I removed the controversial picture

If you’re looking for the heated thread about the belly-button photo, I’ll have to disappoint you. I removed it, not because I felt it was misogynistic or derisive of obese people. I just felt it wasn’t “me” – when I scrolled by it on myhome page, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I put it up under intense circumstances, and if I’d had more time to think about it, I probably wouldn’t have posted it at all.(And Mark, do not take this as a victory and don’t presume it means I now support the Marxist revolution.)

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

I was wondering though Richard, how others responded to my last entry – my argument explaining why the picture, in the context that it was baked, is inherently misogynistic.

It was developing into a rather interesting discussion. Pity you didn’t leave the comments going. You could have removed the photo, but left the comments going – that way the discussion could have continued.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

Dear Richard,

At first you insisted that the photo was just plain “funny” and that I was lacking a sense of humour, and now you have removed the entire thread, saying that it just wasn’t “you”.

Could it be that, having read my pep talk, you have realised the errors of your ways?!?!?! – that you are so embarrassed, that you have removed the entire thread, all of the comments, not just the photo alone?!?!?!

Mmmmm…….

I’ll interpret this my way for the time being I think. It looks to me as though I have scored yet another “victory”! :-)

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

Well, life will go on, I assure you.

January 31, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

To your second comment — no, it wasn’t your pep talk. Don’t be hurt, but I didn’t read it, I scanned it due to its frightening lengthI got the gist of it from reading Sam’s and others’ comments about your comment.

It was funny. I still think it was funny. But as I said, I felt it didn’t belong on my blog, mainly because I want to focus on more serious things (with the occasional exception). It just didn’t fit with my posts about Taiwan and China, etc.

January 31, 2005 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

Fair enough Richard, but I was not able to read Sam’s response to my last entry of yesterday. Nor was I able to read anybody else’s response.

They may have raised some interesting and challenging points. How will I ever know, now that you have deleted the entire thread? Perhaps you could have given everybody a day’s warning first.

Regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

No one responded to your last comment. I was referring to Sam’s comments from many days ago. So no need to worry.

January 31, 2005 @ 7:01 pm | Comment

But I’m sure people would have responded, had they had the chance!

Regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 7:04 pm | Comment

O.K. Well I do recall at least one person saying that he was looking forward to reading my explanation as to why that photo (which has now, quite rightly, been removed) is inherently misogynistic.

Here is my explanation:

So why was the posting of that picture of the seriously overweight woman inherently misogynistic?

The answer is obvious: what we had here was the posting of a photo which looked as though it may have been distorted in order to exaggerate the extent of the woman’s obesity, but it is difficult to tell. It may be have been a genuine photo. Whether it was or not though, is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that the photo was baked on this website in the way of a joke – as a means for people to poke fun at the image depicted – and the image is one of a seriously overweight woman, objectified – held up as an object to mock.

As an object, she is displayed as the antithesis of sexual desire, hence the caption that accompanies it: “It’s almost spring – and girls start showing their belly button!’

Spring, of course, is always going to be associated with sex. It is the time of the mating season for much of the animal world, and so it is a time that is normally associated with sex in our popular culture. But this woman’s body is held up as not being worthy of display – her belly button, which hangs so low as to be visible below her dress line, is seen to be funny, because it is seen to be somehow abhorrent – hence the light-hearted sarcasm in the remark, “time for girls to start showing their belly button!”

One commentator quite explicitly picks up on this theme, when he said that this woman not only makes him feel sick, but has also turned him off his night’s sex.

So here we have, on display, on a public forum, the overweight woman (the “cow” as another contributor to this thread says) objectified, not as female sex object, but as the antithesis of female as sex object.

There is a tendency in our culture to put women on a pedestal – to worship them from afar, which also enables one to take a better aim at them for the purposes of derision. Why is this paradoxical response to women so widespread, so far-reaching, so all-pervasive, I wonder?

Even men who consider themselves enlightened tell mother-in-law jokes, or create artwork that degrades women, or exploit women’s sexuality to market material goods, or treat the antithesis of the woman-as-sex-object with abhorrence and scorn, sometimes doing so (like in this case) through mockery, through the use of so-called humour. Calling this woman a “disgusting” “cow” and laughing at her because she is so overweight that her stomach sags low enough to be able to see her belly button beneath her dress line – this is just plain demeaning, but in this case it is also misogynistic because not simply because the subject happens to be a woman, but more so because the subject happens to be a woman who is objectified as the antithesis of beauty and of male sexual desire.

Misogyny, I think, is best described as a male malady, as it has always been a characteristic shared by human societies throughout the world. The turmoil of masculinity and the ugliness of misogyny have been well documented in different cultures throughout history, but if you take a synoptic approach that identifies misogyny in a variety of human experiences outside of sex and marriage, you will, I think, be in a position to be able to develop a fresh and enlightening understanding of this phenomenon. You will see that misogyny is so widespread and so pervasive among men everywhere that it must be at least partly psychogenic in origin, a result of identical experiences in the male developmental cycle, rather than caused by the environment alone. This is certainly what I think, and some of the comments on this thread certainly point in this direction.

There is in fact a wealth of compelling evidence – from the jungles of New Guinea to the boardrooms of corporate America – that shows that misogynistic practices occur in hauntingly identical forms. One book that has hugely influenced my thinking on this topic was written by the French anthropologist, Maurice Godelier, called The Making of Big Men. It was published by Cambridge University Press, but I’m afraid I can’t remember when. Back in the late 90s. My copy is back home in Australia, so I cannot provide you will all of the details here, but it is well worth reading. It is based on over ten years of research of a remote tribal community in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Anyhow, the deep and abiding male anxieties that lead to misogynistic practices, I believe, stem from unresolved conflicts between men’s intense need for and dependence upon women and their equally intense fear of that dependence. Of course, misogyny is also often supported and intensified by certain cultural realities, such as patrilineal social organisation, kinship ideologies that favour fraternal solidarity over conjugal unity, chronic warfare, feuding, or other forms of inter-group violence, as well as religious orthodoxy or asceticism.

In other words, what I am suggesting here is that the affective tenor of male psychic experience underlies its universality, whereas structural features of particular societies influence the forms of misogyny.

Psychogenetic foundations are exacerbated by certain social and cultural conditions, including certain forms of patrilineal, patrilocal organisation, a certain kinship ideology that favours fraternal solidarity at the expense of the husband-wife bond, the persistence of chronic warfare, feuding, or other forms in inter-group violence, religious Puritanism or other forms of asceticism such as sexual prudery, unrealistic moral idealism, and certain kinds of domestic arrangements that occur in exogamous outmarrying preindustrial societies.

In our Western societies, misogyny has even progresses to women’s moral and spiritual failings. Western variants constitute a misogyny of the imagination. All world religions evince this aesthetic and intellectual misogyny, and of course Christianity is not alone in attributing the origin of sin to the dangerous woman.

We can see how some contributors have already tried to defend their comments about this picture, about this woman, by appealing to a certain morality. Sam, from Shenzhen for example, says earlier in this thread “that human beings may deserve respect for some achievement or another, but the respectable parts are not what’s represented in the photo.” He says earlier that “One of the reasons extreme obesity is disgusting is that it’s so blatantly anti-survival, which rings a deep chord in most people. I bet most of us are aware of all the diatribes against fat-discrimination, and still find it disgusting and worthy of comment.”

Shanghai Slim also thinks in this way. He says that demeaning overweight women is different from fundamentally different from the racist act of making ethnic jokes in that people cannot choose their race, but can supposedly choose their weight, or at least significantly manage it. That’s why this woman is “disgusting” he says, because such “fat asses” eat too much. Therefore it is morally and socially acceptable to publicly ridicule and demean them. This is the kind of twisted logic that Shanghai Slim and Sam from Shenzhen have employed to justify their “fun” appetite for cheerfully demeaning depictions of women.

In other words, it is socially acceptable to demean and to poke fun at seriously overweight women (and men I assume) on the grounds that they “deserve” it because they are “blatantly anti-survival”. In other words, such people are guilty of failing to properly look after themselves, which is seen here to be a moral failure – so much so in fact, they deserve to be publicly punished by being mocked, demeaned, labelled “disgusting”, to have their sexuality called into question and ridiculed, to be held up in public as though they were a freak show.

Most people, men and women, who are this overweight though, as I have already pointed out in an earlier entry, can not help it. Few people become this overweight simply by eating too much of the wrong foods, and or by not doing enough exercise. Normally such persons suffer some kind of medical condition that affects their metabolic systems, or they have a thyroid problem, which causes this kind of serious obesity. Some people also put on huge amounts of weight as a side effect to necessary medications. I have already mentioned lithium as an example (with is used to treat depression) which causes fluid retention, especially in women.

Not only this, but many obese women and men suffer from various psychological disorders which result in over-eating. “A new epidemic has gripped American women, and it’s the reason why dieting will never work,” says Counselor Dr. Gregg Jantz who has been working with eating disorders for 18 years. “Impulse eating is really the culprit and this is a trend we’ve discovered many women secretly suffer from.” Dr. Jantz has treated over 6,000 women at his clinic. “Women are so alone today,” says Dr Jantz. “Isolation coming from today’s fast-paced lifestyle contributes to these problems. Women try to eat away their loneliness, frustrations, anger, and fears. They’ll diet but never be successful for long. Women think the problem is food, but food is NOT the problem at all,” he noted. “The only workable solution is treating the whole-person – body and mind – or you’re doomed to fail.”

It is wrong to assume that people who are this overweight deserve to be so, and that it is always their fault, which is why it is also wrong to publicly ridicule and demean them. You only damage their self-esteem even more by publicly ridiculing them.

O.K. So seriously overweight men are sometimes also ridiculed. Does such behaviour constitute misandry? Well, perhaps so. It depends on the context.

Some people have suggested that I am being too serious, that I am over the top, too radical – that this is merely about having some light-hearted fun. But it is not that innocent, it is not all that innocuous. If we go back to around the middle of 2002 for example, to the Big Brother series that aired on British television at that time, we are reminded of what happened to the woman named Jade – she was an overweight contestant, or guest in the so-called Big Brother household. Because of her body shape, she was attacked in a way that can only be described as vicious – but all in the name of “fun” of course. The Sun newspaper called her a hippo, then a baboon. Then later, on July 3 the paper launched its campaign to “vote out the pig”. “Jade is one of the most hated women on British TV and life will be hard for her when she leaves the house,” wrote the showbiz columnist Dominic Mohan, “but don’t feel sorry for her… Exercise your democratic right and vote the pig out.” On July 14, the Sunday Mirror at last called time on the porcine comparisons. “I’m fed up of all the pig references. Besides, it’s just plain insulting – to pigs.” The paper decided elephant was more apt. “I must congratulate Jade on her wonderful impression of John Merrick. I think she should be called the Elephant Woman.”

What did Jade Goody, a 21-year-old dental nurse from south London, ever do to deserve this level of abuse? In part, of course, she asked for it by auditioning for a program which she knew would expose her body shape to levels of scrutiny that few would find comfortable. But if Big Brother’s appeal lies in revealing the psychological impulses behind the capricious, compassionate and occasionally cretinous way that people behave when locked in a house together, this series also revealed some unpleasant facts about elements of the press – and the viewing public. Principally that it is tainted with a level of misogyny that is far more distressing to observe than the innocent shenanigans of a dozen 20-somethings confined to a pre-fabricated dormitory.

Some time ago I saw an episode of a show which, if memory serves me correctly, was called Boston Public. The episode was about an overweight girl who was recruited onto the school’s wrestling team after the coach noticed she was being teased about her weight by other kids, so he took it as an opportunity to exploit her emotional condition. When she wrestled, the crowd called her the “blob” and chanted the “blob rules.” Crying, she told the coach that she didn’t want to wrestle, but the coach continued harassing her, taunting her with insults because she didn’t want to participate in a violent sport. Even the principal joined in to coerce her into fighting. The message of the show was that she could only gain acceptance from the students and faculty by becoming like the boys. There was no message that her value as a woman could ever come from other, personal qualities. Overweight girls have it tough enough without being used as objects of violence to defeminise them for androgynous spectator sports.

The entire notion that obese women represent the antithesis of sexual desired is inherently misogynistic, because it fails to recognize that women, like men, come in all shapes and sizes, and that society’s idealised concepts of beauty are historical. Just take a look at any Renaissance painting, and you will see that the women idealised as sensual objects back then would be considered to be grossly overweight today. Marilyn Monroe was commodified as America’s ideal beauty back in the 1950s. She would never get a modeling job these days – she would be considered to be way too overweight. If you go to some countries, like Tonga for example, you will see that overweight men and women are still regarded today as being the more attractive. The bigger the better in fact. And I have noticed from my travels that African men very often prefer to take wives who in our society would be considered seriously obese. This is why I see so many “overweight” Caucasian women with African boyfriends or husbands.

To demean the “overweight” woman publicly in this way, is to support the overall war that is taking place against women’s bodies – a war which cripples the self-esteem of millions of women in our Western societies, which results in the deaths of thousands every year from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which strains our health care systems with the subsidised costs of anti-depressant drugs, ad infinitum…. We live in a culture which treats women with such utter and blatant contempt, that staggering record numbers of them are driven into depression and other psychological illnesses because of self-hate.

Let us not forget that obesity inflates our society’s depression and suicide rates, particularly among women, whose bodies are far more scrutinized publicly than men’s. I think I am right to call into question the nature of this so-called “fun”, and I am right to call into question the maturity of such behaviour.

What we had here, was blatant misogyny. Not innocuous “fun”.

Regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

Look, I just read the first few lines of your tome, and all I can say is you have way too much time on your hands and can never bear not to have the very last word. I put up a photo of the world’s hairiest man, not because he’s a freak but because it was an interesting story. Again (and we discussed this already, sigh) we weren’t saying, “Look, there’s a fat lady, laugh at her!” It was a joke about girls showing their navels in the springtime — there was a hilarious dichotomy between what the post’s headline would lead you to believe was coming and the photo itself. Period. To just show a fat person for the sake of ridiculing her would be utterly appalling. And I am happy to say that most of my readers who commented agreed, and found your perspective quite odd and humorless. The females, most emphatically, said it was absolutely not misogynistic.

I don’t really know why I’m bothering with this, as I know it will simply revive a conversation everyone (yourself excepted) had hoped was dead. Maybe it’s because I’m tired and drank some nice wine with dinner, or maybe it’s because I’m a masochist. But I repeat: We all know your view, and we have nearly all categorically rejected it, as we all, without exception, rejected your view that the insurgents should win in Iraq. But you have to have the last word, so go to it. Just remember, my one perquisite for paying to run this site is that I can end threads when I see fit. (Although in the entire history of this blog you’re the only one who’s inspired me to invoke this privilege.)

Okay, I’m gonna lie down.

January 31, 2005 @ 8:49 pm | Comment

Richard – just because a few female commentators to this thread said that personally they didn’t find the photo and the comments that it excited to be in any way misogynistic, doesn’t mean that the photo, in the context in which it was posted, along with some of the comments that it provoked, isn’t in any way inherently misogynistic.

And you have yet to explain just exactly why it is that you do reject my opinion. You have not actually challenged me on any of my actual arguments, have you? In fact, you have implied that you haven’t even read my arguments!

Regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Go on admit it, the fast food industry brought you off didn’t they.

How much did they pay you, you censoring turncoat? Was it a life time supply of beef patties, free happy meals, or maybe something a bit more saucy, like a couple of gallons of barbique sauce?

January 31, 2005 @ 9:37 pm | Comment

Wheeeew for hot air. Mark all you need to say is that the photo was a bad idea to post. BTW, you are not the only one that had something to say to Richard that made an impressionon him on the wisdom of posting that photo. I believe my comments were posted before you decided to windbag us to disinterest on the deleted thread.

January 31, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

No Pete. I didn’t read any comment by you on this issue until after I had posted mine. And in fact, I really respected your position.

I really admire Richard too, for going to all of the time and trouble and expense of running this website, Peking Duck. The value of this site, for me at least, is that it allows me to take a certain line of argument, and to test it at its extremes – to see how far I can logically get away with it.

I know that most of the other contributors to this website are a world away from me, and that my own views appear to be too radical, too over the top. But to all of my friends over the years, and to the many people I knew when I was at university in Australia, and to many of my teaching colleagues in both Australia and the UK, my views are ordinary, are shared by the majority in fact.

The whole reason why I bother to post comments on this particular website, is because I know that I represent a small minority on this website – I’m pretty much a lone voice in fact, for much of the time. This way, at least, I can take a particular view, push it to its logical extremes, and see how far I can get away with it. This is useful, because, at the end of the day, it enables me to adopt an empirically stronger, more sober position.

What is annoying though, is when Richard decides, quite unilaterally I might add, to terminate the discussion, to terminate the thread. In this case, he has not only terminated the discussion, he has even gone so far as to delete all record, all history, of the entire discussion.

Some of the most entertaining criticisms of me ever on this website, by Sam of Shenzhen, has now been lost. What a pity! Nobody else has, to date, had the audacity to dismiss my views with such colourful language and phrasing – to say that my ideas are “as interesting” as “dried muesli”, and to call me a “yuppified Puritan” – that has all, now, sadly, been lost.

This is disturbing.

I really admire Richard, but I think he has a few things still to learn when it comes to blogger ethics.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 31, 2005 @ 11:35 pm | Comment

Mark, as I said, you’ll get over it. It’s not like this is a trend or something I do every day. Once. Take a deep breath, and write whatever you want. I won’t delete this thread.

February 1, 2005 @ 6:59 am | Comment

Pete, thanks for the great comment.

Final note, Mark, about “blog ethics”: One tenet is not to preach for such lengths that you drive everyone else away. You do it constantly. Not that you don’t have something to say, but the sheer length causes many readers to simply pass your comments by.

And if you are so distressed that some of Sam’s comments are gone, you can find most of them cached on Google. Or I can summarize them here for you: “Mark, you’re being a self-righteous jerk.”

I read your initial arguments, I replied, but as always you need to claim victory. Go ahead, claim victory. I’m sure it feels nice, even if it’s not based on any reality. (Sorry to be harsh, but your extreme positions, pointed accusations and, as Pete said, hot air can become exasperating, to say the least.)

February 1, 2005 @ 7:02 am | Comment

You talkin’ bout me, here? I thought I heard my name.

Some people have suggested that I am being too serious, that I am over the top, too radical

I wasn’t totally clear in my purposely abbreviated comments, and I’m certainly not going to go on at length on a near-worthless topic, but I would like to make it more clear now: what I was suggesting was that you were being too tiresomely moralistic. I’m likely the oldest person reading this blog, so my experience is longer, but I doubt, unique. Your essays are almost identical copies of some of my college lectures in the late 60′s. I understood them then, largely agreed, and carried on endless conversations to the same effect in the student lounge and the all-night coffee shop. While of course there are big grains of truth there, the overall experience made me so fucking oversensitive to any deviance from socially-responsible perfection that it was crippling. Took me years to recover. Now, God help me, I laugh at banana-peel slips, and let loose a hearty yuck! at gross pictures without a shred of guilt. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the people, it just means my reactions are natural and unrestrained (for which my over-education gets no credit at all).

What was radical in the 60′s is now so overused, prim and worn-out, it makes one want to scream with frustration. My old lecturers truly are the new puritans. No, I’m not going to answer your essay point-by-point; I’ve had the same discussion 3,427 times already. So sue me, I’m naughty.

I like this way better. It’s much more liberating.

Regards,
Sam

PS. You may certainly have the last word. I am absolutely, completely finished with this thread.

February 1, 2005 @ 9:33 am | Comment

Magnificent, Sam. I have just two words to add: Thank you.

February 1, 2005 @ 9:55 am | Comment

I don’t know you Richard. But I thought from just reading some of past posts, that it was ‘unlike’ you to post such a picture. But then I could be wrong.

Now that you’ve taken the photo off, that’s great. It is more ‘like’ you to ‘remove’ it.

Isn’t it strange to have pre-conceived notions of what a person is like or not like based on reading past blog entries? :)

Anyways, I’m thinking that perhaps Mark needs to setup his own blog and write long entries there. :)

Now, to go look up the word “misogynistic” in the dictionary. … There. I don’t think Richard is misogynistic for posting the photo. A little weird and a strange sense of ‘humour’ but not really humour,… but not misogynistic at all. My .02.

February 1, 2005 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

Thanks Joann.

February 1, 2005 @ 1:38 pm | Comment

Dear Sam,

I have never challenged your fundamental right to express your feelings in public, nor have I ever challenged your right to harbour such feelings. If you find such images “disgusting”, if your emotional reaction to such images is to say, “yuck!” then that is your problem, that is something that you have to deal with, as an individual. Don’t look at them.

All I have ever done here is to call into question the nature and maturity of ridiculing and demeaning such people on public forums, such as this one. It is not, as I have tried to point out, all that innocuous – it might be “fun” and “humorous” for some, but it is hardly innocuous fun.

And very few of my arguments rest on philosophical and moral foundations that have their origins in the 1960s. The idea that it is cruel and insensitive to publicly demean and ridicule other people goes back a long way before 60s.

I had no idea that such common sense and decency are no longer qualities to be valued, that such sensitivities are now considered to be passe.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

Dear Richard,

You needn’t worry about the “self-righteous jerk” scaring away your readers with lengthy comments anymore.

Respectfully,
Mark Anthony Jones

February 1, 2005 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

I guess I can never say it enough, but I’ll try once more: the photo and caption weren’t meant to demean or mock anyone, as only you feel. It was funny due to the caption and the contrast with the photo. Most people thoght so. Guys enjoyed it, ladies enjoyed it. If someone was offended, he said so and moved on with life. Only you seem compelled to crusade about it. That’s fine. I just hope you know how it looks (and I wish I could share all the emails I get about it!). I was like this too, in my late teens and 20s, and I can say with total confidence that one day not too far from now you’ll look back at this and cringe with embarrassment.

February 1, 2005 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

I’m sure that if we saw such a morbidly obese man, we would be as malicious, remembering from experience a campaign in Greece ot root out obesity in men in particular by putting photos of shirtless fatties on the front page of Kathimer
ena

February 2, 2005 @ 12:04 am | Comment

Look Keir – patriarchy certainly does cut both ways, for sure. Men also suffer from being objectifiers, and from being objectified themselves – idealised athletes, with Greek Olympic bodies, “studs” if you like. men who do not match the ideals of desire, fat bald men in particular, also suffer, and in various ways.

But in our society, it is nevertheless women who are the more pervasively objectified, and it is thus they who are the more publicly scrutinised.

Because fat men are also likely to be ridiculed, doesn’t detract from my argument that the posting of a seriously overweight woman in the context that it was posted, is inherently misogynistic.

Regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

February 2, 2005 @ 12:45 am | Comment

No more, this is really too much.

February 2, 2005 @ 7:25 am | Comment

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