Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in California, approved last November by a ballot measure, was upheld by the California Supreme Court today.

In a post on Jezebel, I commented that to not have upheld the measure would have been disastrous, with what that would imply politically. Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog that “[i]t would have been dreadful if voters were retroactively told their valid vote was somehow null and void – it would have felt like a bait and switch and provoked a horrible backlash.”

Folks responded to me that “voting on civil rights is not, and never was, part of what democracy encompasses” and that “democracy does not entail permitting majority tyranny.” Sounds good, but then who does get to make the decisions on civil rights issues, if not “the people”? And who identifies what is and isn’t a civil rights issue?

There are a lot of tricky elements to this, and I’m not really sure how and where and by whom questions of same sex marriage are to be worked out, because the fact is that currently in most states same sex couples don’t have the same rights as everyone else, and this is something that is up for discussion. I certainly don’t find it “more” democratic to just leave it in the hands of elected officials because it would be wrong to allow people to make decisions about other people’s civil rights. Not to mention that this wouldn’t even be up for discussion if not for groups like the HRC, which is meant to represent the wishes of ordinary GLBTA people. And without “the people,” of course, the ball wouldn’t have been set rolling on the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Are we meant to only listen to the people when they say something we like?

I think the same sex marriage ban is shameful and prejudicial, and something we’ll one day look back on with incredulity the way we do Jim Crow laws. But I don’t know about telling people their votes are meaningless, either.

All this aside–I’m not a student of political science or government, and don’t even know about the legality of putting same sex marriage up as a ballot measure after the CA Supreme Court had already legalized it, as it did in May 2008–I’m mostly surprised by how many folks insist we live in a democracy and as such must follow democratic principles, i.e. not allowing a majority group to decide a minority group’s rights. As if the country weren’t founded by wealthy white land- and slave-owning males, as if they didn’t found it with folks like themselves in mind, as if we didn’t have a two-party system that represented a tiny slice of a huge ideological spectrum, as if our elected officials reflected in any way our country’s demographics, as if it were as easy as just pulling oneself up by the bootstraps to succeed, as if the system weren’t controlled by an oligarchy of corporations rather than “the people,” as if you could have a say in what was decided in government without the backing of a wealthy and well-established lobby, as if our Ivy League schools weren’t feeders of yet more old money White Anglo Saxon Protestants into the business and political realms, where they continue to perpetuate a system that has always benefited them…

If things weren’t that way, then yes, this Prop 8 decision would be outrageous. But in light of the fact that they aren’t, the least we can do is not start down the very dangerous road of rendering people’s votes null and void when we find them unfair, whether or not soliciting their votes was morally justified in the first place.

A friend linked to this blog on her own and my last entry spurred a lot of comments there, many of them amounting to me not being a real feminist. I’m not really one to object to being excluded from an ideological group–Woody Allen’s line from Annie Hall about not wanting to be part of any club that would have him as a member comes to mind. But it did get me thinking about why a group of individuals seeking such massive change on so many societal fronts would be quick to dismiss people who don’t tow certain party lines.

It seems that the feminist movement has frequently struggled with including particular types of women–there’s plenty of literature out there about the second-wave, specifically, neglecting (not through malevolence, but through lack of understanding) poor and minority women. I think this continues today and can be seen in the nearsightedness of the fat acceptance movement.

I’ve seen some Harding acolytes implying that fat acceptance naysayers are being disingenuous when they bring up health concerns; they’re really just judgmental and intolerant of different body types. This may be occasionally valid, but I think it ignores the fact that the fat acceptance movement, which is largely supported online and propagated by educated white women, speaks mainly to a privileged minority.

To dismiss health concerns is to dismiss the very real inequalities in access to quality nutrition and medical care that lower-income women face. The poor are more prone to obesity because often in their communities, the food available to them by dint of location and affordability is very low-quality. The New York Times did an in-depth investigation of Type 2 diabetes several years ago, and it’s no surprise that the neighborhoods of New York hit hardest by the epidemic are the most disadvantaged ones.

I take issue with the “sex-positive” movement in a similar way: its embrace of women taking ownership of their sexuality by making a conscious choice to subvert traditional gender and sexual roles by becoming sex workers again focuses on a privileged minority. BDSM in particular has the support of an extensive academic literature, and the women who decide to become dommes and the like represent a highly educated slice of the sex worker community. Many voices of third wave feminism accuse those who pose concerns about sex work and pornography of being old-fashioned and unenlightened, which I find highly naive. Sex-positive proponents don’t seem to be considering, again, the women for whom the choice to enter into sex work was informed by necessity rather than the desire to make a political statement.

The well-intentioned urge to be politically correct glosses over whole swaths of the population, generally low-income, of color, and less educated, who don’t have the luxury of the support of a feminist movement behind them and what they do with their bodies, because they have much less of a say in what happens to their bodies. The problem is that acknowledging this puts serious dents in the celebration of larger women and sex workers, because it admits that there are aspects of both issues that don’t merit celebration, but rather intervention.

Of course, it’s tricky for me to write about this as though I were the lone champion of the poor–it’s not a population I’m in any way a member of; I am as privileged as Harding and her followers. But if trying to consider this side of the equation makes me less of a feminist, so be it.

Often when Jezebel veers toward the topic of fat acceptance, commenters begin insisting that we all visit Kate Harding’s blog and educate ourselves. Any time I see mass amounts of people exhibiting slavish devotion to a writer with an agenda and the intense desire to spread her gospel my instinct is to head in the opposite direction, and upon browsing Harding’s blog, I don’t think my instinct was wrong.

In an article entitled “Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy?” Harding attempts to deflate some (mis?)conceptions about obesity. I absolutely agree with her that pre-judgment and cruelty are generally frowned upon when applied to any minority group, save for the overweight, and that there is a tendency to believe fat people “deserve” to be shamed in one way or another because they “brought it on themselves.” It’s also of course true that one tends to assume a random overweight person is unhealthy much more often than they would a thin person, even if in their private life the thin person consumes nothing but Diet Coke and heroin. (Yum!)

However, she starts to lose me here:

4. Diets don’t work. No, really, not even if you don’t call them diets. If you want to tell me about how YOUR diet totally worked, do me a favor and wait until you’ve kept all the weight off for five years. Not one year, not four years, five years. And if you’ve kept it off for that long, congratulations. You’re literally a freak of nature.

5. Given that diets don’t work in the long-term for the vast, vast majority of people, even if obesity in and of itself were a health crisis, how the fuck would you propose we solve it?

I don’t know how one can say that no diet works, EVER. And by saying if one does work for you, you’re a freak of nature–isn’t this sort of a cop-out? It’s hard for me to believe, based on this shrill language, that Harding has any degree of objectivity here. And I also don’t like the conclusion that, because dieting doesn’t seem to work, the obesity problem is unsolveable. I read recently that in the past several decades, the average American man has gained 25 pounds, and the average American women 24. I don’t know if I agree that we should all just “accept” people getting bigger and bigger. And if the number can go up, isn’t it natural to assume that there’s some way for it to go down? I don’t know, for instance, through encouraging avoidance of sedentary lifestyles and mass-produced chemical-laden foodstuffs? I mean, it’s not like it’s a mystery that since the 70s we’ve become increasingly chained to our televisions and computers and less likely to make home-cooked meals for our families. It’s not like the mass weight gain is inexplicable and should just be passively accepted.

Fat acceptance makes me a bit uneasy in that it seems like, forgive the pun, these folks want to have their cake and eat it too. I think it’s wonderful (and depressingly unusual) for a woman to actually make peace with her body and its various idiosyncrasies. But if you’re overweight, and you’ve decided you’re cool with it and aren’t going to struggle through diets and intense exercise, but ALSO feel like everyone should celebrate you for it… I dunno. That’s asking for a bit much–for it all, in fact. I think for every choice we make with confidence, we must also confidently accept that there will be plenty of folks who think it was a poor choice. And it’s annoying, and occasionally insulting, but life’s not fair.

Another aspect of Harding’s site that sent up a red flag is a feature called “Asshole of the Day”–the asshole being someone who’s not on board with fat acceptance. Yesterday’s nominee was Carl J. Lavie, a medical director who studied heart disease in fat and thin people. Poor Carl committed the heinous crime of pointing out that thin people get different kinds of heart disease than fat people–i.e. from more serious factors, since heart disease is often a by-product of excess weight, and to get it without being heavy means there are probably more difficult-to-manage underlying causes.

Lavie: It’s well-known that obesity leads to heart disease, and that’s a big part of the paradox. These people wouldn’t have developed heart disease in the first place if they weren’t obese. A thin person is getting it [heart disease] for a different reason, so he or she is getting a worse form of the disease, getting the disease despite being thin.

Harding: OK, seriously. “These people wouldn’t have developed heart disease in the first place if they weren’t obese”—immediately before you talk about thin people getting heart disease? And thin people get “a worse form of the disease” because… you think it’s unfair that they got it at all? Fuck the what?

On what planet did Lavie say it’s more of a tragedy for thin people to get heart disease than fat people? He’s differentiating between the types of heart disease people of varying weights get. And, I’m guessing, he’s saying it’s probably more difficult for thin people to contend with because it’s not like losing weight would help decrease their symptoms. To turn this man into a villain worthy of the bile of the millions of overweight people in this country is so ridiculous I almost don’t even know what to say. Kate’s fans seem even shriller than she:

“Fucking idiotic waste of body space. I am so fucking mad at this asshole. Like SUPER mad. This one gets me more than the typical assholes. I can’t even pretend to make sensible responses.”

“Man, that was cathartic…
Kate you write in this way that takes all the anger I feel about the stupidity of fat phobic annoying people and you just smash their shoddy arguments to bits. It’s totally like you are the superhero that has the power of writing a kick ass blog that destroys villains with your killer words!”

How can anyone conclude this guy is fat phobic? This level of impotent rage at anyone who dares to talk about health issues associated with weight does nothing but make the leaders of the fat acceptance movement seem like irrational bullies who personalize even the most impersonal scientific studies. Which is why I won’t be joining the chorus of Kate Harding devotees.

There’s this awful story coming out of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where a college junior was shot and killed by a man who apparently had been stalking her. They’d met briefly at a summer program at NYU, after which he began sending her nasty emails and leaving dozens of messages. She spoke to university police, but then he seemed to disappear from the area and her life, so she declined to press charges, presumably hoping he’d gotten over it. Two years later, yesterday, he showed up at her job and killed her.

Stalking is terrifying because it’s surrounded by so much ambiguity. First, there is little that law enforcement can do when a person is being harassed, other than issue a restraining order, which will often only serve to exacerbate the harassment. Stalkers may suffer from what’s known as “erotomania,” in which ANY attention from the victim is taken as encouragement to continue pursuing them. They are very difficult to prosecute until they’ve reached out physically, at which point it may be too late. Stalking seems to cross gender lines–I’ve heard of male celebrities being stalked by female fans, and vice versa.

Another complication is that the victim may be unsure if what they’re experiencing constitutes stalking, if they’re making a big deal out of nothing, if they somehow invited the behavior by being flighty with the person or leading them on in some way. To generalize hugely, I think women do tend to err on the side of politeness–for me, it frequently seems more logical to convince myself, for instance, that I’m overreacting to the odd demeanor of a man sitting next to me on the subway than to just move away and risk insulting him.

I’ve had two instances that began to border on stalking. The first, which I’ll write about here, was with a man I’d worked with over the summer at a community newspaper. He was a reporter and I was an intern, and we were friendly for a bit before I went back to college. He started IMing me one day, saying he thought I’d done good work at the paper and hoped I’d continue pursuing journalism. I was flattered that this man had even noticed me, and eventually we made plans to meet up when I came home over Thanksgiving break.

I liked the idea of going out with a much-older guy, a vaguely glamorous and dangerous experience I’d never had before. I liked the idea of collecting sort of risque experiences, thought they’d fuel my writing. But the moment we met up outside a restaurant in my hometown, I felt I’d made a mistake: he could be my father, we likely had no common ground, and I got a vibe of weirdness coming off him. But to say one gets “vibes,” has a “bad feeling”–it’s too mystical and superstitious for many logical people, and so one pushes the warnings away.

Anyway, I cut the date short by saying I had plans with a friend, he kissed my cheek in the parking lot, and I went home resolved to not repeat the experience. When he emailed asking if I’d like to meet him again, I didn’t respond.

After that, he began sending me angry messages, about how I’d led him on, how I’d been dishonest. He’d IM me whenever I signed on. I became frightened for my family that he’d show up at the house in the middle of the night, but I felt too ashamed to tell them what had happened. I felt that this was a form of justice for my risque behavior, that this was what happened when you toyed around with the idea of being with an older man.

I don’t know how much this reaction was informed by societal expectations of proper female behavior, of a tendency to “blame the victim” whether it’s rape or abuse or stalking, or by my own rather rigid conceptions of right and wrong. I’d always hated to be scolded by authority figures, to feel I’d made a mistake of any kind–when I was little, my parents used to intentionally make mistakes on a computer game we had to show me it was OK, because I’d freak out so extremely at the sad little music that would play when I messed up the game.

But why would I feel like it was such a horrible thing to consider dating an older guy? And why would I feel like it was my fault that he reacted so extremely to my rejection of him? This isn’t something that was imparted to me by my parents. I think maybe it’s something women may absorb over time, that sexual experimentation has major risks, and whatever results you brought on yourself. How many horror movies demonstrate a direct cause-and-effect between sex and death? How many times, upon hearing that someone you know got an STD, have you thought to yourself that that’s what happens to sluts?

I wonder what the initial interactions were like between this Wesleyan student and her stalker. I wonder if she felt sorry for him, felt that she’d behaved callously toward him, deserved his wrath, convinced herself that it would just run its course, go away. I wonder what it will take to enact laws that stop stalking in its terrifying course, before it comes to this.

I read the same blogs, over and over. I get bored at work, so bored apparently I’m unable to penetrate the film of boredom that settles over me and find some new blogs to read. One of the blogs I read the most is Jezebel, maybe because I like to make myself depressed, which then further justifies my dwelling in the land of ennui.

Not to say that Jez is bad, per se. I think its writers are mostly clever and savvy women, far more adept than me at wading through the terrifying mass of information we all awake to each morning, and then converting it into something pithy and relevant. I can’t conceive of that level of productivity. But that insane churning out of product is probably what ends up being dissatisfying about the experience of reading that and other blogs, what ultimately makes me feel cheap and lazy rather than fulfilled.

Of course, this is a blog. But then I don’t see too many fora opening for me in the publishing world, so I’ll settle on hypocrisy for now.

Jez (it’s like a sassy girlfriend, see?) and its writers are able to alleviate my boredom with a new post every time I hit the refresh button by pretending there are only two sides to any issue, and that the side it takes is (nearly) unquestionably the correct one. It’s not even that I disagree so much–like so many young aspirational urbanish types, I lean leftward and ladyward.

But I don’t want to continue lazing around the same corners of the net doing what essentially amounts to nodding in emphatic agreement with a girlfriend I kinda like, but kinda find predictable and pious–and who refuses to occasionally delve into subversive nastiness with me about Cameron Diaz’s bad skin or whatever, because that would be a “girl on girl crime.” And the commenters there, whom I find myself more often intentionally provoking than seeing as an e-sisterhood, tend toward shrill victimhood as much as female empowerment.

Tonight I felt inspired by an unlikely source–Helen Gurley Brown, the former editor of Cosmopolitan, the magazine I was appalled to have as my automatic subscription replacement for Jane after it folded. Jennifer Scanlon, a women’s studies professor at Bowdoin College, wrote a biography of her, which apparently contains such HGB bon mots as “I think you may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight.”

You can imagine how that went over on the ladyblogs. What troubles me is that the virtual hand-wringing that followed was so unnecessary, so discussed so many times it was already as good as woven into the pixels of the comment section. Of course it’s awful that women are compelled to twist themselves into anorectic knots in order to feel merely passable. But isn’t it also refreshing that someone just came out and said that if one wants to look perfect, bitch is gonna have to starve some?

This is part of what I’m interested in: exploring subversion over revolution. Following a train of thought even though it may be insensitive, offensive, “triggering”–not because it’s those things, but because it’s interesting, and neglected. As Judith Thurman writes in her New Yorker review of Scanlon’s book, “it has never been easy to be both a woman and a person–that femininity (like masculinity) is, to some extent, a performance.” I guess what I’m saying is I’m more inclined to talk about the people performing (and why they are doing it) than about the performance itself.

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