I finally got a chance to watch the HuffPost Live segment with a panel of fat activists, athletes, and bloggers in response to blogger and activist Ragen Chastain’s experience of having eggs thrown at her while training for a marathon. Of course, I’m a fan of all of the panel members, so I thought it was fantastic and they did a great job of covering the topic. There was one bit though that I wanted to talk about because it got glossed right over. Shannon (Atchka of Fierce, Freethinking Fatties) said something about how these particular haters probably would have chosen another feature to harass Ragen about if she were not fat, that what they were looking for is someone they perceived as “weak” to ridicule. One of the other panel members was quick to say that this de-valued the experience, as if the idea that these haters would have found other things to hate on made it any less bad that eggs were thrown.
Let’s be clear here. Intersectionality does not only apply to social activism. Intersectionality refers to the idea that one can not fight for civil rights based on gender, for instance, without also dealing with civil rights issues surrounding race, disability, socio-economic status, etc. One can not argue for civil rights of one group without arguing that everyone deserves civil rights. When you say “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all” you really have to mean EVERYONE. The problem is that while we see the fight for civil rights as a complex issue covering a number of subgroups, we fail to see those who fight against those rights as anything but one-dimensional.
There’s this assumption that the men who threw the eggs at Ragen were only targeting fat people because they yelled “Hey Fat Bitch” at her. Even that insult is multidimensional. Not only are they harassing her based on her weight, they’re also using an epithet that still has negative connotations when describing women. The idea that these people might have gone on to yell racial slurs at someone else down the road with a fresh carton of eggs doesn’t take away from the negativity of their harassment about Ragen’s weight. How many times do you hear a racist say “I totally hate people with different skin color, but I totally support the feminist movement!” Um, no. The reality is that people who hate one group are going to hate another group as well. Usually every group that represents the opposite of what they themselves are. (Though sometimes with fat hate it’s a case of hating themselves so much that the hater re-directs that hate to everyone but themselves, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
What I’m trying to say is that we have to treat the haters as something more than a caricature if we’re going to end social stigma. They have to be “people” in our minds, just like they have to see us as “people” before they stop spreading their hate. Because the most basic thing hate does is remove the hated party’s humanity. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that anyone should react to hate-filled language in any particular way. What I am saying is that we do need to consider others with the same amount of complexity that we want others to consider us with. We have to stop assuming that because a person is spewing fat hate one minute, that there’s any less likelihood that the same hater might not start harassing women the next minute, and disabled people in the next breath. Their hatred of several groups doesn’t make the harassment of one person any less impactful. These guys didn’t have “harass fat people who are exercising” in their day-planner.