A book was published in the seventies called “Fat is a Feminist Issue” by Susie Orbach. And to this day, it remains a feminist issue, perhaps more so than ever.
Women have always been under pressure to appear youthful, if not prepubescent, to appeal to men, to not indulge in food or anything else. It is a variation on the theme that women must always put others before ourselves and, especially, put men before ourselves. But I think it has intensified, not only because the standards of thinness have gotten ridiculously thinner, but it is sold as necessary for our health, the health of the nation, and the health of our children that we be on a permanent diet, that we devote hours of our free time to making the purest, most perfect meals, to monitor every facet of our children’s lives, their every movement…Sound familiar? It is always women who are to blame when The Children (TM) and The Nation (TM) are “at risk.”
What I don’t understand is why so many feminists and progressives buy it. If we only increased their access to healthy foods, we could help the poor (often single women with children) eat better and be slimmer like their wealthier counterparts. What no one asks is why this cause has gained such wide appeal across conservatives and liberals. Does anyone really think Gov. LePage of Maine gives a rat’s ass if poor people are healthier because he taxes food that is popularly believed to be “junk?” No, he feels that the poor are too indulgent, spending too much money on comfort food, on celebrations like birthdays, that they are too healthy, too plump, too energized, and those qualities are reserved only for the worthy. Gov. LePage wants to police the poor. He wants them to have less self-determination and less dignity. It also cuts, and saves, government money and spares him having to inconvenience the rich. After all, the poor, and now increasingly hungry and demoralized masses, can’t challenge him. Whether progressives like to admit it or not, siding with conservatives over improving the health of the poor is siding with a deeply conservative, deeply classist agenda that will not solve the problem it claims to solve and that will further demonize the poor, particularly women, the programs that serve them, and the people that work with them. It is yet another front to push the traditional family, since so many poor and those depending on assistance are single mothers with children. I am always shocked and dismayed when self-professed liberals talk about how we need to raise wages, reduce work hours, increase government subsidies (funded by male taxpayers, of course!) for handouts so more families can survive on one income (the husband’s of course!), so more mothers can work less, stay at home, cook from scratch and take a ride back to the 1950s. Conveniently enough, those mothers that are not worthy of marrying into privilege can become ever more dependent on government assistance to improve their health, which makes it all the less likely that she will ever leave and be self-sufficient. Programs to improve the health of children are all too often ways for the state to police the parenting of young and poor mothers, minorities, and the vulnerable…at their own and our expense, and without giving them the most valuable health plan of all, that of autonomy. How could this agenda be feminist, or champion the poor? How could it be any more transparent how conservative this agenda is? That is the real agenda and it is not something any progressive should be associated with.
If you want to improve the health of the poor in all areas? Give them a say in government. Raise their wages. Give them a union. Give them the material resources to be masters of their own destiny and everything else will follow. Single mothers will sustain themselves and their children without interference from the government.
Side rant: If there is one phrase I hate hearing, it is that certain foods have “no nutritional value.” To any thinking person, it is so obviously a value judgment, a moral statement, and not a scientific fact. The truth is, if something can be consumed for calories, if something is capable of keeping you alive in a crisis for long periods of time, guess what? It has nutritional value. If it truly contained nothing that your body needed in order to function, if it truly did not nourish you in any way, you could not survive. Not all foods may have the same nutritional value. Some foods may have a wider variety of nutrients than others. Some may have higher amounts of particular nutrients than others…but the one nutrient you need more than anything else is calories. Calories are energy and without energy, you cannot metabolize other nutrients, eat, breathe, or have a heartbeat. Glucose is next in line, it circulates in your blood and feeds your cells and also your brain. Calories and glucose are indeed cornerstones, but somehow, it is foods with high levels of these nutrients that are deemed to have “no nutritional value.” Well, if I was stranded in the desert and I had to choose between fruits and veggies and macaroni and spam out of a box? I’m choosing the latter thanks. End rant.
If you are progressive and feminist, resist calls to increase male government control of the poor, minorities, the disabled, and women with children. Fight for workers. Remember, give a woman a fish, she eats for a day, but teach her to fish, she eats for life. And that is exactly what men of wealth and power do not want.