It's time to focus on the people who built movements, not just the ones who conveniently profit from them.Édouard Manet’s “Olympia” depicts a nude white woman laying in bed upon a pile of pillows while a Black maid serves her. Olympia is, of course, the focus of the painting. She's white and stands out against the darker backdrop that the nameless maid blends into. When I read stories of non-Black women taking from Black women's labor while centering themselves, taking up space in movements that other, far more oppressed people have fought for, I think of this painting. When I read about Jameela Jamil's intellectual thievery from a fat Black woman, taking the words of Stephanie Yeboah and presenting them as her own in order to make herself visible in the body positivity movement, I think of this painting. Olympia's world cannot exist without the work and labor of her nameless Black maid, but it is Olympia who gets all of the focus. This is exactly what happens to the work of Black women time and time again. The labor that we do is co-opted and used by people who are more conventionally appealing to the public, garnering all of the credit. Fat Black women are especially erased, even from movements they've founded. For a salient example, see Tarana Burke and the white feminist co-opted #MeToo movement. Now, what Jamil said, that the movement has been “taken over by slender white women”, is true and not a new discussion in the body positivity sphere. Many activists have been having this conversation for some time now. I've made similar comments in my own writing. It is not a new idea, and that is totally fine because that is not the issue here. We can all talk about the same concepts, and we should because the more we discuss them, the more they are noticed. The issue here is that Jamil was educated on the matter by Yeboah and her words were almost verbatim to what Yeboah had told her. This is ironic because the discussion is about the co-option of the body positive movement in marketing and here's Jamil, doing the exact same thing. As a woman of color herself, you would think that Jamil would be more conscious of this issue and support Yeboah better, but it is also true that the labor of fat people, emotional and physical, is seen as something that is up for the consumption of the masses, to be used or tossed aside as they see fit, especially when they are fat, Black women. So it's really no wonder that Jamil would take Yeboah's words and use them as her own.
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Women and femmes learn how to please others, and cisgender men learn to be pleased or to discard us until they are.A Babe dot net article (a site I’d never heard of until a few days ago) broke a story about Aziz Ansari allegedly assaulting a young woman named Grace* and a media frenzy followed. One of my favorite articles about this incident was one by James Hamblin at The Atlantic titled “This Is Not a Sex Panic,” and one of my least favorite was an abhorrent opinion piece by Lucia Brawley on CNN which basically claimed that if you don't physically fight, you cannot claim to be a victim of coercion. Because, y’know, real victims (of assault/rape) fight — or as she put it, are “stubborn.” Brawley goes on to applaud “actual victims,” writes briefly about how she and her husband put their daughters in karate or whatever and teach them to “fight back,” while completely glossing over the fact that even they have to learn how to fight back because we live in a sexist society where women like their mother invalidate or dismiss women like Grace who are taught, like most women, to protest men indirectly, gently. And consider this lovely excerpt: “Ansari is not Harvey Weinstein. He's not even on the same planet. We have to differentiate between the two if our #MeToo movement is to succeed. If we don't, no one will take our valid claims seriously and things will get worse for women.” Juxtaposing the nice guys who “just made a mistake” and “actual rapists” promotes the distancing of regular, “normal” men from the lurking-in-the-dark insidious predators and subtly shifts the blame over to women while making us constantly question the validity of our experience — the burden of proof is always on the victim in these “grey area” cases. The Brawley article has white faux feminism dripping all over it — note that Brawley briefly mentions privilege but neglects to probe deeper. A whole conversation could be had about who had the privilege in the Ansari encounter: the pristine, victimized, presumed white woman Grace, or the famous, powerful “nice guy” of color. Brawley does mention Ansari being a man of color but then compares that to Grace’s “sexual power,” a throwback to the idea that our power as cis women lies in our pussies, our “sex.” This is a patriarchal fallacy. She also emphasizes how much he has uplifted women in the industry — something that many people do to invalidate claims of assault, racism, or sexism by an oppressed party.
The overwhelming amount of emotional labor that is involved in working within retail or service industry positions is magnified for marginalized workers.By Crissonna Tennison Anyone who has ever worked in retail has at least one Bad Customer story. Mine occurred about one hour before the end of what had been a pretty good day. I was midway through straightening up the store to prepare for closing when a pair of customers came in blasting Taylor Swift on their phone. I don’t like confrontation, but we already had music playing in the store, and the sound of Swift rapping about her reputation through a low-quality phone speaker could have been disruptive to other customers (it certainly was for me). After a minute of gathering the energy, I walked up to them and politely asked them to turn off the song. They turned down the volume as I walked away, but left the music playing. I continued to straighten merchandise, hoping they would leave quickly so I wouldn’t have to talk to them again. Unfortunately, my luck for that day had run out. The customers grabbed literal heaps of clothes to try on, dumping them on the front counter near the register while one of them took three items into the dressing room at a time, the only store policy I successfully got them to follow. Minutes before closing time, they sorted the clothes into “yes,” “no” and “maybe” piles while I rang up another customer. In their disarray, they knocked a stack of business cards onto the floor. Instead of picking up the cards, one of them followed a half-hearted apology with, “It’s okay, I did you a favor.” The villains felt empowered to act this way because Western consumer culture privileges customer perceptions over those of employees. “The customer is always right” is a term that grumpy bosses and grumpier soccer moms have been slinging around since the early twentieth century, when department store tycoons Marshall Field and Henry Selfridge developed the term to promise their customers a quality retail experience—or, more specifically, an experience that meets each individual’s wildly different definition of “quality.” But it is unlikely that Field, Selfridge, or any other powerful retail executives from the twentieth century until today have ever had to deal with the reality of what such a mandate means for daily business interactions. That honor belongs to retail workers, the folks whose bodies constitute the frontlines of modern consumer culture.
Dear Virgie, I have noticed at my job that a lot of people come to me when they need support. I didn’t really notice it until the other day when I was talking to a co-worker about it. She is probably