Monday, 15 January 2018

Roxane Gay, Midwest Writer’s Workshop, and Breaking the Silence of Fatphobia

No Fat ShamingRoxane Gay recently outed the Midwest Writer’s Workshop board for committing blatant fatphobia against Sarah Hollowell:

Roxanne Gay

Image shows a series of tweets from Roxane Gay, @rgay, text as follows:

I am going to call out the Midwest Writers workshop for fatphobia.

Sarah Hollowell, who I met through MWW has worked with them for five years. She was voted to be on the organizational committee.

But then someone said “do we really want someone like her representing us?” That person elaborated “someone so fat. It’s disgusting.” Only two people in that room spoke up for Sarah

They committee decided to NOT bring Sarah on board. Because of her body. But because she is “so talented” they are willing to hire her for less public things.

This is unacceptable. And cruel. And cowardly, Midwest Writers Workshop. And you thought you could get away with it. You very nearly did.

I guess I too am too fat and disgusting for your workshop. Which is fine. But Sarah was a tireless worker on your behalf. She is intelligent, passionate, and brave. You would be LUCKY to have her.

You owe Sarah a public and genuine apology. And then those of you who objected to her fatness or were silent in the face of this fat phobia need to really take yourselves to task. It’s horrifying what you’ve done.

Also, Midwest Writers Workshop, never use my name as a past faculty member in your promotional materials, ever again. I’m too fat and disgusting to be associated with you.

First of all, it’s important to note that – once again, it’s a Black woman leading the way. There were plenty of people with much more privilege in that room who either committed the fatphobia, agreed with the fatphobia, or stayed silent. So thanks to Roxane Gay for taking this risk.

MWW issued an apology that seemed pretty suspicious to me even before I read Sarah’s own Tweets about it.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident – fatphobia goes on in corporations, non-profits, and all types of organizations, way too often, and we cannot let it go unchecked. Here are some options for calling out fatphobia when you see it in a work environment. As always the people with the most privilege should be taking the lead, if you are a fat person dealing with fat phobia, know that it’s reasonable to decide to take care of yourself first, and to not confront this.  Here are options for these situations:

Say Something Right Away

If you can address fatphobia without causing the victim(s) more damage, do it in the moment. If you want to be really direct you could say something like: “Are we a company that discriminates based on size? If so I think we should make that public so that people are aware.” Or you can say “I’m not comfortable with weight-based bigotry, can we please focus on the candidates actual qualifications?” One way to call out fatphobia without being as accusatory is to do it in Jeopardy style – in the form of a question: “Does anybody know if our state/city/company has a non-discrimination policy that includes weight-based discrimination – I think we may be violating the law/company policy.” If someone pipes up that there’s no law, you can ask if size discrimination is company policy. If confronting fatphobia in the moment will harm fat people who are in the room, then have these conversations as soon as you can after the fact. You know your organization best, so choose what will work best.

Move it up the Chain

Contact HR, talk to folks higher up to find other allies (notice who in the room is also speaks up, who looks uncomfortable, who doesn’t say anything.) Don’t assume that fat people will get on board – they shouldn’t have to take on the additional burden of dealing with fatphobia, and they may well be affected by internalized fatphobia. If your company doesn’t have a policy against size discrimination, look into what it would take to create one. Keep pushing.

Take it to the Tweets

Consider going public with it (with the permission of the victim, if there is a specific one.) Visibility is the first step to change.

When it comes to fatphobia, as with so much other bigotry, sunlight is the best disinfectant, so before we can end fatphobia, we have to drag it – and those who perpetuate it, out into the open.

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