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The Feminist-Industrial Complex: Fat Lesbians vs. the ‘Heteronormative Gaze’

Posted on | May 31, 2015 | 138 Comments

Does the “fat acceptance” movement “destabilize the heteronormative gaze”? Can women overcome “gender inequality” by a “radical rejection of beauty as feminine aspiration”? Those possibilities are suggested by two Canadian sociologists in an article, included in a leading Women’s Studies textbook, that compared Dove’s “Real Beauty” advertising campaign to a protest by lesbian activists in Toronto.

Feminist Frontiers is a Women’s Studies textbook described by its publisher, McGraw-Hill, as the “most widely used anthology of feminist writings.,” Now in its ninth edition, Feminist Frontiers is edited by three lesbians: Professor Verta Taylor and Professor Leila Rupp, on the faculty of the University of California-Santa Barbara (where they are known as “the professors of lesbian love”), and Smith College Professor Nancy Whittier (whose wife Kate Weigand is the author of Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation).

Because this textbook is so influential in academia, I obtained a copy of Feminist Frontiers via Amazon.com for my research in the “Sex Trouble” series on radical feminism. As I explain in the introduction to the first edition of Sex Trouble:

Those who would attempt to separate “mainstream” feminism from the more radical aspects of its ideology cannot avoid the problem that the faculty and curricula of university Women’s Studies programs — where feminism wields the authority of an official philosophy — are disproportionately dominated by radical lesbians. This hegemonic influence is not merely manifested in the fact that outspoken lesbian activists are employed as directors and professors in Women’s Studies programs everywhere, but also plainly evident in the textbooks and readings assigned in their classrooms.

It should be noted that, according to federal research, 2.3% of the U.S. population (about 1-in-40 American adults) is either gay or bisexual. Yet lesbianism is vastly overrepresented in the faculty and curricula of Women’s Studies programs to such an extent that Carmen Rios, communications director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, jocularly described these departments as “Lesbo Recruitment 101.” This anti-heterosexual bias is reflected in the contents of Feminist Frontiers, which includes selections with titles like “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-Rated Films” (p. 153), “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ‘Gender Normals,’ Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality” (p.  309) and “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (p. 536). Among the lesbian feminist authors cited as references by the contributors are Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys, Andrea Dworkin, Celia Kitzinger, Adrienne Rich, Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Marilyn Frye, Gayle Rubin, Audre Lorde and Arlene Stein.

The anti-heterosexual bias of Feminist Frontiers is also apparent in “Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists: A Comparative Study of Grassroots Activism and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign,” by University of Toronto professors Josée Johnston and Judith Taylor (p. 115). This article, first presented at a 2006 meeting of the American Sociological Association and later published in the feminist journal Signs, invokes the theories of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci as the basis of its analysis:

Building on neo-Gramscian theories of hegemony, we argue that ideologies express degrees of hegemony depending on their ability to reinforce and naturalize power hierarchies and material inequality.

Feminists have frequently used Marxist theory to analyze the “male supremacy” they depict as an “ideology” that oppresses women in capitalist societies. In their article, Johnston and Taylor compare the “transformative possibilities” of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to a protest movement by the Toronto lesbian group Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off (PPPO). Co-founded by in 1996 by Allyson Mitchell (who is now an assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Toronto’s York University), PPPO staged protests promoting the message that “being fat can mean being healthy, sexy and socially productive” and counteracting “fat phobia,” as a 2004 article described the group. According to Johnston and Taylor, PPO’s objectives were to “challenge hegemonic beauty standards” and “challenge misogynist attitudes about fat women and sexuality,” in protests that offered “a counter-hegemonic critique of beauty and its relationship to capitalist consumerism” (pp. 116-117). They compare these protests to Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign:

Billboard, television, and magazine ads depicted women who were wrinkled, freckled, pregnant, had stretch marks, or might be seen as fat (at least compared with the average media representation of women). . . . The campaign . . .is now a major feature of Dove’s global marketing. (p. 116)

Because the “Real Beauty” ad campaign “promotes itself as a progressive force for women,” Johnston and Taylor interpret Dove’s marketing as “feminist consumerism,” a phenomenon with “the potential to partially disrupt gender norms” (p. 116). Johnston and Taylor contrast this to the “grassroots models for social change . . . at the heart of feminist consciousness-raising,” as exemplified by the PPPO protests:

The idea arose from a 1996 conversation between Allyson Mitchell and Ruby Rowan, both of whom were artists and women’s studies students. While attending a conference on subcultures, they lamented the absence of attention to lesbian feminists active in the queer arts scene. . . . The conversation turned to mundane matters; not being able to find cool pants that fit. . . .
Characterizing participants as a “dyke network” of artists, performers, feminists, friends, and exes, Mitchell says the event solidified their identities as fat activists . . . (pp. 118-119)
In addition, PPPO’s radical disruption of hegemonic beauty ideology worked to destabilize the heteronormative gaze. Strongly linked to a lesbian arts community, PPPO activists did not prioritize the approval of men socially or performatively, and this may have allowed a more radical rejection of beauty as feminine aspiration. (p. 123)

Comparing these protests to the “corporate strategy” behind “Dove’s appropriation of feminist themes,” Johnston and Taylor write that Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off “waged war with hegemonic beauty standards — actions far removed from Dove’s reformist peacemaking” (p. 123). Although the Dove campaign “partially disrupts the narrowness of Western contemporary beauty codes,” Johnston and Taylor conclude, “at the same time it systematically reproduces and legitimizes the hegemony of beauty ideology in women’s personal lives” (p. 125).

Hostility to “beauty ideology” has been a core theme of feminism since the emergence of the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1960s. Its first major  protest occurred in September 1968, when about 100 feminists staged a demonstration at the Miss American pageant, condemning how the contestants “epitomize the roles we are all forced to play as women.” The protesters claimed “women in our society [are] forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.”

Lesbianism also emerged early as a core theme of the Women’s Liberation movement. In 1971, prominent feminist Charlotte Bunch was co-founder of a D.C.-based lesbian collective known as The Furies. In  the collective’s first publication (January 1972), Ginny Berson declared:

We are angry because we are oppressed by male supremacy. We have been f–ked over all our lives by a system which is based on the domination of men over women. . . .
Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy.

Radical lesbians played key roles in founding Women’s Studies programs at many universities. Professor Bonnie Zimmerman, for example, was a founding member of the Women’s Studies College at SUNY Buffalo in 1970, and later helped begin the Women’s Studies program at San Diego State University. In a 1997 essay, Professor Zimmerman wrote: “I believe it can be shown that, historically, lesbianism and feminism have been coterminous if not identical social phenomena.”

 

So-called “fat-positive feminism” is a movement that “addresses how misogyny and sexism intersect with sizism and anti-fat bias.” While feminists blame “anti-fat bias” on male supremacy, the health risks of obesity are serious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Obesity is a national epidemic and a major contributor to some of the leading causes of death in the U.S., including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.”

Obesity is such a serious problem among lesbians that the National Institutes for Health funded a $3 million study to determine why “nearly three-quarters of lesbians are overweight or obese.”

When that study made headlines in September 2014, Mari Brighe wrote at the lesbian blog Autostraddle that lesbians “tend to be less critical of their bodies than straight women,” because they don’t “suffer the incessant, unreasonable pressure of the male gaze.”

This would suggest that “the male gaze” is actually beneficial to heterosexual women, whose “feminine aspiration” to be attractive to men by meeting “hegemonic beauty standards” (as the Johnston/Taylor article put it) leads women to stay thin and thereby avoid heart disease, diabetes and other health complications of obesity. But the way women benefit from heterosexuality isn’t something college students are likely to learn from Women’s Studies classes, where the textbooks are edited by lesbians who never have anything good to say about men.





 

Comments

  • Daniel Freeman

    What is it with trolls who think that narcolepsy is a win button?

  • Daniel Freeman

    No less than 60 years. Possibly within a generation.

  • Prime Director

    That behemoth has an ice cream cone tattoo just above her right foreleg

  • SouthOhioGipper

    My fear is that feminism’s entrenchment in academia is a fait accompli and that there really isn’t a lot that can be done to stop them at this point.

    Their pet causes are now being trumpeted in the mainstream media, the demonization of the penis is nearly complete in pop culture except for a few defiant mediums such as music. Divorce law and family courts are outright owned, lock stock and barrel. There simply isn’t anywhere truly safe for a man in the legal system when a woman is the accuser. No where can men have an all men’s college, fraternity, or even barber shop anymore. Only women are allowed exclusivity and space.

    I simply do not see a way around the fact that as far as academia, press and pop culture in general, Euro-feminist socialism is on it’s way to America in a big way. By 2050 we will be as socialist as Venezuela or Bolivia and feminists will be leading us there.

  • Fail Burton

    I used to go to a whole foods place and they had this cereal called “Good Friends” with what seemed to be mostly 2 lesbians on the box. I always goofed it should be called “We’re Just Friends… I Swear.” Going through a whole foods store’s aisles with their whale chocolate bars, etc. is like a Monty Python sketch.

  • Daniel Freeman

    For the first, the student debt bubble has to burst sometime; for the last, the outrage is actually fairly widespread. One of my mental models for how we got here is a witches’ brew of the 19th Amendment, “shit tests” and chivalry: the LCD of female voters will always push against men, and some men will support them, because instinct. The only way out is for more women to choose to like and respect men.

  • robertstacymccain

    “My fear is that feminism’s entrenchment in academia is a fait accompli and that there really isn’t a lot that can be done to stop them at this point.”

    1. What I am doing here is drawing back the veil to reveal what is being taught in universities, and showing how the Insanity Factories of the Feminist-Industrial Complex manufacture the ideas that might otherwise seem merely to materialize by magic. “Hey, what’s with all this ‘rape culture’ talk? Why are these girls running around calling themselves ‘non-binary’?” To document the sources of this madness is to demystify the process of cultural creation. The “fat acceptance” connection to the feminist movement, and its promotion within academia, is highly significant in understanding how such things happen.

    2. As Daniel Freeman points out, this has all been funded by student debt, and by government subsidies to higher education. That’s the policy angle involved: Government’s increased role in higher education has been accompanied, over the past half-century, by a “hands-off” approach to the curriculum. “Here, we’re going to give you however many millions of dollars you ask for, but we’re not going to exercise the kind of responsible oversight that would lead us to inquire if what the taxpayers are funding is in any way socially constructive, or justifiable in terms of a cost/benefit analysis.” As budgets get tighter, the luxury of having Gender Studies programs employing full-time faculty to teach arrant nonsense to a comparative handful of students — well, that’s a luxury that many state legislators might consider optional.

    3. Need I mention there’s going to be an election next year? And that the leading candidate for the Democrat nomination has demonstrable links to radical feminists including Charlotte Bunch? Do you wonder who might have been enlisted to advise Hillary Clinton’s State Department in its policies vis-a-vis international women’s issues?

    Trust me: One way or another, the connection between Hillary and radical feminism will become newsworthy before the 2016 election. I used to be a Boy Scout.

    “BE PREPARED.”

  • Quartermaster

    I can remember when there was something called Boy Scouts. It would seem they’ve changed just a bit since we were kids.

  • Quartermaster

    Who on earth would want to look?

  • Quartermaster

    She really, badly, wants to be objectified by a man.

  • Quartermaster

    A grad of Asbury was assigned a UMC pastorate in Chesterhill, Ohio about 17 years ago. He prayed to the “Father-Mother” God in his first service. It took them about 6 months to get rid of the poor miseducated kid. Asbury tends to be the most conservative source of UMC minsters too.

  • Quartermaster

    There was a commercial that ran back in the 90 about a dog and his owner, and showed the dog in back of what looked like a Miata. The dog is celebrating the good times, then notes his owner has been showing less attention to him and more attention to a girl and then says, “and soon, I’ll be doing time in a mini-van.” As the owner of a mini-van, I had little sympathy and my Blue Heeler didn’t mind the mini-van. She just wanted to ride. Anywhere at all was just fine with her.

  • Quartermaster

    I’ve seen a few like that around Waynesville, and even more at Whole Foods in Asheville. Whole Foods is the only place my wife can get a certain brand of butter she needs, otherwise I could do without the trip.

  • Quartermaster

    What is inside tends to come out and reside on the outside as well.

  • Steve Skubinna

    Reading for your fainting couch, you mean?

  • Steve Skubinna

    At which point do you get to “That’s all I kin stand, I can’t stand no more!” and whip out the can of spinach?

  • Steve Skubinna

    When I read this stuff I wobble between snorts of amusement and shouting “Oh, come on!”

  • Steve Skubinna

    Who is today’s Charles Martel, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Jan Sobiesky, or Don Juan of Austria?

    I don’t think today’s Europeans, not in the west anyway, have the guts anymore. They all appear to be clones of Obamacare Pajamaboy.

  • Jeanette Victoria

    Look up “HerChurch”

  • Quartermaster

    Booze would be much cheaper, but it has its drawbacks as well.

  • Quartermaster

    Yes.

  • The original Mr. X

    Fat seems to be a killer of men more than women.

    #femaleprivilege #endmatriarchynow

  • The original Mr. X

    the idea that men are more godlike than women

    Well, I didn’t want to boast about it, but…

  • Gunga

    Don’t even want to think about what one would call that sandwich…just going to avert my gaze and stroll away whilst whistling casually…

  • Gunga

    An Asbury grad polluted the UMC church I grew up in many years before that. Thanks for the horrible-horrible flashback…

  • Finrod Felagund

    No where can men have an all men’s college, fraternity, or even barber shop anymore.

    Not true. My alma mater, Wabash College, is all-male to this day.

    Granted, it was founded in 1832, and you wouldn’t have much luck starting a new all-male college today, but the alternative does still exist.

  • Prime Director
  • Prime Director

    she got tattoos of her favorite snacks

    I notice these things :^(

  • DeadMessenger

    Usually after I finish reading one of Stacy’s posts, lol.

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  • Fail Burton

    What says protected and privileged class more than a cult of fat, decadent fish-wives who operate much like a conniving harem in old Mughal India or Turkey? Men make the empire, women direct it from behind the scenes. Even in the modern fierceness of feminism, 2.3% of our military casualties the last decade are women which by an amazing coincidence is fairly representative of the lesbian demographic where many behave like men. Let’s affirmative action that out until female deaths reach the one million plus of men in our history. See how they like diversity hires and pie-charts then. Title IX is nothing but a harem.

  • HouseofSuffering

    And I thought eating fish was good for you! …I denounce myself.

  • HouseofSuffering

    If straight women think they have it rough, they should talk to some of my gay friends. There’s a reason why 40% of male eating disorders occur in 2.3% of the male population. That’s all I’ll say.

  • HouseofSuffering

    Very, very true and quite well said. The culture wars continue to focus on ever decreasing minorities while the real damage (no-fault divorce, single parenthood yadda-yadda-yadda) continues at an ever accelerating rate.

  • Adobe_Walls

    Actually that is a picture of me taken a few days ago. You knew I was a damn prodigy right?

  • DeadMessenger

    Funny, you don’t write as if you’re that cute, so just call me a skeptic, lol.

  • Daniel Freeman

    I believe in a “casting call” theory of history, where roles are available but not all are cast, depending on whether anyone appropriate (or anyone at all) auditions for the role.

    Imagine what kinds of people could fill those roles, and then what kinds of roles are available to them now. If we’re lucky, then there are people with the right natures who are in other roles now where they’re learning the skills that they would need to answer those casting calls.

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