to yesterday’s very short post on the discussion board about how I’m hideous and a fat ugly pig. And it’s a long one, and I’m on a lot of painkillers, so please excuse typos or anything that just doesn’t make sense. I was a little bit in shock, and a little bit upset, when I first read the message board, so I didn’t really get into why I even posted it or why it bothered me so much. And I do appreciate all the comments, but the point of the post wasn’t to say, “Please tell me I’m pretty!” Zuzu really summed it up when she wrote, “These guys are obviously assholes, but it bothers me that being called fat and/or hideous provokes such a strong, “But you’re not fat! You’re not ugly!” response. I could just be feeling marginalized by the idea that being fat is the worst thing a woman could be called. ”
One problem is that lot of women feel that being fat is the worst thing that they could be called, and there are a million sexist social reasons for that which I would love to get into now, but which I think we’re mostly aware of. I’m not one of those women, and “you’re fat” isn’t the worst thing you can say to me, but I might as well be completely honest and admit that it’s probably in the top 100. Being called fat and ugly by strangers was a bit of a blow, and did upset me. And that’s fucked up for a whole set of other reasons that I’m not getting in to here.
But honestly, I can deal with being called fat and ugly. Am I fat? Am I ugly? Eh, I don’t know. Some days, sure, I think so. Some days I think I’m hot shit. There will be people out there who think so, and people out there who don’t — so what? But if I am, does it make anything I said any less valid? The bigger issue here is that what I am is beside the point. What insults like that do is they attack all women everywhere. They let us know that if we don’t fit a certain standard, we don’t deserve to have our ideas addressed on their merits. And on top of that, the standard is fluid. There isn’t a standard. There are different standards for each situation, for each person doing the evaluating. We’re dealing with individual opinions, and while we can certainly make the argument that there is such a thing as “conventional beauty,” when you hold up any woman to an audience of strangers and ask them in bad faith to evaluate her looks, it doesn’t matter how attractive she is — she will be torn apart. The first thing I thought of when reading that thread (well, the first thing I thought of after I picked my jaw up off the table at the shock of what total assholes these people can be) was the way women in sexaul harassment cases are treated. I don’t have anything to link to now, and I’m a little drugged too up on painkillers to get the energy to do a decent search (widsom teeth came out this morning), but what a lot of those cases come down to is, “why would he sexually harass her?” You hear the same with rape cases, particularly when the alleged rapist is attractive or successful — “Why would he rape her? He can get sex from much more beautiful women” or “Why would he rape her? He has such a beautiful wife at home.” On the other hand, being too pretty isn’t much of a help, either. Because then she must have enticed him, or her looks or clothing must have been sending him messages. When you’re held up to be evaluated on your physical or sexual attractiveness, it’s a lot more fun for people to find flaws and shoot you down than not. When you’re held up to a subjective physical standard, to people who have no personal investment in you as a person, you cannot win.
I see this in the blogosphere all the time, here and elsewhere (although I tend to think that our commenters are overwhelmingly polite and thoughtful, and don’t fall into this trap nearly as often as I see it elsewhere). If it’s agreed that Lauren and I are pretty, then we run the risk of being labeled bimbos, or Ginger and Maryanne. If we’re ugly, then we’re only feminists because we can’t get men. I do think that the fact that neither Lauren nor I would be considered ugly by most people (message boards aside), and that we’ve both been in long-term relationships with men does give us a bit of a privilege in the feminist blogging world, because it takes those arguments away from our opponents. I know we’ve both gotten the “you’re a hairy ugly lesbian feminist” thing, but it hasn’t been in response to pictures, or to what we actually look like. And indeed, the defense to these accusations has typically followed along the lines of, “But Jill and Lauren aren’t ugly” or “But Jill and Lauren have had serious boyfriends so they can’t be man-haters.” It’s fair, I think, when the argument against you is premised on your physical appearance or your sexuality or life decisions to respond by defending yourself. But I’m not sure it’s helpful.
So a little background about this board. It came to my attention this summer, with the Miss NYU calendar flare-up that I wrote about here. Apparently someone on the thread thought was I was involved with the effort to shut down the calendar — I wasn’t, I was in Italy when the whole thing was happening, and I had no association with the anti-calendar group (and for the record, as far as I know, no one wanted to “shut down” the calendar). The only thing I did was write a blog post about it, and have a short conversation with the woman who was heading up the effort to simply get people talking about the issues the calendar raised. After that, I didn’t read the board again until a couple months into school, when a kid who I went to undergrad with and who also goes to NYU mentioned that a message board he read had repeated references to me. So he sent me a link, and then I went through the board myself, and found a bunch of different threads where my name came up. It was generally harmless, if a little creepy — stuff like “Jill F is my future wife” and “Any Jill F sightings yet?” It seemed to come primarily from one poster. So I ignored it for a while again, until someone else mentioned it to me. So I went back and read it, and saw that it was getting weirder and grosser — there were mentions of “tag teaming” me, people who said they saw me around school and I was nothing special, comments that I was a feminist bitch and assorted other names, and finally one saying that he “would hate-fuck that cunt.” That put me a little over the edge, and I skipped a day or two of school and started studying at home for about a week, just so I wouldn’t have to walk around campus. I know it sounds crazy (and I definitely felt crazy), but everywhere I went at school I felt like people were looking at me, and like they were evaluating me — like they must have been thinking, “Oh, she isn’t pretty at all” or “Those guys on the board were totally wrong” or “She’s fat” or “I’d fuck her” or, the worst, that they were the people doing the posting, and they were going to go home and write about how they saw me and I was indeed ugly, or I was fuckable, or I was a bitch. It wasn’t so much negative comments that got to me — it was the evaluation of something that I have no control over, in a space where I’m not putting myself out to be evaluated. Nothing I can do is going to change their opinion of whether or not I’m attractive, and I don’t really care all that much if they think I am or not. But I do care when I feel like I can’t walk to class without people looking at me and then anonymously posting their thoughts online, and when they aren’t taking on what I say or what I believe, but what I look like — and when I’m being put in a position where I can’t fight back. If they say, “You’re wrong about feminism,” I can say, “No I’m not” and I can explain why. But if they say, “You’re ugly,” I can’t really say, “No I’m not.” It’s a feeling of powerlessless, and it’s a position that I’m not used to being placed in.
I’m a fairly self-confident person. I don’t usually feel like I’m being evaluated on my looks. I don’t generally assume that people are looking at me any more than they’re looking at anyone else. But for the last two months of school, I was absolutely neurotic, glaring at anyone I didn’t know who made eye contact with me, and doing my best to not let myself check that stupid board to see what they were saying. (It’s worth mentioning that my name wasn’t coming up constantly, just maybe in 10 threads — but enough where every two weeks or so, someone would mention something). I talked to someone about it, and he suggested that I talk to the dean of students. I didn’t, because I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of it than I had to. I was hoping that if I ignored it, they would get bored and it would go away. Finally I just figured, there’s nothing I can do about these people. Most of them probably don’t go to NYU. If they want to sit around on a message board and talk about me, then that’s their business.
But it’s not going away. The reason I found the thread that I posted last night is because someone put it on my friend Julie’s Facebook wall (for those who don’t know, Facebook is the college version of My Space or Friendster — it connects you with people at your school and others, and you can post pictures and leave messages). I realize that with this blog, I put myself out there for criticism, and I think Lauren and I have both demonstrated that we can and do take it. But like Lauren said in the comments to the last post, we don’t put out pictures up as some proof that we’re attractive, or to make people take us more seriously, or because we’re saying that looking a certain way makes our opinions more valuable. We put our pictures up, like Lauren said, to put a face to our writing. I feel like there’s a community here — I know about what a lot of the commenters do for a living, what you care about, where you go to school. You know about Lauren’s son and her cats and her garden and her students, and my dog and my school and other details of my life. That’s a big part of why I like this blog, because it does feel personal, and because I feel like Lauren and I present ourselves as human beings with families and pets and lives, not just opinions and ideals (although we obviously have those too). But we don’t share that information, or the pictures, so that they can be used against us. And I’m not going to school, as a student and as a person who has done nothing at NYU Law to distinguish myself from anyone else going there, to have my fellow students go online and evaluate my appearance.
Ignoring it isn’t working, so I’ve brought it here where I can respond in my space, with my rules. If they think that I’m a feminist bitch or an idiot or a fat cow, that’s fine — they can grow some balls (or some ovaries, but I suspsect most of them are men) and come here. To quote Ms. Lauren again,
If anyone is still unclear on this, and yes I’m speaking to those of you who have tried to comment with more of the same, your comments on this blog (except for the NYU calendar — you had your chances, sorry) are welcome providing they are on topic and providing that you attempt to address the topic in an adult manner. See the comment policy above this string of comments if this eludes you. Bonus points offered to those who are brave enough to use real names and/or email accounts, especially if you choose to comment on Jill in alternative forums. At least give her the option of looking out for your sorry asses as she goes about her day.
Lauren sums up, more eloquently, what I’m trying to get out of posting stuff like this — it’s not an ego boost. The fact is that it feels threatening to know that people I go to school with are reading this board and posting on it. It’s gross, it’s cowardly, and it’s intentionally hurtful. It shows a remarkable amount of cruelty toward a person that, as far as I know, they’ve never met. It’s also representative of the stuff that a lot of other women get a whole lot worse. And I was just pissed off and wanted to call these assholes out on their shit.
So that’s that. Sorry it got so long. Just wanted to clarify why that post even went up in the first place. And to say thanks for how kind everyone has been, and the thoughtful comments and posts in response, like this one from Hugo. Now it’s time for another percoset. And perhaps another post, of something more fun. Like dog pictures.
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