“I don’t know what it feels like to not be a man, but I do not know what it feels like to have what you’ve accomplished and how you perform not matter because of what you are.”
I’m fat but this is not about that.
I’m fat and sometimes that’s all I get to be. At a restaurant. On an airplane. At a doctor’s office.
At work. I’m my own comparative study; for nearly a decade I was a college instructor with a high courseload; hundreds of students were giving written evaluations of me almost all of the time. Show me a random sampling, I can probably pinpoint the year of the evaluation.
I’m fat, but I wasn’t yesterday. Yesterday I was not fat but I was the day before. I can determine the year of student comments because Yesterday I was “confident, charismatic, and passionate.”
The day before yesterday I was “overbearing, unsettling, hard to watch.”
I was fortunate at an early age that people treated me as if I were smart. My particular bundle of skills suits the classroom and I had parents who valued what I had to say. So as long as I can recall, no matter what other negative thoughts about me existed in my brain, I always thought I was bright.
And then I got fat. And then, apparently, dull.
I was on the job market for about six months not that long ago; I’ll ask you to accept without proof that the most proficient club in my bag is my in0class demeanor. I got very close to a few tenure-track classroom positions that included multiple rounds of interviews. It did not surprise me that the job for which I got hired was a virtual one, in which the interviews were Skyped from the neck up.
I’m fat. And sometimes, that’s all I get to be.
This is not about that.
I won some money on a game show about a decade ago; I was on multiple episodes and appeared prominently in the credits of the program. Included in the winnings was a trip to ESPN to see how the sausage got made. I had wanted to be a sports analyst since the first time I walked into Candlestick Park with my grandfather and was never able to make that happen; so to have succeeded in a game show on that network and to be invited to sit in on a production of Sportscenter was validating.
I was in the ESPN hallways and passed by a B level anchor who is still with them. He “joked” –
“The cafeteria is that way.”
About an hour I ran into him again. He made the same joke. ‘Cause, you know, double the funny.
I’m fat. And sometimes, that’s all I get to be.
This is not about that. This is about the Oscars.
Celebrities are unsympathetic plaintiffs. Sally Field isn’t a powerful figure in her industry, not really, but she’s not Norma Rae either. You don’t see them as marginalized, as voiceless.
But they sat there, invited to a ceremony that presumably matters to them, to acknowledge that they are, at least for a moment, at the top of their craft, and from the stage they were told that really, all they are is tits.
I don’t think the Oscars are a cathedral; it’s a TV show to celebrate movies. I don’t look for reverence.
But there’s probably some distance between that and saying “hey, ‘member when Jodie Foster did that rape scene based on a true story in the Accused? Tits.”
It’s hard to be funny. If you can find funny, I’m disinclined to tell you to press the delete key. My taste in funny is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” as opposed to “Modern Family”. I don’t think offensive and funny are inherently incompatible. “Sunny in Philly” did a fat joke for a full season. Sometimes I fast forwarded through those scenes because they made me uncomfortable. I think that’s okay. I wasn’t required to watch and they didn’t invite me to the set.
I’m hawkish on the separation of church and state, particularly when it comes to public schools, and the main reason is the audience is captive. If I’m sitting in 9th grade Biology, hearing that there are “two sides” to the origin of our species, evolution or the Biblical account of creation in Genesis, the problem isn’t the message (I mean, the message is that either (1) the overwhelming weight of the evidence or (2) the one specific type of magical thinking favored by the teacher is the full range of discussion about how we got here, so the message is a problem, and, full disclosure, this isn’t a hypothetical, this was from a Bio class I took, but not in high school – in college, I absolutely had a college Biology professor present evolution as if it were a debate, and that was 1990, before we got dumb), it’s my inability to leave the room. If “I Saw Your Boobs” is on a Family Guy episode, Charlize Theron can just turn the channel, but at the Oscars she had better play along, ‘cause otherwise she’d be called uptight and probably given an even more unflattering anatomical label.
I don’t know what it means to be a “good man” outside of what it means to be a good person, but probably acknowledging that you have a significant degree of structural privilege just by the nature of not being a woman is a good place to start. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life discounted because of my weight; had I not lived a life where my fluctuating size perfectly correlated to the way I was treated, I don’t know that I’d appreciate that distinction – I don’t know that I’d understand that it doesn’t matter how many graduate degrees you earn or how well you performed on a television show, sometimes all you are is fat.
I don’t know what it feels like to not be a man. Good or otherwise.
But I do not know what it feels like to have what you’ve accomplished and how you perform not matter because of what you are. To be just a thing like all the other things. And that’s what happened at the Oscars Sunday.