Every once in a while, I get very frustrated trying to explain to a man in my life why weight/size issues can be very different for men versus women. And I absolutely hate to respond with “You wouldn’t understand, it’s a woman thing.” because for the most part, size-issues and self-worth issues are a universal thing, regardless of gender.
But, there still ARE some things that are issues of gender. And, sadly, this is where intersectionality becomes a reality for many of us.
Usually, when people start talking about intersectionality, their audience’s eyes start to glaze over, unless they are talking to a group of like-minded people.
The situation is this…
Using me, and where I fall in the connections of who I am, I’ve grabbed the easiest parts of me to understand to show you what I mean.
No human being can be defined in just one single way. You can’t pigeon-hole someone simply because of one label or sub-set of humanity that they fit in. In my case, in this simplified form, I am a member of the following sub-sets:
- In the physical gender set, I am a female.
- In the economic class set, I am poor
- In the body size set, I am fat.
- In the ethnicity set, I am white.
- And, in the age set, I am over 40.
I could go on and on defining which other sets I might belong to, and in fact I had originally wanted to show at least 8 of those sets, but realized it would become too complicated of a visual.
But the POINT of it is showing how we – the whole of humanity – have both similarities and some pretty radical differences.
And what happens, when you start to come across the -isms is that people expect everyone who belongs to one of those sets is going to think exactly the same. Which is, unfortunately never true.
A male feminist will not be able to understand on a visceral level the experience of a female feminist. Why? Because of underlying social norms. Do yourself a favor sometime. Even now, when there are people who are trying to raise their children without the influence of the whole gendered idea, watch how both boys and girls are raised. It’s not just the obvious things like not allowing a boy to play with dolls, or a girl not being allowed to play with cars. It’s things like telling the boys “Never hit a girl” instead of talking to both boys and girls and explaining that physical violence is ONLY appropriate in certain circumstances. It’s telling a girl that she shouldn’t be outspoken, instead of teaching both boys and girls how have rational and reasonable discussions. It’s about excusing behaviors with “boys will be boys” and not only teaching the boys that they are allowed to be abusive, but teaching girls that men abusing them is a perfectly appropriate way to have a heterosexual relationship.
Same thing goes for the body positivity movement. Societal norms tend to destroy a person if we don’t fit the “normal” body type. I’m not just talking about fat, but about any body that isn’t perfect. Someone who has never had a mastectomy won’t be able to understand viscerally how someone who has had one feels. The shattering rise of eating disorders isn’t just about understanding that they are out there, but every little piece of our Internet-connected world forcing us to allow ourselves to be bombarded with what advertisers/marketers thing we WANT to see as the “perfect body.”
I could go on, but I won’t.
In reality, even if someone is part of the exact SAME subsets of humanity that I am, my situation and theirs will STILL be different, because we each have our own personalities and our own unique perspective on the world. I know other women who are part of my exact subsets of humanity, and there are some very radical differences, simply do to our own perspectives on the world around us.
Different does NOT mean wrong. It just means learning to understand that there ARE differences, and that perhaps “the way it has always been” isn’t necessarily the right way to go about life. Just because someone has lived a different life than you have does not mean that their perspective of our society is wrong, but that perhaps they have a perspective that needs looking at to attain social justice.