Ok, so I’m effing with Shakespeare, but I feel I’m justified.
The Huffington Post online Twitter recently tweeted (twat? twoted? twore?) a link to an article about a man who was ejected from his seat on an airplane because he was too fat and the person next to him was uncomfortable.
I have never heard of this happening to a very tall person whose knees were digging into the back of the person in front of him. I have never seen the airline refuse to allow a person who uses a wheelchair to use a wheelchair to get onto the plane.
Furthermore, the tweeted reactions to this story were also incredibly fat-phobic and blaming. Cf, the bile below:
@DonnaforValues wrote: “Pushing 400 pounds, that is a disgrace to allow himself to become that size, how could people around him be comfortable??”
@JDrewCampbell simply tweeted “Good”
I can’t even bring myself to quote any more of this stupidity, though there was certainly plenty of it.
One person tweeted that the man should have bought two seats. Imagine saying this about a person of color whose ethnicity made the bigot next to her uncomfortable: “Hey, lady, sorry that guy called you a racist slur and said that you smell weird and refused to sit next to you, but what you should do is pay DOUBLE what everyone else paid for a ticket so you can have the row to yourself and the racist asshat won’t have to sit next to you, and therefore won’t make such a fuss. Everybody’s happy!”
I’ve scrunched uncomfortably in on myself because the drunk dude next to me hogged the armrest and talked loudly to his companion about crap that burned my ears with its ugliness. I’ve sat in front of a child who threw a screaming fit and kicked my seat for 2 hours because he was scared or his ears hurt or something (kid, I totally empathize). I even sat on a plane in which FIVE ROWS of passengers (me included) were disallowed eating peanuts because someone in one of the rows was highly allergic to peanuts.
Let me emphasize this: I was denied my right to free airline peanuts because somebody near me was allergic to them.
There are so many points I’d like to make in response to the gross, hateful ugliness that people felt free to post in response to the story of a Fat Man, but I’ll limit myself to two here:
You believe your bigotry is acceptable because (a) it is against a fat person and not a worthy thin person who “can’t help” being Black or a little kid who “can’t help” being scared and (b) your bigotry is socially condoned.
Regarding (a): American culture assumes a kind of moral failing in the fat person that few (outside of certain American religions regarding “sons of Ham” and religious AND non-religious misogyny/homophobia) allow regarding other aspects of identity. Not only do we assume that a fat person has no self-control and believe we fully understand the reasons for that person’s body’s shape, but we assume a kind of moral hierarchy (self-control = superior to gluttony, for instance, or thin=superior to fat).
Our logic, then, is flawed on several counts. It reminds me, too, of the hostile turn-of-the-previous-century cartoons depicting women in hoop skirts as space-hogging, aggressive, selfish witches, forcing men off the sidewalk to make way for their fashion apparatuses.
But it’s morally justified to hate fat people for taking up too much public space (or to hate women whose voices are too strident, or gays who insist on “flaunting” their sexuality in public (I had an advisor in PhD school who leveled this criticism at me when my wife hugged and kissed me after I passed my oral exams)). Meanwhile, I am a bad person if I don’t like the way peoples’ children take up physical, aural and psychic space in public (or the way they smugly look at me, waiting for me to exclaim how cute their kid is, when the kid says/does something precocious), or the way middle-class white suburbanites insist on having a baseball team’s worth of kids and then driving a gas-guzzling giant car to transport them all, or the way most bookstores allotted an entire aisle for wedding books long before marriage was legal for all of us. Public space, in other words, is not really for the public—it’s for the anointed few. And those few get to be irritated with the rest of us for daring to use it (or pee in public restrooms, ahem).
Regarding (b): Though bigotry CERTAINLY still runs rampant (visit a Trump rally or a college class for proof) against identities marked by a certain ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, immigration status, or other factor assigned a “value” in our culture, few of these bigotries are socially-condoned on such a wide scale that DOCTORS feel safe in perpetrating it upon their patients (“your skin is so dark… have you tried bleaching it?” or “Your penis is so small, have you thought about an operation to make it bigger?” or “You’re kind of ugly… have you considered plastic surgery?”). It would not be acceptable for a newscaster to blatantly state how disgusting he finds a certain ethnicity (though I am certain it happens), or for a public US airline to force women to sit in a special section because they make the male passengers uncomfortable. It would not be acceptable for Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow to make a film mocking, say, paraplegic people and for Paltrow to then defend this choice in the press by saying, “But [being paraplegic is] unhealthy!”
Though as a disabled person, I’m often dismayed by how disabled bodies are used in film and advertising (or not shown at all), I would press to say that this kind of cultural hate is far less widely-condoned and accepted than is the hate and ignorance concerning bodies deemed too fat. If the kind of vitriol I saw in the comments of the HuffPost tweet were spat at a disability, a gender, a social class or even a sexuality, there would be public blowback, and the publishing entity probably would have responded now.
Look, it’s not a competition. Hate is hate, and it all is awful for the individual and group against which it’s leveled, and the culture that allows it. I don’t write this to compare depths of suffering, but simply to link this widely-accepted bigotry to other, less-accepted bigotry in order to make the point that it IS bigotry and it should be unacceptable. Studies have shown unequivocally that fat people are more often denied jobs for which they are qualified than are skinny folk, and as a group earn less money than skinny people (short people earn less than tall folk, too). Fat people are more often denied competent, thorough healthcare, no matter their ability to pay. Fat people are rarely represented in advertising, film, television and the plastic arts except as the butt of a joke or as a bad example/warning or as a go-to metaphor for greed, selfishness or gluttony (hello, have you seen Wall-E?).
Imagine if we lived in a culture in which we routinely assumed all men of a certain ethnicity were more likely to be criminals or rapists. Imagine if we always assumed that poverty indicated a personal flaw. Imagine if everyone of a certain ethnicity was forced to shop at a special store that carried clothes for “non-whiteds,” and could not buy clothes at a mainstream store. Imagine if we assumed that women who get raped must have been “asking for it,” or that transwomen are men in dresses wanting to sneak into women’s bathrooms so that they can rape women. (Rape is horrifying when it’s transwomen raping (not ONE reported case, mind you), but totally fine when it’s cis-gendered frat boys or Catholic priests, apparently.) Imagine if we assumed that women are lesbians because they are man-haters or all gay men are confused and want to be women.
Wait. What? We do? Oh. Huh. I assume you think that’s pretty wrong. Then it should be really easy to understand the point I’m making here.