

AMANDA: The trick for me has always been staying out of that horrific, horrific structure without shunning other women.

SADY: Yeah, exactly. Like, shaming women for DOING this isn’t exactly breaking away from the overall structure of women-shaming, you know?

AMANDA: that’s one of the main complaints about the Rant About Women, which that it explicitly tells women that the way out of this trap is just to act like dudes. When the point is that we don’t get to choose, actually. The pull-yourself-out-of-your-gender-by-your-own-bootstraps argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

SADY: Right. And I think we can agree that this is perhaps overly simplistic.

AMANDA: this is where we come up with a better solution. :-/

SADY: HA! Um, carousel rides for everyone? Overthrow the capitalist system? For me, I guess I’m situated at a weird place with this argument, which is the place I always wind up in with structure/agency arguments. Which is: YOU, by yourself, cannot singlehandedly escape the system. Your bootstraps are NOT THAT POWERFUL. However, you cannot say that there is no way to RESIST the system, in your own personal life. Like, even if I acknowledge that registering www.sadydoyleisthebestever.com will have more negative consequences than positive ones, being freaked out and self-sabotaging and constantly downplaying everything are ALSO not likely to have the most positive consequences. Does that make sense? Am I point-missing, here?

AMANDA: That makes sense to me. But I mean, I also haven’t had significant issues with the typically feminine self-esteem stuff since I left high school, so maybe I’m one of the lucky ones.

SADY: I am building an escape pod from this whole deal where I basically surround myself with ladies who tell each other how great they are all the time, and are cool about ladies! That’s what I’m doing. JOIN THE LADIES ARE GREAT PARTY, EVERYONE. That’s my shitty little personal solution that doesn’t fix everything! YAY LADIES WOOOOO.

AMANDA: Maybe we can all pitch in for a cruise ship or something.

SADY: HA! If there are any super-rich ladies, maybe they can help us build Self-Esteem Island. That seems like a solution! Yes, I think we’ve just fixed it. ALL BY OURSELVES. RIGHT HERE. YOU SAW IT HAPPEN.

AMANDA: well great! I’m going to have a nap then.

SADY: Okay! I’m eating a cheeseburger. Like, THREE of them. RIGHT NOW.

AMANDA: Oh shit I forgot. I REALLY want those nachos you spoke of.

SADY: Extra guacamole is a feminist act, dude. Enjoy!

21 Comments

  1. Alicia wrote:

    Hello! I am new here. Well, kind of. I discovered this blog and then went blazing through all the archives and now salivate anxiously for each new post.

    And this feels like a great place to brave my first comment on account of the two facts displayed below:
    – ways in which reading tons about feminism made me rethink the relationship between myself and my lovely fiancé: maybe one.
    – ways in which reading tons about feminism made me rethink the relationship between me and my mother: a KAJILLION.

    I had my first big fight with my mom since high school on account of the way she chuckled at how funny it was that I was mad about something dismissive she’d said. And for the fact that I was able to reiterate this anger in a cogent and non-bitchy way, I thank you.

    If we do build Self-Esteem Island, I know how to make mint chocolate chip rum ice cream from scratch.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  2. Adrianna wrote:

    I don’t have women friends (more a product of circumstance than anything else) but I can most certainly tell you this kind of cutting-down totally took place within my relationship with my mother. Reading this actually healed some wounds for me…I wasn’t a terrible daughter. Society just makes it super hard for mothers and daughters to have genuine respectful, loving relationships.
    On a second note, this same element makes it hard for daughters to connect to their dads?
    So basically we’re raising ourselves.
    We’re already an island, Sady. An island of fantastically self-reliant orphans.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  3. Ozyman wrote:

    This is really something that’s noticeable about our culture in a background kind of way, but doesn’t really get pointed out as being so totally bizarre until you look at it specifically. Like, we have all these conceptions in popular culture about what female friendships are like, and sometimes maybe we think “Well, popular culture is known for exaggerating things,” and that’s true, but it’s also something that becomes painfully obvious when looking at examples in real life that totally mirror all the things you talked about. And it’s something that I, as a dude, have been really bothered about–the way it creates really harmful interactions in the lives of some of the women who are close to me. I’ve noticed it most with my little sister, especially in her 6th-8th grade years, where each new week would create vastly varying dramas with her friends. Each day my sister would come home from middle school reporting the latest news on her friends, who would be the outcast of the week. It would change pretty quickly, and based on such small reasons, that I can’t help but think it was powerfully entwined with all of this laceration that you talk about. I noticed that this was a common narrative that, as a dude with a healthy cadre of friends, was not going on with me and my own friends. And yet, the only reaction I could have to these caustic alliances in my sister’s friendships was to tell her, “Why don’t you just make friends like dudes do?” even though I knew that that’s not really a solution and, as you pointed out, both reinforces that kind of flagellation and reinforces the patriarchal norm.
    So just from a familial perspective, thanks for putting up the post and giving me a better direction in which to provide support for her.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink
  4. Gnatalby wrote:

    Self-Esteem Island sounds like a reality show, but I can’t imagine a reality show whose purpose was not to undermine you. I guess “How to Look Good Naked” exists? But that sort implies that you, the viewer look bad.

    *Sigh.*

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  5. nyna wrote:

    I don’t know about solutions, but whenever I hear people around me engaging in these sorts of conversations, I remember the last time I found myself engaging in the ritual self-flagellation.

    I was in an Arabic class, with about six other women — smart, awesome women — and one of those conversations started, and I found myself engaging before I could even notice what I was doing, talking about the size of my thighs and how I could really stand to lose fifteen pounds. It was actually the woman next to me who sat up and said, “I am not doing this. I hate it when women do this. You are all beautiful.”

    And because she honestly meant it, we all sort of sat up and said wow, I hate it when women do that too, and you’re right, we are all beautiful. Because we were.

    I don’t know if I have the honest kindness that she did, in order to pull that off without hurting anyone. But I know that it is at least possible.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  6. Shoshana wrote:

    Alicia, HOW DO YOU MAKE MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP RUM ICE CREAM? Self-Esteem Island wanna-be-residents want to know!

    This discussion and the last couple posts have been great. They are really helping me think constructively about ways to pull down the little degradation-dance without pulling down the women involved in it.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  7. Lauren wrote:

    Sady (and Amanda), thank you for writing this! I really needed to read it right now. I am a high school student and I realize now that I do the anti-feminist “why are you whining about your weight? you’re tinier than me!” thing way too often. I never really examined my attitude toward that before. And that needs to change! Thanks for the smack upside the head.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  8. Tannaqui wrote:

    One lunch time, I was outside eating delicious potato wedges with sour cream and a woman in her 60s walked past and said to me “Careful, you’ll get fat.” She smiled, as if she did me a huge favour and went on with her life. While I (not thin, not fat) sat there stunned.

    1, One plate of potato wedges will not send someone down the slip n’ slide Fatty Town.
    2, What does MY meal choice and/or weight have ANYTHING to do with some stranger?
    3, Was she expecting gratitude for her dire warning?
    4, So what if I get fat?
    5, Why do I when having retold this little encounter, feel the need to justify my choice of a delicious snack? (“I rarely have it” “I had dance class later and would have worked it off anyway” “It was only $3″ etc)

    And 6) why has this ten second moment stuck with me over the years? Particularly when I see wedges.

    See, even when you’re alone and worried you’re missing out on the fat talk, or forgot to feel guilty about enjoying something that isn’t Socially Accepted For Women To Eat In Public, someone will come up and do it for you!

    So, on an immature note, fuck you strange woman. Fuck you and your food shaming, fat hating, not minding your own goddamn business ways.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  9. Maura wrote:

    I spent 12 years working in hair salons, and I heard The Fat Talk, and variations of it, every single day, for hours on end, from my co-workers and my clients. And, you know what? I don’t have much tolerance for it.

    Here’s what I don’t get. When the fashion and beauty industries tell us we’re ugly and stupid, but our friends tell us we’re beautiful and smart, why do the fashion and beauty industries always win?

    I hate fat-shaming. I hate thin-shaming. I hate “someone make that model eat a sandwich”. I hate “all women have curves”. I hate that story Tannaqui told us. I’m pissed off for her. But I also hate that we, as grown-ass ladies, don’t just give a huge middle finger to anything and everything that tells us we’re not good enough. Don’t we have a responsibility to do that? I think we do.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  10. Rosemary wrote:

    I’m waiting tables these days and I just want to say how grateful I am that the women I work with don’t do this. It would be so easy, what with being constantly surrounded by ranch dressing and chicken fried steak, to get totally down on ourselves about enjoying food. But I have only had someone make a comment about what I was eating once, while I was totally going to town on a plate of brownie edges, and it was a complete anomaly. By and large it simply isn’t done. We get hungry and we eat and no one says shit. So I just want to say thank you, ladies I work with, for being willing to eat some fries with ranch or cheesecake or whatever with me in a way that doesn’t make any of us feel shitty. You all rock.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  11. emjaybee wrote:

    My new year’s resolution this year was about this; no fat talk, no forbidden foods, no connection of eating with shame/sin/fears of dying alone and being eaten by my dozens of cats.

    So far, I’m still alive, still have friends, and have discovered that oddly, allowing myself to eat whatever I wants prevents me from fantasizing about entire boxes of cookies for dinner. I can eat some cookies; I can put the rest back, because there is no time limit, I will not be dieting tomorrow, so if I want them they’ll be there.

    Also, fruit looks better when your brain doesn’t label it The Thing You Will Have To Eat From Now On Instead of Ever Having Chocolate Again. So I eat more of that now, too. I even ate a salad, willingly, yesterday, which was something that was a grim duty when I dieted. It was delicious.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  12. lily wrote:

    I have noticed when I hang out with gay guy friends, they go through a very similar process of “this is so wicked of me, I can’t believe I’m eating this” etc. And these are super built guys who work out and look awesome and have no excuse for shaming themselves.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  13. Rachel wrote:

    It occurs to me that a side-effect of the “I’m so fat game” is that we train ourselves to see compliments as naturally false. When a friend says, “you are beautiful,” you automatically know she’s playing this game, giving the rote response. Which means you view it as utterly meaningless except as a social maneuver.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink
  14. ginmar wrote:

    The scary flip side of the self-hating thing, though, is how savagely other women go after you if you don’t do it. It’s like…if you don’t do it, by God, they will. It’s horrible to see the internalized sexism at work, but then they turn around and use it on you—because if they’re miserable, everyone else has to be, too? If you’re happy….are you reducing their happiness? Some of them will call themselves feminists, too—-because these days, everyone gets the basic feminism 101 stuff: rape is bad (most of the time), domestic violence is awful (but men get beaten up! by women!), and other stuff. What a lot of people don’t want to deal with, though, is that feminism will make you unpopular. Even with—or maybe especially with—other women, and most definitely with men. At some point, you’re going to have to decide between self respect and fitting in. It’s like stepping off a cliff. Lots of people back off.

    You expect it from men; it’s nearly laughable that it matters so little. But from other women, trying to force the yoke back on you? That hurts.

    When you reach the point where you stop doing this kind of self-effacement, people will have a problem with you. It can be….Look, I nearly died, I’m kind of suicidal, but I just don’t care anymore…. but it doesn’t matter. Look, screw the diet, I don’t care about my thighs…. and then you can be a pariah. You have to apologize for your very existence, the space you take up, and if you don’t, you’ll find the enforcers are both genders. Somehow it just hurts more when it’s women.

    Monday, February 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  15. Not only did I get to read the greatness of these very illuminating posts, but also this:
    “At some point, you’re going to have to decide between self respect and fitting in. It’s like stepping off a cliff. Lots of people back off.”
    Which resonated so deeply and was such a neat and perfect up-summing that I actually sat staring with my mouth open for a few seconds (thankfully no one else was around to witness this).

    I love this blog.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  16. It does hurt when women police each other, but that’s why the patriarchy is so sneaky – it seeps in our brains and whispers threats to us in our sleep, and we wake up, and there’s this woman at work who isn’t afraid to speak up for what she wants, and she’s not self-effacing, and she won’t apologize for existing, and instead of cheering her on, we want to kill her, because the programming is that deep.

    And it sucks. I refuse to participate in the insane body-shaming that happens with every award show, where women’s bodies are critiqued and their accomplishments ignored, and instead I cheer every time a beautiful successful woman comes on the screen (and I mute it when Giuliana says yet again “what’s your diet secret?”, and pretend she’s saying “what’s your success secret?”).

    It’s so bad now that Style has a show called “What I Hate About Me”, where women who are ashamed of themselves are re-made into patriarchally-approved creatures who are happy with their new self, and oh, I can’t watch it, it makes me too sad.

    I need to stop rambling now, this post just hit me right there, y’know?

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  17. …But damn, I want that pizza. My favourite thing is a sunny side up fried egg on a cheeseburger. And I eat it without shame.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  18. Lindsay wrote:

    Hey I think Dove started that Self-Esteem Island thing – but maybe that was just a way to get all of us self-loathing women to band together, start loving ourselves, and buy their various deodorizers.

    In high school, a friend of mine (who was incidentally overweight) wouldn’t shut up about a pair of hot-pink cargo pants she saw that “would just be a bad situation if you or I were in them.” I was so mad that not only was she playing the “I’m so fat” game, but she was dragging me down with her. (By the way, this was in the early Britney Spears days when I guess hot-pink cargo pants were…”in”…or something? I guess?)

    And I saw a commercial for that “What I Hate About Me” show in which a young woman apparently hated herself because she rambled and wasn’t funny. Because you know, we’re supposed to be silent and when we do speak, we better have something witty (or self-deprecating) to say.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
  19. Maura wrote:

    Attack Laurel, I hate that I know who Giuliana is.

    I love a good makeover show. I can’t help it. I’ll always be a make-up artist/manicurist/fashion watcher at heart. But to me, “good makeover show” means What Not to Wear, and that’s about it. Even they fall into the patriarchy-approved trap. But, they have a new hair stylist on the show, and he respects the curls. It seems like such a small thing, but Nick always blew-out everyone’s hair so that it was stick straight. Ted, the new guy, seems just fine with leaving the curls alone. So far, I’ve only seem him do that with a couple of white women. He’s still using relaxer on African-American women. Even so, baby steps are better than no steps.

    Anyway, maybe I’ve been lucky, because I’ve never had women friends try to sabotage me, or try to force me to be something I’m not. It’s odd, because, despite my many years in the beauty business, there are a lot of things that “girls” are supposed to do that are completely foreign to me. Like, why would I sit around and obsess about my thighs? I am not kidding when I say that I’ve never done that.

    The stuff that Ginmar talks about in her comment? I’ve never experienced that with my female friends or co-workers. Or maybe I haven’t been paying attention. I don’t know. It makes me sad that these things go on. This particular subject has popped up on several blogs in the last couple weeks, and most of the women who’ve been commenting have talked about how they don’t have female friends, that they prefer to hang out with guys. And I just don’t get that. I mean, I have male friends. But I can’t imagine my life without my females friends.

    Margaret Atwood has written about exactly these things -sabotage and pressure, and out right cruelty, by women towards other women- and it kind of freaks me out. I love her, and I do believe she’s telling the truth, but sometimes I feel like they’re things that shouldn’t be said out loud. Because it’s information that gets into the wrong hands, and it’s used against us. “See. SEE! We told you women hate each other.”

    I’ve seen so much fighting within the on-line feminist community lately, and I think “Don’t do that. Please. It’s just fodder for MRAs and right wing zealots who want us barefoot and pregnant”. But I know there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be hashed out, and talked about, or it will never go away.

    OK, this is turning into a post I should put up on my own blog, instead of just being a comment. So I’ll stop.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  20. Aine wrote:

    This reminds me of switching schools, between 4th and 5th grade. The first years of school I went to a Catholic elementary school where we had uniforms; in fifth grade I was suddenly in public school where everyone wore their normal clothes. I was clueless, at that stage when you really need to start washing your hair a lot and I hadn’t begun to do that yet, and I got picked on, constantly, by other girls. I was absolutely miserable.
    What is really odd is that I had always been picked on at school, by people I had more respect for (the girls who hated me weren’t popular or well-liked, I wanted nothing to do with them or their approval, just for them to leave me alone) and about things like my complete lack of awareness of pop culture and reading too much. But that never bothered me- I only cared when people started in on my appearance. I don’t know why that is; maybe I was just at a bad age to switch to a new environment, or maybe it had something to do with being picked on *by girls* for the first time ever (in my old school, we were put in assigned seats at the lunch table, girl-boy-girl-boy, so we wouldn’t talk too much, so the kids who teased me were mostly the boys on either side).

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  21. Towanda wrote:

    This reminds me of a weird incident from high school that I never really figured out until now. I used to draw cartoons back then, and one of my friends was looking at one of my pictures.

    “That’s really good,” she said.

    “Yeah,” I replied, “Except it sucks.”

    She stared at me. I, if this is possible, stared at myself. Why had I said that? My drawing didn’t suck and both of us knew it. I think I had been about to say something more specific, like, “Yeah, except I still don’t have the perspective quite right,” or, “Yeah, except I can’t figure out how to draw feet convincingly.” But instead this nonsense popped out and I didn’t know where it came from.

    Now I think I know. Those “excepts” that I might have used were more valid, but they were just a placeholder for what I ended up saying: “it sucks.” Because all three amount to the same thing. I couldn’t accept a compliment without desperately tacking a demurral onto the end.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 5:52 am | Permalink