“It was easier to say ‘don’t diet, riot!’ when I was a size twelve” (new writing)
January 11, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’m working on a paper that explores feminist approaches to economic justice through the metaphor of that old feminist staple, body image. Economic issues are less well-trodden ground in the feminist canon (with awesome exceptions like Folbre, Waring, Fraser), and I hope to expand my own thinking on economic issues by using some of the wisdom from a more familiar feminist territory, the body.
Sitting on the balcony of a small apartment I share with a friend at university, I drink wine and discuss that feminist staple, body image. The friend I share a drink with is a classic of the student activist scene I belong to: loud, anarchic, bisexual, and, I think, joyously fat. I am naively shocked, therefore, when she tells me that her body shape bothers her: “It was easier to say ‘don’t diet, riot!’ when I was a size twelve”, she states, swigging her beer. The atmosphere becomes confessional. I smile awkwardly at her words, aching with the complexity of it all, and there my memory dissolves into the hazy, warm Newcastle twilight.
My friend’s statement has stayed with me for years. She reminded me that it is easier to make a counter-hegemonic claim when you have no investment in the outcome, and perhaps more importantly, that it is harder to make claims about change to dominant discourses when the counter-hegemonic wisdom does not fit anymore. This is how I felt when I began to wonder, both despite and because of my involvement with trade unions and women’s groups, just why the alternative economic doctrines of social democracy or socialism did not seem to fit anymore. If these doctrines did fit, then their supposed champions were sorely lacking confidence in prosecuting the case. How then, could I fruitfully think about gender and economic change-making, when Stuart Hall’s left melancholy had taken hold with a vengeance? It occurred to me that I was something like a yoyo dieter who could not accept that the old wisdom was not working. I was losing the battle with the weight of the problem of economic inequality, yet I felt compelled to do something – something – to arrest the creeping scales of oppression.