How did I become a feminist without knowing it?

Answer: I was raised by my grandmother.

I started thinking about this after reading a post that The Rotund has up on her LiveJournal*, dealing with a blatantly sexist comment.

Here’s the part of my comment that really got me thinking:

But then, I was raised to believe that I was just as good as any man. I didn’t learn about feminism, as such, but a lot of the standards by which my grandmother raised me were, in fact, feminist. We just didn’t call it that.

See, my grandmother came of age in the 50’s.  You know the stereotypical image of a 50’s housewife?  That was her.  She would bake cookies and was on the PTA and all that shit.

But she had another side to her.  Once her children were old enough to be left on their own (or to be left in charge of their older siblings), she went to work.  Not on a permanent, full-time basis, but when they needed the extra money, she would work.  (My grandfather was a carpenter, which meant money would get extremely tight in the winters, or when the housing market was slow.)  And when she went to work?  The family helped.  She didn’t go to work all day and then come home and do all the housework.  My father and aunts and uncles had jobs, and they did them.  She did every job you could think of – including working in a bomb factory during the Korean War.  Seriously.  If you ever piss this woman off, she could literally blow your ass up.

And she raised her children, even then, to believe that they could do or be anything they wanted, regardless of their gender.  In fact, when my aunt B became pregnant at 16, the biggest problem my grandmother had with the whole situation was that it would prevent aunt B from getting an education (meaning beyond high school) and being able to “make something” of her life.  She had the same problem with me when I became pregnant with Number One Daughter at 18.

She taught all of us girls – my 2 aunts and me – that we didn’t need a man for anything.  Despite the fact that she was married, she was a very independent person, always.  (Of course, the fact that my grandfather seemed to think that his role in the family was simply to go to work and then come home and sit in a chair might have something to do with that; my grandmother had to learn to do a lot of things herself, simply because my grandfather refused to do them.)  But she didn’t teach us to hate men.  While she seemed to give up on men after the one and only relationship she had after divorcing my grandfather, I don’t remember her speaking hatefully about men in general.  Specific men, maybe – but if that was the case, then believe me, they deserved it.

My grandparents divorced in the early 80’s.  Shortly after that is when I went to live with her full-time.  And I think, being raising me (in a single-parent setting; by that time all my aunts and uncles had left home so it was just her and I) after having gone through all of that may have had an effect on the WAY she raised me.

The first time I remember hearing the word “feminist” was in high school.  I studied Sociology and Current Affairs and the word kept coming up.  Thankfully for me, my sociology teacher was a great woman that did a whole section on Feminism.  At the time, I was more concerned with learning and getting good grades than really thinking about what I was learning, but now that I look back on it, I realize why I agreed with everything she taught us.

Because that’s how my grandmother raised me.

I don’t think – even now – that my grandmother would have ever called herself a feminist.  But that’s exactly what she was and is.  She has never let the fact that she is a woman stop her from anything.  And I’ve always admired her for that.

And I would never stoop to call myself an expert on feminism, nor a perfect feminist, but it’s struck me repeatedly the surprise I’ve felt when I learn more and realize that the beliefs I’ve always had were right in line with feminism.

Why the hell should I be surprised?  I was raised by a strong, independent woman.

* – The Rotund has mentioned her LiveJournal before, but as she has it friends-locked, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to link to it.  Normally I would have, but I don’t think that would be right in this case.

What *I* want for Fat Acceptance.

Quite a few blog posts have had me thinking about this.  One of which I have to admit, I sparked And because we’re not a monolithic group, because we’re made up of many different people from many different walks of life who have many different personal goals regarding FA, I decided I needed to be completely clear about my wishes for FA.  These are my opinions only and do no reflect on FA as a whole.  Please do not read this as me speaking for the whole group.  This is just me, one person in that group, saying what I want to happen.

I want Fat Persons to be given the basic human rights they deserve. No one should have to worry about discrimination or harassment.  No one should have to be fed fatphobia in such quantities that it makes their lives miserable.  The bullying, emotional torture, and harassment needs to stop.

I want this for every fat person alive. Able-bodied and not.  Black, white, and every color and shade of color in between.  Neurologically normal or not.  Whether you exercise every day or prefer to spend your days reading (as an example).  Whether you eat a “good, balanced” diet or you eat junk food.  Whether or not you have an ED of any kind.  There is no reason on earth that you should be subjected to having your basic human rights taken away from you just because you happen to be fat.

I want to dispel the misconceptions and unfair stereotypes of fat people. That doesn’t mean that if you are lazy and do over eat that you don’t have a place in “my” movement.  Not at all.  But just because _______ fat person overeats and doesn’t exercise doesn’t mean it’s true for all fat people.  But those of you that do overeat? Don’t exercise? Are lazy?  You all deserve respect, too.

I want the world to wake up to the realization that thin =/= healthy and fat =/= unhealthy. Being fat in and of itself does not make one unhealthy.  There is a wide spectrum of fat and health, just as there is with thin and health.  But being healthy is not a moral obligation.  Whether you are fat and healthy or fat and unhealthy, it is no reason for you not to be treated like a human being.  It simply does not matter.

I also want the world to wake up to the realization that diets do not work. Even when you don’t call them “diets.”  Telling me to call Jenny Craig is not going to magically make me thin.  Assuming I eat like a glutton all day and telling me “just try eating less, fatty” isn’t going to work either.  There is absolutely nothing on this earth that is guaranteed to work in making a fat person permanently thin.  The key word here is permanently.  Sure, some diets work in the short-term.  I personally have known quite a few people that went from VERY fat to thin on a diet – I’ll use my Aunt D’s best friend K as an example.  Guess where her body size is now?  Yep, you guessed it – even fatter than before.  I honestly believe, had this woman never dieted in the first place, she’d probably be fat, but she’d probably be around the size I am now (which I admit is on the smaller end of the fat scale).  As it is now, the last time I saw her she was somewhere near the vicinity of 500 lbs.  I truly believe all the dieting she’s done is what has brought her to this point.  I’ve known her all of my life and have seen her go up and down and up and down.  Diets don’t work.  And she’s a great example of that.

Saying that I want all fat people to be accepted as human beings is not the same thing as saying I want the rest of the world to find us all attractive. You don’t have to be attracted to me, or any other fat person.  A person’s level of attractiveness should not factor in to whether or not you treat them with basic dignity and respect.  You don’t have to like me to be respectful to me.  Shit, I can’t stand my mother-in-law, and yet I still treat her with respect and courtesy.  Why?  Because she’s a person.  I don’t have to like her to be polite to her.

However, beauty and attractiveness are two different things. You can find the beauty in a person without wanting to jump their bones.  It might not even be physical beauty.  And you know what?  That’s okay!  It’s okay to say that you can find a person beautiful for one reason or another and not find them attractive.  It’s a good thing, even.

I want the world’s governments to stop trying to “regulate” our bodies. People are designed to come in all shapes and sizes.  And if you bureaucratic anal-retentives would get your collective cranium removed from your collective colon, you’d realize that what you’re being spoon-fed by the mainstream media is being dispelled left and right.  It’s just not being advertised as much as the bullshit you’re swallowing.  Obesity is not a disease, and there is no epidemic.  You can’t catch it, and you can’t “cure” it.  It doesn’t need to be cured.  All the regulations you could come up with are not going to get you the results you want.  It’s just not going to happen.

I want BMI thrown out with the bath water. BMI is an antiquated, arbitrary, ridiculous standard to which no one should be accountable.  It simply doesn’t measure anything except for height and weight.  Human bodies are much more complicated than that.

That’s all I can think of right now.  This is, by no means, a complete list.  This is just what I’ve come up with in one sitting.  I may decide to edit this later on, I don’t know.

Mother, you’re breaking your Daughter’s heart.

nuff said.

'nuff said.

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to write this.  I knew I wanted to write about it, from the moment I had this conversation with her, but I just didn’t know how to approach it.  I’ve decided to make it an open letter to my mother.

Mother,

My heart is breaking for you.  This year has been terrible – first the thing with Baby Sister and Nephew, and then Stepfather died in the Spring.   I’ve been amazed at how strong you sound every time we talk on the phone.  I wouldn’t blame you if you just broke down, but you just keep going, no matter how hard things get for you.  You truly are an inspiration.

But then you talk about having lap-band surgery.  And my heart breaks even more.

You say that you “need” it.  That your health is just “so terrible,” and it’s the only thing that’s going to save you.

But Mommy, you’re going to do yourself more harm than good.

You say that it’s going to cure your diabetes, high blood pressure, and back problems.  All of which you know are inherited.  Grandmother had every single one of those problems, and Grandfather has at least two of them that I remember.  You say Grandmother was once as big as you are now – and honestly, I haven’t seen you in 5 years, so I don’t know how much you’ve gained – and you use that as an excuse to prove to me that you have to have this surgery.

But Grandmother wasn’t always very heavy.  I remember her being roughly the size I am now.  And I know that when she died, she was pretty small.  Just because she was heavy at one time in her life does not mean that one time caused all those health problems.

Having the doctor close off part of your stomach is not going to do you any good.  You’re going to become malnourished.  Sure, your diabetes might get better.  Because you’ll be starving yourself. Your body needs more than just a few ounces of food a day.  And it would even if you were thin.

I know it’s hard to fight the fatphobia that you see every day.  Even people who are well meaning are a lot of the times, unknowing fatphobes.  It’s institutionalized and it’s almost impossible to get away from.  I understand that, I really do.

But I hate to see you taking all of that fat hatred in and turning it on yourself.  Don’t you get enough hatred pointed your way from others?  Do you really have to hate yourself, too?

Part of my reaction is our relationship.  Since finding each other again six years ago, we have developed the kind of relatioship I only thought we could have in my dreams.  I have been able to turn to you when things got bad, and you supported and encouraged me.  I never thought I’d have that.

Part of it is my own rising self-esteem.  I can hear the self-loathing in your voice even when you don’t outwardly express it – because I’ve been there.  And I know how good it feels now to be able to say I like myself just the way I am.  I want you to know that feeling, too.

And part of it is that I’ve learned so much in the last few months, and hearing that you’re seriously contemplating surgery – to fix one thing that’s not broken, and to fix others that it simply won’t work for – seriously terrifies me.  You just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.  And while I know that there are serious statistics – X amount of people have serious health problems, X amount of people actually die as a result of the surgery, X amount of people will actually end up gaining all their weight back – I never thought to save the URLs of the blog posts/studies/news articles I read, so I can’t “prove” it to you.  I know what I know, but without that “proof” I know you’ll just dismiss me as being a worried daughter.

And I am a worried daughter, no question.  But I also know that what you’re contemplating doing is going to be so much worse for your health than doing nothing at all.

And it makes me want to cry.

Fat Family: an Observation

Yesterday was my best friend’s (May) daughter’s (Hayley) birthday.  As I’ve said before, my best friend and her family are like my own second family.  And apparently the feeling is mutual, because Charlene (May’s 2nd daughter) said practically the same thing to me the other night.

While we were all out together, we ran into her cousin, Adam, and it got the gears rolling.  I was just too drunk to be able to make heads or tails of it until today.  😉

I’ve met pretty much every member of their extended family.  There’s my best friend May, and her sisters Joan, Celia, and Carol.  All of them are fat.  All of them started out relatively thin.  As far as May’s children go, they’re about half and half.  She has 4 kids: one boy and three girls.  Danny, momma’s boy (and I mean that affectionately – he’s very close to his mother) and Charlene are both on the fat side.  Hayley is what I would consider thin (she wears a UK size 8 ) and Tiffany is downright skinny – a UK size 2.  She’s so skinny that when we first met, I asked May if Tiff was anorexic.  But she isn’t – this girl can EAT.  She’s just naturally skinny.  But Charlie, May’s ex and the father of her children, is also very thin.

But looking at her sisters and their children, I see something similar happening.  I met (Joan’s son) Adam when he was still in school, somewhere around 15 or 16.  Now he’s old enough to be working in a bar (which is what he was doing last night when we ran into him).  When I first met him?  Definitely in the thin – average range.  Now?  Yup, the boy’s fat.  Joan’s daughter Lindsay was the same way.  Thin all the way through school and then got fat as an adult.  And I see the same things happening with Celia’s and Carol’s kids.  They all seem pretty thin until they hit adulthood, and then about half of them get fat.

But all of these women have (or have had, in some cases) thin – average partners.

While there might be a lot of dissention from the “medical community” on the validity of the nature v.s. lifestyle debate on fat, I personally think it’s a lot more valid than they would like to admit.  (And lord knows there’s never been an actual objective study done on this subject.)  Mostly from my own experiences, but the more I observe others, the more convinced I become.

Not every single fat person in my best friend’s family could possibly have the same sort of lifestyle.  They can’t all be eating McDonald’s every day and laying on the couch until they begin to become one with it.  Shit, I know that May herself was NEVER what I would consider an inactive person.  Not even now that she’s battling terminal leukemia is she inactive.  Sure, she’s not as active as before, but her stamina never ceases to amaze me.  And she doesn’t over eat.  Hell, she doesn’t eat ENOUGH.  Her 3-year old grandson eats more than she does.  So all these stereotypes about fat people?  Are bullshit.  (Although I really don’t have to tell most of you that, but I wanted to put it in there anyway.)

Why is it that I – a person with only a high school education, no degrees of any kind, and no real skills above being able to type like a madwoman – can see the validity of the “naturally fat” theory and these so-called professionals, who went to school literally TWICE as long as I did, cannot?

What the hell kind of “professionals” do we have conducting these studies anyway???

Pre-Friday Fun: My New “Baby”

I got a kitten yesterday!!!!  😀

I had been saying for months that I would love to have another cat.  We had 2 when we lived in Illinois – Cheyenne and Dakota (they were brother and sister).  Cheyenne accidentally got locked out of the house the day we brought The Little Chatterbox home from the hospital – Hubby accidentally locked her between the storm door and the screen door and she managed to get the screen door open and ran away.  😦  I swear, I cried for a month afterward.  Dakota we had until The Little Helper set the house on fire in September 2002, and we had to give him away.  We had moved in with my grandmother and she flat-out refused to let us keep him.

A couple of years ago, we took in a former stray that Hubby’s best friend’s wife found.  We named her Jasmine.  Unfortunately, she died in her sleep about 6 months later.  But she was roughly 8 years old, and while that’s not exactly old in cat years, the fact that she was a stray meant that she was pretty much guaranteed to die an early death.  Our only consolation was that she knew she was loved and taken care of at the end.

See, I love animals.  I would absolutely LOVE to have a dog, but that’s one thing Hubby puts his foot down on.  He can’t stand dogs, and absolutely Will. Not. Ever. allow me to have one.  But cats?  Even HE loves cats.  But we aren’t financially able to be paying £80-£100 for a cat from a pet store, and besides, I really like the idea of taking in an animal that needs a home.

Well, I got lucky.  My neighbor’s son David came to the door at the end of last week and asked if I wanted a kitten.  Someone they (the neighbors) knew was giving them away already litter-trained and with all the supplies, even.  I sweet-talked Hubby into letting me take it, and David brought her home yesterday.  Complete with litter tray, food bowl, food, and a small amount of litter.  Enough that I won’t have to worry about it for a good week or so.

She’s a sweetheart, though.  In this picture, she’d climbed up on my shoulder herself.  She’s still a little skittish around the children, but I can’t say I blame her.  They won’t leave the poor thing alone!  And then they wonder why she keeps running away from them.  *headshake*

She’s a bit of a psycho, too.  This morning, as I was waiting for the girls to finish getting ready for school, Hubby was still half-asleep and the kitten was on the corner of the bed… chasing her own tail.  I’ve never seen a cat chase its own tail before.  Dogs, yes.  But not cats.

She’s really taken a shine to the Hubby, too.  He went out this evening, meeting a friend for dinner and a few drinks, and when he got home she nearly attacked him in her eagerness to be held by him.  Which I have to admit makes me just a tiny bit jealous – I’m the one that wanted her in the first damned place! 😉  But eh… as long as she’s getting comfortable with us, that’s all that matters, right?

She doesn’t have a name yet, though.  I’m undecided what to call her.  Hubby calls her “Shithead” — and she answers!  Only him, though; if I say it, she completely ignores me.  He suggested the name “Socks” because of her white paws.  And the girls are wanting “Spot” because of the numerous white spots all over her (feet, stomach, and nose).

Got a suggestion?

I need some help brainstorming.

The Little Helper, between Little Miss Naughty and The Little ChatterboxThe thing that I was hoping to avoid happened yesterday.  The Little Helper came to me and announced that she was going to Fitness Friday* to exercise to get rid of her belly.  “I have 3 weeks** to get rid of this,” she said, grabbing the puppy fat she has around her belly.

I was horrified.

I had really hoped that my change in attitude would prevent something like this, but I guess it’s unrealistic of me to think that I can prevent outside influences from affecting her.

I tried talking with her, and asking her why she felt she had to do something so drastic.  She told me that she gets “called” at school (meaning teased/bullied) about her puppy fat, and she already hates herself.  This is an 11-year old girl*** who has already had more boyfriends than I can count.  She has tons of friends – even more so now, since we moved last year.  She still has friends from her old school, and she has friends in her new school.  She’ll be going to secondary school in September (think: high school) and she can’t wait, because she’ll have almost all of her friends around her at the same time; most of her friends from her old school will be going to the same school she is.

So I told her that trying to lose weight that quickly isn’t just stupid, it’s dangerous.  I explained to her that doing so could really screw up her body.  I told her there wasn’t anything wrong with her body the way it is – yes, she does have a little bit of extra weight, but it’s all in her belly, and I suspect that it’s just a pattern of her growing.  Number One Daughter did the same thing – she’d gain weight before a growth spurt, and kind of “grow into” her belly.  The Little Helper is only 11 – she’s got a lot of growing years left in her, and I highly doubt that what she looks like now is going to be what she looks like in another 7 or 8 years.

I explained to her that her “ideals” of beauty are so out of whack it’s not even funny – even the models in the fashion magazines don’t look like that!  I went so far as to do a google search on photoshop so I could show her the way that they re-touch and change the photos to make the models look even more “ideal” than they already do.

I don’t think it’s enough, though.  It’s hard to explain, but the look on her face and her attitude told me that she just thinks I’m being “mom.”  And yes, that’s part of it, but I see her slowly turning into me, and I can’t have that.  I cannot have my daughter hating herself simply because of the way she looks.  I can’t.  Can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t!

So… what I’m wondering is, do any of you have any bright ideas for me?  I’m not by any means going to let the subject drop and think that I’ve done enough, but at the same time, I don’t want it to seem like I’m lecturing her.  I need to find a happy medium in there somewhere, but I need to be armed.  Help me build my arsenal.  I need weapons, people!  Big sub-machine-gun type weapons.  I need to blow those thoughts and unrealistic ideals right out of her head.

And right now, I’m just in a panic.  I have always told my children that I think they are beautiful just the way they are – partly because I never heard that… like… EVER… – and to hear her talk that way has me frozen in panic.  I just want to shake her until those thoughts come leaking out of her ears from her brain.

* – Fitness Friday is an event run by the local leisure centre, where the whole place is open to the kids.  They can work out, go swimming, dance, even get their makeup/nails done.  She used to go a lot, before she had some trouble with one of the local girls and they started threatening to beat her ass if she went.  We thought that maybe enough time had passed that she could safely go, but we were wrong – she came back within 10 minutes, having been run off by some of the local hoodlums.

** – In 3 weeks, her entire grade is going to Wet N Wild, a water theme park.  She’s getting swimming lessons between now and then, because she doesn’t know how to swim (and neither do her dad or I, so we’re not much help).  She’s worried that walking around in a bathing suit is going to make people tease her mercilessly.

*** – She’s also already hit puberty.  She’s had her period for about a year now, she’s got big enough breasts that she wears bras, and while she might have a bit of a belly, she’s also got a very womanly figure for someone her age.  She reminds me a lot of myself, really, in the way she’s built.  Which could easily change as she grows some more, but since I do see so much of myself in her, I can really empathize with how she’s feeling.  And that feeds my panic, to be honest.

Memorial Day

As a child growing up in the USA, I really just saw Memorial Day as another excuse to have a big family party.  The subject of my Uncle Ray (who served in WWII) would sometimes come up, and every once in a while we would visit his grave and lay flowers for him (not as often as the family would have liked, I think, but mainly because his grave was so far away from our house and traffic is insane in Chicago on Memorial Day).  But it was never really stressed what the holiday was truly for.

But then my sister (the beautiful woman in this picture) and my cousin both went into the military one right after the other.  My cousin enlisted in the Navy, and my sister (obviously) in the Army.  And suddenly holidays like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day suddenly took on a new meaning.

I guess it’s like a lot of things – they just don’t really sink in until you have some sort of personal connection to it.  And when my sister got married to another soldier and he was deployed to Iraq, these things started to take on an even deeper meaning.  Especially when my sister would tell me how hard it was for her, not knowing if he was okay or even specifically where he was (he wasn’t allowed to tell her, for pretty obvious reasons).  When holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day would roll around, the meaning for them had become crystal clear.

My cousin is now out of the Navy, my sister is about to get out of the Army and is no longer married to that soldier (but about to get re-married to another one!), which makes my family much happier.  We respected their decisions to enter the military, but that didn’t stop us from worrying.

And in this day and age, with our troops in places that some of us don’t think they have any business being, I think this holiday deserves even more attention.  Because whether or not you agree with the decisions that the people in charge have made, the individual soldier doesn’t have a choice in where they’re told to go.  Being in the military isn’t just a temporary choice, it’s a career for many of these people.  They are trained to follow orders, regardless of whether they agree with those orders or not.  So phrases like “support the troops, not the war” are quite accurate, I think.  These are people who have volunteered to be there should our country need them.  For that decision alone, they deserve our support.

Remember them with respect and pride today.  They have done what most of us could not.  And they have done it willingly, with no reservations.