Dr. Dawg

Physicalism--the next discrimination-busting frontier

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I didn’t keep up with Heather Mallick after she migrated to the Toronto Star from the CBC: before that, she had a feisty, delightful column in the Globe & Mail that was one of the chief reasons my partner and I subscribed.

Those were, I think, her best days. She was well and truly tamed by the CBC brass, John Cruikshank in particular, for being overly-critical of Sarah Palin, and is working for the same tamer over at the Star at present—although she slips the traces now and again. (As far as I’m concerned, she was betrayed by her bosses on both occasions, their spines melting away after outpourings of right-wing bile from commenters and hack journalists like Margaret Wente, and a SLAPP from the Phillips creature.) She tends to write with one eye over her shoulder now, not that I blame her, but it shows.

But the old spark was there this week. A video presently viralling its way around the Internet shows the doltish Toronto Mayor Rob Ford entering a KFC joint, complete with laugh-track from the person who recorded him.

Mallick objects. So do I.

I have been guilty of this kind of physicalism occasionally, and it is something to be ashamed of. Judging people by their looks is not only puerile but a vicious form of discrimination with real consequences—in both directions.

Mallick shows how people live in the shadow of this discrimination, even when they are not being actively demeaned and harassed. She makes he account personal, which is, last I heard, what feminists are supposed to do with the political. Nevertheless, some of the latter who should know better have gotten Mallick gloriously wrong, to the absurd point of calling for her to be fired.

Fat is a feminist issue, but so is thin, and points in-between. Yet the physical appearance police do not confine themselves to women. They impose a form of oppression that is applied (as the Ford example indicates) to anyone not conforming to socially-bound notions of attractiveness. And, while much “lookism” can indeed be integrated into notions of patriarchy—women are kept perpetually off-balance by it, and colonized minds reinforce it—Mallick is suggesting that there is a more general harm at work. After all, patriarchy could be just as oppressive if men strove to be fat instead of lean—as in Tonga.

What can we do as a society to confront this form of discrimination? It’s trickier than gender or race, with each of which it can be interwoven (check out the implicit racism here, for example), because the “norm” keeps shifting, and indeed it might be fair to say, so far as women are concerned, that there is no functional norm at all: whatever a woman looks like is somehow wrong.

But perhaps we could begin by placing what my mother used to call “personal remarks” off-limits in ordinary discourse, just as racist and sexist jokes are no longer socially mainstream. Ford, as Mallick says, is an awful mayor. His character, his incompetence, his sheer lack of ability, are all worthy of harsh judgment. But size, in this case at least, doesn’t matter.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on April 22, 2012 2:31 PM.

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