Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Big Fat Invalidation

I don't know why I haven't been reading Jennifer Weiner's blog as much anymore, as I love her books and have usually found her blog immesely entertaining. I also got to meet her at a book signing a couple of years ago, and found her to be just as funny, gracious and personable as she comes across in her writing. Anyhow, I saw a link to her entry from earlier this month about how someone reviewing Leslie Bennett's The Feminine Mistake chose to focus on the author's size and use that to invalidate the entire premise of the book. Weiner:

It’s a given that her premise, and even her title, would raise eyebrows and ire. Any time you write a book telling large groups of women that they should feel guiltier than they already do because they’re screwing up their lives, their kids, their marriages, or all of the above, you’re going to raise eyebrows and ire.

I wasn’t expecting sizism.

I wasn’t expecting Penelope Trunk.

Penelope Trunk is a professional beach volleyball player turned business advice columnist with a book of her own to flog. Her thoughtful, informed critique of TFM seems to boil down to this: who is Leslie Bennett to offer anyone life advice when Bennetts is “SO INCREDIBLY FAT!!!” (Caps and exclamation points Trunk’s).

“This woman,” Trunk wrote, in a blog post she’s since deleted and replaced with a sorta-kinda apology, “"is walking around telling people you have to have a career while you're raising kids in order to take care of yourself, and she is obviously not taking care of herself. Look, I wouldn't be harping on this if she weren't so fat..."

Wow. Always nice to see a sister raising the tone of the debate.

Anyhow, this reminded me of how often I've internalized that message, that anything I've accomplished is invalidated by the fact that I'm not thin. Even at 50 years old, after having achieved success in my career, a happy marriage, and some level of competence at parenting a child with special needs, I still sometimes feel like I'm somehow "less than" because I've never been able to sustain a slender figure. There are moments when that "failure" cancels everything else out, makes everything about my life seem less real. When I was a kid, everyone in the books I read was thin, as was everyone I saw on the TV and in magazines. Not much has changed, except that now I'm able to know that my size doesn't really define me, even if it sometimes feels that way.

Though I haven't yet read "The Feminine Mistake" I have read several reviews and synopses, and Weiner captures exactly my feelings about the premise of the book.
Ever since Caitlin Flanagan unleashed her notorious “when a mother works, something is lost” screed upon an unsuspecting, sleep-deprived, hormone-soupy, guilty and conflicted nation (or maybe that wasn’t the nation, and that was just me), I’ve been waiting for the inevitable rejoinder: the woman who’d step forward and say, just as unapologetically, “Yes, and frequently what’s lost is her independence, financial security, and ability to support herself and her children once the man who’s making her stay-at-home lifestyle possible can’t or won’t anymore.”

My mother was a stay-at-home mom. That's how she and my dad both wanted it, and it was the model for most middle-class families when I was growing up in the 60's. Then when I was 14, my dad wanted out of the arrangement, and I saw first hand how unprepared my mother was to deal with the financial realities of life, and how hard it was for someone with no higher education and no work experience for 17 years to find work that paid a living wage. I also saw many of my friends' parents' marriages dissolving, and the women/kids being far more financially vulnerable. At that point in my life, I promised myself that I would always be able to pull my own weight financially, and I always have. I won't lie: it's hard working full time and raising a child. But I know that the alternative is harder.


Blogger fellow-ette said...

Right on.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Maya's Granny said...

When my father died, my mother was 25 and utterly untrained to work, since this happened in 1948. She struggled and struggled and could only get her children back together and under her roof by marrying a man who would support us. Then, she was afraid to stand up to him, knowing that if he were to divorce her she would be back where she had been before, but with one more child to support.
I vowed that I would never let myself get in that position, and I never did. It is hard. Nothing ever said that life would be easy, and if you don't learn from other people's mistakes, you may have to make them yourself. Actually, my mother didn't make mistakes, those options weren't there for her.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Deja Pseu said...

That's a good point, Maya's Granny. I think that the enforced dependency is the real reason that a lot of the religious nutters and right wingnuts have conniptions about "working mothers." It's a lot easier to keep women in line and compliant when they (and the kids) are dependent on you for food and shelter.

2:44 PM  

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