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Dehumanization of your enemies

January 19, 2012

A while back, before I was properly paranoid, some cyber stalkers from r/fitnesscirclejerk on reddit.com found my Facebook page along with photos of my family. I’ve never been one to be overly cautious about those things until someone saved photos from my profile and posted them on reddit.

Photos of my family, photos of my son who was, at the time, four years old, with the accompanying line, “can you believe that thing has a child?!” I’ll say that these people have been creepily obsessed with me for ages, but it takes a real sicko to steal photos of a child and post it publicly for mocking.  Some other fitnesscirclejerkers defended the posting assuming that I had posted the photos on my blog, therefore making it public property. I want to point out that I did not, in fact, post it on my blog and even when I talk about my child here, I do not, and will not ever, post photos of my child for this very reason. But, more so, I want to make it clear that even if I did, what they did was still completely unethical.

Now to go back to what they said. Did you notice that they referred to me, a human being, as a thing? An object? Let’s not forget that objectification is not limited to sexual objectification. I am a person. My life is not just what I write online. I have a family, friends, pets. I go on vacation, pick my son up from school every day, plant flowers in the spring, clean my house, cook meals, make crafts, read books, go shopping,  go for walks in the park and take photos of the roses. But that’s not what these people see.

Because they dislike me, because I am, to them, their enemy, they have reduced me to a non-human object. Objectifying and dehumanizing your enemies is common and somewhat natural — they live outside of our monkeyspheres. We’re all guilty of this.

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I am not, and was never, a huge fan of W. Bush and, often, when I thought about him I pictured him doing all of these terrible things or having these terrible discussions like a villian in some 90s cartoon whose personality is completely flat and one-sided. When the movie W. came out, it helped humanize him for me. I still didn’t like him, but I also felt bad for him and realized that, even though I don’t think he’s an ethical person and I would certainly never want him running things again, he was a human being, made up of all of the experiences and circumstances of his life which lead him down the path he ended up on.

I want to share a bit about the general aspect of this issue and how it’s used to oppress, stigmatize, and discriminate. The idea behind the monkeysphere (you should really read the article yourself) is that we can only form personal connections with so many people and the larger that number of people gets, the more casual the relationship, the less you’re able to humanize them. This isn’t your fault, it’s how your brain works.

I’ll use an example from the article: a bus full of school children crashes. First, imagine your own child was on that bus. Now imagine you didn’t know anyone on the bus, but it was from the school down the street. Now imagine it was a bus from the next town over, the next state over, across the country, across the world… the closer you are to the experience, the more upset you will be.

How many of you would sit down and sob for days on end because you heard of a tragedy in a country you’d barely heard of? We see this in the difference between our love for a pet chicken and the chicken on the dinner menu. The difference between our mentally ill mother and that “crazy” lady who won’t stop screaming when you take your trash out. Our amount of empathy changes depending on who we’re interacting with.

I believe that most people can, and should, expand their monkeyspheres by exercising their empathy bone. We, as fat people, we, as enemies to fatphobes, aren’t human in their minds.

To the white supremacist, a black person isn’t human. To the evangelical conservative, a gay, bi, or trans person isn’t human. To the invading army, the opposing force isn’t human.

When we’re attacked, our strategy should involve more than just stats and numbers. We need a human element. We need to make them realize that we’re people. We’re not blobs of walking fat. What tips would you propose to help humanize us to sizists?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    January 14, 2012 6:54 pm

    It would help a lot if all those articles about obesity weren’t allowed to use “headless fatty” photos or photos of fat people that show us from the back. Show our faces, show us doing all the things that other people do when they’re talking about us. Oh, and don’t refer to us as “the obese” or “the overweight”, that’s objectifying – we’re not objects, we’re people and we need to be treated as people, referred to as people, not treated as objects, not referred to as objects.

  2. Kala permalink
    January 19, 2012 11:08 am

    As an fyi:

    “therefore making it public property”

    In the US, regarding the law, any photo you take is copyrighted to yourself. Use of your photo was not granted to them by you, so legally it is not ok for them to be using it. I can have a public blog full of photos, or a Flickr that’s open to the public, and that doesn’t make those photos any less mine than if they had been sitting in a box in my house.

    http://www.photosecrets.com/photography-law-copyright

    A photo with some insults also isn’t a parody, which is a derivative work of another work used to serve as some sort of commentary, which is generally considered fair use in the USA. So that defense would most likely not hold.

    • January 19, 2012 1:43 pm

      Thanks Kala, and welcome back. 😉

      Peace,
      Shannon

  3. January 19, 2012 2:21 pm

    I believe your question is valid and important, and comes from a critical recognition of social constructed sources of domination (such as dehumanization by means of strategic language); yet I no longer believe that the central problem before my consciousness is one of recognition of stigmatized Others (or *us vs. them*), or creating respect for the humanity of human beings socially constructed as worth-less. When those who stand in judgement view their own lives as forms of commodity (things), accept their own lots as productive workers valued–more or less–for their economic contributions or their contributions to their affiliated groups, and cannot grasp other emancipatory ways to frame their own lives, outside the structures of commodity culture (who work out at the gym–for instance–to keep their bodies *healthy* and *strong*, to stay in working order for as long as possible), while living lives of dissociated consciousness (see our vast entertainment industries), the larger human tragedy enfolds the lives of those we imagine as holding *privilege*, those *enjoying* perks that keep us all from seeing things too painful and horrifying to face. Seeking a strategic means-end approach to combat sizism perpetuates the idea of human beings as group members, as different kinds of things (commodities) with greater or lesser value, depending on the way they are presented to others, or socially constructed. Childism, racism, ablism, sexism, and so forth–all systematically institutionalize (construct and maintain) the everyday practices of dehumanization. All are transformed strategically to divide us from our selves, from our common humanity. How can those processes continue while we live and breathe each day? That is my focus now. The conversation continues…

  4. January 19, 2012 3:21 pm

    This is exactly right. The whole walking blobs of fat thing is exactly how they see us. And even if we do have feelings, the fact that they can hurt them should be used as motivation for us to lose weight and end the bullying. The logic is irrefutable (scoff).

    But one thing you forgot to mention that obviously contributes to this dehumanization is the use of headless fatties.

    This is the culture we live in. This is the reality that we have to fight against. And it is just as difficult as when black people or gay people have tried to reverse that dehumanization. But as those groups have shown us, it can be done.

    Peace,
    Shannon

  5. Emerald permalink
    January 19, 2012 3:47 pm

    Yes. ‘That thing’ is possibly the one insult I’ve had used about me that made me feel most like crawling away somewhere and dying. It was spoken about me to someone on the phone, yet in front of my face, as if I wasn’t there, which is in itself another dehumanizing tactic (the perpetrators also used to discuss the intimate hygiene of a disabled colleague when she was well within earshot – it’s one of my biggest and most shameful regrets that, cowed by the bullying as I was, and aware that the bullies were in cahoots with two levels of incompetent management, I never reported them for it. As it is, they’re among the few people in my life who, if I ever meet them again, I may have to be restrained from doing serious harm to.)

    But, yeah. All those people who think it’s amusing or clever to discuss a fat person’s appearance, or eating habits, or what you imagine of their sex life, when they’re sitting feet away from you? We can hear you. We can also feel hurt or upset or angry at your words – I’m always slightly bewildered at people who do their best to say hurtful things to or about fat people, then get amazed when they react as if they actually are hurt. You know, as if we actually had emotions like real people do. Who’da thunk it?

  6. Rislaja permalink
    January 22, 2012 7:57 pm

    /r/fitnesscirclejerk is full of really horrible excuses for human beings. I’ve been being semi-stalked by one of them for the last few weeks. He keeps making posts about me, eighteen days later, blaming me for having narcolepsy (since, you know, being born with brain damage (that runs in my family) is…my fault!) and blaming me for my other medical issues. That forum is filled with some of the worst people on reddit, and that’s a really high bar since reddit is full of terrible people.

  7. January 26, 2012 4:26 pm

    Reading about this sort of thing really triggers something in me. It makes me feel raped on a psychological level. That may sound stupid but as someone who has been sexually assaulted, those are the feelings it triggers in me–that same awful panic that I went through for a year after the attack.
    As Kala pointed out, what they have done is illegal. It may not be worth pursuing as it might be difficult to discover the actual identities of these worthless c**ts, but it is in fact a violation of copyright law and is not a parody.
    I tend to be very paranoid by nature, but also because I work in health care and know that my opinions if expressed online as myself could lead to the loss of my job. (The higher ups in the company I work for include some very conservative douchecanoes.) This is why I tend never to post pictures of myself. Bu a person should be able to have the freedom to post pictures of themself all they choose without enduring such horrific attacks.
    I really wish that every one of these losers would fall into an active volcano. I cannot abide such worthless scum.

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