Saturday, January 21, 2006

responding to a response to a response to my post

So, as I wrote before, Hugo found my post on feminism and eating disorders/disordered eating/body dysmorphia via the Carnival of the Feminists, and wrote a response, which was very good. I understand his response, and appreciate it, and agree with it, mostly.
My qualm with his response is not what Hugo said, but what one of his commenters said (named "sophonisba"):

Anorexic women are not oblivious to society's message that they are silly for wanting a beauty that's not sexy. Everyone is told over and over that skinniness is a female ideal, that what men really like is T&A, that having a bit of flesh in the right places is what makes you fuckable. Real women have curves, and all that. To a woman with curves (i.e. tits) who does not care to be told what kind of woman she is or what kind of attention she should be glad to have, getting rid of the curves can easily seem like a great fuck-you to it all. Jen's right that a skinny, weak body can easily be read as passive and unaggressive, but all the anorexics I've known personally have molded their bodies out of huge amounts of aggression. Passive resistance, if you will. Looking at anorexia as a simple matter of slavery to the fashion magazines will not get you far.


As well as Christy's comment:
Having said all that, I think there is a difference between an eating disorder and not liking your body. Purging and anorexia are not just about patriarchy. Outside of gymnasts, dancers and Hollywood actresses, where there is extraordinary pressure to be unnaturally thin, there is usually something else going on. There is a high correlation between sexual abuse and eating disorders in young women, which is not to say that all women (and men) who have eating disorders have been sexually abused, just that if someone has a serious eating disorder, I don't think critiquing Cosmo is going to do a lot of good. The causes are a lot more complex and personal than that.



I don't want to give the impression that I was discounting all of these other "complex," "personal" in favour of looking solely to the media's ideal of the Perfect Body.

I am not placing the full weight of the blame of my disordered eating and body dysmorphia solely on the shoulders of the Waifish-Model-As-God media. It absolutely plays a role, and a very important one, but it is not the only thing that plays a role.

While I'm aware that there are new studies proving that for some people, eating disorders are "hard-wired" in their brain, much the same as any other chemically-based mental disorders, I know that is not the source of my melancholy or disordered eating. For those people born with chemical imbalances, the case is much different, and I will not attempt to make the case that the patriarchy is entirely to blame for their illness. As much as biology, too, is influenced by the patriarchy, I don't believe that it can be entirely discredited because of this. If there is a chemical basis for someone's eating disorder, then that's not entirely The Patriarchy's fault.
However, I am a firm believer in social construction, and while it cannot explain everything, it can certainly explain a lot.

Personally, the reason my brain is so fucked up is because I have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I blame this PTSD almost exclusively on the patriarchy. It is our patriarchal culture that caused this kid to molest me for 7 years, and it is our patriarchal culture that informed most people's reactions to it. And, most importantly, it is the inescapable patriarchal culture that informs my reaction to it.
Therefore, on a personal level, I can and do attribute my disordered eating and general low self-image to the patriarchy, because when you trace the trickle back to its source, you end up knee-deep in patriarchy, and everything that goes with it.

For example:
I restrict my caloric intake in order to gain control. The same control I lost when I was molested when I was younger. The control that I've never been able to regain since. The control that is, in large part, denied to me because of my genitalia and gender identity, not to mention sexual orientation and skin colour. If I can't control how people will see me, how they will treat me, what they will do to me, etc, I might as well control the few things I have the ability to control. While this lack of control in itself is not inherently a characteristic of patriarchal society, the effects of this lack of control very much are. The way people interpret me and the persona I present is informed by the patriarchy, and it is specifically in the nature of this interpretation that I lose control. I'm inclined to believe that if our culture wasn't so entrenched in misogyny, the way people interpret and judge me would not be so damaging, and I would therefore not need this control as much.


Another example:
My lack of self-esteem and, essentially, my self-loathing. I could - and have - psychoanalyze(d) it to death, and picked it apart to reveal a number of different sources, but when I get to the bottom of it, it is, yet again, the patriarchy. The way I have been treated by various people, the way that I have been viewed and judged and interpreted, is informed by the patriarchy. By internalizing other people's judgments of me, I am internalizing the patriarchy. There are so, so many ways that these patriarchal, misogynistic notions are ingrained into the impressionable brains of children, and I could only barely begin to list them all. But the judgment of others is one of the most powerful tools in the Patriarchy's Arsenal(tm), and it is deployed most fervently.


So no, not everything can be traced back to the patriarchy, just as not every fact of human existence can be explained via social constructionism. But it remains that a great deal of these facts can be - and are - explained by social construction and the patriarchy, and that really cannot be denied.

4 comments:

Hugo said...

I agree with your criticisms, Jen. The tendency to make eating disorders an individual problem to be solved with God or therapy ignores the fact that anorexia is a socially constructed disease.

We accept that Big Tobacco is at least partly responsible for smoking deaths, even as we urge individuals to quit; can't we also accept that a male-dominated consumer culture shares a significant dose of the blame for eating disorders in women, even as we urge women to seek help for overcoming body dysmorphia?

sophonisba said...

I hope it was clear from my quoted comment that anorexia does, of course, have very much to do with social factors.(Well, it's clear anyway - I hope it was clear that I understand that, rather.) My point was only that when girls believe that they have to choose between sexiness and prettiness, or sexiness and being left alone, choosing against sexiness is not an irrational choice in itself. Fucking up your body as a consequence of that choice is, of course, considerably less rational. And of course the false dichotomy is societally-constructed bs, but that goes without saying.

The reason I wrote what I did was, every time I see this issue discussed, passing commenters appear to be bewildered that girls would choose to self-destructively pursue an ideal of feminine beauty that 'men don't even find all that attractive' - as if motivations other than aspiring to sexual attractiveness are inexplicable, and as if anorexia would be more comprehensible and even acceptable if it made you "hot."

I'm a bit confused about whether you're disagreeing with my comment when you talk about everything that can be traced back to the patriarchy, because that was what I was talking about as well. Oppression and humiliation makes people angry. I think people often overlook the anger in anorexics.

I do think I was careful not to imply that my remarks applied to all anorexics, only to some people I've known and to my own feelings as a girl, which were absolutely and indubitably a response to sexism and misogyny in the culture around me.

sophonisba said...

I hope it was clear from my quoted comment that anorexia does, of course, have very much to do with social factors.(Well, it's clear anyway - I hope it was clear that I understand that, rather.) My point was only that when girls believe that they have to choose between sexiness and prettiness, or sexiness and being left alone, choosing against sexiness is not an irrational choice in itself. Fucking up your body as a consequence of that choice is, of course, considerably less rational. And of course the false choice is societally-constructed bs, but that goes without saying.

The reason I wrote what I did was, every time I see this issue discussed, passing commenters appear to be bewildered that girls would choose to self-destructively pursue an ideal of feminine beauty that 'men don't even find all that attractive' - as if motivations other than aspiring to sexual attractiveness are inexplicable, and as if anorexia would be more comprehensible and even acceptable if it made you "hot."

I'm a bit confused about whether you're disagreeing with my comment when you talk about everything that can be traced back to the patriarchy, because that was what I was talking about as well. The patriarchy doesn't just tell women that thinness is virtue and respectability and control, though it does do that - it also tells us that big breasts and hips are sexy and what men like. Hurting and harming the body out of a desire not to give men what they like, a canvas to paint abuse on, is a miserable and misguided response to the false dichotomy, conditioned by patriarchy even as it defies it. Right?

But I was not and am not attempting to speak for or about all anorexics, only the few I've known and my own feelings as a girl.

[sorry if this posts twice - I hit a button by accident.]

Jen said...

sophonisba:

Honestly, I'm not really sure if I was disagreeing with you, either...I think I was just trying to clarify my own position. I was worried that you were trying to make anorexia into solely an individual issue, but I'm glad to hear your clarification that it was not your intention.

And I do absolutely and entirely agree with this part of your comment:

The reason I wrote what I did was, every time I see this issue discussed, passing commenters appear to be bewildered that girls would choose to self-destructively pursue an ideal of feminine beauty that 'men don't even find all that attractive' - as if motivations other than aspiring to sexual attractiveness are inexplicable, and as if anorexia would be more comprehensible and even acceptable if it made you "hot."