Friday, September 7, 2012

why i'm having a fight on facebook

 When you see a friend say something you have a problem with on Facebook or Twitter, do you say something? Or do you keep quiet?

For me, it depends on how much I respect the person. If it's someone I think is an idiot, I won't bother (and I'll generally de-friend them). But if it's someone I respect and I want to engage with, I will say something.

I've just had an argument on a friend's Facebook wall. He is an intelligent person whose comments I really enjoy, so when he posted a caricature of Gina Rhinehart I wanted to say something. The caricature focused on Rhinehart's weight and unattractive appearance. While Rhinehart is a terrible person with despicable political views, I can't help but notice that a lot of the criticism of her has focused on her body and used words like 'fat,' 'greedy,' 'disgusting.' Some media coverage has been truly repugnant, with comments about her vagina as well as her fatness.

Rhinehart's politics disgust me; her body does not. I have a problem with this fat-shaming, not because I care about Rhinehart's feelings, but because I think that every time this kind of thing appears in the media (yes, including my Facebook feed) it adds to a culture of fat-hate that is particularly gendered.

So I said something.

Predictably, I got the usual responses:
  • It's just a joke/cartoon. Don't take it so seriously.
Sorry, but no. Racist jokes are not OK. Misogynist jokes are not OK. Jokes which perpetuate hate and shame are not OK. (And spare me the argument about how racism and fat-shaming are not the same thing. That is not my argument, I am making an analogy.)
  • Making fun of people's looks is a time-honoured tradition of caricature.
I have no problem with a cartoon which shows a fat person as fat. I have a problem with a cartoon which equates fatness with greed and evil.
  • People make fun of my chin dimple. This is exactly the same thing.
Oh fuck off. How many people die every year from being ashamed of their chin dimple? Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness.
  • The artist posted a funny cartoon and doesn't deserve to be criticised.
Actually, the artist posted their work in a public forum and therefore laid himself open to criticism. And the fact that I believe him to be intelligent and mature enough to engage in this discussion is a compliment to him.
  • It would be offensive if it was someone good like Dawn French, but it's an evil person.
My problem with this isn't that I think Rhinehart will see it and be upset. My problem is that this contributes to a culture of fat-shaming. 
  • She deserves to be criticised and you should pick your battles.
Once again, Rhinehart herself has nothing to do with this. It's the fat-shaming I have a problem with.
  • Wil-E Coyote cartoons show explosives, which are dangerous. Should we ban the cartoons?
Thanks for the straw man argument, it always livens up a discussion. I'm not going to dignify this with an answer.

Of course, posting a dissenting comment on someone's Facebook wall has consequences. The person's friends will see you criticising their friend, and will jump to defend them. Many of them will be angry that you are being 'serious' or 'too intense' in a forum that they see as exclusively for fun. (To give them credit, this cartoonist's friends were almost all polite and did not attack me.) The thing that drives me crazy about arguing on the internet is that people are so free to ignore what you're saying and not address your actual argument, which they can't do in person because I will yell at them until they answer my question.

So what's the point? I could say that maybe someone will go away and think about it, and my comments will change their mind. Or that speaking up when you see something you disagree with is important in its own right. But the truth is that I'm an argumentative, scrappy person and I can't keep my mouth shut.


dempss01 said...

Great post. I used to jump in to Facebook/ Twitter controversy, but I now have a 'don't engage' policy, for a number of reasons. First, I spend too much of my time thinking/ writing about it, when I could be doing more constructive things. Second, social media makes you privy to people/ aspects of people's lives that you wouldn't normally, so the likelihood is that I will come up against opinions that I don't agree with. Third, I don't think a Facebook argument really changes anyone's mind.

If the post/ information/ status is particularly offensive, I will simply unfollow, rather than engage. Recently, a former student of mine wrote a ranty status about being given a fine on public transport. The fact that the officer who issued him with a ticket was Indian seemingly gave him licence to engage in a racist tirade. I was very, very tempted to reply, but I adhered to my 'don't engage' policy and just unfollowed. In a classroom, I can debate these points, but on social media it doesn't seem to work so well.

sky said...

I know it takes a lot of energy to have arguments like this, and I can understand why a lot of people would rather not take part. It can be so exhausting! But sometimes it does make a difference, and people do change their minds, and even if the original poster doesn't then at least maybe some of those who read the exchange will.

erin said...

I'm from the unfollow/disengage school of thought. I would love - LOVE - to give a piece of my mind to every cretinous bigot out there in Internetland, but I just can't anymore. I fought too many battles and it destroyed me, and now I just don't negotiate with terrorists.

But! But. As a somewhat-fat person, I totally agree that fat-shaming has got to stop... and that's not because I'm some soft-shelled, sensitive lardybum that will go eat all the donuts in the world if I hear someone say something mean about a fat person (note: extreme sarcasm!), but because it seems that fatness is the only physical feature that really, really seems to allow people to bag on others. I mean that in the sense that it's totally socially acceptable to make fun of someone for being fat, or to use fat as a synonym for lazy/disgusting/stupid/ugly/boring/whatever.

I'm not saying that people aren't racist, or don't hate others because of their religion/sexuality/age/intelligence/etc, but what is it about fat that turns so many people into such nasty pieces of work?

Sometimes I really wish I could just tell the entire world to chill the hell out and learn to love one another. It's just not that hard.