Years ago, my brother told me a joke. It appears that this joke has been waiting in my brain until now, specifically so I could use it to illustrate the argument I'm about to discuss. Except, unfortunately, I've forgotten what sort of car the fat chick is supposed to be like, and don't know enough about cars to guess. So I put Lada in there, because they're the butt of all car jokes.
But this thought train actually starts with an AskMen article that lists 6 ways to tell your girlfriend to lose weight. Or more specifically the post that Meloukhia wrote about that article, because I don't regularly troll the AskMen boards for material.
I saw her post on the big fat carnival and wanted to reply, but she summed up my reaction in her title: "Also, splutters of incoherent rage". And the only thing I could add to the debate was threats of violence. I thought since I couldn't get it together to make an actual point I better leave it to people who could.
But then Hugo wrote an amazing post in response. In general I find that Hugo has a lot of interesting things to say, but I find it difficult to get beyond his "consistent-life ethic" way of saying that he thinks abortions are icky really bothering (well I find anyway of saying abortions are icky bothering). But what he wrote in response to that article is really worth reading, even if you have to ignore the blurb at the top. He's writing about a conversation he has with a friend of his, called Joey, about the way Joey feels about his wife gaining weight: "I feel like such an ass", he said, "but my wife's weight gain is bugging the hell out of me. I love her and don't want to hurt her -- how do I talk to her about it?"
Meloukhia has an impassioned response at her place, one that begins:PS. The punch line is - they're both fun to ride, but you wouldn't want your mates to see you with one.First let's start with the premise that it's your responsibility to tell your girlfriend to lose weight as though it's some sort of moral obligation. Clearly, you wouldn't want to be seen dating a fat girl, so as those pounds creep up, you've got to take decisive action...or dump her. And you wouldn't want to dump her, now would you? This premise also assumes that it's totally socially acceptable and ok to tell your partner to lose weight, albeit in oh so clever and devious ways. As a self respecting man, you've got to take a stance somewhere, right?
Though she doesn't expand on it, Meloukhia is dead on right that much of the issue here revolves less around issues of sexual desire and health and more about men's homosocial status. And this reminds me of my reaction to Joey's query. Before discussing strategies for tactfully approaching our partners about their weight, men need to cop to their real reasons for wanting their girlfriends and wives to be slender. Many men are reluctant to admit the degree to which their partner's perceived attractiveness in the eyes of other men bolsters their confidence and their sense of status. Put bluntly, having a trim girlfriend or wife boosts one's standing among one's male peers. In this culture, men are taught from an early age that being with a "hot chick" conveys real and tangible benefits in the eyes of other guys.
For many American men raised to see women as a yardstick with which to measure their own masculinity quotient, a partner's weight gain is going to be perceived as a very real threat to their own standing. We all know men who get turned on when they realize that their wives or girlfriends are objects of desire for other men. One key question we need to challenge men with: is your partner's weight gain really turning you off, or are you worried about how other men are reacting to her as a result? Do you miss being able to use other men's sexual desire as a crutch to stimulate your own libido?
Men are taught to find "hot" what other men find "hot." The whole notion of a "trophy girlfriend" is based on the reality that a great many men use female desireability to establish status with other men. And in our current cultural climate where thinness is idealized, a slender partner is almost always going to be worth more than a heavy one. For men who have not yet extricated themselves from homosocial competition, their own self-esteem and sense of intra-male status may decline in direct proportion to their girlfriend's weight gain.
Let me stress that this is absolutely not women's problem to solve! My goal is not to make women who gain weight feel bad; protecting a fragile male ego is not a woman's responsibility. The key thing men need to do is get honest about their own desire to use female desireability to establish status in the eyes of other men. And here's where pro-feminist men can do a terrific service by challenging one another and holding each other accountable for the ways in which we are tempted to use our wives and girlfriends as trophies. When I confronted Joey with this, he admitted that he still found his wife attractive -- but he was embarrassed by her when they went out with his friends. He realized that he was angry and frustrated because he was scared of what others would think, even though he still responded sexually to his spouse.
Edited to Add: I have been informed that the vehicle in this joke is actually a scooter - apparently Ladas aren't fun to ride.