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Mums, Food, Body Image

4 Aug

So, I just read this Jezebel piece on whether or not parents should force their kids to finish the food on their plates or whether that might push them into an eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I read it, I don’t even have kids I could force feed, it is called P.R.O.C.R.A.S.T.I.N.A.T.I.O.N.

Anyway, comments to the article involved all sort of discussions of fucked up relationships with food that people were taught when they were little, either directly, by being told to eat more or less (usually less, when it comes to girls) or indirectly, by watching how their parents behaved around food, how their parents talked about the food they were eating or avoiding and how parents talked about their own bodies. The thoughts that were voiced tie in nicely with this post that was passed around the internet last month, in which a woman describes how her mum’s own distorted body image influenced her when growing up.

I see a lot of people around me, friends, family members, colleagues, making food into a big deal. I mean, it is a big deal. It is necessary and, with the exception of anything involving bread crumbs, potentially delicious. But many women I know (and a few guys) seem to feel the need to constantly comment on the food they and others are eating (or not). There is the constant need of justification of why specific food is eaten now (‘Yeah, I know I shouldn’t’; ‘Ahh, it is delicious, but I will have to not eat xyz for the next week now’; ‘Yeah, I know it is a sin but I worked out this morning’) or a constant commentary on other people’s eating behavior (very rarely I hear ‘Oh, you really are hungry today’, more often it is wrapped as a compliment which, simultaneously self-reprimands its originator: ‘Oh, yes, have a piece of cake, YOU can afford it’ [disclosure: I have an average body weight for my height, I haven’t been on scales for the last 14 years, many of my friends are more slender than I am] ).

Thing is: I don’t mind such talk much. I don’t say these sorts of things about my own eating habits (I think) and pretty definitely not about other’s eating habits (as, in my opinion, they are a. none of my business and b. not overly exciting conversation topics). Sure, when I was a teenager, I had a phase were I was dieting and weighing myself every morning, letting the number decide the mood for the rest of the day and a short phase of not being happy in my body. It is a sad fact that I don’t know anyone who didn’t have such a phase. And sure, there are days when I like the way I look less and short intervals of ahhhhhhhh this and that is too thick, too broad, too whatever. But these are very short phases and generally, I am happy with the way I look and eat what I want and don’t think about it much.

I was wondering why my body image and my relationship towards food are so relatively trouble-free. Now, this is obviously a complex thing and there are many different factors in it. As I said, I would say my body type is somewhat average and while it is another sad fact of life that, as a woman, you will never escape public scrutiny and commentary on the way you look, I suppose that when you are exceptionally thin or obese, even more people feel entitled to comment on your body. So that is one thing. And I can think of others which I am not discussing here. But one thing I am sure was a massive influence in this was my mum. I can honestly not remember her ever commenting on my body in a negative way nor on her own body (it was also not like she was commenting a lot about my body in a positive way. It was just: a body. It was there. Therefore it was good. Move on). I have never experienced her dieting. When I was little, it was a family joke that my mum could eat a whole box of praline when she was in the mood for it, something that she wouldn’t deny and, when any of us wanted to make her happy, boxes of chocolate were always safe and would be welcomed. Generally, she taught us that one should eat healthy, that one cannot eat boxes of chocolate every day because that brings you tooth ache. It is possible that she also mentioned that too much sugar and fat might make you unhealthily overweight but if she mentioned it in that context at all, it apparently wasn’t in any obsessive or hysteric way, proven by the fact that I do not even remember her saying this at all.

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my fair share of fat phobia in my family. My dad and my aunt (his sister) are the ones in our family who are more obsessed with dieting, doing sports to lose weight, making the occasional less than charming comment about my changing teenage body. But even though I guess most people, definitely most women, hear these sorts of comments during their youth, I dare to say it didn’t influence me much beyond my teenage years. My mum being so decidedly non-dramatic, unapologetic and matter-of-factly about her body and about the food that went into it must have been one of the greatest measures of upbringing, to instill self-worth which is somewhat independent of what you see in the mirror, to see the consumption of food or the lack thereof not as a measure failure or success but rather as both a necessity and an enjoyable thing without much fuzz. All this must have seeped into the corners of my own me-ness somehow. Thinking about it, being so uncomplicated about these issues is such an immensely big deal for which I am tremendously grateful. It is one of the things that I, should I have kids of my own, will definitely try to pass on.

Am I being left alone in Pervertville?

25 Apr

First of all don’t get me wrong: I am very happy that some countries are legalizing gay marriage and that it is happening in my lifetime. I feel kind of weirdly blessed, not like a slave who was set free, but maybe like a woman who has just been allowed to vote.

But the thing is: I am not that fond of marriage in the first place. I mean, I love wedding parties, but then there is alcohol and a perfect excuse for my friends to get together, and there is music, and dance, and more alcohol. The institution of marriage, however, is not something I give much value to. Still, here I am fighting (well, not exactly fighting, but I do write on a blog, don’t I?) for this right. And I wonder sometimes, in all my honesty, why do I care?

When I ask this question, a big word comes to mind: EQUALITY. Yeah, right, but then, equality reminds me of uniform, which is not as lovely a word when you point it to lifestyles. After the “why me (being gay)?” phase in adolescence, I stopped dreaming about being the equal. And I actually take great pride of that.

Being gay is a part of this pride of being different. Undeniably, there is this sense of David against Goliath (oh, the bible, such a lovely book.) in the act of being a fag. Edmund White (http://www.edmundwhite.com/) puts it very well in some of his books, but maybe especially at “City Boy”, an autobiography of his New York years in the seventies and eighties. I don’t have the book with me right now to point out the specific section which comes to my mind, but more or less in the middle of the book he talks about a guy he used to see on regular basis. This being pre-Stonewall and they’re being not much older than twenty, they did not see their “thing” as a relationship and fidelity was never an issue. These concepts were entirely foreign for them and, I believe, for many gay “things” in general at the time. This fact shocked me when I read it.

Stonewall changed everything, for sure. And there is no denying that it was for the best. But still, I get myself wondering: “wow, how would it feel to have a “thing” for which there is no common term?” “How free must it have felt?” “If Stonewall hadn’t happened, how would the gay “things” have evolved?”

But now, in a few countries, gays “things” are proper relationships, which can even be sanctioned as proper marriages. And I am happy for the gays who always dreamed of being married and just couldn’t. Hell, I might be one of those guys someday (and I never wore a tuxedo and that could be the perfect excuse for it. Or maybe I would wear a kilt again. Oh, I love kilts).

The yellow light, however, keeps blinking in my conscience. If I had lived in the sixties or in the seventies, I probably would have defended free love. But we are fifty years ahead of that and what I see is marriage conquering us all (with me helping, sort of).

Sometimes I even forget about the fact that marriage is not really my problem as a gay person. But ultimately, I cannot relate to that. So, every time a country accepts same sex marriage I feel very happy for the gay movement and for myself, but it is not a victory I can surely call my own.

Let’s all cry for da poor widdle rapists

22 Mar

This week in the little town of Steubenville, Ohio, two man-boy-monsters were convicted of rape. Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were found “delinquent” (juvi court code for “guilty”) after prosecutors presented copious evidence proving that they had digitally raped a 16 year-old girl while she was virtually unconscious (blacked out from booze, though recent allegations indicate she may have been roofied). This evidence wasn’t hard to come by, seein’ as how the man-boy-monsters photographed the victim’s limp, urine-soaked body, texted/Tweeted the pictures for everyone to see, and posted a 12-minute video to YouTube bragging about their conquests. (Can one be charged with “idiocy” in addition to rape? And is that an aggravating or mitigating factor?) For a detailed and gut-churning account of the more than 350,000 text messages from the 17+ phones confiscated for evidence during the investigation, read this article from Yahoo Sports. (And can I just say, I’m fucking embarrassed that I just linked to Yahoo Sports as a thorough journalistic source. Do your job, mass media outlets.)

Because they are minors, the perps received relatively short sentences — a minimum of one year in juvenile detention for Richmond, two years for Mays (added time for distributing photos of a naked minor), with the possibility of remaining in juvi until they are 21, at which time the case will be reassessed.

Both teens will also have to register with the sexual offenders registry, meaning that they will always and forever be linked with this rape.  From now until the day they die (or until Congress ends the registry, whichever comes first), their neighbors, colleagues, employers, prospective mates, and future children will always be able to trace them to this heinous crime. (For the record, I absolutely despise the sex offender registry, though I understand and am sympathetic to its origin and purpose.)

Everything about this tale is tragic. That said, let us remember that the tragedy stems from the actions of the rapists and centers around the effects on the victim.

Apparently CNN missed that memo. The network is currently taking a beating for its sympathetic (to the rapists!) coverage of the sentencing hearing. Nothing like two semi-handsome budding football stars crying in open court to make middle America feel twangs of sympathy. Reporter Poppy Harlow told anchorwoman Candy Crowley (yes, those are real names; I can’t make shit like that up): “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.”

Needless to say, other news outlets and the general public wasted no time in condemning Poppy, Candy and the rest of the Lollypop Kids for their failure to recognize that (a) the rapists brought this shitstorm on themselves, and (b) the victim — remember her, the little girl who was raped? —  is picking up the pieces of her life after it actually fell apart.

Many are comparing CNN’s coverage to a two-year-old story by the Onion, a satirical website that has been prescient in much of its coverage recently. Life imitating art?

In a three-way tie for “Most Shitastic Coverage of the Steubenville Rape,” CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all aired the first name of the victim on live television. Really? You don’t think bleeping out the victim’s name would have been a wise use of the seven-second delay? Or is that only reserved for when Bono drops an F-bomb during his Golden Globes acceptance speech?

I find the Steubenville rape deeply disturbing at a very personal level. There have been a few times in my life that I have witnessed or been the victim of sexual harassment or (I now realize) rape. I was in my late teens or early twenties, so older than these kids, but I was a special kind of naive. I had no idea that what I was witnessing or experiencing “counted” as anything criminal. All I knew is that it made me feel icky — the kind of icky that is impervious to hot showers and heavy drinking.

So what made me not tell someone on the French train that an employee had tried to molest me while I was alone in a sleeper car? What made me not call the cops when I, in bed with a girlfriend sleeping off a bender at a close friend’s house, awoke to find a friend — who had been sleeping on the couch in the living room — dry humping me in his tighty-whities with his hand down my pants? (Although I did tell my brother a few days later and he, much to his credit, never once said “well, at least you learned a lesson”. Instead he called the dude and calmly threatened to kill him if he ever came near me again. So there’s that.) Why didn’t I intervene when a situation eerily similar to the Steubenville rapes unfolded before me at a small house party, except the rapists (and yes, now I realize they were rapists) wielded a VHS camcorder instead of cell phones and had no social media website to upload the video to?

Why did I stay silent? Because of the victim-blaming assholes that came out in droves following the sentencing of Richmond and Mays. “Public Shaming“, a Tumblr blog devoted to calling out social media douchebags, features three pages of posts to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other forums espousing the “slut was asking for it”/”she shares responsibility” mentality. Public Shaming came across such gems as:

image

and

image

Then you have “Why don’t we have a Dumb Fucking Whore Registry? Now that would be justice” by the aptly named Judgy Bitch. Charming. She argues that the unconscious girl (who was dragged from party to party, finger repeatedly, urinated on, and left naked on a stranger’s couch) was not actually raped. Rather, it was a case of “boys being boys” and “stupid whores being stupid whores.”  (Did I mention there’s a 12 minute video of the boys bragging about “how hard she got raped”? So by THEIR definition, let alone that of the Ohio criminal code, she was raped.)

And you wonder why I, like so many scared teens, stayed silent.

In my mid-twenties, a bit older and a bit wiser, I began to fight back. One incredibly strange night, a large man began beating his teeny-tiny girlfriend outside my friend’s apartment while we were having a party. (We didn’t know either of them.) He dragged her across the lawn by her hair while she kicked and screamed, pulled her between two buildings, pinned her down across his lap like a small child, and repeatedly punched her face while she wailed. After all the guys at the party refused to help her, I ran up, grabbed the woman, and kept running with her until I got behind a closed door. Cops were called, statements taken, and the biggest asshole at the party (now a US Marshall) yelled at me for butting into the business of others. I was shamed for, uh, I still don’t know — my action highlighting his inaction? (I realize this was not actually a rape incident. Still, you get the idea.)

In Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Grhaib [warning: graphic (though pixilated) photo included], Laurie Penny from the NewStatesmen is able to articulate the importance of the Steubenville rape far better than I:

The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures? Only one in which women’s autonomy and right to safety counts for so little that these rapists, and those who held the cameras, felt themselves ‘perfectly justified’… The Steubenville rapists claim that, when they drove a passed-out girl from party to party, slinging her into and out-of cars like a deflated sex-dolly and sticking their fingers inside her, they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. That’s plausible, although it’s no defence. It’s plausible if, and only if, you have internalised the assumption that women are not real human beings, just bodies to be manipulated with or without consent, pieces of wet and willing meat there for you to use for your pleasure. There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’… Anyone can be outspoken about Steubenville after the fact. The question is: who will stand up when the next Jane Doe is attacked, without expectation of thanks or acclaim, at risk of derision and ostracism or worse, and speak out about all the other Steubenvilles that are still taking place, and will continue to until enough people say ‘stop’?

Could the horror inflicted upon Jane Doe be a catalyst for change? Maybe. A Change.org petition calling on CNN to apologize for its coverage has over 200,000 signatures. Internet terrorists/hacktivists (depending on your point of view) Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) has steadfastly refused to let the rape go gentle into that good night. It continues to build a case against the “rape crew”, compiling and releasing additional information implicating a huge number of people. Some argue that Anonymous has gone too far — that most people involved in the case, including the victim, just want the mess to go away. But isn’t victim shaming and rape culture part of the reason they want everything to go away?

From the ashes of this soul-destroying story rises one anecdote that gives me hope for humanity. The aforementioned Yahoo Sports article highlights what seems to be the only teen in the greater Steubenville Metro Area with morals. Sean McGhee, Richmond’s cousin and Mays’ best friend, was at one of the parties attended by Jane Doe. He saw her stumbling and slurring and knew she was shitcanned. So that night, when rumors (and photos) began to surface of Mays and Richmond abusing her, he confronted his best friend and his cousin via text: “…you are dead wrong. I am going to choke the [redacted] out of you for that. You could go to jail for life for that. What the [redacted].”

Maybe there’s hope after all.

[To get a full breakdown of the photos, video, and timeline of events, see So you’re tired of hearing about rape culture? Warning, graphic. Because, you know, a girl was raped. And that shit is horrible.]

What Were We Debating About Anyway?

18 Sep

A good friend of mine, who is a brilliant lawyer and a wonderful person, was reading “The last Day of a Condemned Man” by Victor Hugo and afterward made a remark about death penalty and abortion. She said she had difficulties understanding how someone can be against the death penalty and in favor of abortion. She asked: is it logical, considering the principle of respecting one’s life? Wouldn’t this principle be valid in both debates?

I answered her yes, it is logical to be against the death penalty and to be in favor of the decriminalization of abortion at the same time. To me, in both cases, what is at stake is not the respect for one’s life, but the need to limit state’s power. Indeed, I am against giving the state the power to decide about the end of someone’s life due to a crime he committed; and I am also against giving the state the power to legislate about what happens inside a woman’s body, especially if it is to criminalize it.

I do not follow the debate about the decriminalization of abortion closely, probably because that is one of the few legal problems I think my boyfriend and I will not have to deal with personally, unless men can get pregnant in the near future. But I don’t want to talk about the decriminalization of abortion itself here.

What I want to talk about is the gigantic importance of not letting a debate become twisted to the point that it is unrecognizable. And the debate on the decriminalization of abortion is the best example of how a conservative group has changed the debate such that even informed people do not know what the debate is about and therefore form an opinion in favor of the conservative/religious side.

In fact, debating about “abortion” is completely different than debating about “the decriminalization of abortion”. More seriously, wtf is the meaning of “pro life” and “pro choice”? To me, the meaning of someone being “pro choice” instead of “pro life” can only be that this person believes in the right to suicide.

Another example of intentionally misunderstanding a debate happened recently in Brazil. The government was preparing an anti-bullying campaign for schools. Among the subject of the campaign was the respect for diversity, including sexual diversity. How could one be against a campaign that protects children and adolescents from being bullied? That would be a hard fight, right?

So, strategically, some religious and homophobic groups that wanted to keep future generations from not being homophobic – God forbid, indeed– started to call the campaign material “the gay kit”. In interviews, articles, and general debates, they used the term “gay kit” so many times that the general media adopted the expression. Soon enough, the country was discussing who was in favor or against “the gay kit”. And guess what? Not only was the anti-bullying campaign gone before it started – it was aborted, pun intended – but now no politician wants to be connected with it. In fact, this week, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God accuses the Catholic Church of supporting “the gay kit”. Instead of discussing an anti-bullying campaign, we are discussing which church is or is not homophobic enough.

See? This post was not about my friend, abortion, anti-bullying campaign or the gay kit. It was about stupidity, pure and simple. And, unfortunately, stupidity hurts!

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