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It’s All Rooted In The System: A Commentary On The Body Positivity Movement

By: Nicole Wagoner

I want to start off this article by saying that I am not plus sized. I never have been. So maybe I’m not qualified to write this article, but if you will listen to me for a moment, I think we can both learn something and leave this article being more educated about the life of a plus sized person.

I have always advocated for the body positivity movement. I think every body is beautiful and I think it is amazing that (at least part of) the world is finally acknowledging this. I have always had trouble accepting my body. My few extra pounds make me get down on myself sometimes. But I have never been systemically oppressed because of my size, like many plus sized people have.

Some might find this statement controversial, but it is one that is deeply rooted in the history of the patriarchy. I think when it comes to the body positivity movement, we need to stop comparing skinny shaming to fat shaming. While both are harmful, they never have and never will be on the same level. 

Once again, this is because fat people are systemically oppressed.

You wanna know how I know that? Because when I said fat just now, you were taken aback. Fat is not a dirty word as society has now equated it. Fat is a descriptor for a type of body. But ideals have forced us to think being fat is bad and fat is a mean word to describe someone with. 

Skinny was not always considered the norm. For many years curviness and having extra skin was considered the ideal for beauty, with goddesses like Venus being artistically portrayed with pear shape, plus sized bodies. But over time, women started being held to an unrealistic standard of beauty, and they were forced to take on a “boyish” type of appearance. This included being flat chested and especially slender. Calorie counting diets brought women to periods of starvation, just so that they could fit this new impossible standard of thinness.

We can see this is rooted in the patriarchy for a few reasons. One is the fact that this standard was pushed so that the norm for women would be frail and they would therefore seem subservient. The other is when women are insecure about their bodies, they feel as though they deserve less when it comes to relationships. While we live in a world where this is no longer openly discussed, we can see how openly patriarchal the “ideal” woman’s body is in society. Women’s bodies are not made for men to gawk at. A woman is beautiful no matter what, and she has no obligation to appeal to anybody at any time.

But this insecurity is still preyed upon. Commercials for Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem air on TV every single day. One can try to escape the madness by going on Instagram only to see an ad for weight loss teas. No one can escape the way society treats fat people. They see them as an object that needs to be fixed, needs to be renewed and beautified. There’s nothing wrong with being plus sized. If someone is happy in their own skin, they should be allowed to be. 

Beanie Feldstein said in her essay, “Please Stop Commenting On My Body,” that, “A person’s body changing is simply not clearance for you to talk about it. I know that nothing will truly change until we as a society are able to unravel the ingrained notion that thinness is ideal. However, I do hope that on a more interpersonal level, we can attempt to stop commenting on each other’s bodies. Because sadly, I am here to tell you that even well-intentioned compliments can be upsetting. In my case, that brought to the surface feelings about my body that had taken years to work through. And it is not how I want to continue”.

Commenting on someone’s weight enforces the fact that the person being commented on is not beautiful regardless of size. This is why Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem and weight loss teas are bad for the soul, because they enforce that there is something inherently wrong with being fat. But there is nothing inherently wrong with any weight. 

But that is not the only example of plus sized people being systemically oppressed. Take one step into a doctor’s office in a plus sized person’s shoes. An article from medium.com explored many plus-sized people’s stories of going to the doctors office and not getting proper treatment because of their size. This has led to many deaths, and not because of their weight. It was because of cancer, kidney failure, etc. These doctors ignore signs of obvious illness because one is medically “overweight.” While being medically overweight can cause health problems, many doctors give lesser care because they believe the fat person deserves lesser treatment. Another example of this is when a fat person cannot get diagnosed with an eating disorder because they do not fit this ideal of a frail girl who can be romanticized. 

Now, where do we go from here? How do we take the information from these articles, these essays, these many sources, and apply them to our lives? By not overshadowing the body positivity movement by talking about skinny shaming. The body positivity movement preaches every body is beautiful, and that no one should be treated differently because of their appearance. So let us not take away the voices of those who are actually systemically oppressed in society because of their appearance. Show this article to your mom, your dad, your aunt, your cousin. Then encourage them to listen to plus sized voices. Because maybe you shouldn’t listen to me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. But if you start listening to plus sized people and hear what they have to say about this movement, you’ll find that maybe you’ve been unknowingly feeding into society’s ideal and oppression of fat people. Don’t be that person. Keep yourself accountable, and call yourself to action. 

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The Caricature of Feminine Irrationality

By: Sheyenne White

For my project, I wish to challenge the false dichotomy between theory and practice. Given that academic theory is designed to be inaccessible through its abstract, dense, and jargonistic composition, I will mitigate its elitist exclusivity by applying it to the raw authenticity inherent of situated testimonies. For the sake of parsimony,  I have limited my interviews to three heterosexual, cisgender female UC Davis students.

  • Have you ever felt that you have carried the emotional weight during a relationship?

“Women are constantly being seen as fragile but when I don’t show any emotion, I’m seen as emotionless and less of a woman. In all of my romantic relationships, I’m always expected to be the motherfucker’s therapist, mother, maid, and caregiver. Anytime that something happens,  I can expect them to lash out and I have to walk them through their feelings. It’s on me. He wants me to fix it but I can’t always fix it.”

. . .

“Ooo my daddy issues. My dad didn’t go to therapy and he projects his unresolved trauma on my mother, sisters, and I. He has created a toxic cycle of transgenerational trauma. I may not be able to choose my trauma but I can choose how I react and respond to it. I understand this so why can’t he?”

. . .

“Men will very much ghost a girl if she gets too sensitive or attached but they’ll unload their trauma on any girl that they fuck. They’re not our boyfriends but we find ourselves acting like their mother or therapist. I don’t like it. As women, we learn to deal with this shit. We learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.”  

. . .

In her work, Alison Jagger reflects on the socially constructed dichotomy between emotionality and rationality. In her article, Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, she disparages the Western derogatory attitiude towards emotion, and instead stresses its critical role in the construction of knowledge.
The emotionality of women is both a familiar cultural stereotype and an axiom of Western tradition. The ongoing and persisting subjugation of women can be traced back to the traditional tie between masculinity and reason within philosophy, in which rationality, morality, and emotionality are positioned as gendered pursuits. Masculine bias continues to be a pervasive thread that runs through Western thought and is maintained through hierarchical dualisms: like man-woman, masculinity-femininity, and rationality-emotionality. Such binary oppositions reinforce the gendered division that values the masculine and devalues the feminine. 

Although both men and women are held to norms of appropriate emotional expression, women’s perceived emotionality comes under greater scrutiny relative to their male counterparts. As interviewee one alluded to, women are expected to succumb to emotions and therefore, emotionally inexpressive women are deemed gender-deviant. As if, emotional expressivity alone constitutes womanhood. While the link between emotional expressivity and the lack of women in leadership roles is readily acknowledged, the extent of its overarching influence in banal and trivial encounters cannot be understated. Along these lines, heteropatriarchal accounts of emotion remain problematic insofar as they fail to explain the paradox between their caricatures of irrational, hormonal women and their need for emotional nurturance.

While some degree of codependency in any given relationship is to be expected, women take on the lion’s share of the emotional labor. As funny as it may be to refer to emotional labor as comparable to the work of a therapist, mother or maid, interviewee one’s experiences sheds light on the dangers of women’s warm, maternal, and communal roles within society. Under an androcentric patriarchy, “men’s emotional development is relatively rudimentary,” which in turn, leads to “moral rigidity and insensitivity” (Jagger, 10). It’s important to note that this phenomena is not incidental but a direct byproduct of toxic masculinity. Considering that male emotional expressivity has become a ill-equipped marker of homosexuality, the question arises, is it really homosexuality that is the fear or is it the loss of heteronormative masculinity? The concept of toxic masculinity can be interpreted as an embodiment of Western ideals: violence, aggression, status, and sex. When a society overemphasizes gender, it must grapple with the consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences manifest themselves in the form of destructive and unaccommodating gender stereotypes.

As interviewee two noted, men’s limited emotional development extends beyond the scope of romantic entanglements and seeps into family dynamics. Nothing quite sums up the way women are burdened with the responsibility of emotional labor quite like the notion of  ‘daddy issues.’ Despite its visage of frivolity, the expression is weaponized as a cruel joke against women, designed to humiliate and mock their mistreatment they suffered on behalf of their father. Interestingly, the expression is utilized in the same fashion when women experience the same mistreatment in their romantic relationships. As if, the issue resides within the woman, and not the emotionally stunted men. Thus, the concept behind ‘daddy issues’ is pernicious in its perpetuation of a victim-blaming culture that once again asks women to shoulder the emotional trauma of the men in their life in addition to their own. 

After conducting my interviews, I could not help but recall interviewee three’s sophisticated articulation that women “learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.” When we applaud men for merely unloading their emotional trauma, we encourage their complacency. After all, the emotional labor is not often reciprocated for the woman. The flawed association of masculinity with reason and femininity with feeling, fails to consider the intrinsic and instrumental value of emotion as well as its potential epistemic value. Women’s experience in emotional nurturance allows us to cultivate the adept ability to identify and recognize emotions. Upon examining the social construction of emotions under an androcentric, heteropatriarchal ideology, “all of our human faculties — rationality, morality, and emotionality — reflect an aspect of human knowledge inseparable from the other aspects” (Jagger, 15). Only by reconciling emotionality with our rationality and morality, may we create a nonhierarchical and antifoundationalist mode of knowledge production, that is both sustainable and durable. For now, women must take advantage of their epistemic advantage by working to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Works Cited:

Alison M. Jaggar (1989) Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology, Inquiry, 32:2, 151-176

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The History of the Word “Bitch” and Its Inherent Subordinating Nature

By: Cecilia Nguyen

I’ve been called a “bitch” multiple times. At times, I would even embrace it– I mean, why should I feel belittled for taking lead in a group project or for standing my ground? However, after listening to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on the House floor in response to Rep. Ted Yoho calling her a “f****** b****,” all I felt was anger. “Bitch” is an incredibly derogatory slur, but like many other women, AOC was not phased or surprised by the insult. That is not okay. 

Where does the word “bitch” come from? It originally referred to a female dog, but as early as the 15th century, it became a term to degrade and insult women. Back then, it carried a promiscuous connotation, similar to phrases like “slut” and “whore” today. The insult also was used to associate divine and powerful women (Artemis and Diana) with sexually depraved beasts, in which their followers were described by the phrase “son of a bitch.” 

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that “bitch” was used as a word for men to describe bothersome and annoying women. In the 70s, its usage rose in popularity again, specifically in the music industry. Resulting from the second-wave feminism movement, for the first time, women started to embrace the word as a term of empowerment (check out the “The Bitch Manifesto” by Jo Freeman).

Nonetheless, “bitch” still embodied misogyny and hate throughout the 80s and mid 90s, and not many women were eager to take pride in being one. It wasn’t until the late 90s and early 2000s that women started to reclaim “bitch” to describe a powerful, independent and ambitious woman that voiced her opinions and made decisions for herself, in part due to public figures like Madonna and Britney Spears.

Today, “bitch” comes in many forms and variations; it’s everywhere. In pop culture, the word is used in song lyrics, TikTok trends, and TV shows. In politics, it’s used to belittle women in positions of power. For some women, it’s a term to greet their closest friends. For others, it’s a harmless and recurrent slang term. Despite what people may think, however, its subordinate nature has not changed.

In many, if not all, instances, “bitch” creates an imbalanced power dynamic and enforces society’s preference of what is deemed as “masculine.” For example, by calling an inanimate object or intangible idea a “bitch,” such as “That exam was a bitch” or “Life’s a bitch,” “bitch” is seen as something that needs to be controlled or dominated. Another example is when “bitch” is used with a possessive adjective, such as “my bitch,” “his bitch” or “her bitch.” In this case, “bitch” is used as a way to describe someone who might be submissive or vulnerable, making “feminine” traits inferior. Most notably, “bitch” is often used to degrade men of their masculinity and to insult women who are seen as emasculating which again, enforces the patriarchy.

Let’s talk about the reclamation of “bitch.” Many women, including myself, have now used “bitch” among each other in a friendly and positive way, under the intent and belief that it empowers us. But, just as much as we use it to uplift the women around us, we (and men) also use it to demean women.

“Bitch” holds no genuine power, and its misogynistic origin is still present in its usage today. When used by women and sometimes men, it usually refers to another woman that is manipulative, back-stabbing or stuck-up. In other instances, men use the word to describe a woman who is misbehaving and subject to violence. Men aren’t afraid to use “bitch,” and rarely are they ever called out for using it. The frequent usage normalizes “bitch” and in turn, normalizes patriarchal and sexist language.

If “bitch” doesn’t challenge the patriarchy and sexism in our society, how can we say we are reclaiming the word? If we want to reclaim “bitch,” we need to stop using it to insult other women and hold men accountable for using it. Otherwise, this false sense of empowerment only sets us up to continue living in a society where it is okay to degrade women. 

Now, I’m not saying you have to completely stop using “bitch;” for me, it’s been a part of my everyday language. I’ve used it to greet people, uplift women, express my anger, and describe my frustration, but maybe its normalization and common usage, in addition to its multiple meanings, is why this isn’t spoken about enough. Words hold immense power, and it’s important to acknowledge and reflect on the language we use.