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Quote of the Day: On Overcoming Girly Insults and Dealing With Compliments of Any Sort

J.K. Rowling talks to NBC's Katie Couric about her latest book "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," and how her life has changed since the series.‘Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.

I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive,’ ‘jealous,’ ‘shallow,’ ‘vain,’ ‘boring,’ or ‘cruel?’ Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I’m not in the business of being judged on my looks, what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain…

I went to the British Book Awards that evening. After the award ceremony I bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? ‘You’ve lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!’

‘Well,’ I said, slightly nonplussed, ‘the last time you saw me I’d just had a baby.’

What I felt like saying was, ‘I’ve produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren’t either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?’ But no – my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!

I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons–J.K. Rowling

I’m a huge fan of J. K. Rowling.  A woman who regularly appears in the top ten most popular fiction writers world-wide, ever, and who’s got so much money she  could be the toast of Hollywood, New York, and the London literary and film critics scenes merely by keeping her mouth shut about some of her rather rational but–in this day and age–problematic, social opinions.

But she’s doesn’t keep her mouth shut.

And that’s quite refreshing.

I can’t agree with  absolutely everything she says.  Clearly, she’s not philosophically inclined to Conservatism.  But–compared to some of the lunatics on both sides–she seems like someone it would be possible to have a civil conversation with.

And I like what she says about the “fat” business.

Calling a woman ‘fat,’ or sneering about her size is, indeed, a particularly moronic way of diminishing her, and the fact that it’s often the first word out of another woman’s mouth is quite sad, because it demonstrates that a lot of women–whether due to genetic or social constraints–don’t seem able to get beyond exactly that sort of vindictiveness, jealousy, shallowness, vanity, boringness, and cruelty, that Rowling deplores in the quote.

In short, it implies that women (and–I suppose–a few girly-men) who fixate on such matters, when they look at an adult human female, are superficial and stupid themselves.

I can’t disagree.  After all, as the inimitable Maggie Thatcher (a lady I daresay that J.K. Rowling doesn’t have much time for) once said:

I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

Substitute the word “rational” for the word “political” in the above quote (I don’t think that’s much of a stretch), and there you have it.

So when Rowling says, about her own daughters:

I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons

I find myself thinking of  my granddaughter, and what I want for her.

What do I want for her? Certainly nothing that is premised on her weight.  What I want for her is this, originally posted on Ricochet, almost eight years ago now:

My “Feminist” Fever Dream:

Note: The title of this post should be viewed as ironic. I have never claimed to be a “feminist,” nor am I blind to the many counterproductive, wrong, and destructive outcomes of the formal “feminist” movement over the years. However, it appears as though the word ‘feminist’ means many things to many people. Just as some claim to be ‘feminists’ while espousing a very mild version of “equality of the sexes,” others see the slightest outbreak of assertiveness on the part of a woman as evidence of “feminist” rottenness to the core. A pox on all of them I say. Better to just look at each other as people. So, to business.

I am the grandmother of an eight-year-old girl. Technically, she is my step-granddaughter, though the distinction makes no difference, I assure you. Her mother is my stepdaughter and beloved friend. Her first few years have not been idyllic. And she’s had to learn to be a little tougher than I would like, a little earlier than I would like. I’ll just leave it there. But she is, without a doubt, the most beautiful, accomplished, intelligent person I know.

It’s not subtle. Her through-and-through awesomeness hits you in the face the moment you meet her, from her sweet face to her gap-toothed smile, her physical awkwardness to her much-too-grownup-for-her-age conversation, her inquisitiveness, her kindness, her thoughtfulness, her sharing, her ever-present suitcase full of stuffed animals, her tongue-biting concentration as she masters the (adult) climbing wall at the gym, and the complete abandon with which she throws her arms around her granny every time we meet.

I want her to go through the entirety of her life that way. I want everyone, men and women to think — perhaps for different reasons — “Wow! She’s awesome! I wish I could get to know her.” And, in future years, if the occasional “varray, parfit, gentil knyght” wants to walk up to her and pay her a compliment to that effect, I think that’s great. And I hope he does, too.

Here’s the rub: We do not live in a perfect world, and not everything can always be as we wish it. Nor can we live a life expecting that we will never be put into a situation that makes us uncomfortable.

I simply do not believe that taking all of the preceding statements as a given (and they are), somehow puts a gag on me and prevents me, or any woman, from saying — as appropriate — “Wow, this is just plain wrong,” or “Gosh, I would like this to be different, and perhaps I can make it so,” or “You know, I’d really prefer it if you didn’t say (or do) that.”

None of these responses, in any way, in any situation, implies rudeness. None implies meanness. None implies litigiousness. None implies hate. None implies anything other than what it says, relative to a particular instance at a particular time.

All each of them implies is that I, as a free human being, have the right to say what I think, pleasantly and politely, to another free human being, about how I feel.

My dream for her is that she lives in a world where she has that right, and that she’s able to do that. Actually, that world already exists. My real dream for her is that she’s not vilified when she exercises that right, particularly by those of her own sex who view it as their mission to make her feel bad for stepping on what they see as the only path to true womanhood, and who think she is nothing but a fool, or a joyless scold, or a man-hating troll.

Because, believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. There is not, and never will be, a canker of that sort on her soul.

A little more than a year ago, I reblogged the post here, and added this footnote:

Note: I first posted this on Ricochet, several years ago. I’d been there quite a while by then, but I was still a bit shy about posting my own stuff, and I think the over eighty comments it garnered might have made it my most popular effort to that point.

Well, maybe “popular” is the wrong word.

My post was something of a response to a few others which had generated a lot of discussion around the subject of whether or not it was ever appropriate for a woman who felt uncomfortable when she was on the receiving end of a compliment from a male, who was also a stranger, to say so.  Many, more female than male I think, seemed to think that it was inappropriate, and that turning away any such compliment, for any reason, was the mark of a joyless, sexless, man-hating, scold.

I love a nice, well-intentioned compliment, from a nice, well-intentioned man, myself (especially at my age, when they’re few and far between, LOL). And I think any woman should. But I also think there’s a time and a place for everything, and if I think someone’s busting through inappropriate boundaries, or invading my personal space a little too much, I’m going to say so.  Politely, and firmly. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with doing so.  In fact, I think–as a decent, loving, grown-up womanly woman, that I owe it to myself.  And that was really the point, and the only point, of my post.

Six years on, I still think I’m correct in that.  And in the context of current events, perhaps even more so.  Better to teach the young people of both sexes to behave decently, to treat each other with respect and to speak to each other kindly; while at the same time, teaching them to stand up for themselves, and to deal with it themselves, when they run into a weirdo, a cad, a nasty bitch, or a jackass; than it is to terrify entire generations into silence and isolation for fear that someone will take “offense” from a pleasant, perfectly innocent, well-meant remark which might then end a career, or result in someone’s cancellation from social media.

Apparently, though, the word “feminist” in the original post title, even though I set it off with quotes–which I thought would indicate a certain ironic flair, je ne sais quoi,  or that I was, perhaps, using it a bit irreverently–triggered a few people who, apparently can’t see or hear the word “feminist” anywhere without totally losing their shit and–eyeballs rolling back in their heads–becoming long-winded, incoherent and accusatory.  Many of them are the same people who scoff at the Left’s claim that there are words whose use–because of some imagined emotional charge they supposedly carry with them–constitutes “violence.”  But just try saying “feminist” around these soi-disant Conservative women (oddly, the most rabid of them do seem to be women), and watch what happens. It’s not pretty.  And neither are they, once the spittle starts flying.

I doubt (my online and real world experience bears this out) that most such women have thought much about the subject, and I think that they don’t know much about feminism other than what must have crossed their horizon on Wikipedia, YouTube or Twitter in the last five minutes.  If they’d ever wrestled at length with the subject intellectually and bothered to inform themselves, they’d probably have run across Camille Paglia, and perhaps they’d have a more rational perspective on the subject. But that’s a heavy lift and requires commitment and thought.  So, No.

What’s funny (peculiar, not haha) about this–from my decades-long observation of the phenomenon. is that a person doesn’t really have to profess herself as a “feminist” in order to earn the scorn of the weird sisterhood (h/t The Bard.)  All she has to do is be successful and happy in her life.  That alone is enough to send the bearettes of “very little brain” on the hunt to destroy them. Because happy and successful women must think of themselves as “feminists,” right?  And (per junior high school logic class):  1) All feminists are hateful and unhappy.  2) “Cousin Nora” calls herself a feminist.  3) “Cousin Nora” is hateful and unhappy.

Lord.  There’s such an undertone of implied desperation and misery in that worldview that it breaks my heart. I–as most rational people should–completely reject the initial premise.  And set “Cousin Nora” free.

Because, really…

…if you’re a woman who’s childless by choice; or if you’ve had to come to terms, after much heartache, with the fact that life, and nature let you down, and you’ll never be able to have children of your own; or if you’re a stay-at-home-mom of seven; or maybe a career woman, whether single or happily married, with children or not; or anything else that floats your boat, keeps you moving forward, and doesn’t come from a place of hatred, resentment, or grudge-bearing?

Rock on, girl! I’ve got your six.  And so should we all have, no matter your choices.  Live your life.  Love your family.  Enjoy your friends.  And above all, do some good in the world, and celebrate those of the sisterhood who do the same, without demeaning them or wondering why they didn’t pick the life you or your family wanted them to.

Today, I’m 67, beloved granddaughter is on the cusp of her fourteenth birthday, and she’ll be finishing up eighth grade in a few months (tempus fugit).  She’s still the most awesome young woman I know, and if in the future one of those nice, well-intentioned fellows, that “varray parfit gentil knyght” I mentioned above captures her heart, he’ll be a very lucky guy indeed.  And she’ll be a very lucky lady.  I hope I live to see the day.

But if she decides to go in a different direction, chooses to plot her own course, and is one of the first people to travel to Mars and back, then that’s fine too.

Oorah!  Bring on the farting chihuahas!



1 thought on “Quote of the Day: On Overcoming Girly Insults and Dealing With Compliments of Any Sort”

  1. Good timing, for once. I read last night that CNN’s premiere “journalist,” brave Don Lemon (make sure you put the accent on the second syllable, like that old joke about the buzZARD, the turTLE, and the rabBIT) has–according to that well-known right-wing journal (not) Variety Magazine–a decades-long history of insulting and demeaning the women who are so unfortunate as to work, or share the spotlight, with him.

    Variety’s article is here.

    Apparently, Lemon has been known to pull the “fat” card, too.

    What a maroon.

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