Shame is Shame

In the week since The Militant Baker announced Smash the Scale, I’ve seen a lot of reaction to it here and there around the web. Most has been positive, but a noticeable amount has been negative. Most of the negative is about what you’d expect: some variation on “look at these fat, lazy bitches trying to make their lack of dedication to my concept of beauty into something powerful, instead of feeling properly ashamed of themselves.” Or “Fat is NEVER healthy, because I know better than your doctor and I have totally bought into the diet industry.”

But one particular negative reaction has really stuck with me, through meditation and acupuncture sessions and, well, other important things like sleep. I got angry when I read it, and despite attempts to say “Yo, Haters gonna Hate,” I can’t seem to let go of it. I have to respond.

See, this negative reaction said this:

“…all these women still have privilege, whether it be white privilege, education privilege, or the privilege to be able to choose what they eat, much less eat at all. First world privilege. Is there a way to feel good about yourself without being a self-important victim? Yes. It’s like they pick the one thing they can rightly feel bad about and make their entire life revolve around it. It’s kind of pathetic because it’s all for attention, and to salve the self esteem of women who think boldly going against some grain makes them mavericks and martyrs.
Self esteem is a private and inside job. Publicly smashing scales as some type of ceremonial is certainly cool, but is worthless in the long run.”

This annoys me on SO MANY levels.

First off, okay, let’s talk about privilege. Privilege seems to be a new buzz word for people who want to continue being angry at anyone they disagree with. And okay, you know, I get that. I get being angry. I get wanting people to recognize their privilege and own their advantages in life. But there’s a fallacy at work in the mindset of those who go around pointing out privilege, and that is this: One kind of privilege DOES NOT cancel out subjective experience of pain in another area.

Back in the eighties, I had some friends who were born in Communist Czechoslovakia, a brother and a sister. Their father was a scientist, and the government wouldn’t let the family leave. Eventually, they came into contact with someone who smuggled the family out of the country in disguise and separated. The brother, at six, was disguised as a girl. The sister, at two, was smuggled out in a suitcase. The brother remembered having to go past the armed guards at the border and being frightened his disguise would fail and he’d be killed.

I consider that a pretty damn traumatic experience. But neither of them ever thought it gave them leave to tell other people they had no right to be dissatisfied with life and the way the world works. And it would never occur to me to dismiss their experience because they happened to be white and educated.

I can give myself as another example. Here’s a brief list of my personal privilege: I’m white. I have a roof over my head. I’m educated (BA in Dance Therapy, in case you care). I have a high IQ. I read. Actually, I LIKE to read might be more accurate. I have mad math skills. I’m cisgendered and heterosexual. I’m married. Married to an educated, fairly enlightened man, in fact. I have numerous talents, which include cooking and sewing. I have understanding in-laws. I live in a country that operates on fairly Democratic principles. I don’t have to worry about secret police dragging me from my bed because of something I said to someone (at least as far as I know). I have access to the internet. I have clothes and shoes to wear, and some of them aren’t even purely serviceable. I am physically able: not in a wheelchair or on crutches.

I think I could go on, but you get the picture.

Here’s a list of the way I am not privileged. I’m a woman. I’m fat. (Oh, but I’m pear-shaped fat, not apple-shaped fat, so even within this grade of non-privilege, I have privilege.) I have three mental illnesses (or four, depending who’s doing the diagnosing): I’m bipolar, I have PTSD, I have chronic depressive disorder, and I have general anxiety disorder. I suffer from migraines, which are a real, neurological disorder, in case you didn’t know. And all those disorders are invisible illnesses, which means I often get dissed by strangers who have no idea. I am financially poor, and I mean POOR; my husband and I, despite education and other kinds of privilege, subsist on a poverty-level income.

Again, I could probably go on if I felt like stretching my brain. But I don’t.

The thing is, everyone has privilege and everyone lacks it. Yes, even those despicable one-percenters lack some kinds of privilege. There is absolutely NO call to dismiss another person’s personal struggle on the grounds of privilege. You know, I read a lot of articles written by people of color that talk about having large, supportive families who push them. I didn’t have that, but it would NEVER occur to me to tell someone that their experience of racism didn’t count because they had “Large Family Privilege.” It’s simply daft. AND, it’s another kind of shaming. I’m not a big fan of shame, which is essentially telling anybody they should feel bad about something because you don’t agree with them. Yeah, there may be some rich white bastards out there who need to get a clue. That’s no excuse to use the privilege line as another reason to put shame on people whose activism you don’t like.

And in case you don’t see how pointing out privilege in this case is just more shaming, re-read that quote. Especially this line: “It’s kind of pathetic because it’s all for attention, and to salve the self esteem of women who think boldly going against some grain makes them mavericks and martyrs.” Just let that roll around in your mind for a minute. And then tell me it isn’t making a judgment against people the author does not know, whose experiences she has not experienced. Why in the world does she think she has ANY idea of these women’s reasons for doing what they’re doing?

And another thing: Can I tell you how very much I HATE the whole, “just doing it for attention” dogma?? Please explain to me in what reality asking for attention is a bad thing, because I don’t want to live there. Also, please reference any kind of activism that isn’t about drawing attention to something? If we’re going to dismiss the smashing of scales as a statement that is “worthless in the long run,” how do we reconcile that with other demonstrations, like women in the Temperance movement smashing liquor bottles, or strikers picketing for fair labor conditions, or human rights activists sitting in restricted areas of restaurants and busses? Or anything? I think probably this question is going to let me in for a lot of censure, but I would really like to know.

This is my take-away from the comment I have referenced:

“I’m uncomfortable with what you’re doing! Shut up and stop making me uncomfortable! And if you won’t, I’m going to do my best to make you feel bad about what you’re doing!”

Which makes me think THIS:

6908043-woman-with-tape-across-her-mouth--voiceless

Activism is speaking out. Activism is doing things that may not make immediate sense to the people not participating. That may make the people not participating uncomfortable, so that they try to dismiss the activism in any way they can. By that standard, I think Smash the Scale is working.

But I wish, someday, for a world where people can support others’ activism instead of myriad little interest groups all looking for ways to dismiss causes they’ve judged trivial as “Not Good Enough.”

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