Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ladies Rule TV

For what I suspect is the first time in television history, every night of the week is now dominated by strong women.  This is an incredible feat, and one that is worth noting.  I will break it down for you by day:

This night has been dominated by women for a long time, to be sure, including such shows as Desperate Housewives, Once Upon a Time, and Revenge, just to name a few.  All of these shows have seriously strong women and they also have their problems, including being labeled primetime soap operas and a certain disdain by many men toward the melodramatic plots.  That's certainly fair.  After all, women-centered shows certainly are popular on Sunday nights simply because they are the best bets to garner ratings against Sunday Night Football.  There's really no use in putting man-centered shows on against such a top male contender as that.  Interestingly, as almost a balancing act, some of the best, strongest female characters found on Sunday nights, such as Sydney Bristow from Alias and Detective Lily Rush from Cold Case aired on the same channel as Sunday Night Football, CBS, which was always certainly a little frustrating due to the way shows are often pushed back by the game, but still pretty remarkable considering the audience they were aiming for.

Now, Sunday night is just as important for showcasing strong women, if not more so.  For years now, Alicia Florick has dominated the night with The Good Wife, a show whose plot felt dangerously soap operatic in the initial advertising for the show.  I still tuned in that first night, though, and was very pleasantly surprised to see how incredibly well-written and well-performed the show is.  People are still discovering the show in its seventh season, and that's partly because it has defied all odds in the sense that the seventh season, indeed every season, is just as good as the first.  Sometimes better.  This is a show that continues to recreate itself and continues to tell unique and entertaining stories and shows no signs of jumping the shark anytime soon.  It is a marvel to watch, really.  Madam Secretary and CSI:Cyber are also a big draws on Sunday nights.  All of these shows, of course, are on CBS and The Good Wife began while Sunday Night Football was still on CBS.

This season also began the new massive hit, Quantico,  which is doing incredibly well, especially for  freshman drama.  It may tilt toward the soap operatic, at times, I suppose, but it also seems to be pulling in a mixed viewing population and also airs on Sunday Night Football's most recent home, NBC.

This night now belongs to the CW, at least as far as most critics are concerned.  And this is one of my favorite nights of television because of the CW's two biggest critical successes - Jane the Virgin, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  Jane is in its second season and, while certainly soap operatic, is deliberately, even meta, so.  It is a play on telanovelas and thus has a lot of great telanovela twists that it then comments on as too much like a telanovela.  It may certainly be problematic that Jane has to be a virgin and that she is in a love triangle between two sexy and stereotypically opposite men.  However, the beauty of Jane is that the character is not overly concerned with any of these issues.  She's a woman in love with two men, but her priorities are her child and her education, way before either of those men come into the picture.  And the real and true love story is one of family, specifically between grandmother, mother, daughter and, this season, son (the new baby, Mateo).  These are all single mothers from very different family dynamics. The grandmother was very happily married and we don't know where her husband is (and the show suggests that she doesn't either).  The mother told the father that she had an abortion and raised Jane as a deliberately single mother.  And Jane, well, Jane's a friggin' virgin!  Though her grandmother really wants her to be married, she refuses to marry any man simply because she's a mother.

The newest addition to Monday night, and one of the BEST additions to television in years, is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  Yes, I know.  Awful title.  Or is it?  And its about a lawyer who is about to get promoted to partner and in a panic attack runs into her junior high camp boyfriend and finds out he's moving to West Covina, CA so she quits her job and moves there too to be close to him.  Yes, I know, horrid concept.  Or is it?  This show is so delightfully aware of its ick-factor and the titular protagonist, Rebecca (played by series creator Rachel Bloom) even sings about the ickiness of this. It's funny.  It's sweet.  It's thoughtful.  And, again, the true relationship of the film has little, if anything to do with the "ex-boyfriend" or even the coffee shop/bar love interest she meets the first episode, but is all about her friendship with another woman, Paula, a paralegal in her new law office, who is older, married, has kids, and sees in Rebecca all of the regrets of her own life choices.

And, of course, there's Supergirl.  Need I say more?  OK.  So Supergirl rocks.  As we learned this week, though she's just a simple young woman, she is capable of beating someone her cousin Superman has never defeated.  She is a superhero, through and through, and America seems to be completely infatuated with a female superhero.

Blindspot also centers around a physically strong, but emotionally vulnerable young woman, but this is such an ensemble cast,  focusing pretty equally on the men and women, that I don't feel it needs to be addressed, here.

This day is heaven for me because of one show: iZombie.  This is a personal favorite mostly because I'm head over heels in love with Rob Thomas thanks to Veronica Mars, possibly the best strong woman ever on television.  And Liv, the titular zombie, is just as much fun.  I don't even want to write anymore about this show for fear of showing off my true range of geekdom.

Tuesday also boasts another ensemble cast of strong women in Scream Queens.  How could any feminist not love Jamie Lee Curtis in anything?  But seriously, this show is about many different type of women, some stereotypical, and yet not, and some with a great deal of range.  None of these women are role models, by any stretch of the imagination, but their relationships, and their mere complete representation on the show, make it worthy of this discussion.  It is, of course, quite problematic, as many shows are, but not overwhelmingly so.

NBC would really like this day to be devoted solely to them, given their lineup of The Mysteries of Laura, Law & Order: SVU, and Chicago P.D., but I don't really feel the need to address these, since of all female-centered shows, these are probably the most problematic in their representations (Laura, apparently, is an airhead, SVU is all about the rape, and P.D. apparently has no redeemable characters).  All of these shows appear to be popular, but not critically so.

No, Wednesday night is not the best night for the strong woman, but there are two major glowing embers in the evening - Nashville and Empire.  Of course, these are also the soapiest shows on television, right now, but a little soap never hurt anyone.  And these are both shows centered around strong women who are in a male-dominated entertainment business, country music and hip-hop, respectively, and never let the men interfere with their control, their process, or their music.

The shows that dominate on this night of the week barely need to be discussed.  That's because the night belongs to ABC and Shondaland.  This is the night of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, three shows that are not only focused on very strong women, but also on many other elements of diversity, and America loves to eat them up.  It's worth noting, too, that Bones is still on the air on Thursday nights, as is The Blacklist.  They're less impressive, but have their admirers, to be sure.

OK, So, when I said that women dominate every night of the week, I was misleading you just a little bit.  No, Friday night television is a vast wasteland of bad comedies.  If you look at the ratings, you'll see that reruns of Friends and SVU are probably the most watched shows that you might recognize, other than sports.  But Friday is when I catch up on all the shows I didn't have time to watch all week and/or flip on over to Hulu to watch The Mindy Project or, if Netflix has just come out with a new season of anything.  Or Amazon Prime.

For a very limited time, Saturday belongs to Doctor Who, and while we're still long overdue for a female doctor, and the fact that the main female character is always relegated to "companion" in the series deserves ridicule, recent seasons have brought us a female timelord/human hybrid, a traditionally male timelord who was reincarnated female (leading us to hope for that amazing female incarnation of the doctor, himself) and many other strong women in the Whoverse, including the warrior - Madame Vastra, the head of UNIT - Kate Stewart, and keepers of the peace - Osgood.

All in all, I'd say this is an excellent time to be a woman who loves to watch narratives about strong and powerful women.  I'm in television heaven.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Gender Card

I always get a nasty taste in my mouth when I hear someone accusing a non-White person as "playing the race card."  While I am willing to admit that not every single negative interaction that a non-White person has can be directly tied to his/her race/ethnicity, I can certainly see why it would feel that way.  This is such a White cisgendered heterosexual male privilege reaction.  It certainly seems clear, to me anyway, that a constant and consistent institutionalized experience of being denied based on one's race/ethnicity could make one wary.  But more importantly, after a lifetime of experiencing such racism,  I rather think it's like the old pornography definition argument: I can't explain it, but I know it when I see it.

Interestingly, very little is ever made of "the gender card."  This, I believe, is in large part to the fact that women are socialized to avoid complaining too much.  Jennifer Lawrence recently made a splash in Hollywood and all over the news by claiming that she would no longer sit by and make less money than her male co-stars simply because she didn't want to seem entitled.  She wrote “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to express my opinion.”

In response to this claim, many news organizations are covering the issue and many other actresses are speaking out.  One criticism launched and these women is that of classism - the sentiment being, "Boo Hoo, you only make $750,000 to your male co-stars $1 million.  Poor You"  However, if Jennifer Lawrence, of all people, feels uncomfortable asking for fair pay in Hollywood, of all places, what chance has the single mother living in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx have negotiating her wage cleaning for a motel chain?

I bring this up because this controversy has me thinking about the reasons there is no constant disdain for the "gender card."  Women, generally, are afraid to "play it."  Non-White males certainly are less likely to "play the race card" in mixed company due to the backlash associated with the term.  But women, traditionally, are brought up from an early age not to assert ourselves at all, let alone when we feel discriminated against.  It makes me a little ill to think of how often my gut has told me that the negative treatment I was receiving had something to do with the fact that I am female, but I have been reticent to say this out loud, even to myself, out of fear of seeming too "sensitive."
Case in point, I have had yet another issue with a doctor at UCH.  I won't go into too much detail, but this particular male, white psychologist has, what I would call, an ego problem.  He has disrespected me by refusing to tell me what his treatment plan was (god forbid, I, the client, be informed) and when he found out I was looking for a second opinion, he dropped me as a client, an act that certainly implies that he doesn't want his authority questioned.  

His disrespect for me, overall, is of the implicit kind.  He never said anything explicitly inappropriate or gave me much in the form of proof that would assist my case against him.  And since I had "complained" about the breast surgeon's treatment of me back in July, I didn't want to complain about him, too, fearing being labeled a shrew who just hates all doctors or, worse, just likes to make waves to get attention.  Indeed, it wasn't until he did something quite explicit to interfere with my healthcare that I decided to file a complaint with the hospital.  I also filed the same complaint with the state medical board.  Labeling be damned.

I cannot, however, "legitimately" claim that his actions were sexist.  After all, thanks to the confidentiality of the psychological healthcare system, I have no idea how he treats his other clients.  It's not like when I was in grad school and had a professor who gave all the guys in her class As and all the women Bs.  Maybe he just generally doesn't like to have his authority questioned at all.  And even if I could survey every one of his clients and found out that he rarely treated women differently, there's certainly a major concern I have that he is threatened not just by a woman, but by a woman who is as highly, if not more highly, educated as he is.  

Basically, I cannot, in fact, make a "legitimate" claim of sexism toward him.  And yet....

I feel it.  I sense it.  It may be the difference between Michelangelo's David and Playgirl Magazine, but I don't think my sense should be dismissed because I can't explicitly prove it. So I guess I'll have to accept any charges aimed at me of being too "militantly feminist," but I'm not going to fear those charges to the point of allowing it to silence me.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Noah, I won't be watching

When Jon Stewart announced he would be leaving The Daily Show, liberal Americans all over went into mourning.  But we also had hope.  Nobody wanted to see our favorite arbiter of satire about the media go, but we all did, I think, hope that the show would bring more diversity to late night.  Comedy Central had already shown an interest in doing this when Stephen Colbert's show was replaced with a show by Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore, The Nightly Show, a very funny and politically savvy African American comedian.  Quite a few of us were rooting for a new, much-needed woman to join the late night talk show scene, which has been femaleless since Chelsea Handler left E! in 2014.  I know I personally wanted Samantha Bee, long-time writer and correspondent on the show, to take the reigns.  One has to wonder if her departure from The Daily Show earlier this year had to do with being passed over.  I would have been pretty happy with Aasif Mandvi or Al Madrigal.  But what happened, nobody expected.

In March, Comedy Central announced that the new host of one of their flagship shows would be Trevor Noah.  The world said a collective "Who?"  OK.  So he actually had appeared on a couple of episodes prior to the announcement, but this clearly wasn't internal hiring at it's best.  The good news - he is a biracial African man - literally from South Africa so he was able to bring an international flare to the show, as well.

Shortly after the announcement, Noah was hit with charges of racism and sexism because of a series of tweets he made in the past:

 In response to the controversy, Noah tweeted this:
This is, of course, a ridiculous statement and not an apology.  In an interview in GQ he said

"You show me half my jokes from even two years ago, three years ago—I hate them...Because you see, like, a young version of yourself. You’re like, ‘Why would you say that? You idiot! That makes no sense.’ Or, ‘That’s just stupid.’ Or, ‘Ahh, I can’t believe I said that about a woman.’ You should not like what you did back then, because that shows that you’ve grown. If you’re still doing it, that’s a scarier place to be. So that’s a great thing for me. When I get a chance to look back and go: ‘I was an idiot.’ ”

This is an even more egregious statement in suggesting that 2-3 years ago is "a young version of yourself."  Don't get me wrong.  I firmly believe that people shouldn't be held accountable to things they said when they were younger and less informed.  But 2-3 years?  Note - there is still no apology in this response, either.

So, I decided I wouldn't watch the show.  I understand that Jon Stewart, who I adore, supports him publicly and that he has real support from a lot of people that I respect, but I didn't think I could look at him and not think about these awful statements.  But Monday night, pretty much by accident, I ended up watching the premiere episode.  I decided to be open-minded.  I would give him a chance to win me over and try to let the other stuff go.  Maybe it would be considered a bad feminist by supporting him, but I wasn't going to restrict myself from something that would bring me laughs to be politically correct.  Well, at least, I hadn't decided if I would do that yet.

Now, I feel much better.  Why?  Because now I can say I won't watch the show anymore because it's just not funny.  There were a few moments that I chuckled at, but both were in response to the correspondents Jordan Klepper and, especially, Roy Wood, Jr.  Noah has made such a fuss about the fact that he doesn't want to be another Jon Stewart, and he certainly isn't, but boy was he trying hard to be.  Usually, when a show like this switches hosts, the new host completely revamps everything with new segments, new on-air support, new writers and a new agenda.  Not Trevor Noah!  

It's clear he is using Stewart's writers because all the jokes were written specifically for Stewart's delivery style, which Noah did not nail.  He also tried to buddy up and hyperbolically praise his guest, Kevin Hart, in Stewart fashion, but bungled that too, leading many audiences to find the whole thing uncomfortable.  He also tried Stewart's comedic "spit take," which was just sad.  And, of course, Stewart's trademark bit, "Your moment of Zen" was tacked on at the end, and contrary to what I'm sure they intended, which would be to show viewers that they wouldn't lose these familiar favorite segments, it just made me miss Jon Stewart more.  

I planned on giving Noah another chance, but most reviews are still pretty bad, so I'm in no hurry.  If they get better I might try again.  But honestly, I've lost a lot of respect for Comedy Central for their response to the controversy and have no respect for his responses, so maybe I'll just keep feeling good about the fact that the show wasn't any good and let myself off the hook from ever having to think about him again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Two Steps Forward...One Step Back

Everyone agrees that this year's Emmy awards show was a great step forward for women, especially black women.  Women were being awarded left and right, winning more of the gender-neutral awards  presented on television (Jill Solloway for Transparent, Lisa Cholodenko for Olive Kitteridge, Amy Schumer for Inside Amy Schumer, and a writing staff of almost 50% women for The Daily Show).  In fact, in the Lead Actor in a Comedy Series award went to Jeffrey Tambor for his role playing a transgendered woman on Transparent, so I'm chocking that win up to the ladies, as well.  And in the women's acting categories, there were nine African American women nominated and three of these amazing actresses won - Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Regina King (American Crime) and Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black).  I have no idea if these numbers set a new record, but it wouldn't surprise me. I do know that Davis is the first black woman to win for lead actress in a drama and gave a speech about the need for more opportunities for women of color that will go down in history:

 It was truly a monumental night.

However, there was one slew of awards given to a program that has been criticized for it's treatment of women all year - Game of Thrones.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I absolutely love the books and have been a big fan of the series so far.  But I, along with many other women, watched this season with a lot of discomfort and feminist blogs lit up with outrage.  The mainstream press was highly critical of the issue, as well.

While the response to this issue has always been about how there are rapes all over the books, too, the problem most women have with the rapes in the show is that they are done to major characters who were not raped in the book and they are often used as a way to make the women more interesting.

Only one major character, so far, in the books was raped - Daenerys (Khaleesi).  In the show, the first out-of-character rape that really upset most of the A Song of Ice and Fire series' fans was the rape of Cersei by her brother Jaime.  This was a particularly poor choice since it actually undoes all of the work George R. R. Martin did in the book of making Jaime likable.  But this last season saw the rapes and/or attempted rapes of Sansa, Gilly, and Arya - all crucial characters who were perfectly compelling without such rape and darkness in the novels.  Sarah Ditum in The New Statesmen argues that the rape of Sansa was just par for the course, but the way that they showed the rape was clearly meant to be gratuitous, particularly as they show the reaction of her step brother as she is raped.  She wrote "Apparently violence against a woman counts for more if it distresses a man."

One blog I read at the time (that I cannot find again to link to) pointed out that we shouldn't be so surprised because Game of Thrones is one of the few major series on television these days that has an entirely male writer's room, a problem they don't appear to be fixing.

Yet the Television Academy decided to award them 12 Emmys this season, including Best Drama Series and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the most controversial and anti-women season yet, essentially rewarding their sexism.

Again, I will say that the show has some really great aspects.  They offer some amazing roles for female actors, and the technical aspects of the show are superb.  I don't begrudge them winning some Emmys, particularly the one given to Peter Dinklage, but to reward their writers and the show for a season so full of gratuitous rape and violence towards women is to encourage the industry to do more of this, though they clearly need no such encouragement.  And it taints an otherwise amazing and woman-focused awards season.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Miss America? Really?

This weekend was the 2016 Miss America Pageant, a beauty contest that has been around since 1921. The history of the pageant is full of controversy from its insistence on only white contestants for the first 30 years (and the first African American contestant wasn't until 1971), its requirement that contestants sign a document confirming that they have never been married or pregnant, through the militant protests in the late 60s and 1970s during second wave feminism, and the ratings plummeting so low that from 2004 to 2011 the pageant wasn't even televised.

Since probably the 1980s, as a result of the criticism of the 60s and 70s, the pageant has defended itself by claiming to be a scholarship program.  Last year, Jon Oliver bunked the pageant's claims regarding the amount of scholarships they give out, proving that they don't actually award a fraction of the money they claim to.  But what's particularly ridiculous about this claim, which Oliver also alludes to, is that a woman's physical appearance should have nothing whatsoever to do with a college scholarship unless, maybe, its indirectly related to their ability to play a sport (I want to avoid the controversy of giving cheap/free college educations based on athleticism, for now).  Because contestants are meant to showcase a talent and answer a ridiculously complex question in 20 seconds, I suppose the pageant would argue that they are no different than IQ and sports-driven scholarships, but their own judging criteria betrays them.

According to their own website the guidelines for judging the swimsuit competition and evening gown competition are weighted so highly as to be essential in winning the pageant.  Not to mention the fact that there is a highly weighted "private interview" which could consist of any random criteria the judges choose to use, as many films and parodies have suggested, flirting may be one of those criteria.

I don't say this to suggest that these women are undeserving or stupid or untalented.  This year's winner is an opera singer with vocal chords made of gold!  But even she, surely, must feel demeaned by having to wear a bikini and parade around in an evening gown in order to be a contender for the scholarship.

But it is not the demeaning of the contestants that most bothers me.  They choose to compete in these pageants, knowing what they are, and some may think it's the only way to pay for college.  That's a laudable goal.  But what does this say to the little 7, 8, 9, 10-year old girls out there who see these women being judged on their physical appearance and "bubbly" personality?  I remember watching Miss American and Miss USA as a child and wanting to be one of those women.  In high school, I received the obligatory mailings encouraging me to compete, and I have to admit, there was a part of me that found that both flattering and tempting.  And, quite frankly, that sucks.  So much is made in the media about beauty pageants for little girls from the Jonbenet Ramsey murder, through the Toddlers & Tiaras scandal when a 3-year-old dressed as the Julia Robert's prostitute character in Pretty Woman to the woman, last year, who dressed her daughter as a Hooter's waitress.  And this penchant for dressing young girls in inappropriate "adult" clothing is not just molester-bait, and a way to start children down a road of sexual understanding they aren't ready for, but also contributes a great deal to the body image issues these young girls will eventually have.  In fact, they start to have these issues younger and younger.

I also remember, as a child, loving one particular dress that I had.  It was a big, beautiful Martha's Miniatures pink dress with layers and layers of skirt in the petticoat that bounced and had a small silver jingle bells sewn into them so that you literally made a beautiful sound with every step you took.

These dresses were the epitome of the little girl dress.  They were fluffy and bright.  They didn't show any risque skin or look anything like what an adult would would wear, at least not unless she was going to a square dance in 1915.  They literally came in all sizes, from petite to plus sized, so every little girl could fit in one.  And I never felt prettier than I did in that dress.  I still give my mom grief for giving it away to a friend of hers from work.  I dream about that dress.

Back then, clothes weren't about making you look thin or cheap or old.  Little girls' clothes were about the fun of twirling in a layered petticoat and the swoosh and, yes, chime sound that the dress made.  It was about being bright and happy and carefree.  We didn't want to dress up like adults because there was a clear line demarcating childhood and adulthood and the thought of crossing that line never occurred to us.  That line has become so blurred, now, that I fear for the next generation of girls.  The feminist movement has done so much for women's feelings of intellectual rigor and equality, but the fact that Miss America is still a thing is not only a slap in the face to all of those amazing women who came before, but a glaring neon sign warning us about the future of self-esteem and eating disorders for women who will continue to feel the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fat Like Me

I wasn't going to do it.  I wasn't going to contribute to the noise surrounding Nicole Arbour and her idiotic fat shaming video.  I know that doing so just adds fuel to the fire and I don't believe someone like her should be rewarded for doing something like that by giving her the attention she so desperately wants. I did not watch the video.  I will not watch the video.  (Notice I did not link to it, either - if you want to watch it you'll have to find it yourself).  As a morbidly obese woman myself, why would I want to intentionally subject myself to her shaming. 

This blog may contribute to the noise, but I don't really want to talk about shaming (been there, done that) or "fat pride" or even, really, body image issues.  I want to talk about cancer.  Or, what I really want to talk about is how my fat relates to my cancers, and why I'm taking action.

I have had two cancers in my life so far, which is a lot  since I'm only 40.  My first cancer was endometrial cancer - it was caught very early, I had a hysterectomy, I was cancer free.  Two years later, as I was about to celebrate my two-year anniversary as cancer free, they found a cancerous mass in my kidney - renal cell carcinoma.  This was also caught early, I had a partial nephrectomy and was once again, cancer free.  Because of this second cancer, I knew I needed to lose weight.  As I said before, I am morbidly obese.  Both of these cancers are ER+, meaning that they are caused by an excess of estrogen.  And here's something I found shocking - estrogen is the main ingredient, so to speak, of fat cells (adipose tissue).  So my cancers were due, at least in part, to my obesity.  I felt like Samantha on Sex and the City when her oncologist tells her that her "lifestyle" contributed to her cancer.  Samantha is furious - feeling like she is being called a slut.  And the episode is particularly compelling because it's true - people who give birth are less likely to get breast cancer, and how is that fair?  I suppose being morbidly obese can be a gender-neutral issue, despite the truth of Susan Orbach's title Fat is a Feminist Issue. At least obese men's chances of cancer are the same as obese women's (at least in a fair world, that would be true, and I don't know that it's not).  But that doesn't make the disease being blamed on my lifestyle feel any fairer.  At any rate, I lost about 70 lbs. I felt great.  I moved to Colorado where it would be really easy to be healthy.  I gained it all back.

Two years later (this year), after going through genetic testing to try to identify why I had two cancers before I was 40, the geneticists were shocked to find that I had no genetic markers for either of the cancers that I have had, but I have the BRCA 2 gene mutation - the one that causes breast and ovarian cancer.  My mutation gives me a 85-90% chance of developing breast cancer (I don't have ovaries anymore, so I'm safe there). 

On a side note, this whole thing is rather ironic because before I ever had any cancer I had begun researching and writing a paper about female cancers and how doctors treat women with these diseases.  I had sent it out to a peer reviewed journal right before my first diagnosis and I haven't been able to make myself work on it since because it feels a little cursed, but I keep planning on it.

So I make one of the most difficult decisions of my life and decide to have a mastectomy in order to lower my chances of breast cancer by quite a bit.  My mother drove out to Denver from St. Louis to go to the breast surgeon with me. I was completely nervous for a good 48 hours before my appointment.  "It's all good," my mother assured me, "once we have a date we will have a plan and we can get it taken care of.  It will be a lot less stressful once we know."

I'm not saying that I'm psychic, but... I just knew things weren't going to go well.

The second the doctor stepped into the room, she sized me up and had a look of disgust on her face.  She asked me what was going on and I explained why I wanted the mastectomy.  "Well," she says, "I can do that.  I can give you a mastectomy, but that's not going to prolong your life." 

Stunned, I didn't know what to say.  She proceeded.  "We have to decide right now whether you want to avoid getting cancer or live longer."

"Both," I said, credulously. 

Then she stared in on her "fat shaming" lecture.  She told me that I would die soon if I didn't have a gastric bypass.  She told me that there was no point having a mastectomy because my obesity would kill me before the cancer did.  (Mind you, I'm morbidly obese, but I'm no bed-ridden person whose unable to function in life).  As I cried and cried and cried, she continued, completely unaffected, to tell me that the cancers I've had so far were all my fault and that if I get breast cancer it will be all my fault, too.  Yes, she absolutely used the word "fault."  No amount of my assuring her that I had every intention of losing the weight, and that I was not going to have surgery to do it, but I wanted to get rid of this cancer threat now could persuade her.  Even my mother interjected. "You know that she's had cancer twice.  I don't know what it's like to have cancer twice. Do you?"

The doctor just looked at my mother with annoyance and told me that surgery was too risky at my size (I've mentioned that I've had two major surgeries at this weight, right?  I've actually had three - I had an appendectomy 3 years before I got cancer.)  My mother jumped to my defense again.  "It's too dangerous for her to have a mastectomy but you want her to have a much more invasive surgery?" she pointed out wisely.  The doctor was taken aback at the introduction of logic into the conversation.

"Fine," she said, "I'll do the surgery but she needs to get approved by pre-procedural services first.  And the plastic surgeon won't do the reconstruction on her at this size, so she'll have to walk around without breasts until she loses the weight."  Then she hugged me.  YICK!!!!

Shocked, my mother and I left the hospital.  I didn't know what to do, but I knew I did not want that woman ever touching me again.

You see, Nicole Arbour, my doctor shamed me and it had the exact opposite effect of her intentions.  Let's entertain the possibility that you really were worried about people's health (it's a stretch, I know) but if that were the case, you just sent any fat person who ever gave a damn about your opinion running for the ice cream.  That's what I did that day.

Pre-procedural services said I was perfectly healthy for surgery and the woman there was an angel.  I told her the whole story about my surgeon and she empathized completely, and then in a completely non-judgmental and supportive way, asked me why I didn't want to have weight loss surgery.  This opened up a dialogue that eventually led to her getting me into a class, getting me into an early appointment with the bariatric surgery people, and getting me on the road to have a gastric sleeve (nowhere near as invasive as the bypass). 

Don't get me wrong.  In no way am I saying that surgery should solve the problems of fat people.  Surgery doesn't solve anything.  It's a tool, and it's a blunt tool, that will make me lose weight quicker, but with a lot more difficulty, with a much more restrained diet for the rest of my life, with a much increased possibility of having my gall bladder removed, and a greater risk of regaining the weight than if I did it the slow way.  The surgery is a great option for people whose lives are in danger due to such excessive weight, and while I know I'm not doing myself any favors, I also feel confident that I'm not in that kind of danger.  What swayed me to the surgery was the reconstruction thing.  It would take me too long to lose the weight by myself.  I would be plagued the whole time with the certainty that I walk around with every day, that I must already have breast cancer.  But I also want the reconstruction right away.  So, I'm doing the surgery and as a reward I'm going to get much bigger boobs. 

My point is, I made the decision to do this for my health, because my weight is unhealthy, but I did it thanks to an interaction with an incredibly kind and non-judgmental woman, not because I was fat shamed by my doctor. 

I don't think that anyone really believes that Nicole Arbour cares about fat people and wants us to be healthy.  But should anyone out there decide to take her poor advice and talk to their friends about their obesity, be warned, you will not be doing anyone any favors by taking the Arbour approach.  You'll be VERY lucky if you still have a friend.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Shame on Me

I recently read Jon Ronson's new book So You've Been Publicly Shamed where he charts his journey from proud twitter shamer to reformed internet user and abashed shamer.  He begins by discussing how he found his power against people who were using his name and celebrity identity to forward their own agenda by taping an interview with them and posting it online.  The "support" he received, in the form of hatred toward those people made him feel proud.  And who wouldn't?  The public outcry even results in the impersonators relenting.  He then goes on to talk about various other "shaming" incidents of varying infamy, including what was perhaps the most famous twitter shaming at the time, the Justine Sacco debacle.  Ronson admits to thinking that the outrage against her was overblown and I agree.  I remember thinking that it was a really stupid thing to tweet, especially for someone who works in PR, but didn't think that it made her a "racist."

This book was particularly interesting to me because of an episode of This American Life that deals with internet trolls and their often overly aggressive and sexual treatment toward women.  Ronson acknowledges this hateful aspect of internet shaming as well, pointing out that one woman was embroiled in a scandal with dozens of men and she was the only one who ended up being shamed at all.  What both of these texts suggest is that the anonymity of the internet creates a "safe space" for people to vent their aggression on others in an age where aggression isn't acceptable in the real world.  This is particularly true for aggression against women - threats of rape, murder, slut-shaming and attacks on physical appearance are a dominant form of internet hatred.  Perhaps most shockingly, these attackers are not limited to the male of the species.  And in every instance, these attacks are the purest form of ad hominem logical fallacy there is.  In other words, these people are always attacking the person, not what she did, said, didn't do, or represents.

Most recently this type of ad hominem hatred has been leveled at a woman named Kim Davis, a court clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. This has even led to one particularly harsh internet meme:
And certainly, there has been a great deal of backlash for this trolling, but those articles tend to invite even more hatred.  One blog that really took issue with this issue is filled with internet commenters who justify these trolls by claiming "She's ugly on the inside" as if that makes these posts somehow legitimate.

For me, Jon Ronson's book was more eye-opening than I expected.  While I've never been an internet troll, personally, or spewed hatred over twitter (mostly because I don't really "get" twitter and just don't use it), I have certainly supported some of these tactics internally.  One of the major instances that comes to mind is Ricky Gervais' shaming of a woman who tweeted a picture of herself posed with a rifle and a dead giraffe:
There's still a part of me that relishes the treatment she received because of how grotesque I find this image, but where do you draw the line?  In Gervais' defense, he pretty much sticks to attacks that are directly related to what she has done.  Still...

After reading Ronson's book, I was pleased that he had decided to stop participating in internet shaming and considered myself immune from having to take any such action because, as stated earlier, I've never really done so.  In a way, though, I felt a certain urgency to hate the haters - shame the shamers.  But his book had an unexpected influence on me.  Most people chalk up internet trolling to the anonymity of the internet by saying that people have an outlet to say something they would never say in person, and I think that's very true.  However, I found myself in an interesting situation recently on the Denver light rail.

There was an average-sized man on the train who was taking up two seats and had his enormous bag on the floor in the aisle instead of on the seat next to him, where it would have easily fit.  There was also a girl sitting across from a girl who she clearly did not know with her feet on the seat across from her, essentially blocking the other girl from being able to even get up and exit the seat.  In both instances, I was very perturbed and sat there fuming and planning what I wanted to say to them.  You see, I am completely the type of person who might go up to someone who is violating social rules in what I consider an inconsiderate way and verbally shame them, depending on my mood.  This day, I was spoiling for a fight.  As I prepared what I was going to say to each of them, I remembered an episode of Invisibilia about just this type of frustration and a twitter account that was created specifically to ridicule such rudeness.  And then I realized that what I was sitting there contemplating doing was worse than internet trolling. I may have said something to their faces, but I would have been doing it publicly to shame them in front of real live people.  We convince ourselves, I think, that when we shame someone we are doing a service because they will think twice before they take any such action again, and maybe they will.  But the truth is, they probably won't.  I know that if I were the recipient of such a confrontation, I wouldn't feel shame, but deeply insulted and I would look around for others to share a "can you believe how crazy?" eye roll with and then possibly brood over the incident for days as an example of how rude people can be.  I know this is the likeliest outcome, and so do most "shamers," so, deep down, I also know that "correction" is not my real goal.  No, if I had acted on my instincts and said something to either of those fellow train travelers, my motives would have been clear to everyone there, including myself, however much I wouldn't want to admit it.  I would have simply been trying to exert my superiority over those who I felt were somehow lesser-than, and therefore make myself feel better.

I didn't say anything, of course.  I followed Ronson's lead and made a vow never to do anything like that again.

But if you're out there, oh-so-rude light rail seat and aisle hogs, could you maybe, possibly, try to be a bit more considerate, not to avoid being publicly shamed, but simply as a courtesy to those of us who may be having a bad day and feel frustrated at the world already.  Thanks!