12 January, 2010

The most boring thing ever

A Feministing thread about this video was linked by Ouyang Dan on FWD and it (the thread and the video) is legitimately the most boring thing I've ever seen in my life. Everyone on the Feministing thread is shitting themselves about how great it is for 14-year-old girls to be expressing these sentiments which is like--really?

1. No one who's 14 still plays with Barbies anyway, so I don't see how it's some amazing rebellion for a 14-year-old to make fun of Barbie. It reminds me of how when I was eight my friend and I used to watch Blue's Clues (which is aimed at 3-5-year-olds) and make fun of how Steve didn't know anything.

2. I would have killed to look like these girls when I was 14. Actually I still would. I guess I shouldn't make assumptions about how other people feel about their appearance, but it's just hard for me to imagine that this song comes out of a struggle, that those girls have felt really bad about themselves and now they're writing this song to fight those feelings. These very pretty, thin girls are writing a song about how you don't have to be pretty and thin! Yeah! Awesome!

A good example of something not-boring is Sleater-Kinney; specifically, Corin Tucker. Corin Tucker is different from these girls because she's actually talented, but also, she isn't incredibly skinny or conventionally pretty. I've seen her be called fat. I'm not saying that you should like bands because they're less conventionally pretty, but just that being part of Sleater-Kinney fandom actually made me feel less anxious about the way I look, whereas the Care Bears on Fire video says the right words, but doesn't make you feel anything different.

3. I have to admit to not feeling a ton of pity when women say things like, "I have a super high metabolism, and people always tell me I'm too skinny and should eat something." It sort of reminds me of "It Ain't Easy Being White" by Gob Bluth:

I know that I'm not seen as fat--I'm about a size six or eight--but I know a lot of girls who are a lot thinner than I am, and I've never felt good about my weight. If I somehow get one of those metabolisms and become a size two and everyone keeps telling me to eat something, I'll be incredibly delighted. Maybe I'm displaying insufficient empathy, but seriously, I just can't imagine that these magic metabolism people feel as bad about being skinny as they claim. How can they?

But that said, that doesn't mean that "eat a sandwich" is actually a feminist thing to say. First of all, some women are not thin because of their metabolism, they're thin because of an eating disorder, or another health reason; criticizing them for their thinness is hurtful. Second of all, when women are thin because of their metabolism, it's still kind of a stupid, messed-up thing to say, even though they're the privileged group. And finally, the bogeyman (implied when women bend over backwards to insist that they're thin because of their metabolism)--some women are thin because of a really strict diet. But why insult those women, either? To reference yet another dead TV show, this reminds me of a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which Veruca and Oz have the following exchange:

Oz: Big lunch?
Veruca: I like to eat. I hate chicks who are like, "does it have dressing on it?"

To give some background, Veruca is a villain, though she's a small-scale, human-relations villain, not a Big Bad like Angelus or the Mayor. She is basically in the show to try to seduce Oz away from Willow. Veruca has various things in common with Oz that make Willow feel left out, and in the scene I'm quoting, Willow soon approaches Veruca and Oz and is made to feel uncomfortable because they are talking about music (they're both musicians and Willow is not). Veruca seems to relish making Willow feel uncomfortable and left out.

Feeling stupid and uninformed about music (IIRC, Veruca and Oz are talking about some very stereotypically masculine thing, like gear) is an archetypal feeling for a woman surrounded by men. It seems like Veruca is setting herself up as "one of the guys;" a girl who understands stuff that most girls don't understand. Those stupid girls, feeling left out of music! How could they possibly feel that way? Certainly not because guys don't make them feel welcome, or anything like that. And it's the same with the food. It's Veruca vs. those stupid girls who are obsessed with dressing and don't appreciate hamburgers and stuff, like guys do! Of course Oz would never find a woman unattractive because she was heavy! Of course Oz would never insult or judge a woman for being heavy! No man would do anything like that. This is just some stupid thing that women made up, because they're stupid, and they like to freak out about things that aren't real.

I'm not saying that Joss Whedon is good on weight issues, because that would be the most hilarious mischaracterization of the century, but I think that particular scene is really striking and accurate. A woman refusing to see the ways women are oppressed, so that she (while still being quite conventionally attractive, if slightly less thin than Alyson Hannigan) can be The Exception, the woman who doesn't worry about dumb stuff.

I sound like I'm going off on a tangent, but this is how I feel about that video. I was told in elementary school and in Girl Scouts that Barbie would fall over if she was a live woman. Everyone knows that. "Barbie Eat a Sandwich" is the most wholesome, socially acceptable song you could possibly write about body image. What if Care Bears on Fire wrote a song about a girl's mother criticizing her weight all the time? Or her boyfriend making snarky comments because she eats a cheeseburger? Or a girl who was actually "fat," not a size four or whatever they are, going to the doctor and having her actual health issues be ignored because the doctor is guilting her about her weight? That song wouldn't be so wholesome and socially acceptable to everyone because it would actually be calling out people who discriminate against women for their size and eating habits, instead of criticizing a woman for being too thin and not eating enough (who, okay, okay, as everyone on Feministing keeps saying, isn't a real person--but that just makes the song even more cowardly and makes me even more annoyed that people think it's so brave and great or whatever).

So, to finish up, this song is just incredibly boring and doesn't say anything cool at all, and now I will post my favorite Sleater-Kinney song:

Basically I think this song is really good, and not-boring, because it portrays the narrator's issues with food in a complex way and shows how they come from the oppression of women. Instead of a woman blaming another woman for being so stupid as to care about her weight and what she eats, we have a woman angrily and sadly expressing how she feels and raging against the forces that have made her feel that way.

(I hope it doesn't come off like I think all eating disorders are related to sexism; I know that's not the case.)


  1. I think that guys absolutely say and do shitty things to girls, we don't always make it up. Especially in junior high. I'd like to think that their jerkdome evolves as they get older, but I am left to wonder if they are still thinking the things they used to say right out. That's why girls make stuff up, because they are scared of mens thoughts.

    On the same topic. I think it's "socially" ok to be really skinny if you have big tits. If you are a skinny girl with no chest then people bother you about it all the time and tell you to eat. Boys in junior high were brutally mean to me because I hadn't grown boobs yet, and trust me if people tell you to eat every day because your too thin you begin to hate being thin. I am very happy to be a size 6. People leave me alone now.

  2. I don't see why we shouldn't insult or at least call out women who are happily buying into patriarchal bullshit about not eating or being ignorant about music/tech things. In my experience, women who accuse other women of "trying to be one of the guys" are just resentful that they're not able to break out of the cultural constraints of femininity as easily.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to eating my sandwich, not giving a shit about my middling BMI, and generally being an Exception. I wish more women had the nerve to be Exceptions.

  3. okay, cool, I am resentful, I'm currently limiting myself to 1200 calories a day, I find it impossible to play music with other people (i.e. guys because I don't know many girls who are into playing music) because I end up feeling like a faker because I'm not technically proficient and I don't really know what a whammy bar is, I don't leave the house without putting on makeup, and every day I feel depressed because I don't think I'm pretty.

    Thanks for calling me out on that! I am resentful. Now everything makes more sense and I'll never have trouble with any of those things again.

  4. You know that you're good at playing music and that you're a great lyricist, you know that being pretty doesn't matter and that obligatory makeup is sexist bullshit, and you know that 1200 calories a day is generally not enough to sustain a healthy young person and that dieting is stupid, so why do you keep buying into it all?

  5. I am not good at playing music in a "guy" way (I am referring to a stereotype, not being essentialist); if you don't know that, you probably don't play music yourself, so I guess you're buying into that. If I don't lose weight, it's really difficult for me to be around my mom, for one thing--I guess I don't have the awesome super thick skin that would keep me from caring about how she talks to me when she thinks I'm too fat (which started when I was 5'5" and 121 pounds and has only increased with time and weight gain--although recently it's kind of dropped off because she appreciates I have the grace to express unhappiness about it, I think).

    Also, you know, I just feel like this. The first time I put myself on a diet was when I was eleven. It's hard to imagine feeling differently. Also I wonder if you possibly live under a rock.

  6. 1. I actually do play music and I have since I was 9 years old. I guess I just play music in a guy way or something. Do you mean playing music and being confident about it and having an easy time playing in public, or something like that? Showing off?
    2. Your mom is bigoted and wrong. I would think that knowing how wrong she is to criticize your weight would help you ignore the criticism.
    3. I do not, indeed, live under a rock. I am just very good at not caring about stupid meaningless shit.
    4. Despite the fact that I am arguing with you via comments, I do agree with much of what you've written in this post. That song is boring and unlistenable, and it takes no risk whatsoever. Feministing is not the deepest place around in general--I've noticed plenty of times when its commenters get super excited about totally mundane, fluffy, barely-if-even-feminist things.

  7. no, I mean technical proficiency. I'm not technically proficient. I don't really know where to start, and I'm not especially motivated; I've been writing songs pretty much since I started playing guitar, so instead of wanting to practice and learn how to do something in particular with the instrument, I've just sort of muddled around and done whatever goes with the vocals. I consider myself an outsider artist--and unsurprisingly, I'm not much better at talking about or playing music with other people than someone like Daniel Johnston is. But it feels different because I'm a girl, and I guess my music is "cute" or whatever so I don't feel like I can be seen as outsider-artist-talented the same way as him, like it would eclipse my lack of technical skill and technical-skill-motivation.

    In terms of my mom, I don't really know what to say to you about that. It's cool that you're good at not taking anything that one of your parents says to you, your entire life, at face value. I'm not. I like my mom. That's just how it is and I don't feel that I need to be called out on it, or for anyone to act like I'm some kind of pathetic loser for worrying about my weight. I'm good at lots of things.