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Jan 03 2007

Twisty’s Feminist Media Literacy Korner

burger.jpg
Unrelated rich people food-du-jour: bacon cheeseburger at Phil’s Ice House

I had to come out of my two-day retirement to bring you this breaking news. Here, from amNewYork, is an actual headline:

“Skinny girls to blame for late trains?”

It’s not really a question, but if it were, the answer would be “heck yeah!” According to amNewYork’s expert on female delicacy (a Transit Authority EMT who treats sick passengers at Grand Central Station), an overwhelming majority of subway delays are the fault of women who faint. They faint, professes the EMT, because they’re on “crash diets”. The EMT asserts this “fact” even though the MTA doesn’t keep records concerning the precise nature of passenger illnesses.

Now behold how media, the unsinkable myth of female fragility, and woman-blaming-as-national-bloodsport again converge to perpetuate misogynist cultural narrative. For your blaming pleasure, I’ll break it down for you into 4 convenient sections.

The Fake Expert

amNewYork sets up some random buttmunch Grand Central EMT as an authority in female-diet-related train delays. In fact, the EMT’s pronouncements proceed not from a scientific study based on actual documented evidence, but on his general sense of things. It is unclear whether the guy takes medical histories from his little fainters, but I’d be willing to bet that other issues, such olfactory stress from prolonged exposure to passenger B.O., also trigger loss of consciousness.

The Fake Phenomenon

Note that the report seeks to whet its audience’s appetite for news of the weird by introducing a new “phenomenon” — in this case an oddity which relies for its newsworthiness on the abnormal actions of those perennial crazies, women — with the inflammatory lede “Subway late? Blame the lady wearing a size 0.” Every reader who has ever suffered the inhuman tortures of a subway delay will be delighted to find a satisfying new scapegoat in tiny women. Will it surprise anyone when I reveal that this is totally bogus? In fact, the report itself admits that “track work and signal troubles” account for a greater percentage of delays than skinny fainting women, and even lets it slip, toward the end of the story, that other physical issues, such as hangovers, often jam things up, too, but of course that’s not “news.”

The Mocked and Vilified Woman

That the report should take a mocking tone and blame women as a cause of a particularly reviled and universal inconvenience is nothing new. Women, I don’t need to remind you, endure incredible pressure to conform asinine regulations regarding their appearance. When they succeed in achieving the precarious balance between virgin and whore, young and old, natural and fake, fat and thin, submissive and self-reliant, they are rewarded for their success by male approval, but it is a cultural imperative to vilify women when they fail to correctly manage their feminine duties. Women who faint from hunger when trying to appease the male oppressor have clearly fucked up and must admonished. The fainting woman interviewed for this story is described as “sheepish.”

The Natural Order Restored

In the same issue of amNewYork is a story about Wesley Autrey, the “Subway Superman”. Now here’s a guy who knows what time it is when it comes to subway behavior. During his daring rescue of a man who had fallen onto the tracks, “Autrey’s Playboy ski cap was nicked but he was uninjured.”

35 comments

2 pings

  1. sonicwasteland

    Dear Twisty,

    I have loved you and followed your blog for ages. I’ve sent a few articles your way, and today found myself feeling guilty for some flak you took for your public commentary on them. After considering the matter, however, I realized that I should be blaming those hate-filled patriarchy worshippers and sustainers who feel a need to express their inability to cope with uncensored truth, not myself.

    Also, I read about the quote unquote Subway Superman. The first thing I pictured was that Jerrod dude from the Subway commercials wearing a giant pair of jeans. After reading the story I wondered what would possess a man with two small daughters to throw himself onto the tracks after a stranger like that, considering the danger and electrical voltage involved. You can bet that if the rescuer was a woman the article would’ve been called “Bad Mother Scores Lucky Break”

    Keep blaming and I’ll keep reading!

  2. hedonistic

    Twisty said “buttmunch.” Heh.

  3. grrr kitty

    If she looks “sheepish”, she’d best steer clear a Battle Creek, MI.

  4. Pinko Punko

    I had to skim because the pic was making me too hungry, but I would add that “irrational”/”hysterical”/”frivolous” would also be patriarchially implied by “crash diet” assertion. They’re covering all the bases.

  5. antelope

    The one thing I would add is “it is a cultural imperative to vilify women when they fail to correctly manage their feminine duties” and equally important, it is a cultural imperative to vilify women when they do correctly manage their feminine duties. Basically, these women were not crossing the partriarchal line at all, they were toeing it, and that’s what makes them funny.

    The way I read this story, the implied punchline is, “Ha-HAH, you thought you were pretty! You thought you were doing what we wanted! Well guess what, you are pretty! But you’re still just a train delayer to us, and a foolish, pathetic little train delayer at that.”

    What’s worse, their reason for finding her foolish is the same as mine – because she took the patriarchy’s rules seriously instead of realizing that it’s an elaborate joke.

  6. Pinko Punko

    antelope- I agree, it is the no-win quality that is exquisitely painful about these things.

  7. thebewilderness

    “Skinny girls to blame for late trains?”

    No, but it got you to read this stupid piece of drek.
    The question mark ploy used by the corporate media to protect themselves from liability when publishing propaganda has frayed my last nerve.
    I do not go to public places where newspapers are strewn, else I would have long since made a self inking rubber stamp to mark articles such as this “Patriarchial Propaganda”.

  8. anacas

    The AMNY article is indeed the suck (the woman-blaming tone is hardly surprising from them, but still disgusting). But there’s more than enough blame to go around without dissing the EMT.

    “It is unclear whether the guy takes medical histories from his little fainters, but I’d be willing to bet that other issues, such olfactory stress from prolonged exposure to passenger B.O., also trigger loss of consciousness.”

    Yes, NY EMTs do take medical histories. EMT does not just equal grunt labor. If someone faints and then says they haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday (“when did you last eat” is a required question), and there’s no other likely cause showing up in their medical history, it’s pretty damn easy to see that not eating is a likely cause of the faint.

    The problem isn’t the EMT’s assertion that diet-related fainting is a leading cause of “sick passenger” delays, the problem is the article’s implication that it’s the non-eaters’ fault. It’s ridiculous patriarchal assumptions’ and requirements’ fault. I do think this guy is qualified to note that day after day he treats people who faint for no reason other than being afraid of being fat.

  9. Twisty

    Point taken, anacas. But I still question whether an EMT who is basing his remarks on anecdotal evidence can be expected to reliably pronounce on the reason for a person’s not having had lunch. What I mean is, how does he know all these women are afraid of being fat?

  10. badkitty

    i have to stop reading your blog before dinner. the pic in this post damn near made me faint, which would have had a near catastrophic effect on rush hour traffic.

  11. Ephiny

    Isn’t this one of those stories that reappears every few years? I’m sure I remember reading something like this at least once before, maybe more…

  12. yankee transplant

    Is there no end? Thank you for another brilliant piece. I wanna be like you when I grow up.

  13. scratchy888

    I want to see the ante upped. Crash dieting women cause trains to crash. Three square meals a day puts transport back into the frame.

  14. arse poetica

    thebewilderness, in the absence of that Patriarchal Progpaganda rubber stamp, maybe some “This Insults Women” stickers? (scroll down) Helps to buy them by the 1000s.

    Oh my dog, I want to fly to Austin right now for the burger.

  15. vera

    Yes. That burger. I’ve been trying to be a vegetarian lately (since seeing “Fast Food Nation”), but I keep returning to this page to look at that burger photo.

  16. Susan M

    I’d be willing to bet that other issues, such olfactory stress from prolonged exposure to passenger B.O., also trigger loss of consciousness.

    Makin’ it real; I thought of you as soon as I saw that story today.

  17. maribelle

    I’m sure I remember reading something like this at least once before, maybe more…

    Ephiny, perhaps you’re confusing this story with other articles obsessed with eating habits of women and their effects on society:
    “SlimFast Not Organic; Skinny Girls To Blame For Global Warming?” or “Fall Crops Fail: Is Blobbish Oprah Blocking the Sun?” or perhaps the classic of the genre “Eve Eats Apple; Mankind Doomed.”

  18. Ron Sullivan

    Meetcha at In-n-Out, Vera. Hey, there’s a new one on Hegenberger Road out by the saltmarsh (OK, out by the airport). Even Eric Whoozits approves of In-n-Out.

    And their employees start at about $10.00/hour.

  19. thebewilderness

    arse poetica,
    the link is dead. I shall do a search out of curiosity, though I live such a reclusive existance that I would not have an opportunity to use them. I have a stack of freepress warning stickers that I have never stuck.

  20. Ron Sullivan

    Holy shit: flashback. When I was a scrawny kid, I fainted in church a couple of times; once, embarrassingly, in the Communion line. 10AM High Mass in summer with no A/C in the church, and this was The Auld Days when we had to fast from the previous midnight before Communion.

    The Patriarchy’s methods of enforcement are many and various, and the story about how unhappy Baby Jesus will be to land kersplat on a stomach full of half-digested food is one of them. (Yes, someone in my second-grade class did ask why it was better to dump a pile of well-chewed Sunday dinner on him instead. I guess that was a Mystery.)

  21. thebewilderness

    arse, may I call you arse? I found the site, thanks.

    http://www.syrculturalworkers.com/catalog/catalogIndex/CatWomen3.html

  22. vera

    Communion memories! A couple of the other girls and I used to sneak into the church kitchen after the service, and snarf up all the leftover communion bread. That’s protestants for you. Clearly we were not under firm enough control.

  23. arse poetica

    Sorry for the dead link, thebewilderness. I’ll try again so folks can have a choice of purchasing site. Damn, I love those stickers.

    Let’s hope it works this time!

    Ron S., I so wish we had In-n-Out in NC. Alas. Last time we were in California, it was our first stop leaving the airport.

  24. arse poetica

    P.S. You can call me arse! Though I must have changed my profile, because I usually comment here under my initials, “ae.” Ah well, blame on!

  25. Sylvanite

    Ah, fasting before communion. It’s the only explanation for why I like the taste and feel of communion wafers. If they sold them as snack food, I’d buy ‘em.

  26. grrr kitty

    Holy pancakes, Batman, we used to beg Sister Virgiliana to allow us another go at practicing for First Holy Communion with the unconsecrated Host because we liked the taste and feel of them. If you have a Polish Catholic church in your neighborhood, they might have some left over from Christmas. It’s sold in envelopes about the size of a 5×7 photograph, embossed with the image of the Last Supper.

  27. Dr.Sue

    I fainted on the subway once. I took a long morning run and got home too late to do anything but shower and dress before racing in to work. I was apparently insufficiently hydrated on a hot day, in a not-well-air-conditioned car, and I lost it. Nobody pulled the emergency brake, so no EMT–instead I staggered out at the next stop and downed ginger ales at a newspaper stand until I could see straight again–but if one had taken a history I would have said I hadn’t eaten since the previous night, which was true, but not because I was dieting. I would have been one of those statistics, though.

  28. Jack

    During his daring rescue of a man who had fallen onto the tracks, “Autrey’s Playboy ski cap was nicked but he was uninjured.”

    For clarification, Twisty – are you taking a jab at/making a comment about Autrey himself here, or are you making a comment about how this news outlet decided to highlight his hat?

    Also, I second anacas in that the problem is mostly the media’s spin on this (which amounts to “Silly, stupid women!”), rather than the EMT (though, admittedly, he may be making some assumptions himself.)

  29. Twisty

    The entire essay, Jack, is about misogyny in media. Why miss out on an opportunity to shill for a popular porn magazine?

  30. joolya

    Oh, for FSM’s sake!

    You really can’t win, can you, if you’re a girl? It’s not even virgin/whore, this is prude/slut. But it’s alright to hate the sluts/size 0′s, because we’re secretly jealous of them. Damned if ya do and damned if ya don’t.

    When the headline about how fat men delay trains by taking up too much space? Yeah, never. Possibly the one about pregnant women and their dang strollers. (Or has that been done?) What about men in three piece suits who try and shove up to the front of the ticket machine queue?

  31. joolya

    Oh, I forgot to mention: Being acceptably waif-like doesn’t COUNT if you have to DIET or USE COCAINE to maintain your BMI of 15! Silly little girls, always trying too hard!

  32. Sylvanite

    Off to St. Josaphat’s I go! If the church doesn’t fall down around my head, due to my unrepentant apostasy.

  33. thebewilderness

    So when a starving waif “sheepishly” admits they haven’t eaten, are they too embarrased to admit they don’t have enough money for food? We don’t know, because the assumption made in the article is that they are dieting to maintain the waiflike size 0. What if the size 0 is a result of being one of those working poor who has to stretch their food budget from one inadequate payday to the next.
    I may be making too much of this but I remember how hard it was to admit that you were starving when you went to lunch with friends and ordered a salad because it was the cheapest thing and you pretended you were on a diet. Then there is the “Oh no, I’m not hungry, I just ate”, or I had a huge lunch.
    It seems to me that this article is saying that it is perfectly acceptable for young women to starve, just so long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone else.

  34. hedonistic

    Wow, bewilderness, I just had a flashback. That was me, size zero, estranged from my family and literally starving from poverty, once upon a long time ago.

  35. cumwad

    y0u rock twisty!

  1. Skinny girls to blame for train delays

    [...] “the vapors.” (Though we’d love to see the Onion’s take on that.) Twisty of I Blame The Patriarchy isn’t so kind; she calls it an example of “woman-blaming-as-national-bloodsport.” [...]

  2. Skinny girls to blame for train delays - Salon.com

    [...] “the vapors.” (Though we’d love to see the Onion’s take on that.) Twisty of I Blame The Patriarchy isn’t so kind; she calls it an example of [...]

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