Thin Privilege and Fat Shaming: Recognizing the Problem

•August 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We don’t think about body type as being in the same category as race or gender or sexual orientation, with regards to privilege and oppression.  Racism, for example, appears so frequently in our news, and has such a deep history in our society, that it’s relatively easy to recognize that race divides people in this country, that certain groups are disadvantaged.  Black individuals are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go to jail, and become targets for police brutality.  Feminists have, of course, been pointing out ways in which men are privileged over women, from the controversy over contraception to pay inequities to issues related to immigration.  Disabled persons also suffer from discrimination that is more readily seen by able-bodied people, who can recognize when buildings are not handicap accessible, or when schools fail to meaningfully help students with learning disabilities, or when mental illness is vilified.  We can see ableism, and racism, and homophobia, and recognize that these are related to systemic oppression of certain groups.  But we have trouble seeing the ways in which this applies to body type.

Thin privilege is a topic I haven’t really discussed much on this blog.  It’s something I wasn’t sure I knew how to discuss, but it’s something that needs to be talked about.  As much as feminists try to promote self-love and combat eating disorders and talk about accepting your body-~-and those are still good things to do, because people still shouldn’t feel bad about their bodies and because body type exists on a spectrum and people are impacted differently-~-but the reality of the situation is that larger bodies are policed even more heavily than thin bodies, and that while you may be made to feel bad about being thin, people who are considered “fat” face much bigger problems, on a bigger scale.

There are obviously health consequences of being overweight or obese-~-there’s increased risk of  conditions such as type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.  Certain medications, including forms of emergency contraception, are less likely to work if one is over a certain weight.  But there are secondary consequences of being overweight which also impact people’s health, particularly with regards to mental health.  It’s fatphobia that is linked to problems like eating disorders-~-it’s a combination of the need for control, and a fear of not being thin, because not being thin comes with real social consequences.  Moreover, individuals considered overweight are at risk for other psychological consequences, such as an elevated risk for depression and anxiety, and poor self-esteem, particularly among children considered obese.

There are other consequences as well, though.  Weight stigma in the United States is particularly prevalent among healthcare providers, resulting in biased diagnoses or a failure to address real problems presented by patients because the doctor is fixated on the patient’s weight.  This is particularly true for female patients, for whom this bias kicks in around when a woman has a BMI of 27, as opposed to men, who begin to suffer this discrimination when they reach a BMI of 30, according to a 2007 study by Yale University researchers.  The reality that doctors make assumptions about patients’ lifestyles and conditions based on their appearances is troubling (it is, after all, bad medicine), but is also tied into cultural narratives that vilify larger bodies and blame them for any issues at play.  These same narratives, along with the health statistics previously referenced, health insurance often costs more for people considered overweight.  As a result of this discrimination, both by insurance companies and healthcare providers, many obese women are less likely to seek medical care, which can have detrimental effects on their health and their lives, as they may forgo preventative care that is cheaper, less invasive, less time consuming, and ultimately easier to handle.  Overweight persons at risk for pregnancy also face barriers to access to contraception, as many medical providers maybe reluctant to prescribe birth control.

This problem doesn’t end with health and healthcare, though.  Overweight persons are more likely to be convicted of crimes by juries, particularly female defendants, who are more likely to be perceived as being guilty than their leaner counterparts.  Persons considered overweight are also less likely to be hired or promoted at their jobs.  There are jobs for which heavier individuals may not be considered, or which they may not be able to hold, including some service jobs (like waiting table), where employers are less likely to hire or keep employees whom customers may find “unappealing”.  In face-to-face interviews are a part of the admissions process, overweight students are less likely to be accepted into college than leaner students, and again, this bias is stronger for young women.

This doesn’t even account for some of the day-to-day lived experiences of being overweight and dealing with weight bias.  Though I can’t speak from personal experience about these, friends’ and other accounts (like the one I just linked) outline a number of general hurdles, everything from social isolation and negative comments from peers and family members, to struggling to find fashionable or appealing clothes available in your size, pressure to lose weight from doctors and family members, feeling self-conscious…like all other kinds of micro-aggressions and subtle forms of prejudice, these add up to an uncomfortable living situation that no one deserves to have to deal with.

 

So why is this less discussed than other forms of oppression?  According to a study published in the Journal of Obesity, weight bias has increased 66% in the last decade, making it comparable to race bias today.   This means that it lacks the history that other forms of oppression come with, and is therefore talked about less.  But it definitely matters, because weight bias impacts the life outcomes of individuals and communities, and the way we talk about weight isn’t helping.  Researchers at Yale Law School point out that the government’s “war on obesity” places the onus on individuals to stay thin or to become thin, and fails to address the reality that even if one wants to solve for the health consequences of obesity, there are structural issues at play, including access to safe areas to exercise and access to healthy food.  On top of that, referring to a body type as an “epidemic” may exacerbate or seemingly validate some of the forms of prejudice already seen, which in turn reinforces the problems that persons considered overweight already face.  Thin privilege does play a role in people’s lives to various degrees because fat-shaming plays a role in people’s lives to various degrees, and it’s dangerous when official organizations endorse rhetoric or actions that may legitimize this divide.  Everyone deserves a fair shot at college, employment, healthcare, and good quality of life, no matter what their body type, no matter who they are.

Revisiting TRAP Laws: The Courts, The Clinics, and the Targeting of Women’s Rights

•August 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Anti-abortion laws have been getting smarter over the past few years.  As the courts have upheld a pregnant person’s right to choose when laws target the actual act of abortion-~-for example, the courts have struck down a series of 20-week bans across the United States-~-legislators have taken a different approach, through the use of TRAP laws.  TRAP-~-or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers-~-laws are, in theory, supposed to make clinics safer…but what they really do is create difficult or even impossible conditions, which result in many clinics closing down.  These restrictions can be anything from arbitrary mandatory hallway dimensions that would require expensive remodeling of clinics to requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, or multiple hospitals.

TRAP laws have been of major concern to reproductive justice advocates, as clinics across the United States have been forced to close their doors, and pregnant people have had to travel further or risk losing out on their ability to access abortion services.  Twenty-six states have laws which regulate abortion providers beyond what is necessary to ensure patient safety, and seventeen of these states impose these requirements in facilities where surgical abortion is not even performed, only medical abortion.  That constitutes a widespread threat to pregnant people’s rights, and until recently, it seemed like TRAP laws could successfully wipe out abortion services from one state in the US: Mississippi.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only remaining abortion provider in the state.  The rest have closed their doors over the past several years, and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization has had to fight for survival.  The clinic flies in doctors from out of state, because no doctor in Mississippi will perform abortions.  It is regularly protested by anti-choice activists, but the clinic continues to provide vital reproductive health services to women from around the state.  Last week, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the abortion provider, striking down a law that would have forced it to close down.

What happened?  Based on the precedent from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court found that eliminating ALL abortion providers within a state would constitute an undue burden, defined as a “”substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”  In the majority opinion issued by the Fifth Circuit, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

It doesn’t end there: earlier this week, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring admitting privileges, saying that the law posed an undue burden on pregnant people seeking abortion services.  The law would have closed down three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, which, like Mississippi’s lone remaining clinic, rely on traveling doctors, who are unable to obtain admitting privileges.  In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Myra Thompson wrote that poor women were unlikely to be able to access abortion services due to their lack of access to independent transportation and resources, and that were this law to be enforced, it would pose a substantial obstacle to low-income people’s ability to exercise their rights regarding bodily autonomy and pregnancy.

This is all good news, but these are battles we have won-~-the war wages on.  Earlier this week, a federal court in Austin began hearing arguments on a Texas abortion law, now in its second time through the court system.  Previously, the courts had upheld the law on the basis that it didn’t constitute an undue burden, but in light of these more recent precedents, reproductive rights advocates are hopeful that the courts will strike down the restrictive Texas legislation.  The law has already caused every abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley to close its doors; the closest clinic to the area is now a 500-mile round-trip drive, and while the Fifth Circuit had previously upheld the law (despite striking down Mississippi’s law, indicating the court has considered the issue on a state-by-state basis), there is a chance the court will rule similarly to the decision in the Alabama case.  It’s worth noting that in the Alabama case, the judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional even though there would still be clinics operating in the state, the increased difficulty in accessing these services still qualified as undue burden.

This won’t be the end of TRAP laws, but it could be the beginning of a real wave of progress, a chance to undue some of the damage that legislators have caused in forcing women’s health organizations to close their doors.  Though we do not yet know what will happen in the Texas case, it’s telling that the courts are beginning to consider the real implications of undue burdens, and which segments of society truly need protection.  Only time will tell if these decisions will gain momentum, leading to increased protections of the rights of pregnant people in the United States of America.

The Word “Feminazi” Has Got To Go

•July 27, 2014 • 5 Comments

Folks, it is 2014 and I can’t believe I have to say this but…the word “feminazi” has got to go.

I know that someone somewhere will undoubtedly say that there are more important things to worry about, who cares about this word, or that I am overreacting.  And maybe I am, but truth be told, I don’t think so.  There are two major problems I have with this word: the first is that it perpetuates ridiculous, incorrect stereotypes about the feminist movement, and second, it diminishes the legacy of who the Nazis actually were and what they actually did.  As a feminist, and as a Jew, the idea that feminists could or should be compared to Nazis, ever, is both ridiculous and vaguely offensive.

Let’s talk about the impact it has on feminism first, though.  I know that most people who use this term are not supporters of feminism, and that I may be preaching to the choir here.  But language does matter, and what language like this accomplishes is to say that feminists are aggressive, vicious, terrible, rights-violative people.  And this frankly isn’t the case.  At best, this term describes a small fraction of the movement, correctly referred to as reactionary feminists, who think that women should become dominant in society and/or hold strong beliefs rooted in misandry.  Reactionary feminists, however, are a small minority.  There may be feminists who are a little radical, there may be individual feminists who hate men, but the movement as a whole does not hate men, does not seek to dominate men, and only wants things to become equal between men and women.

I understand that this is difficult.  Equality is actually perceived as female domination much of the time, at least in our society.  We have been socialized to believe that there is adequate representation of women, so even though women make up about 28% of speaking roles in movies, about 16% of corporate board seats, and about 18% of Congress.  We know, because it has been repeatedly pointed out, that there are not enough women in Congress, but what people often forget is that we have become so used to this uneven distribution of positions-~-particularly in media, which helps influence people’s recognition of social realities-~-that when the proportions are even, people perceive the group as being dominated by women.  Studies have shown that when women are in charge, they are perceived as being bossy and domineering, but when men are in charge they are perceived as being strong and decisive.

All the word “feminazi” does is underscore this idea that equality is in fact a hostile concept, that women already are equal and that wanting more-~-wanting real equality and representation-~-makes us greedy and forceful.  This simply isn’t true: the pay gap does exist, women are underrepresented in various situations-~-especially queer women and women of color-~-we still have multiple leaky pipeline career fields, gender-based violence is still rampant, and even things like birth control are considered controversial.  Wanting society to address those issues does not make feminists militant, it makes us aware of social realities that are simply uncomfortable to address.

The second thing, though, is that there is nothing about feminism that can be equated to what the Nazis did.  I know the Holocaust seems like a distant piece of history, but it actually happened less than a century ago.  The last Holocaust survivors are still among us, and their children, who grew up with the knowledge of what their parents lived through, and their grandchildren, who eventually learned the same, are active players in our society.  The Nazis killed millions of innocent people-~-approximately 6 million Jews, as well as approximately 11 million Catholics, Roma, Slavs, people with mental disabilities, homosexual people, trans people, and political opponents.  They executed a racist and political genocide against multiple groups of people, and the idea that a group of people advocating for equal rights could be equated to a group of people guilty of such an agenda is problematic at best and offensive at worst.  Have some respect for the families and communities that were lost, and that lost people they loved, and come up with more creative vocabulary.

I fully understand that not everyone is going to be a supporter of feminism.  I know that there are a lot of misconceptions about feminism and what feminists are trying to accomplish.  Those are things that feminists need to address.  But at the end of the day, we also need to work to eliminate problematic vocabulary, and just as one might call out a friend who makes a rape joke or uses a homophobic or racist slur, we need to consider calling out people who use words like “feminazi”.  They’re politically charged and problematic, and it’s time to prune them from our collective vocabularies.

There is nothing wrong with wanting your rights.

 

What Makes a Strong Female Character?

•July 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

In talking about the intersection of feminism and literature, there are a few things that often come up: the need to recognize, promote, and have more female authors, the way books by female authors are perceived, and the need for strong female characters.  This last issue, the need for strong female characters, stretches into the realms of popular culture, into TV and movies.  We need characters that young women can relate to, characters who inspire them, characters who tell both boys and girls that girls are more than prizes to be won or damsels in distress.

I want to be clear: there are strong female characters circulating through literature and popular media-~-I’ve been highlighting some on the Radical Idea’s tumblr.  Some of them are very well done.  But there are two major approaches to having strong female characters, two major ways we have been taught to think of strong female characters, that ultimately have major flaws.

1) The near-perfect woman: Many times, in an attempt to make a female character be read as strong, brilliant, and tough, writers/producers will end up stripping her of some or all of her flaws.  Melissa Anelli, Harry Potter Alliance board member and author of Harry, a History says about movie Hermione that ” that sounds like you’re making a kick-ass, amazing character, and what you’re doing is dehumanizing her.”  She has a good point: no one could be movie Hermione.  She’s beautiful, the smartest girl in her class, brave, always the one to keep a cool head, always the logical one, always the sensitive one, almost perfectly loyal…the first movie stays true to her  character really well, as Hermione is still the annoying know-it-all we meet in the books when she first appears on screen…but over time, she becomes increasingly perfect, and in doing so, she becomes less human.

The reason I bring up Hermione as an example, however, is that book Hermione is a great example of the strong female character.  She is still smart and loyal and brave, but she’s stubborn, she genuinely never understands Quiddich, she goes on annoying tangents when she does things like start a movement to free house-elves, she’s self-conscious about her appearance, she’s reduced to tears several times, she’s jealous, she’s awkward…she’s real.  Certainly more so than movie Hermione.  Book Hermione lets us read and relate to a character who has enviable, admirable qualities, but also flaws and problems that many of us actually possess.  She’s not perfect, and that’s why she’s a better character.

2) The woman who transcends femininity: You likely know this character as well: she’s tough, she’s strong, she doesn’t get emotional except at funerals, and she’s probably a warrior or something similar.  This woman is strong, or at least she’s painted as strong, but she achieves this by eschewing femininity.  This woman doesn’t have time for things like flirting or parties or dresses, perhaps; her hair is always unkempt, but that’s fine; she thinks that anything “girly” is silly.  You know who this girl is: she’s Arya Stark from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, she’s Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.  We love these characters, but we see them as stronger than their more feminine counterparts specifically because they avoid or even openly dislike things we see as feminine/weak, such as big displays of emotion, or concern about appearance.

I’m not saying it’s bad to write characters who are, for lack of a better word, tomboyish.  Arya Stark and Katniss Everdeen are good characters, and there are girls who want to distance themselves from traditional femininity.  The important thing in writing these kinds of characters is to a) make them well-rounded and b) not make femininity seem inherently pathetic.  The problem with Arya Stark, which Katniss doesn’t have, is that she sees her sister’s femininity as making her weak, and because Sansa Stark is one of the most feminine, and often most victimized, women on the show, viewers are likely to see her as pathetic.  I digress, though: the point is that if one wants to write a character like that, then one needs to make them more than just a stern expression and a sword.  What drives this character?  Is it revenge?  Is it a need to be able to protect themselves?  Is it love of their family?  What do they like?  What are they afraid of?  Even the strongest people still have fears and weaknesses-~-these characters need them too, in order to be real.

But these archetypes aside, we need more diverse strong female characters, not just more well-rounded, better-balanced versions of the kinds we already have.  As a writer, and as a reader, I want women who come from different backgrounds, women who have different motivations and goals.  I want women who are driven by love-~-like Gwen Stacy (from “Spider-man”), and Meg (from Disney’s “Hercules”).  I want women who have great careers but desperately want families, like Callie Torres (Grey’s Anatomy).  I want women who stand up for themselves and for others, who won’t let themselves be stepped on, like Daenerys Stormborn (Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire), Olivia Pope (Scandal), Tris Prior (Divergent)  and Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars).  I want smart women like Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), self-assured women like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Jessica Pearson (Suits), women who refuse to compromise their goals like Christina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy) and women who are still figuring out who they are, like Mia Thermopolis (The Princess Diaries).  I want women who struggle with disabilities, like Daphne Vasquez (Switched at Birth), women who have to learn to accept themselves like Jane Bingum (Drop Dead Diva) and women who don’t care what anyone thinks of them, like Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) and Luisa Rey (Cloud Atlas).  I want sassy women, fierce women, shy women, and sweet women.  I want to be able to think of more strong fictional women of color than this post mentions (and more queer and trans women, and roles filled by queer and trans women), and I want them in major, iconic  roles on TV and in movies.  (I did find great lists of women of color in movies, but while some-~-like Halle Berry’s portrayal of Storm in the X-men films-~-might readily come to mind, others didn’t stand out as much.  We need more.)

It’s not just about wanting these women–~we need representations like these in fiction-~-both on the page, and on the screen.  We need female characters who adequately represent how diverse women truly are, characters who remind young women that they can be whoever they want, and that being who they already are is enough.  Being strong needs to be attainable for women-~-not something they can see but never be, not something they could only achieve by giving up who they really are, not something that seems distant and foreign, but something that is really possible, something that comes from trying your best, going for your goals, being willing to take chances, using your strengths, and most of all, realizing that you are valuable, exactly as you are.

Why You Need to Care About the Midterms

•July 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Right now, the Senate is moving to vote on a bill that, in theory, could help protect women from the impacts of the Hobby Lobby decision.

Let me explain: the Hobby Lobby ruling wasn’t based primarily on the Constitution, but on another law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Because RFRA was created by Congress, it can be changed by Congress, and the Senate Democrats would like to do just that: amend RFRA so that it can’t be used by corporations, thereby protecting not only women’s reproductive choices, but the rights of LGBT employees who are already being discriminated against by companies on the grounds of religious belief.

The reality is that Senate Democrats are probably not going to win this vote-~-even if they succeed in the Senate, it likely won’t make it through the Republican-controlled House.  You might be wondering, then, why they’re even bothering to move on this bill at all, and the answer is this: voting on this bill means that every single Senator and Representative will have a vote, on record, about women’s health and its politicization.

A major concern of the Democratic Party, and its supporters, has been that of voter turnout.  Across demographics and party lines, Americans turn out to vote in higher numbers during presidential elections than any other year-~-and this, it appears, is especially true for Democratic voters.  Some believe that when there is higher turnout, demographics naturally favor the Democrats, but that’s not necessarily true.  The reality is that turnout matters only if people are ready to demand something from their government: the passage of a policy that is voted on directly, the continuation of a representative they like, or the replacement of an official they don’t like.

Generally speaking, midterm electorates are older and often whiter.  A large portion of the Democratic electorate is comprised of minorities, lower-income individuals, and young people, who often stay home without the hype of a presidential election to draw them to the polls.  It’s easier to care when there are televised primaries and debates, and an election is on the news all the time…but this just isn’t true during the midterms.  There are too many races to follow for the mainstream media to follow it all, and as a result, fewer people show up.

There are only a few possible solutions.  Parties can use Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaigns including canvassing, Rock the Vote events, etc.  They can spend money on ad buys to generate conversations or at least force people to realize that an election is actually happening.  Or they can use the media, by leveraging a major issue that their constituents care a lot about…and that appears to be exactly what the Democrats are doing with this new bill in the Senate.

If you’re reading this, I don’t personally care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.  What I am going to say is still the same.  This November, you need to vote.  Every single member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election on Novemeber 4th.  Whichever issues matter to you, whatever it is that worries you, find a candidate who will protect your interests and vote for them.  Talk to your family and friends about why you’re voting and why it matters to vote.  And it does matter.  I know that elections have become disheartening affairs.  I know that corporations have too much influence, with lobbying and donations and money being speech.  But there’s one thing that you can do that Walmart can’t, and that’s go to the polls and actually vote for the person you want to represent you.

We need change in this country, desperately.  We need a Congress that will actually govern, a Congress that will pass laws needed to make this country run, attend to its citizens’ welfare, and protect the people living here.  We need a Congress that will actually solve problems, instead of trying to impeach the president for trying to do so in their stead.  We need representatives who will acknowledge that rape is a real problem and try to address survivors’ needs, who will uphold a separation of Church and State, who will be willing to address climate change, who will actually attempt to do their jobs instead of causing the government to shut down because they can’t get their way.  Consider this:

In the two years that the democrats had the White House, the House, and the Senate, we got Wall Street reform, student loan reform, credit card reform, healthcare reform obviously, the fair pay act, expanding of the GI bill, they re-authorized the children’s health insurance program, expanded national service programs, fixed the sentencing disparity for crack versus powdered cocaine. We got the 9/11 first responders bill, we got the hate crimes act, they ratified the Start treaty between us and Russia on nuclear weapons, they repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, they did cash for clunkers, they did the stimulus which included the largest middle-class tax cuts ever. That was all done by the Congress that was elected at the same time as President Obama in 2008. They were elected in November 2008, sworn in January 2009 and over the next 2 years they got all of those things done. Then, the republicans did really well in the midterms, and republicans took control of the House for the first time in years and, John Boehner became Speaker. And since then, there has not been a single significant piece of legislation enacted into law.
—  Rachel Maddow, 9/30/13
I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a Democrat, or agrees with the Democrats.  I know that the Democrats are not perfect, that their policies often fall short of what even their supporters want, that this country has competing ideas and fiscal concerns.  But if you care about where things are going, you have to vote this November.  And if you care about women’s rights, I’d advise that you pay attention in the coming weeks…and vote for the people who are voting to look out for you.

Don’t Call Me Crazy: 5 Letters and the Marks They Leave

•July 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

TW: Abuse

“I’m sorry you have to work with crazy”.

A direct quote, from an ex-boyfriend who hated me to my debate partner.  He could have chosen any adjective in the world to describe me.  He picked crazy.

Was I crazy?  No.  Was it strategic to call me that?  Of course.  Because in a society that allegedly values rationality-~-an attribute that we conflate with masculinity only because we teach boys to detach themselves from their feelings such that many lack full emotional literacy in their grown lives-~-there’s nothing worse than being considered irrational, nonsensical, not worth listening to.  We use the word crazy all the time: as a teammate pointed out, calling someone crazy is the easiest way to delegitimize them.   And that, of course, is exactly the problem.  (Half the problem, the other half being that the use of the word “crazy” stigmatizes people with actual mental illnesses, which is a widespread issue.)

I wrote about the use of the word crazy and its role in gaslighting a couple of years ago, and mentioned it in a post about the language of delegitimization, but a recent op-ed made me want to revisit the subject.

The author of the op-ed, Harris O’Malley, points out that “‘Crazy’ is one of the five deadly words guys use to shame women into compliance. The others: Fat. Ugly. Slutty. Bitchy. They sum up the supposedly worst things a woman can be.”  I think he phrases it accurately, that men (and sometimes women, too) shame women into compliance by attacking them with the labels they/we are taught to fear the most.  Fat and ugly we fear because we are told that our value as people is tied into our attractiveness, to how men see us.  Slutty we fear (though perhaps less and less so?  Only time will really tell) because female sexuality is a difficult thing to navigate, with social consequences for failure.  Bitchy we fear because we’re taught that we should be soft, that being bitchy is being mean, that it’s unbecoming, that people won’t like us.

But crazy is the one that’s used the most often and again, I think O’Malley hits the nail on the head when he writes that “As soon as the “crazy” card is in play, women are put on the defensive. It derails the discussion from what she’s saying to how she’s saying it. We insist that someone can’t be emotional and rational at the same time, so she has to prove that she’s not being irrational. Anything she says to the contrary can just be used as evidence against her.”

He’s right.  “Crazy” forces women to defend the fact that what they’re saying is, in fact, reasonable.  The fact that we refuse to accept that someone can be upset, and for good reason, or angry, and for good reason, is immensely problematic.  Of course there are good reasons to be upset, and they’re worth discussing.  But as soon as people are forced to defend their rationality, the point becomes almost moot.  The person is already not listening, not dealing with the issue, acting like its absurd, acting like the person is absurd.

O’Malley points out that this is, as previously mentioned, a form of gaslighting, a way to make people second-guess their emotions and come to rely on another person as an emotional barometer.  He rightly brings up the fact that this is, in fact, a common tactic used by abusers, and it’s this point, more than anything, that makes me want to discuss this issue further.  Emotional abuse is, as previously mentioned, one of the harder forms of abuse to spot, because it doesn’t leave visible marks.  It does, however, leave real emotional damage, and the use of gaslighting-~-the use of words like crazy-~-is a part of it.

One of the most significant issues, in this writer’s mind, with the way that “crazy” is used to delegitimize women’s emotions, is this: it doesn’t only make the woman question the validity of her own experiences, it makes others question their validity as well.  When an abusive individual uses this kind of emotional manipulation, the abused person may have trouble recognizing that it is not their fault, that their partner is at fault, or that they are being hurt.  When the abusive person also writes off any fights, or anything else that friends might hear about, as the abused person being “crazy”, they allow-~-really, invite-~-their social group to dismiss the abused person’s experiences as well.  And because people are all too willing to accept “crazy” as a reason, there’s a real chance of this working…which leaves the abused person in a position where they struggle to trust their own assessment of the situation, and others have ceased to take it seriously.  It allows the perpetuation of abuse in situations where it might otherwise have been disrupted.

I certainly wouldn’t say I’m crazy.  I’d say that during the time of my breakup/abuse, I was emotional.  I was confused.  I’d say that I had trouble coping, because I was having trouble recognizing what was really going on with me.  That’s the end result of gaslighting, where the person can no longer tell whether or not their understanding is legitimate, and tries to get a sense of whether they are right by going off of the behavior of others.  At the end of the day, I had to waste time digging through different sides of the story to figure out the truth, and had to waste time defending my ultimate understanding and feelings about the situation as reasonable, because that’s the power of the word “crazy”.  And that’s exactly why we need to stop using it.

If you are concerned about your safety, or think you might be in an abusive relationship, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at http://www.thehotline.org/ or  1-800-799-7233 .  Remember, abuse is never the survivor’s fault.

 
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