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Women's Bodies

Thin Privilege, Conformity, Nonconformity


I love Amy’s recent posts about privilege, all of them:  the one about “thin privilege,” the one about what privilege is and isn’t, the one about the exercise Jana Olssen did in one of her workshops at Michfest. (One reason I didn’t apply for and don’t intend to facilitate any workshops at Fest this year, intensive or general, is that I want to go to workshops myself for once!  All the ones I want to go to and never get to go to because I’m always facilitating so many workshops, like Falcon’s Amazon Survival Skills workshops, which hopefully she’ll be presenting again this year, as she has the past three years, like the various ritual-making workshops, the drumming workshops, Jana Olssen’s feminism workshops, and of course whatever workshops anybody wants to offer on Fest’s female-only policy.  Fest wouldn’t be Fest without at least one lengthy, um, “discussion” of the policy in workshop format.)

Anyway, after reading Amy’s posts, I went on to read responsive commentary elsewhere which was critical of Amy’s writings on thin privilege, written by someone who is thin, and who has gone the route by far the majority of women (including me) , during at least some periods of their lives, have gone to get thin, to stay thin, to lose weight; in other words, to conform to what is expected of us under male heterosupremacy.

To conform.

That’s the concept that is so often missed in discussions of privilege– that privilege is about conforming with standards established by men and male institutions, male power, under white, male heterosupremacy.  Among other things, privilege has to do with the way people are accepted, admired, respected, approved of, or are the beneficiaries of certain perks and benefits based on how well they conform. 

It’s true that eating disorders are terrible things. I think the majority of American women are or have been eating disordered to some degree or another.   I struggle against being eating disordered, too, and have since I was a teenager.  It’s true that no woman can ever achieve or maintain bodily perfection under male heterosupremacy, and so no matter how thin we are, or how fit, regardless how rigorously and vigilantly we discipline our bodies and our appetites, we never feel as though we’re “thin” enough, we always feel as though we’re not quite acceptable yet, we always feel we have a long way to go to be more perfect.  The perks and benefits feel as though they come at too high a price.  And they do.  Women’s response to the high price of conforming is and has been feminism, which has always meant refusing to conform. Resistance.  Transgression. Rejecting what is imposed on us because we are female.

Those who conform are viewed in American culture as more competent, more intelligent, more self-disciplined, more moral and ethical, more “healthy” than the nonconforming,  more beautiful, just all-around preferable in every way, and on that basis, they are rewarded in small and large ways, while the nonconforming are punished.  To the degree that we are white, young, heterosexual, traditionally attractive, traditionally decked out, partnered with men, thin, pleasant, deferential, not feminists, not outspoken, not strident, not rocking the boat,  to that degree we will enjoy various benefits and privileges, as women.  To the degree that we aren’t white, are old, lesbians, not traditionally attractive, not partnered at all or partnered with women or interracially partnered, fat, unwilling to defer to men, to the degree that we are feminists, separatists, outspoken, dedicated to rocking the boat, strident and uncompromising, to that degree we will not enjoy privilege, we will be punished by men and male culture, whether our conformity or nonconformity in any given instance is a matter of biology (we’re female, not male and so born to second class status), or a matter of our own volition, i.e., deciding whether or not to live and present as women are expected to under male heterosupremacy.  

I don’t fault or blame women for their efforts to conform.  It’s hard to resist conforming when we are materially benefitted for doing so and punished for resisting.  At the same time, the hardships which accompany efforts to conform should never be confused with the struggles and challenges of active and ongoing political resistance, which is what refusing to conform to patriarchal beauty standards really is, which is what feminism is.   It takes courage– a lot of courage– to resist the pressures all of us, as women, experience to conform.   It takes great courage and determination, and resolve,  to refuse to diet and to discipline our physical bodies in the way male heterosupremacy insists we must.  While conforming is understandable, it isn’t courageous.  It isn’t resistance.  It isn’t political.   It doesn’t make change in the world.  If conformity seems to make our own  individual lives better, even that is always provisional, predicated on our continued and ongoing conformity.   And that is something I believe needs to be underscored if we are to make change in an anti-woman world.   Some of the world’s most amazing nonconformists have been those women known as “feminists.” Their struggles to resist and reject male heterosupremacy should not be confused with the difficulties of efforts to accommodate it or to satisfy the demands it makes on the lives and bodies of women.




114 thoughts on “Thin Privilege, Conformity, Nonconformity

  1. I mean, whatever happened to “Fuck your fascist beauty standards!” as a feminist battle cry? Is that, like, so four years ago or something?

    What does it mean that the more revolutionary and radical a feminist is, the more she is attacked and targeted by those who identify as feminists?


    Posted by womensspace | January 30, 2007, 10:21 pm
  2. I love this post, Heart. It expresses all the issues so accurately.

    I love ‘fuck your fascist beauty standards’. It so today.

    On a personal level, over the past year or so I’ve been cutting out the beauty rituals, and am getting rid of other ones all the time. I can’t expres just how much freer it feels, how much less physically constrained I feel, how much more time I have now. Clothes shopping does not hold the same anxiety for me. I wear what’s comfortable, and now find it amusing when it is pointed out to me that my clothes aren’t fashionable, or whatever.

    Without such a charade to put up every day, I get to feel more like me. That has been a more difficult side, because the problem with beauty rituals is that they reinforce one’s unhappiness with oneself. Part of dropping the rituals is learnign to accept yourself as you are, one of those pieces of advice that is often given, but rarely understood. Accepting oneself is not, as the magazines would have it, saying ‘well I accept that my eyes are too small, so I realise now that I must wear such-and-such an eyeliner to compensate’. It is saying ‘these are my eyes’.

    The freedom of being able to suddenly break into a run without tripping over (because of a tight skirt or stilt-shoes) is amazing.

    Posted by Laurelin | January 30, 2007, 10:59 pm
  3. What about women who are thin without conforming? I eat whatever the hell I want, I have a fast metabolism and I have never had to worry about my weight. Instead, I sometimes have to worry about trying to keep on weight, especially when I’ve gotten sick or feel stressed. I don’t like this whole notion about “thin privilege” because it seems a way to just blame women instead of the system that makes thin the ideal. I don’t want people looking at me as some sort of conformist when I don’t do anything to be thin. I don’t excercise, I’m not on a diet, and I have never dieted. I’ve heard insults about thin women, calling us anorexic or that we are starving ourselves and I really feel women who are thin shouldn’t have some guilt trip put on them just the same as women aren’t thin shouldn’t have one either.

    Ironically, being thin does not automatically confer on me the ability to find clothes in my size. I am also petite and go through some of the same issues of trying to find clothing in my size, particularly suits, for interviews. I’ve been told to shop in the children’s section, which considering I am not a child, isn’t particularly appealing.

    Posted by Le Chat Noir | January 30, 2007, 11:26 pm
  4. Le Chat, it’s true, as I said in my post, that sometimes we have privilege by an accident of our birth — a man, by being born male, say — and sometimes we have privilege because we go after it (women dieting, having cosmetic surgeries, doing all the traditional beauty things). Either way, it’s privilege. There are men who say they don’t want to conform to the codes of manhood, they don’t want the privilege, they didn’t ask for it or to be born male, and yet they have privilege anyway, you know? Women have thin privilege in patriarchal culture not because of anything they have done, but because the dominant culture (white, patriarchal) (in the U.S.) worships at the feet of thinness. That’s so for women who are predisposed to thinness and for women who aren’t predisposed to thinness, as well, who work to be thin. I don’t blame thin women for the fact male heterosupremacy worships at the feet of thinness, anymore than I blame individual men for the fact that patriarchy elevates men and subjugates women. And, just as you don’t want people viewing you as a conformist because you’re thin, others don’t want people seeing them as racist because they are white or sexist because they are male or lesbophobic because they are het, but the point, the center of consideration, is not the person who enjoys the privilege, but the way privilege affects others and all the ways privilege can be deconstructed or eliminated. That was the point of my post. It wouldn’t make sense for, say, a rich woman to say she wasn’t to blame for being rich, she inherited her money, and furthermore, there are all of these disadvantages of wealth, like, say, not knowing who your true friends are, whether someone is just after you for your money, or having to insure all of your stuff and worry about theft and spend time managing your accounts, and on that basis suggest that therefore she doesn’t actually have class privilege, and especially if she planned to keep all of her money and advocate for laws and regulations favoring the rich. She has privilege because she has money, and money is power. If she seeks to protect the privilege money gives her via regulations which affect others, she is seeking to enhance her privilege. In the same way, someone who works to be conventionally thin and attractive is also seeking to enhance her privilege — even though she isn’t to blame for the fact that the privilege exists. By her actions, and by the rich woman’s actions, they participate in the system instead of deconstructing it.


    Posted by womensspace | January 30, 2007, 11:39 pm
  5. Le Chat Noir- As another ‘thin without conforming/ trying’, I don’t believe that the acceptance of ‘thin privilege’ apportions blame to thin people. It merely means that there are things we will not experience in our lives because of our thinness, and that we don’t know what it is like to be not-thin in a world which classifies people as ‘fat’. For example, I haven’t seen any feminist blaming white people for having white privilege, but rather just asking them to acknowledge it, that as white there are certain realities that we may not see, that we have advantages that we have not earned.
    As to thinness, I’ve heard the same insults directed towards me, which I have usually put down to ‘sexism’ rather than anti-thinness per se. Also, Heart is noting the existence of thin privilege; she is not throwing those insults that we have experienced at us.

    Posted by Laurelin | January 30, 2007, 11:40 pm
  6. Yes, Laurelin, I also haven’t seen feminists blaming white people for white privilege. At the same time, if white people don’t actively work to abandon the privilege and/or to deconstruct whiteness, then a case can be made that they are responsible, with others, for the fact that white privilege continues to exist. In particular if they take the attitude that since they never wanted it or asked for it, they shouldn’t be expected to fight it or challenge it. That’s what I was getting at. It’s one thing to have privilege and fight it or challenge it; it’s another think to actively seek it.


    Posted by womensspace | January 30, 2007, 11:52 pm
  7. Also, I edited my last post and I think it’s clearer now.


    Posted by womensspace | January 30, 2007, 11:52 pm
  8. Yes, we certainly are responsible for dealing with the privileges we have.

    Posted by Laurelin | January 30, 2007, 11:57 pm
  9. It is complicated though. Always! :/

    Because women do have to survive in the world, you know? And I don’t think we can blame women for what they do to survive. But we also have to analyze the things we *do*have to do to survive. I think women can blame the patriarchy, analyze what they do, and keep on doing it because they have to survive. At least they are offering a critique of the shitty options available to them. I think that’s a little different than denying the fact of having various kinds of privilege or defending the having of it in various ways. I think we have to be able to say something like, yes, I’m white, yes I have white privilege, yes, it has worked to my advantage, but I oppose racism and want to do anti-racism work, as opposed to saying something like, I’m not to blame for having white privilege, and it’s really not all that great anyway, so maybe it isn’t even privilege at all.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 12:03 am
  10. Putting it in context (and not directing this at you, Laurelin, just putting it out there), honestly, who can deny that Amy having to spend $300 to buy *one* outfit suitable for a job interview–and that after asking for a ton of help from women in terms of looking for clothes and shoes, isn’t being subordinated on the basis of her weight? And that the rest of us who can stroll into Goodwill or Target or wherever and find at least *something* to put on, even if it isn’t the greatest thing ever, at low cost, aren’t comparatively privileged? Who also can’t deny that that is penultimately political? It polices women’s body size, rewarding the smaller with many low-cost options, punishing large women with few options, all of them costly.

    I’ve thought a lot about one of my aunts who is 6 feet tall and always weighed between 250-300 lbs or more. I always so felt for her because finding decent clothes to wear was a huge struggle for her all of her life. She mostly wore some variation of men’s sweats and flannel shirts but had terrible difficulty when she was pregnant with her five sons. Her feet were wide and often swollen and she usually also had to wear slippers. She and my uncle were and are blue collar people, large family, there was no money to buy special made anything. To me, that’s patriarchy again policing women’s body size, rewarding the smaller, penalizing the larger.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 12:09 am
  11. Oh, and Laurelin, thanks for loving my post. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 12:11 am
  12. Okay, here’s a distinction or clarification that seems important. To have privilege doesn’t make a person a _____ist. In other words, to have male privilege doesn’t mean someone is a sexist, to have wealth doesn’t make someone classist, to be thin doesn’t make someone fatphobic, to have race privilege doesn’t make a person racist. To say that someone has privilege is to make a statement about power. As conscious, progressive people, regardless the privilege we have, we can resist and challenge power.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 12:19 am
  13. Thanks Heart! That is a great post.

    Here’s some data that I found just googling for no reason:

    Lara Flynn Boyle 5 ft 4 in 92 pounds
    Nicole Richie 5 ft 1 in 93 pounds
    Teri Hatcher 5 ft 6 in 104 pounds
    Renee Zellweger 5 ft 4 in 105 pounds
    Victoria Beckham 5 ft 6 in 108 pounds
    Halle Berry 5 ft 7 in 112 pounds
    Lindsay Lohan 5 ft 6 in 112 pounds
    Jennifer Love Hewitt 5 ft 2.5 in 115 pounds
    Charlize Theron 5 ft 9 in 116 pounds
    Jennifer Lopez 5 ft 6 in 118 pounds
    Jennifer Aniston 5 ft 6 in 118 pounds
    Nicole Kidman 5 ft 11 in 120 pounds
    Britney Spears 5 ft 5 in 125 pounds
    Cameron Diaz 5 ft 9 in 127 pounds
    Tyra Banks 5 ft 11 in 128 pounds

    I stopped looking after that, but I’m sure anyone interested could find similar data on other women who are most rewarded by this culture. I don’t suggest that these are healthy weights for these women–in fact, some of the data came from an article that was arguing that these women are underweight. They probably are. But the fact is, the highest-paid, best-known women considered most beautiful in this culture are tiny. That, to me, is another good example of privilege, in the same way that analyzing who’s in the Senate–overwhelmingly white males–tells us something about who our culture believes is entitled to govern, and who isn’t, i.e., women and people of color.

    Eating disorders are a TERRIBLE problem for women, and worthy of every feminist’s attention. And yet, there is no such thing as a CLASS of eating disordered people–partly because it is somewhat invisible, and partly, as above, because the results of bulimia and anorexia are REWARDED in the culture. No one says, “I’d never hire an anorexic, they’re sneaky and unreliable.” No one says, “I don’t want to sit next to an anorexic on a plane.” There might be arguments to be made why some people would hold those positions, but the fact is those positions aren’t held in society at large.

    Posted by Amy's Brain Today | January 31, 2007, 12:27 am
  14. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Heart.

    I appreciate your recognition that refusing to conform to patriarchal beauty standards takes courage. It also can seem to be a recipe for loneliness and social banishment. Most of us seek love and approval (maybe I could say all of us?), and the messages (everywhere all the time) that beauty will get you loved are incredibly powerful.

    I think refusal to conform takes self-confidence as well as courage.

    Posted by roamaround | January 31, 2007, 1:33 am
  15. I just wanted to point out a couple of unspoken things–first, the fact that most fat women have at some point in our lives, if not always and forever, ALSO tried to conform, via dieting, which results in weight gain for most people, moving us farther from fitting in rather than closer to conformity. And the fact that fat women can have eating disorders also, from that life history of dieting and being forced to be obsessed with our weight (because everyone else is obsessed with our weight). Ironically, all fat women are usually assumed to have eating disorders in the sense of eating too much, but my experience, and some studies, suggest that in fact many fat women actually behave around food in the same way that anorexics and bulimics do. It’s just not considered a problem because it doesn’t result in emaciation or purging.

    So in this sense the fat woman’s dilemma is the classic double bind of feminism–we’re ostracized for not conforming despite our best efforts TO conform and despite the damage those efforts do to our bodies and our psyches. Our failures demonstrate the ideology of bodily control for the fallacy that it is, and for that we are despised.

    By the way, the clock is ticking on “But what about your health!?!?!?:” I’m waiting.

    Posted by Amy's Brain Today | January 31, 2007, 2:31 am
  16. It seems as if it is very hard for some people to wrap their heads around the idea of privilege. One reason seems to be that either a person will feel as if they are being accused of something when they are told they have white privilege or thin privilege or age privilige etc, when privilege is about the benefits that a society automatically bestows on people, with or without their consent, due to their possession of favored characteristics.

    Another reason this seems to be a difficult concept to grasp is that it seems to imply that because they have privilege then their lives are fine and easy, that they don’t have to struggle or that they don’t suffer, but this also, as has been pointed out, is not what is implied by the term “privilege”. The fact that we may accrew some benefits, be treated better, due to our race or weight or age or health, does not mean our lives are perfect or easy, just easier than they would be without the privilege.

    Finally I think that it is a whole lot easier for us to be aware of the things in our lives that are difficult, perhaps things that are more difficult than what we perceive most other people have to deal with, than it is to see how fortunate we are to have some of the benefits that we enjoy.. Somehow most of us grow up thinking our lives are supposed to go along smoothly or that we deserve good things to happen to su, so that when something goes wrong, we get really sick, we get fired, a hurricane blows down our house, we say “why me?”, or “isn’t fair”. We are much less likely to notice the unfairness of being granted privileges that others are denied through no fault of their own. We are very unlikely to say that it isn’t fair that we have nice clothes to wear or a nice place to live when others don’t. We tend to think we are getting only what we deserve and those who don’t have these privileges probably don’t deserve them.

    Not understanding privilege tends to lead to arrogance, something most people in power seem to have in abundance. We need look no farther than the White House to see how this operates in this world. Unrealized privilege results in arrogance which in turn is used to justify oppression. Or put the other way, in order to overturn oppression we need to become aware of our privilege, whatever its source.

    Posted by jfr | January 31, 2007, 4:30 am
  17. Adrienne Rich has a great verse about the arrogance of privilege. It’s from the book “Atlas of The Difficult World” verse IV in the poem ‘Through Corralitos Under Rolls of Clouds’

    That light of outrage is the light of history
    springing upon us when we are least prepared.
    thinking maybe a little glade of time
    leaf-thick and with clear water
    is ours, is promised us, for all we’ve hacked
    and tracked our way through: to this:
    What will it be? Your wish of mine? your
    prayers of my wish then: that those we love
    be well, whatever that means, to be well.
    Outrage: who dare proclaim protection for their own
    amid such unprotection? What kind of prayer
    is that? To what kind of god? What kind of wish?

    Posted by jfr | January 31, 2007, 5:12 am
  18. Great thoughts everyone! roamaround, so true about fearing loneliness and being a social outcast. My first thought though, there, not to be a broken record 😛 is that all females owe it to themselves to go, if only one time, to Michigan, to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It is the best therapy imaginable for any woman who has spent years of her life agonizing over her appearance or who is struggling, wanting to relax about weight, appearance, how she looks. Honestly, each year of the last three years, it has been an epiphany for me– women in all of their glory, all sizes, shapes, races, ages, being completely and totally themselves, wearing whatever they want to wear or nothing at all, casting one another’s breasts for posterity :), dressing up in ways we never get to in our regular lives in the male-stream, belly dancers of all sizes, belly dancing for women, as belly dancing is meant to be, in full belly-dancing, belly-worshipping 😛 regalia. It has been so healing for my daughters, too–you never think about your own body, or women’s bodies, in general, the same way ever again. When you start to, you go back in your mind to womyn’s land where the bodies of all womyn are celebrated, honored, appreciated, where you see womyn couples in all shapes, sizes, configurations, completely smitten with each other, in a way you rarely see in the male-stream. The world could learn so much from lesbians and lesbian culture if the world would just pay attention. Lesbians have been working on certain issues for decades, probably forever, in a way no other women’s communities that I know of, have.

    Amy, I will be sort of surprised if someone comes in and says, “what about your health?” Mainly because, I think most regular commenters here read you, and you’ve been doing a kickass job of educating all of us for months now! One thing I’ve wondered about that I don’t think I’ve seen you address so far– my belief has always been that many times, women are fat not because they are over-nourished or eat to much but because they are malnourished. I think this is particularly true among poor women. They have only so much money, they have to make it stretch, so they buy what they can afford — macaroni, four boxes for a buck, potatoes, rice, beans, starchy stuff, with lean meat, vegetables, fruits too expensive for their budgets. But their bodies aren’t being nourished with what they can afford and so their bodies are hungry, wanting good food, and when they’re hungry, they eat, but not good food, and so the cycle continues, not to mention the way the body stores fat because it thinks it’s starving because it isn’t getting the vitamins, minerals, proteins it needs. When I see a poor woman who is very fat, I often believe she has been feeding many children and is herself probably anemic and malnourished. I never think she overeats– I know better.

    The other thing is, I’ve learned so much watching the animals whose human I am. I live on a small farm, 6.5 acres, with sheep and gardens, a barn, and where you have feed and gardens you need cats to control the rats and mice, poor dears, but it’s true, they’re kind of like employees. Anyway, we have 11 cats; six of them are brothers and sisters, born to the same mama cat. It is so interesting– although they were born to the same mother, although they eat the same food and are treated exactly the same by their humans, they are hugely different in size. One of our kitties, a boy, is, honestly, GIGANTIC. He is HUGE. We love him dearly, he is the sweetest cat ever, and the most Garfield-like, lazy-like, funny cat, sits around all day long in warm spaces, not hunting, mostly just carefully and thoroughly grooming his royal giganticness. His sisters and brothers are very small to average, not big, not fat, thin to average size, but again, they share the same genetics and the same environment and the same food. I just think, there is so much about body size, fat, weight, that we do not understand at all, and as you say, Amy, so brilliantly, women are caught in the crosshairs of that, despised for evidencing the futility of attempting to control body weight in these simplistic, often barbaric ways.

    As to eating disorders, some day we should have a thread to compare the eating disordered community with the trans community, in particular, the “pro-ana” women who say they “choose” anorexia/bulimia as a “lifestyle.” They aren’t a class, it’s true, but they have assumed a certain identity and the arguments they make are very, very much like the arguments we hear in the trans community and in the tiny community of people who thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to ask doctors to saw off their limbs, and so on.

    I love your comment, jfr! One thing my very hard life has taught me is not to expect *anything* to be easy. I never do. I have known hardness and difficulty, poverty, times of incredible trouble, I’ve survived them, I expect that this is part of life. But so true, the entitlement of so many, this, “why is it so hard,” attitude over what isn’t really hard at all, all things considered, it’s just life. That is the very *picture* of privilege, and mostly I’ve known men to be this way. Women know it’s going to be hard and they do what they have to do. I was just talking along these lines with a woman at work whose last day is tomorrow. She is single and has never been married, is in her 40s. For the first several years of working where I work, she commuted from Centralia to Seattle and back every single day by bus– a distance of 85 miles each way. She left each day at 4 a.m. and took three buses to work and back. Later she moved 40 miles away and commuted back and forth for 12 or so years, finally saving enough money to buy a small, older house in her 40s, her first house, which she is thrilled with and is fixing up. My experience is, women don’t talk about their lives because they don’t think there is anything remarkable about what they do, about holding two, three jobs, commuting 40, 60, 80 miles via two or three buses each way, surviving on four-five hours of sleep per night, rising an hour early each day to dress the sleepy kids and get them to daycare, then put in their 8 hours. It’s men who complain about this stuff as though it is some cosmic conspiracy against them.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 5:15 am
  19. Whoa, jfr, thanks for posting that! How completely appropriate, and how much do I adore Adrienne Rich, one of my sheroes.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 5:18 am
  20. Heart – Glad you like the poem. That verse has always spoken right to me. It’s why I like poetry. It can say so much so powerfully in so few words.

    Posted by jfr | January 31, 2007, 5:29 am
  21. Heart, RE weight and class–because there hasn’t been anyone able to demonstrate differences in eating habits between fat and thin people (that I know of) AS groups–that is, there are thin people and fat people who eat exactly the same, like in your example of your cats–I think what you are seeing is perhaps the effect of heredity. One theory is that populations that have been subject to repeated starvation develop extremely efficient metabolisms over generations. This would certainly apply to poor people who come from a heritage of poverty–their mothers and grandmothers may have been malnourished, they were malnourished as children, etc. etc. In times of plenty, especially in times of cheap carbs, those bodies, those genes, are like “WHOOO-HOOOO!!!! PAR-TAY!” You know, make hay while the sun shines. So those people gain weight particularly easily, and lose it particularly hard and slow. The effects of this are exacerbated no end by dieting. Conversely, we all know people with plenty of access to food, who eat plenty, who eat lots of food that supposedly makes you gain weight, and they are slender or “normal” weight.

    So there just are genetic differences. It’s said that up to 80% of a person’s body weight is genetically determined. I’ve also heard that a person with two fat parents has something like an 80% chance of being fat. The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination is a good resource for info like that. But I look at my own family–I’m 5’6″ and weigh around 400–resembling my mother’s father and to some extent my own parents–and my brother is 6’1″ and quite average weight for his height (I don’t know the number but he’s “normal”). There’s one like him in every generation–he resembles one of my dad’s brothers, who is als tall and relatively slender, gaining a paunch as they age. My male cousin, however, looks almost exactly like me, as does his mom, and my dad’s other brother. And all of this would just be interesting if it were just a matter of “difference” that wasn’t marked so by the culture.

    Posted by Amy's Brain Today | January 31, 2007, 6:47 am
  22. It appears the fashion industry is getting a tad concerned about anorexia, since that Brazilian model dropped dead. About time! Spain and Brazil barred models they consider too thin from their fashion shows, then the Italian fashion capital Milan decided it had better jump on the bandwagon. I put this article I found from last month in the news section of the Free Soil blog:

    Milan bans ultra-skinny models from catwalk

    Posted by Aletha | January 31, 2007, 7:09 am
  23. I’m all for fucking fascist beauty standards – but now I find myself needing to lose weight for health reasons and I’m finding it hard to convince people I’m not doing it to look better (frankly I look fabulous and will probably look older once I lose weight). But you are so right about thin privilege in the Western patriarchy. It’s only the women they want for sex who are allowed to have flesh.

    Posted by snowqueen | January 31, 2007, 10:07 am
  24. You know I reread that and realised that I’m not worried about looking older either but isn’t that a neat example of how the partriarchal worm infests one’s brain?

    Posted by snowqueen | January 31, 2007, 10:10 am
  25. Hey, snowqueen, good to see you, and yeah, I think most women struggle with weight issues, some kind of way. Here are a couple of links to posts Amy has written about the health/weight issue which I think are good:


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 1:45 pm
  26. “To conform.”

    NO, Heart, I did/do NOT have an eating disorder in order “To Conform.”
    Did you miss the part about addiction?
    And morphine comparisons?
    The part where I said “I am an addict?”

    I don’t know where your ED behaviors went, Heart, but mine went WAY out there.
    NOTHING AT ALL TO DUE WITH CONFORMITY, not once I really got going.
    Initially, perhaps, back in 3rd grade and teenage years.
    But it’s way past conformity when you friends buy you fucking GROCERIES for your birthday.

    Pretty sad, huh?

    Please go read it again, my post.
    Jeez, I kinda poured my heart out into that post and you missed the point completely. Also, just for the record, I respect Amy very much. But yeah, I have issues with thin “privilege.”

    This, now, from Amy: “And yet, there is no such thing as a CLASS of eating disordered people–partly because it is somewhat invisible, and partly, as above, because the results of bulimia and anorexia are REWARDED in the culture.”

    Dead-on correct, she is.

    Really, what I wanted folks to get is that reasons for EDs are notoriously difficult to dissern. We are a pschologist’s worst nightmare. No one really knows why some of us go off the deep end with our bones. To sum EDs up as “conformity” is, sorry Heart, no disrespect meant, but lazy and untrue. You gotta go much, much deeper — and even then perhaps come up empty handed.

    Going on over 20 years with my ED behaviors and I still can’t figure it out.
    Neither can the pros.
    Neither can you, Heart.
    That’s why some of us with EDs die.

    I also understand the greater concept of privilege, including thin privilege.
    White privilege now, I’ve no beef with that. It’s not like I can’t accept I have privilege.
    But thin p, yeah, I got issues.

    Thanks for reading my blog, tho.
    I appreciate it.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 2:19 pm
  27. I make no secret of the fact that I am NOTHING without careful proofing and SpellCheck. My above comment had neither — obviously.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 2:21 pm
  28. Okay, Amy, I’ll (heh) bite: “What about your health?”

    If I remember correctly, you’ve covered this on your blog, but last time I looked, I couldn’t find the post/s covering untruths about obesity health concerns. Most people absolutely would say things like, “Gosh! At 400 pounds, she’ll have a heart attack any minute! Diabetes! She probably couldn’t walk more than 100 feet without getting winded, etc.”

    I’m NOT saying those things, directly as a result of reading your past posts. I don’t want to say ingorant things about heavy folks as I really know nothing about the real facts of obesity (I hope that isn’t an offensive term) beyond the regular same old, “Diabetes! Heart attack! Mama Cass!” stuff the media feeds us.

    That said, sometimes I do wonder, I admit, if 400 pounds couldn’t be as unhealthy as say, 80 pounds for a woman of average height.
    Can you direct me to your posts or offer your insight on this?

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 2:51 pm
  29. Hey, Kim– I didn’t say you have an eating disorder in order to conform. I think what you say here is accurate, however:

    Initially, perhaps, back in 3rd grade and teenage years.

    I think this is correct– it is wanting to conform which ultimately results in eating disorders. As I said in my earlier posts, I don’t blame or fault women for wanting to conform or for conforming. We all do the best we can with the shitty options available to us as females.

    As to lazy– well, I don’t think you read my post carefully, Kim, and I am asking you to please read it carefully. My point was that the difficulties which arise from efforts to conform — which, despite their leading to eating disorders, efforts to be thin are — are not the same thing as the difficulties which arise from resisting conformity. That was the point of my post. Your post suggested that the issues you have with your eating disorders mean that to be thin, while eating disordered, somehow removes the thin from the ranks of the privileged. I don’t think that’s so. Which again is not to blame you, myself, or anyone who struggles with eating disorders. Which is to make a statement about male power. This is what having a feminist political analysis is, you know? You look at a situation, you work hard to understand who is doing what to whom and who has the power to do whatever it is they are doing, you look at how people respond, at who is complying, at who is resisting, at the difficulties each is having.

    I have approved your posts, Kim, but will not be approving posts in the future which are insulting, which mischaracterize or distort the posts of other women here, or which are in any way likely to cause trainwrecks. If you post in that manner in the future, I will edit the comments I am taking issue with. Just letting you know.

    I think that the eating disordered community has, in fact, moved in the direction of creating itself as a class via eating disordered women “identifying” as those who choose ED as a lifestyle; to wit;

    Pro Ana Nation
    Pro Ana
    Pro Ana Mia

    Check out this petition:


    Created by amy on Nov 25, 2006
    Category: Human Rights
    Region: GLOBAL
    Target: PAMELA




    Another one

    Pro Ana Campaign

    House of Thin

    “House of Thin” makes reference to itself as part of the “second wave” of the “pro ana” movement:

    Future Visions:

    Pro-ana is NOT a bad thing, it is here to stay and helps out millions of people world wide. This and several other sites are living proof of that. Until others stop buying into the hype of misinformed media propeganda, and the recovery sites who are so insecure about themselves they have to attack us … we will be here … fighting for your rights to seek help on your own and make others see that anorexics and bulimics have the right to be treated fairly. It’s time to stop the discrimination based on eating disorders, and stop the demonization of people who want to help. We are NOT the enemy … the enviornment that causes eating disorders IS!

    NOTE: Kim, I am not suggesting that you are pro-anorexia/bulimia or pro-eating disorders. I’m saying that a movement has been underway for a while in which women are “identifying” as “pro-ana/mia” and in which eating disordered women may well be creating themselves as a class.

    In response to your question, yes, “obesity” is an offensive, fatphobic term.

    In further movement in the direction of response to your question, I don’t believe in the concept of “addictions,” as it is currently understood and so I would also take issue with your ideas that eating disorders are “addictions.” I know what you mean, but I think we need a much deeper, broader investigation into the notion of “addictions,” as feminists, than what is currently available to us. Amy’s done some good writing about that topic, as well.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 5:04 pm
  30. [Sentence deleted at author’s request.]

    “I have approved your posts, Kim, but will not be approving posts in the future which are insulting, which mischaracterize or distort the posts of other women here, or which are in any way likely to cause trainwrecks. If you post in that manner in the future, I will edit the comments I am taking issue with. Just letting you know.”

    Do you feel I’ve done this with my earlier comments?
    I guess I need to know this before attempting to continue discourse here.
    How I Comment is how I blog, which is often quirky, raw, somewhat humorous and with strong language.

    I didn’t think I was insulting or trainwreck inciting.
    Please let me know.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 5:50 pm
  31. First sentance should have been deleted in above comment.
    You see how I was thinking — that I had broken the rules with my initial comment and was afraid to comment further.
    Anyhow, please ignore that first sentence.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 5:52 pm
  32. Kim, I think things like this:

    To sum EDs up as “conformity” is, sorry Heart, no disrespect meant, but lazy and untrue.

    Are the kind of thing that get discussions going sideways (though I appreciate your disclaimer that you meant no disrespect). I didn’t sum ED’s up as conformity– I said that working to be thin, having thinness as a goal is conformity. That’s a really important distinction there. If what I or anyone says gets mischaracterized in this way, then there has to be a lot of energy and time expended going over ground we’ve already covered, people get pissed off over being called “lazy” when what they actually said was misunderstood, and then they go off, and everybody starts going off, and voila, trainwreck. Insults like “lazy” just in general don’t add to the discussion; i.e., they generate heat, not light.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 6:08 pm
  33. Firstly, Amy, I just read the two posts of yers that Heart linked to above and I have to say that you are most righteous! (((love)))

    I wanted to say something about health and weight, from my own personal experience.

    I lost my health insurance a while back and had to go the the free community clinic where I had the displeasure of being “treated” (for depression and hypothyroidism) by a MD who scrawled OBESITY across the top of my chart during our first visit. (Yeah, I looked when he was out of the room for a minute, I always do.)

    He told me my blood sugar was a little on the high side, just under what they consider to be “pre-diabetic” and proceeded to lecture me about what the Number One Cause of Diabetes is in the Country and where I was headed if I didn’t lose weight…

    Now this Doc was one wiry dude who looked as if he never had to worry about his weight so as he was telling me that all I had to do was restrict portion size blah blah blah so I interrupted him and asked if he had ever had to diet to reduce his weight and shockingly enough, he hadn’t. So I told him to shut it, because he had no idea what he was talking about.

    I was a little worried about the blood sugar thing tho, my grandmother had diabetes, so I did a little research. And what I found was that most of the health issues associated with body size are actually brought about by having a sedentary lifestyle.

    So I took myself out for a walk every morning, and I must say it was nice looking at the flowers, Seattle does garden with enthusiasm in the spring and summer. And it still does my heart good to recall the look of total disbelief on that same doctor’s face four weeks later when all my labs came back totally perfect. I never lost a pound.

    I now see a Nurse Practitioner who never weighs me, and I can’t tell you how awesome that is. It made me realize how much I avoided going to the doc, even when I needed it, because I didn’t want to be shamed about my weight. Fat people are discriminated against at the doctor’s office, just as people with mental health issues are. I am fat and have mental health stuff, so I have an extra hard time convincing doctors that it’s not “just in my head,” or “I don’t just need to lose weight.” These are ideas that I reject, becasue they are untrue and unhealthy and because big pharmacutical companies stand to make an assload of money off of people who buy into them. Here’s an interesting article:

    “75 million Americans may have something called metabolic syndrome. How Big Pharma turned obesity into a disease – then invented the drugs to cure it.”

    And I totally agree that the quality of food available to poor people is crap. My family has to eat food bank food because our food stamps don’t last for the whole month. Do you think you can get a fresh vegetable there? Ha. Well, maybe in the summer when people donate stuff from their gardens, but last week all they had in the veg section was potatoes. But I was able to get a frozen pumpkin pie, some boxes of white-bread bread mix, as much sliced bread as I wanted, a bag of chocolate, leftover gingerbread cookies from Xmas, white rice, white pasta, and cranberry juice cocktail with added sugar.

    Posted by Beansa | January 31, 2007, 6:29 pm
  34. Thanks for clarifying, Heart.
    When I used the term “lazy” I didn’t mean it as insult — thought I could see how you interpret it otherwise. A few weeks ago at my place I wrote “To make blanket statements like all [examples deleted so as not to start a derailment thread here] are “bad” or anti-feminist is just plain lazy. Our cultures and psyches are ever so much more complex than that. It’s like explaining the theory of chaos by calling it simply ‘math.'”

    That’s where I was coming from when I wrote “lazy, ” although a word like “insufficient” would not only have been more accurate but certainly less potentially provoking.

    Before commenting further, I will do as you ask and read both your post and your Comments here again. This AMs cluster of replies were typed hastily at work — likely I read hastily as well.

    I’m not sure I agree with you on the addiction part, the last paragraph in your first response to me. I have a social service background/career as well as personal experience with addiction. Perhaps it might be help to know your background/feelings on the concept of addiction in general before and if going any further in that vein.

    I appreciated your insight on the quality of food low-income folks often buy. I agree and further: while my ED is largely a dormant thing these days, I still have problems with sometimes uncontrollable night eating, usually after a short period of sleep. I am now wondering if perhaps my own starchy/poor eating habits could play a role in this.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 9:14 pm
  35. I’ve just given this thread a cursory reading so far (I’ll go back and reread it more thoroughly when I get some time tonight). I love Amy to pieces and cannot tell y’all how much her blog has improved my feminism and my attitude about my own body.

    Several years ago I would have been right with Kim about Amy’s and Heart’s essays on thin privilege. This thread has been enlightening for me to see how my own thinking – about both feminist politics and my body – have evolved.

    I wanted to throw this out, it’s a line from an Ani diFranco song, “Shroud”:

    privilege is a headache
    that you don’t know that you don’t have

    That poetry is so brilliant to me because it completely reframes the concept of what privilege truly is. Privilege isn’t something that we necessarily take (though we all at times strive for it, I think, to some degree) but rather what’s imposed upon us in a unfairly competitive world. You may not have chosen to be thin, you may be tormented by what it means to be thin, you may hate your thinness, but that doesn’t change the accomodations and benefits that greater society makes for you because you are thin. That’s the privilege – the headache that you don’t have to have.

    What I appreciate so much about Amy’s, Heart’s, and other radical feminists’ writing is that they think critically about things people take for granted, like privilege in order to understand, not vilify. So when Amy talks about ‘thin privilege’ it’s not to sling accusations or point fingers but to offer critical analysis of how access (to power, to comfort, to happiness, to acceptance) is unfairly allocated according to many factors, one of which is body size. That’s different than saying all thin women have it easy and somehow demanding that thin women be accountable for their size.

    When Heart talks about conformity it’s not to criticize our choices as individuals but to frame an understanding of our ‘personal choices’ in larger terms of what choices we, as individuals, are allowed or compelled to make in a world that places arbitrary value on things like body size.

    (Hey, Heart, howabout putting a formatting key/guide somewhere in the archives or About section? I coulda formatted the hell out of this post, if only I’d known how!)

    Posted by Sassafras | January 31, 2007, 9:52 pm
  36. ‘I don’t believe in the concept of “addictions,” as it is currently understood and so I would also take issue with your ideas that eating disorders are “addictions.” I know what you mean, but I think we need a much deeper, broader investigation into the notion of “addictions,” as feminists, than what is currently available to us.’

    I find this very interesting and would love to hear more, although I’ll also search Amy’s blog.

    Posted by profacero | January 31, 2007, 10:04 pm
  37. As a naturally thin woman who recovered from 14 years bulimia just under two years ago, I can promise you that eating disorders have very, very little to do with food or our weight. It may start that way, sure, but very quickly we end up living in a hellish cycle of compulsion, self-hatred, and shame. You honestly think we throw up to look sexy for men?? We disgust ourselves way too much to even try to be any kind of “hetero-male dominated world ideal.” We hide from the world in despair and self-disgust. We’re hardly out there conquering it or using any kind of “privilege” to benefit ourselves.

    Heart, you make your judgments based on what you SEE, what you ASSUME, and what appears on the surface to be inline with your own philosophy. But, you are boldly showing off your ignorance of the reality of eating disorders. Of course, I would never, ever wish for you to gain to first hand knowledge. It’s beyond hell.

    My blog,, is to share my path to recovery and to help others behind me. But, on my site, I link to the blogs of many women and hetero white men, by the way, who would sacrifice so much to be free of their crippling addictions. You should check out this white hetero man, for example, – his fears and obsessions are just like those of women sufferers. Surprised? How about this guy? My readers, men & women, are from all over the globe, including “developing” countries. This is hardly an American woman’s problem.

    It seems to me that you should spend less time judging people you haven’t even tried to understand – it’s not productive for anyone. Contrary to your probable assumptions about me, I actually don’t “conform” at all. I don’t color my (very) gray hair; I don’t wear makeup; I don’t run out and buy clothes or products because my TV tells me I should; I have one pair of shoes that I wear to work almost every day. And, yet, I had a very severe eating disorder for 14 years. Think about all that for awhile before you go and stereotype and label people.

    Posted by Michelle Hope | January 31, 2007, 10:46 pm
  38. My links didn’t go through.

    Check out these bulimic male bloggers:

    Posted by Michelle Hope | January 31, 2007, 10:55 pm
  39. Thanks to the links to Amy’s blog. My problem is nothing to do with my heart, diabetes etc. I agree that exercise is usually much more effective than weight loss for such conditions. I eat an excellent diet and I get plenty of good exercise so it’s nothing to do with *what* I eat. Actually I felt a little patronised by that post … Perhaps I should have said that I was needing to lose weight to maintain function rather than for my health. I weighed 140lbs at 5’4″ before I had children and had done for years. I’ll be happy to weigh around 150lbs which is a healthy weight for a middle aged woman – hardly what I’d call skinny. Why am I having to justify the decisions I am making about my body to this blog? I am clear this has nothing to do with conformity or misguided notions of beauty. My original point was about noticing that everyone around me assumed that it was because they couldn’t conceive that there might be any other reason for losing weight – surely you can’t think like that too?

    Posted by snowqueen | January 31, 2007, 10:57 pm
  40. On the one hand, I think I understand what is meant by “thin privilege”.

    On the other hand, as someone who used to be skinny, I want to say, “Huh?” I don’t think it’s so much “thin privilege” as in “fashion figure privilege” — meaning whatever particular body type is currently “in” has the most privilege associated with it.

    I can recall once getting so fed up hearing, “You are so skinny that you make me sick” that I asked one person who said that, “Has anyone ever said to you, ‘You are so fat that you make me sick’?” She stared at me in near shock before answering, “Of course not! That would be rude!”

    Hhhhmmmm…I thought it was rude when she said it to me. I also thought it was rude when people would hound me to eat (trust me, I ate a LOT) or demand to know how much I weighed, or insist that I see a doctor, or make jokes about not being able to see me when I stood sideways, etc. I was tired of being told that I was not a “real woman”, or I would have curves, that men like someone with meat on their bones, that I better gain weight if I hoped to get married or — if I couldn’t gain weight — I should at least have plastic surgery so as not to look like a toothpick. When I got pregnant with my first child and went shopping, unsuccesfully, for maternity clothes in my size, one saleswoman told me, “I didn’t think women your size ever got pregnant.”

    I’ve also been overweight. Not excessively so, just “I’ve had six children and am now middle-aged” run of the mill overweight. I’ve decided that if there is any privilege associated with any size I’ve been, it’s being what some termed “pleasingly plump”. I was no longer routinely insulted or mocked. I could find clothes easily, and off the rack at any store. No one questioned my status as a woman. Other women accepted me as one of them. It felt so good to seem wonderfully, uncomplicatingly average and unremarkable. For once, I felt adequate.

    Physically, I didn’t feel all that great, but emotionally I felt as if I’d finally joined the club of women and had finally gained acceptance. I think that’s what privilege is to me.

    Posted by Rebecca | January 31, 2007, 11:33 pm
  41. Michelle– I’m not judging you, or anyone. As I have posted more than once, I, myself have struggled with eating disorders since I was a teenager, and I am now 54. And I still struggle!

    The point of my post was not to judge anyone. To analyze and critique what goes on in the world from the perspective of feminism means placing disorders like anorexia, or bulimia, or GID, or BID, within a larger context of power relations, and in particular, power relations between men and women. What you say about eating disorders really is very much what many transpersons say about their experiences. Whether we are talking about eating disorders or transgender issues, ultimately the responsibility and blame for the fact of their existence lies with those who have the power. In the U.S. and Canada, that’s white men. They are the ones who police gender, and one aspect of their policing of gender is policing body size and weight. Those who align most closely with what white male heterosupremacists require will experience privilege; those who depart from what is required by white male heterosupremacists will be punished. My interest was in saying that punishments for failing to conform are not the same thing as the difficulties experienced in conformity, whether via SRS or transitioning in some way or via eating disorders or because of genetics and biology, and even though the conforming may move from being an interest in thinness or transitioning to obsessions and self-destructive behaviors. Which is not to discount the difficulties of SRS or transitioning or eating disorders, either. As feminists, we have to critique the way these things work in order to strategize change, raise consciousnesses, and so on. It’s not, again, about judgment. It’s about revolutionary change, for all of us, and how we can make that happen.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 11:33 pm
  42. Why am I having to justify the decisions I am making about my body to this blog?

    Hey, snowqueen– you don’t have to justify anything at all, to me, to us, to anyone! Be at peace.

    What we’re doing here is, we’re just being feminists? Subjecting everything, anything to feminist analysis. Why do women diet? Why do women want to be thin? Why are people who are thin considered healthier/more disciplined/more competent/more attractive than fat people? Who has the power to create these ideas and make them “stick.” Why is it so hard for those who are fat, or for that matter, too thin, like Rebecca and Le Chat Noir? Why are the bodies of women regulated the way they are? Why does Amy have to spend $300 for one outfit appropriate for a job interview? Why is it really hard for her to find that outfit, even in “plus size” catalogs? Why is it that Amy, with her Ivy League education, has trouble finding gainful employment? Why are so many girls/women eating disordered? Why are there organizations/groups which advocate from a pro-anorexia/bulimia perspective? Why is it believed that fat people overeat? Why are fat women punished in ways fat men are not?

    The answers to every question above, and discussions of all of these issues the questions raise, can be found in the analysis of male power and how it works in the world– how it affects men, how it affects women. To talk about that isn’t to judge anybody. It’s to talk about power. It is to subject everything to feminist critique.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 11:44 pm
  43. “You may not have chosen to be thin, you may be tormented by what it means to be thin, you may hate your thinness, but that doesn’t change the accomodations and benefits that greater society makes for you because you are thin.”

    I can work with this, Sass.
    I’ve been musing on this thread most of the day — my most recent thought: I guess the problem I have with thin privilege is that “privilege” connotes something unearned or born into. Going with this idea, to call a thin person “priviledged” irks me for all those reasons I gave in post.

    Your paragraph switched my brain over from I’m Very Personally Involved And Sensitive in This Thin Privilege Idea to a more Unbiased Ok, I Had Let My Personal Involvement Eclipse THIS Concept of Privilege point of view.

    So thank you for that, Sass.

    I’ve been thinking about where and if I’ve personally observed privilege being thin and where I haven’t. I’ll continue musing on that.

    I was hesitant to type my post. I suspected what I had to say might go over like the perverbial fart in church among many women. It is a big taboo in feminism to make any potential negative reference to a woman of size. As a feminist, you are rather supposed to feel very heavy is much better than very thin all the time as “thin,” as I think Heart is saying, connotes some sort of conformity to the male-prescribed formula for women.

    And sometimes “thin” is exactly that.
    But not always.

    I’m still saying — asking — that we all be careful when we attempt to file things away neatly under their respective categories.

    Also: I was not aware “obese” is indeed an offensive, fat-phobic term — though I had thought it might be. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Let’s also be careful who we carelessly call “Anorexic” or “porn-approved” in body as this is offensive as well.

    Posted by Kim | January 31, 2007, 11:46 pm
  44. Rebecca, a lot of what you say reminds me of the experience of women who are naturally traditionally beautiful. On the one hand, they receive many real benefits. Studies show they are hired faster than less attractive people, they are thought to be more competent, they are treated better in public places, they are admired in various ways, they get hired to be models and actresses and entertainers and are then paid more money than just about all other women, which communicates how important attractiveness really is in our culture. At the same time, undeniably, traditionally beautiful women are also despised and deeply resented, in part, because of the privileges and perks they *do* receive which are viewed as undeserved (and rightfully so). That’s in large part what’s underneath the horrible treatment women like Britney Spears and women like her are subjected to. Her looks place her at the top of the hierarchy men have created by which all women are judged. But she is also a reminder of the hierarchy itself, the stupidity and injustice of it, the subjugating elements of it, but most people don’t want to think that deeply about that– it’s much easier to despise and hate Britney Spears and wish her ill than to challenge an enormous system and set of institutions which individuals feel powerless to really change.

    But regardless how poorly Britney is treated by the general public, how much she is hated, how hideously her ex-husband treats her, how objectified she is, how her privacy is intruded on, well– she is undeniably privileged, you know? She has money, she has power, she has influence, in ways very few women ever have or ever will have.

    Well, some thoughts. Busy, but I’ll be back.

    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 11:52 pm
  45. I’m also betting if you asked Britney Spears how privileged she thinks she is, she’d say a lot of things about it not being all that great. Privilege doesn’t mean an easy life. It means having access to certain benefits that others don’t have access to. It means having more power than others similarly situated with you have, power being the ability to make things you want to happen, happen in the real world.


    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2007, 11:55 pm
  46. And again, this is why I defend Britney Spears when she’s being subjected to absolutely misogynist treatment. Whether she’s a good person, a bad person, admirable, non-admirable, conforming, heck, whether she’s a complete tool of the patriarchy by conscious choice (which I don’t believe she is), she didn’t create this system in which she is both worshipped and despised, loved and hated because of the way she looks. She didn’t author this. Like the rest of us, she’s cutting the best deal she can figure out to cut. Nobody deserves to be hated and mistreated because she is female in a world which hates females– no matter what kind of deal she’s cut. Nobody deserves to be routinely excoriated and publicly humiliated, dehumanized, and relentlessly objectified because she is blonde and beautiful and has a heart-shaped face and large eyes and all the other markers of traditional beauty in this culture. What I’m interested in doing is talking about WHY as women we find ourselves coerced in all the ways we are coerced because we are female, and how we can mount effective challenges against this coercion, which so deeply affects all of us.


    Posted by Heart | February 1, 2007, 12:07 am
  47. Every time you go to see a doctor and are treated for the condition you came to be treated for and not just told to lose weight, you are experiencing thin privilege.

    Every time you get on an airplane, fit easily into the seat, don’t have to ask for a seat belt extender and are not required to purchase 2 seats or asked to leave the plane you are experiencing thin privilige.

    Every time you walk into a store and find a wide assortment of clothes in your size you are experiencing thin privilege.

    Every time you get hrired for a job based on your qualifications and not judged to be too lazy for the position just because you are fat, you are experiencing thin privilege.

    You notice thin privilege a lot more if you are fat than if you are thin when things that thin people take for granted are denied you simply because you are fat.

    Posted by jfr | February 1, 2007, 12:19 am
  48. I can recall once getting so fed up hearing, “You are so skinny that you make me sick” that I asked one person who said that, “Has anyone ever said to you, ‘You are so fat that you make me sick’?” She stared at me in near shock before answering, “Of course not! That would be rude!”

    See– the meanings are different here. When someone says, “You are so skinny that you make me sick,” they are expressing envy because your size places you higher on the dominance hierarchy men have established for women than other women are, who are fat.

    When someone tells a fat person, “You are so fat that you make me sick,” they are expressing revulsion and disgust for women who, according to the dominance hierarchy patriarchy has established for women, are way way down at the bottom.

    Expressions of both envy and revulsion are intrusive and can be said to be rude, but most people would prefer being envied to inspiring revulsion in others. Being envied is, in fact, part of the privilege the thin experience. Which from the perspective of thin people is not wonderful, because being envied can be scary and horrible. Nevertheless, one reason the thin are envied is because compared with the fat, they have access to greater societal power than fat women have.


    Posted by womensspace | February 1, 2007, 12:33 am
  49. This thread is fascinating. The subject has been on my mind all day, and I just hope I can make my random thoughts as coherent and eloquent as so many of you have. Heart and Kim, I admire the careful and respectful dialogue between the two of you on a topic that is clearly hyper-sensitive. I love the way Heart creates a space that fosters that kind of debate.

    “…traditionally beautiful women are also despised and deeply resented, in part, because of the privileges and perks they *do* receive which are viewed as undeserved (and rightfully so).”

    After I went underground as a feminist in the early eighties (after losing my teenage idealism with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment) and consciously turned myself into a blonde bombshell a la Madonna, I started to be considered beautiful for the first time in my life. Part of me will always love Marilyn Monroe because I can so relate to her, though I hate the way her image is used (but then that’s partly the point).

    I’ve faced lots of hostility from other women because of my looks, and that has been painful. But if you’re a heterosexual woman (alas), it’s hard to give up wanting to attract men. It’s intoxicating to make conversations stop when you walk by. Sexual attraction and desire are natural highs; it’s the limited boundaries and conformities that patriarchy requires of women that are perverted.

    The lie about beauty is not unlike “hoop dreams” however. Unless you make it to superstardom, the perks of beauty are mostly dependent on attachment to a man. If you can’t stomach the role of trophy bride, you’re probably just another service wage-slave. Most pretty women never get to be rich on their own. It’s just one of the BIG LIES that we are fed from childhood.

    Posted by roamaround | February 1, 2007, 1:49 am
  50. Heart,

    I just felt like I needed to weigh in here for just a moment as a recovering anorexic then bulimic who also happens to now be a mental health therapist. I did not develop my personal ED in order to conform but because of a sense of powerlessness I felt in this male dominated world. I felt that one of the few things I could control in life was what I ate or didn’t eat. The anorexia lasted until my mid 30’s. I did enjoy some privilieges of being thin, for sure, but at what cost? That was not the reason I refused to eat during those years, but it is true I did have some of the perks.

    Once reaching my mid 30’s after years of starving myself, my thyroid stopped working and I also developed diabetes. (It took the docs a long time to figure that one out as I was not overweight and they preach so much that it is obesity that causes type II diabetes!) I began putting on weight even with the long list of food restrictions I carried around in my head (I can still tell you the calorie count for most foods). I felt so out of control all of the time and so powerless.

    By this time I was in a marriage and followed Bill Gothard’s idea of a male dominated family life. Oh, how powerless…. Anyway, I began vomiting and using laxatives in order to regain some control in my life, knowing things were out of balance, but not having any support for the heretical ideas I was developing (such as how come this man, who doesn’t seem as smart as me at times, gets to make all the decisions but I have to face the consequences), I fought for whatever control I could find. Not easy. Bulimia became my personal contol issue.

    Honestly, I’m still struggling with most of these questions, but have finally learned that it’s not a matter of controlling my eating but of being the one in charge of my own life. That’s how I’ve been able to begin recovering from my personal struggle with ED.

    Again, I’m not disputing the thin privilege I enjoyed and, at times, still do though I’m at a healthy weight at this point and do not ever try to use thin privilege. I just wanted to give another reason for EDs and being thin and it happens to be, at least in my case, a matter of feeling powerless in this world.

    Thanks for hearing me.

    Macs Grandy

    Posted by macs grandy | February 1, 2007, 2:49 am
  51. The order I am willing to sit next to on an airplane.

    1. Empty Seat
    2. Overweight person/Average Size/Thin/(providing that they are other than 3, 4 or …….8)
    3. Excessive Talker
    4. Sexist/Racist
    5. Anyone else
    6. Anyone else
    7. Anyone else
    8. SUV/big truck driver/owner

    Posted by chasingmoksha | February 1, 2007, 3:44 am
  52. I think it is true that EDs are about powerlessness, and seeking some sort of sphere where one can exert some control. But they are also interesting as an effort to conform to the Thin Ideal. If there were some other ideal, the feeling of powerlessness, and the search for a sphere where one can exert some control, would be expressed differently … or not? (Although if you’re powerless, you only really have your own body to modify …)

    On the conformity thing, I know, but in my early twenties I gave up and decided I would do some of the girl beauty things, the conditioning is too deep and takes too much energy to fight, energy I wanted for other things.

    Posted by profacero | February 1, 2007, 5:17 am
  53. P.S. I still think, though, that the argument that to accept your conditioning is *feminist*, is odd.

    Posted by profacero | February 1, 2007, 5:19 am
  54. Hey, roamaround, I too was once the blonde bombshell– I hear you. It’s very hard to resist trading on that one obvious thing you figure you can easily trade on, and especially when you are young and haven’t yet learned what men do, how men are, the way they treat women, what they will do to you, what male power really is all about. When you are young and lovely, men are nice to you and feminism doesn’t make sense. Where are all these evil men, you think, if you were me, anyway? They are all nice to me. Or they were until they took me to hell and back in relationship after relationship, in religion, in the world of work, in the world of publishing, and then, hard headed as I was, I couldn’t but face up to having been scammed, lied to, abused, exploited, objectified, raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harrassed, battered, bloodied, including by men who were once oh-so-nice to me. It’s hard to face up to the truth that whatever power we have as women under male heterosupremacy, we have by virtue of our attachments to men — fathers, lovers, bosses, pastors, elders, priests, officials of various kinds. Sever those attachments and we are a million kinds of screwed, and yet it’s right there, having severed those attachments, that I have finally been able to come into my own power as a woman after all of these years. Having said all of that, I can’t fault any young woman for having to figure this out in her own way, just like I did. But this is why feminism is the one movement in which the older tend to be more radical than the younger. Living as women under male heterosupremacy either results in our caving and agreeing that we deserve our second class status, or else it radicalizes us and forces us into a position where we say “it’s enough, dagnab it, I’m done.”

    I, too, am very much an admirer of Marilyn Monroe. Also Betty Boop and Dolly Parton and Mae West. Something about the way these women epitomize womanhood under male supremacy, to the degree that they make very plain what a joke the whole thing is, how pretentious it is. Sort of like drag, but it’s not insulting or sexist because it’s beautiful women making fun of what beautiful women are made to be, forced to be. Something like that. Something like an inside joke all women understand, that men don’t, that they are fooled by and are made fools by.

    Ah, Grandy, I hear you! I so do! I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through– there are so, so many of us, huh? You are pointing out something really important that I do want to talk about, so stay tuned for my brilliance, profacero — HA — :P, that eating disorders aren’t so much addictions as the products of deranged power relations, in families, especially, responses to powerlessness, struggles for power. I want to think about that and talk about that more. I totally agree that having privilege because of being thin doesn’t equal not suffering to be thin! Any of us who has ever worked to be thin — which I certainly have, have spent a huge amount of my life working to be thin and it pisses me off so much I can barely go there, honestly — knows that that is a horrible place to be, worried about everything you put in your mouth, going for days without eating, being obsessed about your weight, your dress size, how you look in this, that or the other, it is all so perverse and wrong and especially, dehumanizing and humiliating, degrading. Anyway, I have been meaning to respond to your comment the Full Quiver thread and will do that soon. For now, I’m so glad you are here.

    chasingmoksha, here is my airplane list of people I want to sit next to:

    1. Feminist women
    2. Old women/crones
    3. Any other women except fundamentalist Christians reading their Bible or Christian women’s books on the plane. Argh.
    4. Any random person
    5. Any random person
    8. Bush Republicans
    9. Gun nuts
    10. Racists, sexists, lesbophobes, homophobes, classists.
    11. Pornhounds. Especially pornhounds who read porn on the plane!



    Posted by womensspace | February 1, 2007, 5:51 am
  55. LOL! In other words appearance has nothing to do with it. OMG, what if it is a porn hound reading porn on the plane who owns a Hummer. YUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by chasingmoksha | February 1, 2007, 5:57 am
  56. HA!

    Well… but you should read Amy’s post about being charged for two seats on the plane. You’ll never think about it the same way again. I’m gong to find it and link to it.


    Posted by womensspace | February 1, 2007, 6:00 am
  57. Here’s Amy’s post, Screwed by Southwest.


    Posted by womensspace | February 1, 2007, 6:07 am
  58. Profacero

    ” think it is true that EDs are about powerlessness, and seeking some sort of sphere where one can exert some control. But they are also interesting as an effort to conform to the Thin Ideal. If there were some other ideal, the feeling of powerlessness, and the search for a sphere where one can exert some control, would be expressed differently … or not? (Although if you’re powerless, you only really have your own body to modify …)”

    That’s it! Sometimes, the only thing I had any power in was my own body. Not even necessarily what was done to the outside of my own body, but at least I could control what was put into it. It’s difficult to explain the depths of powerlessness that can be felt in this “enlightened” society.

    Posted by macs grandy | February 1, 2007, 11:09 am
  59. Thin women have privilege? White women have privilege? Hetero women have privilege? Oh, and let’s not forget, American women have privilege!

    What are we doing here? Fashioning ourselves after the patriarchy and adopting his hierarchies?

    The fact is, regardless of race, class, creed, color, sexuality, size, shape, or form, *no* woman has privilege. We are all in the same boat and at the mercy of men and their whims.

    Men’s favoritism should not be mistaken for power and privilege. Women are viewed as the property of men and have no more power and privilege than men’s dogs. Sure, the dog may live in a mansion, have a chauffer, and eat steak every night. But is it the dog that has power and privilege? Don’t be silly. Dogs don’t have power and privilege. And neither do women.

    I really wish women would stop buying into this white boy liberal crap and the patriarchy’s divide and conquer strategy. Who does that serve? Women?

    Posted by Luckynkl | February 1, 2007, 2:07 pm
  60. My husband says that society promised him a thin beautiful wife. I’ve been through it all EDs ( all of them ) and just plain FAT… I am sure DIETING is the reason…because of that…I am collecting all the diet books I can get my chubby little hands on to rip into little pieces and make a giant DIET DEITY out of paper mached diet books…If anyone who reads this blog would like to contribute…get back to me via email…and I can tell you where to send the shit!!!

    Posted by Brenda Oelbaum | February 1, 2007, 4:07 pm
  61. Yup I was being a little oversensitive! I agree we are subjecting this issue to feminist critique – that was my original point, that it’s impossible to talk about diet change or weight loss without the assumption being made that it must be because it’s socially preferable (as an external or internalised agenda) because of the thin privilege issue. I was puzzled why you then posted about weight and health as I wasn’t suggesting that being large was necessarily unhealthy as the medical fascists like to have us think.

    I was also interested in the discussion about anorexia – having worked with quite a few anorexic women over the years (I am an occupational therapist, now a lecturer) I would agree that anorexia is much more complex than simply a reaction to skinny models, thin images etc. Sometimes it is. Sometimes women identify it as a way of control, many don’t. Sometimes it is triggered by not eating – one of my clients stopped eating through a shock and then found it almost impossible to start again through, basically, lack of practice and aversion to the pain of eating (we did a graded plan of gradually increasing portion size and it worked fine). One thing I do know though is that anorexic women are women like all other women – they have talents, resources, dreams, desires, needs, skills and these all get subsumed by the focus on food and eating from professionals. As an occupational therapist (and a feminist) I never discussed food or eating unless it was brought up. I discussed work, leisure activities, interests, passions, and some women gained weight, and some didn’t but they all started having something other than ‘anorexic’ to define their identity and they all had quality of life. One of my ex-clients comes to talk to my students. She is still extraordinarily thin and her health chances are very poor, but she talks enthusiastically about her garden, her cat, her poetry, her campaigning and how finally she feels like a real person contributing to the world. About 5 minutes into her talk I am sure the students don’t notice her body shape any more, they are so enthralled by the person.

    Posted by snowqueen | February 1, 2007, 4:10 pm
  62. “…but they all started having something other than ‘anorexic’ to define their identity and they all had quality of life.”

    NOW we’re on to something.
    Identity can be a HUGE, HUGE issue with EDs.
    When an ED has part of you for long, giving it up is very difficult.
    Those with EDs often are in intense love with their ED while destesting it at the same time.
    Replacing this part of the identity with something else can be amazingly helpful.

    Posted by Kim | February 1, 2007, 6:26 pm
  63. I meant to say “When an ED is part of you for a long time, ”

    Posted by Kim | February 1, 2007, 6:27 pm
  64. Hello, all. Although I don’t post here often, I read here almost every day because, whether I’m in agreement or not, I find both the posts and most of the comments interesting at least and educational at most. I want to pipe up today and say that I’ve found all of the views here to be valuable to me in knowing more about what maneuvering through everyday life is like for women who are different from me in size and stature (how can anyone’s personal experiences be wrong?).

    Also, I’m commenting to thank jfr for the examples of thin privilege. As a tall, thin, conventionally pretty woman, those are things that needed to be pointed out to me, not so that I can feel guilty (I don’t) or pity (I don’t) but so that I understand and empathize (I do, more so now than I did before reading the very simple examples). Her simple examples have helped me to understand why Amy is right in her anger and indignation about paying $300 for one business outfit in her size, something that didn’t seem so unfair to me at first, perhaps because I pay more for all pants and jeans in my taller size. But now I see that that is just one of many, many ways in which Amy and other large women have and continue to be discriminated against every single day. I get it, now. Discrimination against larger sized people, especially large women, is more than just the constant barrage of insults and other mean remarks from strangers and even loved ones, and it’s more than just limited selections of higher priced clothing. It’s being judged by their looks, just as all women are judged by our looks, but being automatically judged negatively (lazy, gluttonous, undisciplined) whether or not deserved while thin women, such as myself, are judged positively (active, hard working, disciplined).

    Incidentally, I’m thin by luck of the genetic draw only. I eat like a horse and play couch potato almost daily, lying here like a slug for hours on end. So, I’m neither active nor disciplined. I do work hard but when I can find a short cut to getting a big job done, I take it. I was once told by an employer that he always asked his laziest employee to do things that he needed done quickly because we’d never do in five steps what we accomplish in two steps. LOL! I told him that he can call it “lazy,” but I put “resourceful” and “efficient” on my resume. LOL! Anyway, that strangers automatically assume I’m both of those things that I’m not simply because I’m thin is thin privilege. While I may have known that before, I’m more consciously aware of it now than before reading jfr’s and other’s posts at this blog.

    I also want to agree with the commenter who said she appreciates the calm discussion here between Amy and Kim. From reading and listening to those who’ve suffered from anorexia/bulimia, I already knew that those EDs aren’t really about dieting and weight any more than food addictions are a desire to be fat. This is true even if the cycle began when the girl used starving or binging/purging as a form of weight control. Still, I’m glad that Kim had the opportunity to explain that here and that her explanation wasn’t ignored or contradicted.

    By the way, I read and sometimes comment at Kim’s blog, too, and while I’m not always in total agreement with her any more than I’m always in total agreement here, I’m positive that she’s no slave to attracting the male gaze nor is she a slave to the patriarchy or brainwashed into misogynist thinking. Like all of us here, she does what she has to do in order to survive in this world and you can be sure that suffering from an eating disorder does not aid in her survival. No, her ED is a threat to her survival, something that she’s very much aware of and must struggle with all of her life (which I hope is a very long time).

    Macs grandy, thanks for using the pun about weighing in here. 😀 I enjoyed that one.

    Roamaround, when I came to the realization that the friendship and admiration of other women is worth a million times more than the sexual attraction and attention males, I was no longer susceptible to the intoxication of the male gaze. What’s more is that my reactions to men who turn their attention from the women that they’re with and toward me changed from that high of feeling desired and appreciation of their approval to annoyance that they’d put me in the spotlight without my say in the matter and resentment that they were trying to pit me against the women they’d turned their attention from in some twisted competition for the male gaze that none of us had asked to be in. Since my reaction to male attention has changed, so have the reactions of other women to me. It only takes seconds for most any woman to see that I’m not digging on the attention from the man she’s with and that I’m more concerned about how his behavior affects her. Then, I can watch her face change from feeling threatened by me to annoyed by him, too. Ahhhh…sisterhood…it’s so worth giving up that high from the desire of strange males for. (Desire from one or a select few, whatever your lifestyle requirements, is still very nice and intoxicating. 😉 )

    To bring this ramble of mine to an end, Heart, I appreciate your comment on Spears:

    And again, this is why I defend Britney Spears when she’s being subjected to absolutely misogynist treatment. Whether she’s a good person, a bad person, admirable, non-admirable, conforming, heck, whether she’s a complete tool of the patriarchy by conscious choice (which I don’t believe she is), she didn’t create this system in which she is both worshipped and despised, loved and hated because of the way she looks. She didn’t author this. Like the rest of us, she’s cutting the best deal she can figure out to cut. Nobody deserves to be hated and mistreated because she is female in a world which hates females– no matter what kind of deal she’s cut. Nobody deserves to be routinely excoriated and publicly humiliated, dehumanized, and relentlessly objectified because she is blonde and beautiful and has a heart-shaped face and large eyes and all the other markers of traditional beauty in this culture. What I’m interested in doing is talking about WHY as women we find ourselves coerced in all the ways we are coerced because we are female, and how we can mount effective challenges against this coercion, which so deeply affects all of us.

    Since I’ve stopped participating in the public stonings of women in the spotlight, I’ve been better able to focus on the real issues and problems we face, as you’ve stated here that we need to do. Regardless of my personal opinion of any high-profile woman, all of which are not positive, it does no good for me or anyone for me to share those opinions. In fact, thrashing women like Spears is exactly what those who exploit women, even those women who submit voluntarily to their own exploitation, want us to do because the distraction will keep us from noticing that they, the exploiters of women, are the enemy and not the exploited women.

    Wow! I’ve got to get my sluggish butt in gear. Tool of the patriarchy that I am, I’ve got a hair appt this afternoon. Is it more okay for me to fret over my hair than it is for some other women to fret over their weight? I don’t think so. We’re all doing what we have to do to get by in this world. 🙂


    Posted by CoolAunt | February 1, 2007, 7:32 pm
  65. Since I’ve stopped participating in the public stonings of women in the spotlight, I’ve been better able to focus on the real issues and problems we face, as you’ve stated here that we need to do. Regardless of my personal opinion of any high-profile woman, all of which are not positive, it does no good for me or anyone for me to share those opinions. In fact, thrashing women like Spears is exactly what those who exploit women, even those women who submit voluntarily to their own exploitation, want us to do because the distraction will keep us from noticing that they, the exploiters of women, are the enemy and not the exploited women.

    So true!

    Well, that was a great comment, CoolAunt, thanks. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | February 1, 2007, 8:21 pm
  66. Thanks for your kind words, CoolAunt.
    Seriously, just thank you.

    Posted by Kim | February 1, 2007, 9:24 pm
  67. EDs and identity, yes. In high school I wanted to be ED but had two problems about it: I couldn’t tolerate hunger that well, and I was afraid it might be dangerous. This was before I had ever heard of EDs.

    What I did about this was fetishize my sunglasses! It seems a small thing, but I really did attach my identity to the possession of cool sunglasses … and I know it seems ridiculous, but it’s evidence for the point about identity.


    On the addiction model and so on: a standard thing to say is that I wanted an ED because my family was alcoholic. That’s true enough but I think there is more to it, and I am increasingly suspicious of the proliferation of addiction models for everything: ‘women who love too much’ etc. – as new strategies whereby to subjugate women.

    Some examples could be: “he misbehaves because you let him” (said of an adult, not a toddler)

    And: “by placating him to stay safe, you are being controlling, so you are actually causing the behavior you decry” (*you* caused it, it is not *their* responsibility to act right)

    AND, final thought, I think these addiction models are a way to get women to criticize other women in the guise of ‘science’ or ‘clinical objectivity’ or something.

    ??? Just some random thoughts here.

    Posted by profacero | February 1, 2007, 11:10 pm
  68. I am thinking off the top of my head too.

    When something gets called a disease it then becomes the purview of experts, the doctors, and thus under the control of the powers that be. If it is described as a behavior or set of behaviors that arise from political conditions, revolution, not doctors, is the solution. It makes me think about Lousie Armstrong’s critique of the way therapeutic discourse took over a feminist analysis of incest.

    I am also very suspicious of the proliferation of “addictions”, perhaps for this very reason. They become something to be controlled or cured by experts. Feminsit analysis generally leads to different solutions, solutions that don’t simply increase the power of the heteropatriarchy.

    Posted by jfr | February 2, 2007, 12:38 am
  69. On the addiction model… I agree that it is over-used today to release people of responsibility. As primary clinical therapist for an adolescent intensive outpatient rehab program, I like to think I have a fairly good understanding of what constitutes addictive behaviors and what does not.

    A person can be addicted to a substance. A person can also be addicted to a behavior. BUT… one person can not cause another to be addicted, nor is it anyone’s responsibility except the one exhibiting the troubled behavior. That is one of the first things my clients have to discover before healing can take place. Each of them are responsible for their own behavior and choices.

    When I was at the peak of struggling with my own ED, I did not realize that, if I were willing to face the consequences and take responsibility for my own life, I would not have been so powerless. I allowed my husband, Mr. Gothard, fundamentalist teaching, teachings from the male dominated society, my pastor, etc. to make me feel powerless. It was my responsibility.

    Working my way out of it is still very difficult and the consequences can be hard, but I am learning what it really means to be responsible for my own behavior, consequences and all. I certainly haven’t found my way out yet, but I’m heading in the right direction for me, I think. Finding people to encourage and help me in the direction I want to go is an important part of what I’m trying to do in my life. (One big reason I am so excited to have found this wonderful community online this week!)

    There does seem to be a “proliferation of addiction models.” Many of which are designed to excuse bad behavior or to encourage less personal responsibility. As long as I believe I am powerless, I am. This is the crux of the matter for me in growing as a person. How much power do I really have? It depends on what choices I’m willing to make, does it not?

    PS Thanks, Cool Aunt, for catching the pun. 🙂

    Posted by macs grandy | February 2, 2007, 1:10 am
  70. Addiction model + medicalization = disempowerment, yes.

    One thing which fascinates me about the addiction model is that, if everyone is somehow co-dependent, and expected to follow the 12 steps, the first thing one is supposed to accept is that one has no power.

    That means, of course, power over a substance (for the addict) or over another person’s addictive behavior (for someone dealing with the addict).

    But I have noticed how the “powerlessness” idea seeps through the culture. It is cool to be powerless, realistic to be powerless, arrogant to believe on is not. I find this pernicious. People apply it to too many things, and I often notice it is used as a way to disempower women.

    (Although I am probably not articulating my theory well enough / extensively enough here … it’s been a long day.)

    Posted by profacero | February 2, 2007, 1:23 am
  71. Before moving to TN, I worked as a therapist in a juvenile justive facility for boys ages 13-18. The director of that facility gave me a wonderful reference by telling my new boss here in TN that in all of his 13 years at that facility, I was the only therapist who made a difference.

    Profacero, I did that by teaching the boys that it is POWER not powerlessness that can save them from their addictions! That is what I try to help my clients here discover.

    Society tries to hide from us the fact that we have power. I believe that it scares men for us to know that we understand we are NOT powerless. I agree with your words that the idea of powerlessness seeps through our culture and it does work as a way to disempower women and minorities.

    BTW, I thought you articulated quite well. 🙂

    Posted by macs grandy | February 2, 2007, 1:52 am
  72. Many years ago their was an organization for survivors of sexual abuse in Maine called “Looking Up” founded by Gayle Woodsum, this was the early 80’s through the early 90’s, I believe. I remember that they had a very good feminist critique of 12 step programs, a step by step analysis of why the model was relevant for men but not for women. The only thing I remember now is that it began by talking about how an admission of powerlessness was not something needed by women. I also remember some discussion about how most women didn’t need to make an inventory of everyone they had ever hurt, that they were already well socialized in finding fault with themselves. I wish I still had it now.

    Posted by jfr | February 2, 2007, 2:00 am
  73. “Roamaround, when I came to the realization that the friendship and admiration of other women is worth a million times more than the sexual attraction and attention males, I was no longer susceptible to the intoxication of the male gaze.”

    CoolAunt, I enjoyed a lot of your post, but I feel a little reprimanded by that comment. I’m aware, of course of sisterhood. I think we may have had different paths because I grew up valuing the friendship, admiration and solidarity of other women. It wasn’t until I became disillusioned with the fragmented state of feminism and tired of trying so fucking hard with no movement to back me up that I tried the conventional path. It didn’t fit, needless to say since here I am.

    “Since my reaction to male attention has changed, so have the reactions of other women to me.”

    I wish that I could have so much faith. Feminist though I am, I think it’s important to be honest about the role many women play as overseers of the patriarchy. In my office, there is a group of secretaries who fawn over all the men and won’t give women the time of day, especially women who are younger and/or considered more attractive than they are. I couldn’t care less about the attentions of the men there, so the competitive attitude isn’t coming from me. It’s in the air, and we’re all victims of it.

    Heart said, “…feminism is the one movement in which the older tend to be more radical than the younger.” Yes, and since the patriarchy has controlled the narratives, the wisdom of older women has been quite effectively negated. We become witches, hags, and crazy ladies. We are lobotomized and silenced or systematically discredited.

    Sorry to sound so gloomy but the blog wars have got me down. I wonder if women can ever really support each other. Thanks, Heart, for all your effort and patience in maintaining this sisterhood space.

    Posted by roamaround | February 2, 2007, 2:54 am
  74. So, so true: witches, bitches, hags, harpies, stand-ins for everybody’s defunct relationship with their mother or their grandmother or other women, reminders of the fact that all women will get old and will lose their status as “fuckable,” that’s what we crones are. Nevertheless, this is the BEST place in the world to be, EVER. I love getting old. I wouldn’t be younger again for anything.

    Blog wars get me down too, roamaround, but I’ve been through enough of these war-type things, online and off, to know that we have to go through here to get where we want to be.

    First they ignore you,
    Then they laugh at you,
    then they fight you,
    then you win.


    Lookie there! We’re on line three!

    I caved too, roamaround, just like you, from the time I was 25 until I was 42. Those years radicalized me.

    I don’t care about men, don’t pay any attention to them anymore, don’t want anything to do with them. I do notice women at the office sucking up to them– I stay far, far away and hang out with women like me. Woman centered women have ways of finding one another.

    I know women can support each other. I live that every day, I also work to make that happen every day. The doo doo heads are discouraging, but I’ve seen more than one doo doo head come around in time. When I’m really down, that’s what I think about.


    Posted by womensspace | February 2, 2007, 6:29 am
  75. My family reads my blog so I cannot write about one older aunt, whom they detest, she was traumatic. But I am pretty convinced that one main, hidden reason she got encoded as traumatic is that she was feminist and strong, and it was a form of treason.

    HAVING POWER as a way to fight addictions, *excellent*, way to go, I hope you publish about that far and wide in clinical psych journals, macs grandy!

    jfr, I believe those “looking up” people have some sort of web presence. I’ll look for it. I’ve seen at least one clinical psych article, smart, about the 12 steps as “anti-therapeutic” – published in the UK, of course not here. Very interesting that “looking up” had or have a feminist critique.

    So now, this weekend, I get to engage in my favorite form of procrastination: out-of-field research! 🙂

    Posted by profacero | February 2, 2007, 6:59 am
  76. I’ve caved in my time too, but at age 58 I am more radical than I have ever been and I plan to stay this way. I am always a little taken aback when younger folk treat me like I am some sort of anachronism, like I just don’t get it, but I know that change doesn’t happen that fast, and though some surface things may have changed, the heteropatriarchal foundation is intact. I like to believe that I am no longer so distracted by the passing show. Age has helped me this way. I am also much less caught up in my own ego. I don’t necessarily expect things to change in my time, my time is not what is important here, just carrying on, speaking truth to power. Molly Ivins is a great inspiration in this regard, speaking out, writing out until her death. It ain’t over ’til its over and even then it ain’t really over. You’re just not watching any more.

    Posted by jfr | February 2, 2007, 1:24 pm
  77. Here is an article *on* the article on 12 steps as non feminist.

    It sounds like a scared MD trying to save the 12 steps, but in it there is probably info on how to find the original article. Later in the day I will see whether I can get into the e-journal for free, via the library. I think this author himself needs critique.

    Chapter Four
    Powerlessness–Liberating or Enslaving? Responding to the Feminist Critique of the Twelve Steps

    Page Range: 67 – 84
    DOI: 10.1300/J086v03n03_05
    Copyright Year: 1992
    Contributors: David Berenson MD, Director, Family Institute of San Fransisco, Sausalito, CA, 94965

    Alcoholics Anonymous has gained acceptance as an important if not potentially necessary adjunct to therapeutic work with substance-abusing clients. Yet feminists take issue with the core belief of the Twelve Steps: I am powerless over alcohol. Powerlessness is viewed as the source of women’s oppression within a patriarchal society. This paper explores alternative views of the concept of powerlessness and sets a context for a new understanding and translation of the Twelve Steps that may provide an alternative for more feminist-informed use of them in treatment.

    Journal Title:
    Journal of Feminist Family Therapy:
    An International Forum
    Volume: 3 Issue: 3/4
    ISSN: 0895-2833 Pub Date: 1/6/1992

    Posted by profacero | February 2, 2007, 1:59 pm
  78. Having power to fight addictions? Huh? In the case of drug addiction and alcoholism, it’s not about power or powerlessness. They’re diseases. Often hereditary. Not much different than being diabetic. You’re either born with it, or you’re not. You can do something about it, but you can’t cure it. I think a wrong and dangerous message is being sent out if it’s implied that diseases like these can cured if one feels empowered. Once an alcholic/drug addict, always an alcoholic/drug addict. It doesn’t go away just because one feels empowered. It’s a life long battle.

    By the luck of the cards, I’m not an alcoholic, a drug addict or a diabetic. By the luck of the cards I’m not ugly or fat and have never had eating orders. Not because I’m strong or powerful. but simply because I didn’t inherit these factors. It’s not something I did. It’s something I was born with. Or rather, wasn’t born with. These things just don’t run in my family.

    My ex, however, is a drug addict. So my children have a 60% chance of becoming drug addicts or alcholics. Due to heredity, not how I raise them. See the problem with with not identifying addictions like substance abuse as diseases? It’s the perfect setup to blame mothers for society’s ills.

    Posted by Luckynkl | February 2, 2007, 2:16 pm
  79. Now I am hogging space but oh well. This could be a reprint or something of the the original article. Or, could reference the original article.

    From Al-Anon to ACOA: Codependence and the Reconstruction of Caregiving
    Janice Haaken
    Signs, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Winter, 1993), pp. 321-345

    There is also an article called “Twelve-Step Programs: A Lesbian Feminist Critique” which a lot of people seem to cite.

    And there are very smart critiques of the “codependency” idea.

    So, that’s the beginning of my research on this.

    On “caving” – I caved at 35 but now at 49 came back.

    Posted by profacero | February 2, 2007, 2:26 pm
  80. I read Amy’s post about airplane seats — and one of the things I really liked is her many suggestions as to how to handle the whole seating issue. I especially liked her idea about different sized seats.

    One of my personal quirks is that I am somewhat over-protective about my private space and boundaries. Couple that with the fact that I’m not particularly serene about flying, and I can end up anxious and twitchy. One one memorable plane flight, I had half my seat taken over by the large person next to me. On another flight, I had to deal with a guy’s restless long legs which took up the place where my legs should have been. I’ll admit that this made me irritable, not because I’m fat-phobic or tall-phobic, but because I’m of the notion that I should be able to decide whether or not to share the seat that I had to pay full price for. Since I was flying with my kids, and they were all smaller than me at the time, I was able to share their seat space, making it a bit more comfortable for me and my neighbors. But what if I’d had to restrict myself to half of an airline seat, or keep my legs folded under me for the entire flight?

    Was I taumatized? No. Did I complain or write the airline? No. But none of us were comfortable.

    Amy wrote:

    “If it’s not the weight, is it the space? Do they then charge short or skinny people less if they take up less than a whole seat?”

    I was in a huge online discussion about this a few years ago, and I was of the opinion that either airlines should be upfront about their lousy seating (“Our seats are so small that you may be asked to share yours if the person seating next to you is incapable of confining themselves to such a small, uncomfortable, restricted space”) or they needed to start charging people for incremental seating or they needed to start offering other seating options. I’m in favor of revamping the seating. It is insane to be sitting cramped into an airplane seat (and if I feel cramped, at 5’4″ and a “normal” weight, everyone else must be ready to scream) and then to read some medical warning about how important it is to move your legs to avoid blood clots. Meanwhile, the person to my left is so wedged into their seat that I’m sure all blood circulation to their legs has already been cut off, and the person to my right has their knees up around their ears. What if it were three large/tall people sitting next to each other?

    In our discussion, someone voiced the concern that those who were suggesting differently sized seat options wanted to “ghetto-ize” larger people to one section of the plane, as in First Class, Fat Class, and Coach. That’s not what I’m suggesting. After reading Amy’s post and the comments here, if I were in charge of the airlines, I would seriously consider having three different seat options: a “child” seat (I flew as a child and let me tell you — the one time I flew on a plane with a scaled-down seat, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven), a seat to accomodate “average”-sized adults, and a seat designed to accomodate larger/taller adults, as well as people who need more leg room because of crutches, leg braces, etc. I wouldn’t charge more or less for those seats, but would make them available on special request when the ticket was purchased. I would also put mothers traveling with babies on their laps in the larger seats. (I’ve taveled with babies and I’ve sat next to mothers with babies. Who wants to spend an entire flight making sure the people next to you don’t get kicked or have cheerios tossed on them?)

    Years ago, when laws were passed to make a lot of places more handicap-accessible, there were people who groused and complained. I would often point out how lots of people benefitted from ramps, from curbs that we could easily push strollers up, etc., etc. Most importantly, as a society, we benefit from having as many people as possible be full participants in many of the things that we take for granted.

    When I look at “thin privilege” in that light, it makes more sense. I can recall people whining about how handicapped people wanted “special privileges” (e.g., the “best” parking places). As able-bodied people, we take for granted the relative ease with which we go about our daily lives. Yes, there is an initial cost in making the word more accessible to as many people as possible, but isn’t it our responsibility?

    Having said all that…I still think that “sexy privilege” is far more prevalent and powerful in our society than “thin privilege”. But I can also see the point that none of these are truly privilege in the fullest extent of the word. And my eyes have been opened to the privilege that I’ve taken for granted. Very much an eye-opening and thought-provoking discussion.

    Posted by Rebecca | February 2, 2007, 4:54 pm
  81. “we can “come to believe” that addictive personalites do cause our distress, personal and social. If we can further “come to believe” that our compulsive attraction to food, shopping, or abusive mates is rooted in diseases and allergies, which can be sometimes, partly, controlled by a spiritual, confessional group process which can be extended and enforced throughout society, we are on the road to a massive system of social control, – from church basements to prison wards – in which actual social problems are made invisible and things, somehow, keep getting worse. My long months of visiting and interviewing those who maintain this now vast system of institutions and policies based upon 12 step thinking and practice – an empire of medical/religious/health professionals and entrepreneurs now so massive and influential as to boggle the mind – convinces me we are well on our way down that road.” Elayne Rapping, “The Culture of Recovery”, Boston:Beacon Press, 1996 pg 80

    Posted by jfr | February 2, 2007, 5:06 pm
  82. Here is another interesting site about the addictions model and political activism.

    Posted by macs grandy | February 2, 2007, 5:06 pm
  83. More from Elayne Rapping’s “The Culture of Recovery”

    “I did not write this book to attack the recovery movemnet. I am more concerned with building and defending feminism, not simply as an organized movement, for it is more than that, but more broadly as a way of seeing our lives and envisioning our futures, as we live and plan for them. But to achieve our goals in today’s cultural climate, it is necessary to look critically at the uses to which feminism has been put by the recovery movement and to reclaim and affirm its original, more inspiring uses. For it is not some Higher Power that will bring us the delivery we rightly seek. Not is it mere shelter from the storm of modern life that we need to be seeking, at least as our ultimate goal. It is the storm itself after all that is doing the damage. And staying dry, while important for survival, is not really our ultimate goal.

    Posted by jfr | February 2, 2007, 5:25 pm
  84. Hey, I like that Elayne Rapping article, I think!

    I meant to bring one of Sonia Johnson’s books with me today– somewhere in one of her books she really goes off, heh, on the recovery movement and it’s one of the clearest critiques I’ve ever read, written probably 20 years ago or so. I completely agree that getting women to proclaim their powerlessness before this vast array of things: food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, sex, is hardly liberatory! On the one hand, I believe it’s better for women to stop, for example, abusing substances, and I know the steps work for some women for that. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the steps or the theory that helps them there, it’s the *support* of a *community*. People really, really need that sometimes and they can’t get it, so they end up some kind of fundie, whether a religious fundie or a recovery fundie (and there are a lot of those).

    One good writer on recovery and other issues is Claudia Bepko, who is a lesbian therapist–I wonder if she wrote the article you’re referring to, Profacero.

    Rebecca, interesting thoughts! I LOVE what you say about the way ramps made life better for *everyone*, not just disabled persons. And the idea of changing seating on airplanes to accommodate all kinds of situations reminds me of Ann Bartow’s and others’ thoughts about changing restrooms to accommodate all the various needs people have. Everybody benefits from this, it’s win/win all around.


    Posted by womensspace | February 2, 2007, 5:49 pm
  85. Back to the recovery movement and the needs it fulfills, again, that’s where women are missing our spaces, the old consciousness raising groups we had, woman-only space of various kinds, bookstores, bars, whatever. We don’t really have that anymore but that kind of support makes so much difference in women’s lives.


    Posted by womensspace | February 2, 2007, 5:51 pm
  86. *Very* interesting bibliography, y’all!

    And yes – the different seats/no price differentials idea for planes is excellent.
    (Now the airlines just need to rethink routing ;-).)

    And the ramps are fantastic. They reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, for instance, and get people in better moods and better shape, by enabling everyone to roll loads of groceries and library books down the street in little carts…

    And on community, yes also. The one good thing I did get out of my own Al-Anon sojourn was to discover that my experience/feelings dealing with addicts was standard, i.e., not some intrinsic and idiosyncratic failing of mine, but the concrete and common effects of dealing with alcoholics.

    Luckynkl, by the way, I do not think anyone said you can *cure* addictions with power. Using power to fight them is something different (although AA says it needs to be a ‘higher’ power, even they invoke power).

    Posted by profacero | February 3, 2007, 12:10 am
  87. Heart said, “Nevertheless, this is the BEST place in the world to be, EVER.” I think that’s true in so many ways, Heart, and thanks for reminding me.

    “Then they fight you, then you win!” So right!!! That is such a foreign concept to most young women who think that winning is being “liked.” After bitter battles at work (on behalf of children), I’m just learning to appreciate looks of cautious admiration that I get lately. I am less liked, but more respected. It’s not a choice I think we should have to make, but there it is.

    Also the term “caving” for temporarily giving in to patriarchy really hit it. I think the coincidence in the years (20’s to 40’s) is partly due to the perks allotted to young women and also to the political tides of the times.

    “…women are missing our spaces, the old consciousness raising groups we had, woman-only space of various kinds, bookstores, bars, whatever. We don’t really have that anymore but that kind of support makes so much difference in women’s lives.”

    So true!! Currently I have no other group than online forums like this (especially this) for consciousness raising. Profacero’s comment for example: “I am pretty convinced that one main, hidden reason she [older aunt] got encoded as traumatic is that she was feminist and strong, and it was a form of treason.”

    Thank you!!!! I am that aunt right now! I am single and childless and every time I go to my sister’s (husband, suburbs, two teenage kids) it’s like a pity party. I do not envy that lifestyle at all, but the weight of convention as well as numbers (four against one) is behind them. It was fine when the kids were small and the marriage was happy, but now I’ve become a pariah (treason!). I’m so lucky my feminist mother is behind me and thinks my social justice activism is more worthwhile that conventional success. Lucky to have found like-minded souls here, too.

    Posted by roamaround | February 3, 2007, 3:35 am
  88. I am less liked, but more respected.

    Yes. This is one of the things I love about this time in my life– I am enjoying being respected for what I have done and for who I am, for my integrity, even by people who don’t like me. “Liking” is a fickle thing, it comes and goes, it can be too much, it can be obsessive, it can be as much an energy drain as it can be wind in the sails. I was beholden to wanting to be liked for far too many of my years. Not needing to be liked is very freeing. It allows me to do what we feel increasingly urgent about as we age, I think, and that is, to speak what we know to be true, without being afraid, without flinching, without worrying who will like us or who will be mad at us or whatever (as we are taught to do as little girls, to be very, very concerned about whether people like us.)

    As to being middle-aged, childless and a feminist pitied by the suburban set with the two kids and the picket fence, dang, roamaround, that’s going to be me in my next life. 🙂 Next time through I plan to be “solitary as a lighthouse”, like Marge Piercy says, see what that’s about. I may have 11 kids but I’d make a beeline in your direction if you and I were both at your sister’s house!

    Consider that you could be in my situation when you go to family get togethers, listening to all the pastors, elders and deacons discuss what’s going on with the faithful. Argh.


    Posted by womensspace | February 3, 2007, 4:09 pm
  89. From Twelve Steps Into the Fog, a chapter of Sonia Johnson’s book, Wildfire — Igniting the She/Volution, published in 1989.

    I see no important difference between the addiction addicts who say, “You are all sick!” and the preachers who thunder, “You are all sinners!” It is the same model. The political model, the medical/therapeutic model, the religious model– all of them, the patriarchal model.

    In this model, norms are based on “sick” people, on victims. When sickness is the norm and we are all sick, the perception is that sickness is inevitable, that we can never be entirely well, and certainly can never save ourselves but need ministers and doctors and therapists and countless programs and support groups to rescue us and keep us at coping level.

    And that we need them not just for awhile, but for years, or even for most of our lives, because, we are told, once born we are always sinners, once alcoholics, we are always alcoholics, once victimized in whatever way, we are victims for life…

    It seems to me that in such groups women’s lives center around a healing that is perpetual, that can never be completed: recovery programs in which no one ever recovers, in which recovery is not even the goal, not even considered a possibility, programs, in fact, in which to be a “good” and accepted member one must always assert one’s illness, one’s pain, one’s inability to recover.

    In patriarchal models, health and joy are not posited as options; we can only hope to be less unwell, in less pain, to cope, to have ordinary lives.

    …Feminism, the most profound deprogramming, the most thorough revolution of ideas, thoughts and feelings the world has ever experienced, does not allow us to underestimate the scale and depth of patriarchal conditioning in our lives; it will not let us go to sleep again…

    What is most noticeable about the steps at first reading … is their thoroughgoing negativity: in the first step the words “powerlessness” and “unmanageable” appear; in subsequent steps, adherents guiltily confess to “wrongs,” “defects,” “shortcomings,” admit having “harmed” and “injured,” and concentrate upon making “amends” and on admitting when they are “wrong.” The steps fairly groan under their load of self-abasement.

    Women want and need a new world, a life ennobled by self-love. We do not need further humbling. For 5,000 long years, men have carefully trained our eyes upon our shortcomings and our faults, our evil proclivities and our weaknesses. They have taught us how to scrutinize ourselves for wicked intent and behavior so well that we came long ago to the point of searching out faults we didn’t even have, inventing shortcomings to please the men, to feel righteous and god-fearing. We learned our lesson of self-hatred all too well.

    We do not need to look any longer at what is wrong with us… We need to see what we are doing right, what we are doing that is strong and good and loving and free. That’s the “fearless inventory” women need to make of our lives.

    …Since men have not been socialized to think of others, to be concerned about the welfare of others to the extent women have, this may be fine for them. But women, who have been deeply conditioned to put everyone else’s needs and wants before their own, to take responsibility for everyone and everything except their own freedom and happiness, women, who apologize when men step on their feet or run into them, who apologize to posts they run into– women need to stop feeling apologetic about living and learn to think of and put their own welfare first. They need no more brainwashing to consider others’ lives, no more mandates to apologize.

    From the chapter We Are Not Sick!

    Patriarchy is hierarchy and hierarchy is oppression — a basic feminist contribution to modern thouht. Patriarchy is also a particular hierarchy/oppression, a world view and global ontology that translates into an omniracial, omninational, omniclass system of female slavery. It is a terrorist regime in which females are kept internally subjugated from birth by continuous threats of external assault and murder.

    Mere threats, however, could never have achieved the degree of terror-based compliance that we observe and experience in ourselves and other women. Patriarchy is a deadly serious, brilliantly organized and endlessly funded all-out war against women; total war against our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our emotions, against the very essence of our femaleness. For millennia we have been prisoners of war almost everywhere on this planet, political prisoners, hostages. And as such, from birth we are unceasingly tortured: raped, incested, sexually enslaved, humiliated, impoverished, battered, verbally assaulted, sexually harassed, ignored or viewed as sources of amusement, regarded as nonhuman — objects — and as nonindividuals… scapegoated for all men’s failures, and murdered.

    We are not only tortured in the ways men define [as] torture but also in many ways that only we recognize. We are … tortured by having to use … woman-loathing language, by trying to express our boundless slave sorrow in an alien and hostile tongue in which there are no words large enough, strong enough, brave enough to mourn or to celebrate our courageous, our splendid out-caste women’s lives.

    Like all prisoners, under torture we have bonded with our torturers against ourselves and one another, internalizing men’s hatred of us and to some degree or another, applying their model of subjugation to all of our interactions.

    … to list aspects of this unspeakably monstrous daily experience of millions of tortured women over many millennia, as various “addictions” — addictions to relationships, to food, to sex, to love, to power, to men, to security, to abuse, as well as to drugs — is to give evidence of the nonseriousness, the total lack of respect with which our lives are regarded…In so belittling our experience, in ignoring both its political context and content, calling [the effects of] gynecide “addiction” effectively erases it.

    …Oppression is maintained, not through addiction, but through conditioning… Our conditioning determines what we see and what is not evident to us, what we deem possible, what we consider important, what we pay attention to, what we believe — i.e., how we live every moment of our lives, all of us…

    To talk about social/interpersonal/political aspects of women’s bondage as addiction is to deprive us of the equipment necessary to do our relationships differently, to dismantle patriarchy within them and within our lives.

    The incalculable gift of feminism to women and to the world is the clarity with which it reveals misogyny as systemic, not as an isolated problem of individual women brought about by their being “addictive personalities,” or “co-addicts,” or by lack of courage or by general worthlessness or ineptitude or because of hereditary weakness or by membership in a “dysfunctional family.”

    Feminism, by depersonalizing women’s bondage and generalizing our experience, refuses to blame the victim. Feminism tells us that it is not a matter of blame but rather of looking bravely at the truth of our lives. And the truth is that there are perpetrators, there are those who profit and profit hugely — materially and psychically — from our subjugation.

    Feminism provides us with the knowledge that women … are kept enslaved by massive violence, by brutality so implacable, on such a scale and to such a depth that it is, for most of us, not wholly imaginable, barely thinkable. Teaching us that as women we were deliberately made slaves, helping us understand how we are deliberately kept slaves, and promising that we can end our slavery, feminism hands us three essential tools: truth, self-esteem, and hope.

    The genius of radical feminist theory is its understanding of the “seasoning” of women to be slaves, of the training of men to be masters, of the consequent total corruption of perception, thought and feeling, and therefore of human liberty on every level of life.

    Any hypothesis, any explanation of our difficulty [which ignores the fact] that all thought forms and institutions, all private and public behavior, are gender-control based and set up to maintain the slave economy of the planet, cannot finally point the way to liberty for anyone. Any such theory is, in fact, harmful in its denial, in its erasure, of the political, social, economic facts of the structure of women’s public and private lives in every race, every class, every nation of the world.

    …Viewing addiction as The Problem, rather than as one symptom of the problem that is patriarchal oppression, ensures the invisibility of male supremacy and actively oppresses women.

    …to say that … all patriarchy’s manifestations [are] the result of addiction is to have no feminist political analysis and therefore to be part of the cover-up…

    At the base of the social addiction model that has been extrapolated from the medical model lies the assumption that males and females of the same class and race have essentially the same experience in a society. This [makes] women as a caste invisible again… Female alcoholics … do not have the same experience with alcohol as male alcoholics of their same social level and race; every moment of it is colored, predetermined, if you will, by the fact of their inferior status and the consequent skewing of their internal worlds.

    Male children of alcoholics do not have the same experience in any family as female children. Though they may have horrible ordeals, their maleness causes these to be differet ordeals– both in fact and in perception.

    In AA as in most mixed recovery groups, the reality of the uniqueness of female experience is obscured if not… obliterated. The obliviousness to gender-based privilege in these groups [keeps] male reality the norm to which women must conform once again, [causes] women to [lose their] identity again, hook[s] us back into patriarchal forms and values and divert[s] us from our own movement.

    Among the most unsettling features of using the physical addiction model to describe nearly every unpleasant phenomenon is that addiction has become, at this time in the history of the disenfranchised and [marginalized] people of color of the inner cities, for instance, a matter not of overeating or of loving too much but of genocide. To call such primarily white, middle class problems as these “addictions” seems not only preemptive but callous. In the face of the grief and confusion, the unspeakable anguish of families of color who have one or more members with brains permanently scrambled by [drugs] or horribly dead from physiological addiction, of desperate human beings whose neighborhoods are occupied by foreign armies of drug dealers waging war against their children, of families who are taking a long bath in hell and can’t see any way out — in the face of this nightmare to lump all societal problems together as “addictions” is to make a mockery of those who are suffering lives shattered by addiction and carelessly to erase their experience.

    Another major objection to using the medical addiction model to describe nearly everything wrong is that it gives women the most disabling message possible: you are sick. In patriarchy, to be female is automatically to be “not well.” Every day in thousands of ways men’s system conveys to every living woman that femaleness is a disease, a disgusting, hideous deformity, and encourages us in every way possible to get “well” — to turn into silicon Stepford Wives or [some version of] men.

    Assuring us that our dissatisfaction with society is sickness, that our refusal to conform and be totally obliterated is sickness, patriarchy attempts to “cure” us of our outrageous and dangerous womanliness with guilt and blame and therapists and institutions and shock treaments.

    For this reason, unless I am speaking of illness that is physically manifested, I do not choose to use the words “healing,” as in “healing ourselves.” Though women have been ferociously abused… by a sick culture, the distinction is that it is sick, not us. We are oppressed, we are nonfree, but we are not sick. I understand why women use the word “healing,” and I know that for many … it seems to have .. positive connotations. But I also know that healing presupposes illness and that patriarchy teaches us to view ourselves as sick and weak and vulnerable so that we will then behave weakly and vulnerably.

    So hearing everywhere … that we are all sick in one way or another, all addicted to something, sets my alarm bells clanging. I know that the sickness model does not come from women’s culture.

    … I recognize those old voices that tell me I am addicted and sick and I don’t trust them. They are the voices that lied to me in the past. But I hear a voice in my soul that never lies to me, a voice I know I can trust. That voice says very clearly and unequivocally that I am not addicted to anything — relationships, food, drugs, endorphins or sex. I am not and have never been “co-dependent.” Though it tells me that I have been, like every living woman, deeply programmed, it also congratulates me for daily freeing myself of old assumptions and patterns that keep me tied to patriarchy. … I am not sick, I am instead robust and strong, becoming stronger by the hour.


    Posted by womensspace | February 3, 2007, 6:24 pm
  90. I love the Johnson quotation and I may just swipe it, re-post it, giving credit of course … meanwhile, here is an abstract of “The Experiences of Lesbians in AA”, an article by Joanne M. Hall in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, Vol. 16, No. 5, 556-576 (1994)

    Posted by profacero | February 3, 2007, 7:14 pm
  91. Another book to add to the library. Thanks Heart. I suspect that the feminist analysis of the 12 steps that I read all those years ago from “Looking up” had Sonia Johnson as its source.

    Posted by jfr | February 3, 2007, 7:56 pm
  92. Extremely powerful and moving words, Heart. Thank you for saying so well how I have felt for a while now!

    Posted by macs grandy | February 3, 2007, 8:10 pm
  93. jfr, the Rapping quotations are great also. I think I need to get that book!

    Posted by profacero | February 3, 2007, 9:11 pm
  94. “Consider that you could be in my situation when you go to family get togethers, listening to all the pastors, elders and deacons discuss what’s going on with the faithful. Argh.” This made me laugh, Heart (sorry!) because you’re right, that would be hell! Hang in there!

    What you wrote about being “solitary like a lighthouse” reminds me of my mother’s advice. It’s a little disconcerting to have your mother recommend against having children, but it’s a given that she loves us kids just as you obviously do yours. She just wanted me to have the freedom she didn’t have and so often children tie women down. She actually gave me an article once about research on women who didn’t have children. The conclusion was that most hardly thought about it after the age of 50 and few regretted it. I think ideally I would have had a kid or two because I love children and find them fascinating, but only if I could do it without being dependent on a man which is virtually impossible economically. So instead I *roamed around* the world and now look after 150 other-people’s-kids and love (almost) every minute of it.

    This does tie in to the “non-conformity” thread topic at hand since being single and childless/free is considered pathological. Thanks so much for the “12 Steps into the Fog…” Sonia Johnson excerpt!! I haven’t had this experience with addiction, but the argument applies to so many situations: “The incalculable gift of feminism to women and to the world is the clarity with which it reveals misogyny as systemic, not as an isolated problem of individual women…”

    I hit a low period and saw a therapist for depression after struggling to make (so-called) women’s issues central in the leftist organization I was in and getting rebuked for being “divisive” and having “personal issues” with men. The therapist immediately focused on my single status and tried to talk me into online dating and “doing one thing every day” to find a man. She also prescribed antidepressants and tried to turn every conflict into my responsibility. I should be less opinionated and try harder to fit in, she advised. I am so lucky I had a few good feminist friends and enough feminist consciousness to keep myself afloat. After a few sessions, I threw away the pills and just let myself be angry for awhile while I read and thought and readjusted my politics.

    I am not saying that therapy and/or antidepressants are always a mistake, but much of the system is set up to convince us, as Sonia Johnson put it: “…that our dissatisfaction with society is sickness, that our refusal to conform and be totally obliterated is sickness, patriarchy attempts to “cure” us of our outrageous and dangerous womanliness with guilt and blame and therapists and institutions and shock treatments.”

    Our real strength is within ourselves and with each other, as Marge Pierce expressed so well in “The Low Road”:

    Posted by roamaround | February 4, 2007, 2:06 am
  95. So right, everything you say there, roamaround. One thing that’s interesting that is in the Sonia Johnson book is, she does believe there are some actual addictions, in particular alcohol and drug addictions, like heroin addiction which have particularly been a problem, as she notes, in poor neighborhoods/among people of color whose neighborhoods have been essentially colonized/occupied by drug dealers. She makes the point that it is a big problem, in light of heroin addiction and alcohol addiction, for example, as they exist among the poor/disenfranchised, for comparatively privileged women to be talking about or seeking “recovery” from “food addiction” or “relationship addiction” or going to “debtors anonymous.” It is trivializing, in other words and makes invisible the real suffering which accompanies actual addiction and the horrific struggles addicts have in their efforts to stop using.

    The other thing (which Johnson doesn’t say but I will) is, these “addictions” so-called become handy weapons which can then be used against poor/marginalized/disenfranchised people, mothers in particular, forcing them into “recovery” for whatever can be defined as an addiction of some kind with their children taken from them and then held hostage by the state. There’s a whole story — and I haven’t read or thought about it for a while, can’t recall the specifics now — there about the so called “coke babies” era in the 80s where many, many mothers of color lost their children because they used cocaine which was discovered in their newborns’ systems (because of course, the first thing hospitals do to your baby if you birth in hospitals and you are poor/of color/bear biracial kids/are old/are a lesbian/are alternative, is, they test your baby for substances). Twenty-plus years later the evidence is, the “coke babies” scare was an invention of white male heterosupremacy, used against people of color/poor people/women in racist, classist, sexist, very punitive ways. There in fact is no measurable difference between the now-adults in studies whose mothers used cocaine, and all other adults in the studies whose mothers didn’t.

    Please, nobody come in here and tell me stories about the “coke babies” you think exist. I don’t believe it. I never believed it. It was a fiction created by a racist/classist/sexist cultures. Studies refute the theory and can be found by doing some searches on the internet.


    Posted by womensspace | February 5, 2007, 1:06 am
  96. Also, why do your trackbacks work, Profacero, when mine do not. Argh.


    Posted by womensspace | February 5, 2007, 1:06 am
  97. Heart, I taught teens who were born in a Chicago ghetto during the crack epidemic of the late eighties. I saw tremendous problems in the community and in families racked by poverty, but no “crack babies.” I agree completely; it’s another victim-blaming myth.

    Posted by roamaround | February 5, 2007, 2:24 am
  98. We’ve had outstanding graduates from the university where I teach who were supposed to have been ‘crack babies’ – now honor students, athletes, and such.

    Heart, do you have your trackbacks turned off or something … and what are they, anyway, I have never figured it out, are they the same as pingbacks?

    Posted by profacero | February 5, 2007, 2:28 am
  99. P.S. OT: technical: what I have not working well is the comments function, closing them or not, it seems to work arbitrarily.

    Posted by profacero | February 5, 2007, 4:57 am
  100. profacero, yeah, trackbacks are the same as pingbacks. I can receive incoming trackbacks, but I can’t send them. They just sit there in my trackbacks box. :/ I heard back from WordPress– it’s a problem that is complicated and that they don’t have a quick fix for, which is why I am going to get my blog up on my own server. I think pings/trackbacks are important!


    Posted by womensspace | February 5, 2007, 5:22 am
  101. Excelente, Heart, and thanks for you know what (today). 🙂

    Posted by profacero | February 6, 2007, 1:13 am
  102. Hey, no sweat, profacero. 🙂

    Posted by womensspace | February 6, 2007, 4:53 am
  103. “Assuring us that our dissatisfaction with society is sickness, that our refusal to conform and be totally obliterated is sickness…”

    That expresses so well what I dislike about male theories of psychology. As if there is any lack of good solid reasons for women to be dissatisfied with society and to refuse to conform!

    It also brings to mind what Martin Luther King had to say about being labeled as maladjusted.

    Posted by Aletha | February 6, 2007, 7:32 am
  104. Because emotions were running high when this thread was more active, I decided to wait a few days to respond.

    Roamaround, although in rereading my post I can now see see why you thought I was reprimanding you, I want you to know that I wasn’t reprimanding you nor was that my intention. Everyone who knows me, which no one here or anywhere in the blogosphere really does, knows that passive aggression isn’t my way. While I try to choose my battles wisely and I also try to not hurt others with words, most who know me describe me as being outspoken, bold and even blunt. (I’m not at all or in any way proud of that last one and I don’t like to hurt others with words, which are more reasons that I don’t post much. Except I have posted a lot in the last couple of days. I don’t know why that is, either. Hmmmm? I’ll think on that one.) In addition to being direct, I had to train myself to use as few words as necessary so that I can communicate in the corporate world via letter and e-mail. The outcome is that many times I don’t explain myself well via the written word outside of the corporate world.

    Back to the topic of our prior posts, I had read your post about how you’d gone underground in your feminism and how in doing so you found the small pleasure or high of being sexually desired by males. Your herstory (I’ve always wanted to use that word in the appropriate conversation and arena….hehe!) brought to mind how I’d done almost the opposite years ago and how the change brought and continues to bring positives into my life. I neglected to mention how before that I was “one of the guys” and stupidly proud of it, had almost only male friends and didn’t stop to think that most of them were just waiting for me to have sex with them, had been untrusting of females (most likely due to being the eldest child/daughter of a physically abusive mother), and then finally about how a female coworker had become my best friend and confidante over the course of four or five years and without my noticing that it was happening, not realizing that she was my best friend until she had been for years. Very Scarlet and Melanie, we were. But since I didn’t have the hots for her husband our friendship helped us each to grow in positive ways. She learned from me to stand up for herself more and I learned from her not to kick everybody’s asses all of the time. 😉 So, for me to finally realize that the friendship and admiration – dare I say it? the love – of other women is invaluable compared to the sexual attention from men.

    When I finally changed my attitudes about women and my reactions to the sexual attention from males, I’ve seen a change in how most women react to me – not all women, but most women. Of those who still perceive me as a threat, almost every one of them is entrenched in the patriarchal view of themselves as a sex object so deeply that it’s visibly obvious in the way they present themselves (Barbie doll makeup, the Hollywood version of prostitute clothing, etc.). The few others who feel threatened, I chalk up to insecurities caused by their men cheating on them and the patriarchy telling them that his cheating is the cause of women, hers or the other woman’s or both.

    Finally, the changes that I made have been worth it and then some. The high of being desired sexually is nice but I’ve learned through experience that it’s nothing compared to the rewards of giving it up. I guess that in some ways it’s like giving up the high of a drug in that the ex-user finds her life enriched in ways that make the high seem dull in comparison.

    Posted by CoolAunt | February 9, 2007, 6:58 pm
  105. Oops! I stopped mid-statement here:

    So, for me to finally realize that the friendship and admiration – dare I say it? the love – of other women is invaluable compared to the sexual attention from men.

    I meant to say:

    So, it took finding myself in a loving friendship with another woman for me to finally realize that the friendship and admiration – dare I say it? the love – of other women is invaluable compared to the sexual attention from men. That is what I meant but didn’t explain well or at all when I stated “When I finally realized that the friendship and admiration of women…”

    Posted by CoolAunt | February 9, 2007, 7:10 pm
  106. Profacero, I don’t understand why your trackbacks never take me to these great posts of yours!



    Posted by womensspace | July 26, 2007, 7:17 pm
  107. I don’t even think about conforming, and I know that’s an issue.

    But to me, it isn’t ethical to eat more than you need to, because everything you eat means something had to die. To overconsume is disrespectful to those who perished for your food.

    Posted by saltyC | September 14, 2007, 4:19 pm
  108. You never have to conform as much as you might think you do.

    The genius of patriarchy is that it makes women self-policing.
    Women think they won’t have a good life unless they (wear lipstick, have long hair, are thin… add your favorite).

    This could not be further from the truth. What generates power is an authentic self, and you can lead a simple sensible life just by being yourself.

    As lesbians we have a lot of freedom, and most men simply don’t challenge us all that much. They are either too dull witted to notice, or we don’t smile at them, defer to them, we just get a job done.

    Women often enforce the gender police codes of patriarchy on women — women hold the daughters down to have their genitals mutilated, women tisk tisk over clothing… boring me to death most of the time.

    Men are the gender police of other men. Men gay bash other men. Men discriminate against men who don’t “act like men.”

    The key is to resist on as many levels as you can. Practice telling men off. One friend would practice insulting male telemarketers, for example. She’d yell, “go to hell” at them, and thus becamse stronger. They couldn’t get her, cowered and hung us, and she had a mental victory.

    I once sat at a conference table and didn’t make a move to do anything about a cup of coffee I accidently spilled. I just sat there, and since only men were in the room, one of the “neat freaks” couldn’t stand it anymore and cleaned it up himself. Nothing happened, and my smile to myself was observed by some enemies in the room who steered clear of me. No I don’t clean anything if I am the only woman at a conference table.

    Will you make more money by inner strength, and non-conforming behavior? Actually, yes, you will. I’ve tested many non-conforming tactics in the big bad conservative corporate world, where I pioneer daily as THE ONLY OUT LESBIAN in the entire region. It works. There are many other things that I do, but the fact is women do not have to conform as much as they think they do.

    We could still put the make-up industry out of business! They feared us in 1968 for this very reason. Think about it!

    Posted by Satsuma | October 29, 2007, 7:45 am
  109. Ah feminist answers to all these questions of privilege.

    I suppose there are differing types of privilege in the world, but somehow I don’t worry about it much. I try to do as much as I can about inequality, but I also know, that as a radical lesbian feminist (not the nice kind) since maybe 1979, I just never had the desire to have any male approval at all.

    They could fear me, they usually respected my work, and if they didn’t there was confrontation. I had no interest at all in being made up or in catering to men in any way.

    I was worried about making a living, but I also thrived on having an explosive and brutal temper when it came to men who crossed me. They could see anger such as they had never seen from a woman in their life, and they were scared out of their minds. Believe me, men are cowards, and they fight and make fun of women, because they actually fear what would happen to them if women did rise up worldwide.

    If all women woke up one day, it would not be a pleasant sight, that’s all I can say, and this is the fear men live with day after day. The stronger the feminism, the more they back down, and we have to keep pushing them until they fall into the sea, and get gobbled up by a huge octopus!

    Straight women had this supposed privilege, but somehow, I always felt a little sorry for them. They had to endure living with men who never had any interest in the true minds of women. So these straight women lived with men who thought they were sex objects and servants.

    Thank goddess I never had to deal with any of that ever. No children, no men in my home, and no stultifying boredom of that kind of “chatter” straight women who live a life of social timidity seem to engage in endlessly.

    I think on some level, straight women often bore me. I know that sounds bad, but they do. They are too afraid, and display too little anger at the outrage that is male supremacy.

    So in many ways, I was the luckiest lesbian alive. I wasted no time in heterosexual prisons, read an incredible number of books, used a hard headed and a focused brain on single minded steps towards personal power, and never looked back.

    I was not very interested in whether people liked me or not, but I had respect for myself. That was the most important thing. My ideas and work could speak for itself. For those women determined enough to come along for the intellectual ride, it was interesting. For those women who lived in mindless slavery, I actually thought it was I who had the ultimate privilege, because I lived free, and they might as well have been the living dead.

    Heterosexuality is about the living dead world that straight women live in. One wonders what these women fear? Freedom has its price, but it is freedom! Live free of die!

    Posted by Satsuma | October 30, 2007, 6:59 am
  110. This is my first visit.
    I’m looking at the way people are perceiving/conceiving…for example, “thin” “privilege” “patriarchy”, and remembering a recent seminar I attended where the presenter talked about the overindulgence of children (both rich and poor), pointing out that such children do not develop a sense of what is enough. This has been an eye-opener for eating-disordered people who begin to explore classical conditioning as it has affected them. Just the realization that maybe all you have to think about is “what is enough for me at this moment.” The problem, I think, may be that anger is a wonderful anti-depressant. I would not want to give it up, or suggest that anyone else do so.

    Posted by Jean Morris | February 10, 2008, 11:01 pm
  111. How did that spam get through?

    Posted by Aletha | March 6, 2008, 5:36 am


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