My Pregnancy, My Eating Disorder

Among other things, recovering from my eating disorder meant I could get pregnant. Me. Pregnant. It’s a stretch for many of us to imagine getting excited about growing a big belly, but add a history of eating disorders into the mix and it’s downright weird.

Eating disorder culture is an unhealthy, relentless focus on unrealistic standards of beauty and physical fitness, along with the presentation of hunger and food as pathologies, or demons, to be conquered. This culture of body hatred is inescapable, whether you have struggled with an eating disorder or not.

We are supposed to feel bad about our bodies, no matter what they look like.

We are supposed to judge our food and exercise choices as “good” or “bad.” It is considered totally normal to say “I was good today” in reference to starving, or to say “I’ve been so bad” to refer to the act of not exercising. This happens so much it is considered commonplace; but it’s shocking when you think about the fact that food and exercise are used as shorthand to convey our entire worth as persons.

Body hatred, negative self-image, and eating disorder culture are so relatable because they are everywhere. They are not the exclusive provinces of women, but it’s true that women are disproportionately impacted. The pressure to be less is profound; it is not just about bodies. It is about the devaluing of an entire gender. It is a pressure, placed strongly upon women, to take up less space in the world. To be seen and not heard. To be airbrushed into something that is non-human. These unattainable standards are labeled “perfect.”

And yet, how to explain the endless fetishization of pregnant women? The pressure to turn pregnancy into a spectator sport, complete with photographs that everyone you’ve ever met can comment upon online? The relentless messages about “getting your body back” after pregnancy is complete? The magazines, the stars, and the stories about how they lost (or didn’t lose) the baby weight?

Through the process of my pregnancy, and through my lens as an eating disorder survivor, I came to see pregnancy voyeur culture as an important component of eating disorder culture. The specifics may be different, but many of the pressures and root behaviors are the same.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, her body and physical appearance is seen as appropriate for comment by strangers.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, it is considered appropriate to discuss how much weight she has gained or lost, and these numbers are taken to signify something more than simply what she weighs. They are taken as a way for others to assess not just whether she is acceptable, but whether other women are acceptable.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, the shape of her body is taken as an immediate assessment and announcement of her sexuality.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, strangers feel they can touch her, from rubbing a belly to rubbing an arm.

Whether a woman is pregnant or not, her body is treated as a piece of public property. That body may be commented upon, or have laws placed upon it.

Pregnancy can be a profoundly alienating and centering experience. My pregnancy was both. It was shocking to me that my body could create my baby, and also that during the process of pregnancy I could feel totally new things. That foods I had loved no longer tasted good. That foods I hadn’t desired in years were sudden, urgent cravings. That aches could develop in areas of my body I had never considered.

It was also centering, in that I had to surrender to what my body would do. When it came time to give birth, I had no choice. I was operating on my body’s timetable. Not my mind’s.

When I realized I was going to have a girl, I thought hard about the body image struggles I had gone through in the past. I thought about the hospitalizations of my youth, and the days when, at rock bottom, I accepted that anorexia meant I was probably going to die. I thought about not wanting to pass that along to my daughter, and more specifically taking active steps to not model any body destructive behavior in front of her.

And so, as with my recovery, I ate. I ate and ate and ate. I grew. And this time, so did she.

This original essay first appeared in DISORDERED a zine on eating disorders feminism and anti-oppression…

Is It Rude To Bring A Baby To A Restaurant?

Is it rude to bring a baby to a restaurant? Should parents get a babysitter or stay home so other patrons can have an adult conversation without the threat of crying in the background? Should mothers breastfeed their infants in the restroom because boobies don’t belong in a dining room? To all of the above: Hell, no!

Let’s be clear about something. The most disruptive behavior I have witnessed in public restaurants, coffee shops, and bars has always been drunk and/or horny adults, not babies. Sure, I’ve been in restaurants where babies cried, but I never remembered those crying babies years later, the way I do the drunk guys who puked on the floor of the restaurant, the frat boys who shouted and shoved each other into the snowbanks on the sidewalk outside the door, the middle-age couple with mismatched ring fingers more or less sliding into second base at Starbucks (it was so clear you were cheating, OMG!).

And yet no one is saying the drunk and/or horny shouldn’t be allowed to go into restaurants.

Being a new parent of an infant in our culture can be incredibly isolating. One of the things you hear new parents say over and over again is that first going into public can be scary for fear of the baby needing to cry, nurse, or both. This fear is culturally supported by the idea that infants in restaurants and other public spaces are disruptive. Further, this fear is supported by deeply ingrained ideas about gender: That women and children should “stay home,” that public spaces are primarily for “adults” (read: men, or women without children), that breastfeeding infants is  somehow “sexual” or “dirty.” Gender matters because while this affects parents of both genders, women are disproportionately and uniquely impacted.

It’s something we should overcome because infants are part of our human family as much as everyone else, and deserve to live in public, declare their basic needs, and have them met. It’s something we should overcome because mothers (and fathers!) are adults who deserve to take up space in public restaurants at least as much as, if not more than, rude adults who can be much more disruptive than a crying baby a parent is working to soothe. 

No one makes blanket statements that drinkers and people who are going to have sex should not be allowed in restaurants.

In Response To The Allegation That Pointing Out White Male Dominance Is Racist And Sexist

Is it racist and sexist to point out that white men are dominant? Since launching the Tumblr white guys doing it by themselves, I’ve been called a “racist bitch” and told I’m sexist, too.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to these comments because while they lack decorum, this strain of thought is out there in less aggressive forms and it’s important to address it.

No one is a bad person for thinking that it’s racist or sexist to point out differences between advantaged groups and disadvantaged groups. Rather, they are tuning into decades of right-wing messaging gone mainstream: That equality has been achieved, that racism and sexism are wrongs of the past and not the present, and that the true victims of racism and sexism are white men who are less likely to get jobs and all the other things they might otherwise rightfully achieve on this planet were it not for misguided affirmative action efforts. None of these messages are true.

In a hypothetical world, it could be racist to exclude white people in order to prioritize people of color. It could be sexist to exclude men in order to prioritize women. We do not live in a hypothetical world.

We live in a real world where white men are so dominant that it’s easy to overlook how often they dominate to the point of excluding everyone else unless it is pointed out.

Pointing out white male dominance is not an attack on white men. It is an attack on the centuries-old practice of racism and sexism excluding everyone but white men from the levers of power, and the invisibility that allows that discrimination to continue.

The ability to be taken seriously as a leader, as a white man, is a privilege. It is not earned, although many white men work hard and do good things on top of this privilege. With this unearned privilege must come awareness and responsibility among hard-working white men to insist others are included in discussions affecting all of us. This is why white guys doing it by themselves exists.

White Guys Doing It By Themselves

Follow my new Tumblr: white guys doing it by themselves.

From the House GOP conference live-tweeting its get-together during the shutdown under the hashtag “Fairness For All” to the school board in North Carolina that banned The Invisible Man, white guys doing it by themselves is a tribute to white men totally comfortable telling everyone else how it’s gonna be.

Don’t worry, erintothemax.com is still my blog-blog, so stick around here, too!

Wired Claims Exposing Sexism Is Just Like Being Exposed As Racist

Uh-oh, looks like the editorial team at Wired got their garbage and their clean towels confused!

In a new piece, Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media, writer Laura Hudson claims that getting flak for sharing racist bullshit on Twitter is just like reporting a climate of sexual intimidation at a tech conference, and requesting some help, and then getting fired from your job because you, unlike the white guys you exposed, are a woman of color and therefore just as guilty.

Say what?

As a publication that holds itself out as an arbiter of tech, it is disturbing that the Wired editorial team can’t leave crappy enough alone. It has been more than four months since Adria Richards was fired for making it clear that forking and dongle jokes don’t belong at tech conferences. That she is a woman of color exposing routine sexism, and by the way paying a pretty big price for it, makes it even more outrageous that she is being put on the same plane as people who are racists.

Just like exposing sexism and being a racist are totally separate things, so are embarrassment as a tool for social change versus shaming. As I have written before, these are totally separate tactics. People should be embarrassed when they are caught being an oppressive bigot. It helps to dispel future oppressive bigotry. Shaming, on the other hand, is attacking the core of who someone is. No one, at their core, is a bigot. Bigotry is learned social behavior. Very bad learned social behavior that relies, among other things, upon false claims in service of the status quo.

Time To Abolish “Self-Promotional” As A Slur Against Women

Like slut, “self-promotional” is a charge levied against women for the purpose of silencing, shaming and shutting them down. It refers less to unseemly behavior and more to an idea that whether the offender is too aggressive, too self-confident or simply too unique, she is a woman who has stepped out of the can-can line and seems to be enjoying herself and her continuing success too much.

How frequently are men:

Called aggressively self-promotional in a negative way?

Seen as a problem for making it known within the workplace that they are seeking promotion, an increase in pay, an increase in responsibility — and making sure their superiors can easily track their accomplishments as a path to getting there?

Encouraged to “lean back” and not worry so much about how to get from the present to the goal, however improbable, because it will all work out? Encouraged to gain more experience before taking risks that will help them grow?

The answer is, they’re not. Certainly nowhere near as much as women. Examine your personal life. Look at the proportion of Congress (less than one in five elected representatives are women). Take a business example and consider the aggressively self-promotional Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and how he is commonly portrayed as charismatic and chasing the dream.

Bluntly, self-promotion is part of chasing the dream. You are much more likely to achieve success and get what you want if you make it known to yourself and others what your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow looks like, and how far along the beam you’ve traveled so far. Without shame and with pride.

I’ve found that women who first come to my attention with a “self-promotional” whisper coiling around their reputations tend to be women I love. How exciting to have dreams. How wonderful to go for it. How silly to claim that a woman should sit down, shut up and take whatever bits are tossed at her. If you’re doing something cool, we should all be so lucky to hear about it and share in your success. And if you’re calling another woman self-promotional as a slur, kindly shut up.

VIDEO: April 2013 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared on this week’s To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbé, discussing a sexist attack on The New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, a new film about Saudi women’s rights, and students using social media to fight sexual assault on campus. You can watch it here:

This Needs To Be Said: Americans Look Like Everyone

Who didn’t watch the news coverage of the senseless terrorist bombings in Boston with a mixture of horror and sadness? After coverage shifted from deaths and injuries to the Federal Bureau of Investigation releasing photographs of the suspects, some news anchors suggested that you couldn’t tell by the pictures if they were American or not.

Clearly, this needs to be said: Americans look like everyone.

Americans come in every skin color, hue, and shade that pigment and sunlight know how to put together.

Americans are girls, women, boys, and men. There is not a gender identity or sexual orientation that doesn’t look American – in military uniform, in scouting uniform, or in casual clothes.

Americans have faith. Americans don’t have faith. The Constitution contains a declaration of faith that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means that Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and EVERYONE get to look like themselves and look like Americans at the same time.

And American hairstyles, oh so many variations! Sometimes hair is curly, nappy, straight, short, long, or not there for you to see under a traditional head covering.

Americans are short, tall, skinny, fat, and every shape and size that life is able to put together. Americans have ability and disability. There are more than 11 million people here who already look like Americans and are waiting on documents to back them up. Good people are working on that, because diversity is our strength, not our weakness, and it’s freaking amazing gorgeous.

Americans look like everyone. There is not a single American who doesn’t look like an American, because the bottom line is that diversity – which includes so much more than the most privileged white men whom journalists are used to talking to on television – is what America looks like.

Difference, and diversity, and standing up for diversity are what make us look like Americans.

Standing against racism, and sexism, and homophobia, and xenophobia, and ableism are what make us look like Americans.

It is laws and assumptions that separate us on the basis of our skin, on the contents of our underwear, on the accent in our voice that look, frankly, un-American.

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This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival – we invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

Getting To Sorry: Why Apologies Matter When Someone Says Something Bigoted

Last night, while you were either watching the Oscars or sleeping, The Onion tweeted the following about a nine year-old girl up for Best Actress:

“Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013″

Later that night, the tweet was deleted without comment. Today Steve Hannah, CEO of  The Onion, apologized.

I was one of many of using all the social media channels to tell The Onion that comment was unacceptable. Cunt is a hate speech word, and to use it against a child — it is too much. It is almost unimaginable to believe so many hours would have crawled by without an apology for a little white girl. The comment revealed as much about racism as it did sexism. What happened last night was public, technological sexual harassment: The message of calling Quvenzhané a cunt was that she should know her role, and not get too big for her britches after being the youngest-ever nominee for Best Actress. It was also a glaring example of promoting and condoning rape culture by forcibly and denigratingly sexualizing others and declaring them dirty — child rape culture, at that.

Outcry was the correct response. Why? Because apologies matter when someone says or does something bigoted. Apologies validate the humanity and human rights of the targeted individual(s), and those who by the same accident of birth belong to the same systematically under-privileged groups. Further, they set a standard for what will not happen again. Finally, they offer a chance for rupture – a change in how things are done by the offending individual or institution, and a change in how greater society approaches the problem.

So briefly, let’s cover how to get to an apology, what to ask for in return and how to move forward constructively.

First, if you see something that sucks, say something sucks. Right away. You don’t need to write a thesis paper about why a given practice is offensive. Simply acknowledge the offensiveness of the comment and immediately let the offender know. And don’t just do it in a vacuum – let others know you’re letting the offender know. Social media is genius for this. But if you take the time to, for example, write an email to an offending company or individual, be sure to then post it on your blog and/or Facebook, and encourage others to write their own comments. Or give everyone a synopsis of the voicemail you left, and encourage them to do the same. (Make it easy for others to take action by providing the contact information in your open letter or notes.)

While you’re going at this first step, don’t feed the trolls. You know who I’m talking about. The people who tell you you’re an overreacting whiner, etc. “Language police” or “political correctness” is a frequent charge leveled by a number of sloppy right-wingers who don’t want to do the work to grapple with a counter-argument of why a practice judged dehumanizing or offensive should be considered alright, or not such a big deal, or part of tradition. Don’t feed these intellectually lazy trolls. They aren’t your target anyway. Your target is the actual offender.

Second, be reasonable. Asking for an apology in response to bigotry is a good step and one you should be proud of. Do so with your shoulders held high.  But I also urge you to think one step ahead — ask for something that will guarantee this won’t happen again. For example, in the case of The Onion’s horrific slur about Quvenzhané, you’ll notice I asked for a two-part solution in an accessible way:

(Ultimately this is close to what The Onion did, although they not only apologized, they said they would implement new social media procedures and discipline the writer.) When I say be reasonable, however, what I mean is to be approachable. Don’t make it impossible for your target to agree with you by acting like a total jerk yourself. And also use your faculties of reason: Offer a step beyond sorry that could sidestep the problem in the future. Once you have made sure to cover this ground, you should feel free to explain all the ways a bigoted comment is offensive. Just remember that persuasion/education by itself does not spell out an action. Make it possible, practical and productive for your target to say “sorry, plus …” in such a way that you should feel confident they are taking steps to eliminate a bigoted practice from their future repertoire.

Don’t stop until you get your apology and a commitment to taking a productive step forward to help address whatever caused the problem. Persistence is your friend. For that matter, rope in your friends for additional backup.

But when you do get your apology and a commitment to taking a productive step forward to help address whatever caused the problem, be respectful. Don’t start hating on your target in a whole new way, saying they are “insincere” or “it doesn’t matter.” By honoring a meaningful apology you are sending a message as an activist to others that you are in this to win this for the cause — not to be a jerk and target an individual because you’re so needy/clingy/stuck on a being a pain. It makes it more likely you will help contribute to other successful reversals in the wake of bigoted comments and actions. And that’s what we want, right? A better world.

Feminism, as a practice, is not about gotcha and declaring some people good and other people bad. It is about eliminating bigotry from our lives — something all of us will have to work at — and moving forward in new ways that honor the full potential and human rights of everyone. So getting to sorry is a big deal, because it is that first step toward honoring people and making change.

How have you gotten to sorry after someone’s bigotry was showing? What changes were you able to bring about? Share your stories and tips in the comments below.

NRA President David Keene’s Rape Joke Isn’t Funny

“We [the NRA] could be serial rapists and have a higher favorable rating than Congress.”

David Keene, NRA President

When will the rape jokes stop?

Wednesday, National Rifle Association (NRA) President David Keene spoke at Harvard and popped a rape joke in defense of his increasingly indefensible organization.

Why doesn’t he compare their favorability rating to Congress anymore? Let’s not draw attention to the NRA’s slipping numbers. Let’s have a laugh about rape and “government” instead.

This comment has gone virtually unnoticed.

This is exactly what rape culture looks like.

Rape culture hides in plain sight.

Rape is not a punchline.

Rape is rape.

Rape happens every day. Someone, often a woman or a girl, is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes.

She may be screaming right now. She may be crying as quietly as she can. She may be closing her eyes and praying to live through this.

Can you hear her?

Rape is violence. Dismissing gun violence with rape violence is missing the entire point. All violence against women must end.

Rape culture feeds gun culture and gun culture feeds rape culture.

Rape culture and gun culture are part of the same culture of dominance and violence — and men exercising power without sharing it equally and equitably with women.

Strangers are not the danger, and let’s be real, the face of the stranger our culture says to be afraid of is an African American man who, like a woman of any ethnic background, rarely gets to contribute to public policy debates about guns, rape, violence and, for that matter, everything else under the law.

Racism has never lessened the epidemic of violence in this country.

Racism is a form of violence in itself.

Racism feeds more violence.

Racism is used to stoke fears by those who make piles and piles of money

from racism

and sexism

and violence.

The faces to be afraid of are the white men who lead our country almost totally by themselves while insisting there’s nothing wrong with that.

While not passing the Violence Against Women Act.

While not doing something about the fact that women are more likely to be shot by an intimate partner than a stranger.

While not doing something about the fact that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know.

While parading out a woman who will say that guns are fashionable, which they are not.

While parading out a woman who will say that guns will protect a woman from rape, which they do not.

While parading out a woman who will say that they have a “second amendment right to choose” that means everyone — women, men, criminals — is eligible buy a gun without a background check, or military-style weapons, or military-style ammunition.

A rape joke is not going to make this go away.

A rape joke makes it worse.

Shame on the National Rifle Association.

Shame on gun culture.

Shame on rape culture.

rape-is-rape

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