Tagged: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Mindy Newell: Piggy

Get ready for some brouhaha. Actually, the brouhaha has already started.

As I was reading the Friday issue of The New York Times, my eyes fell upon this: “In ‘Lord of the Flies’ Remake, Girls Survive Instead.”

The film will be under Warner Bros.’ auspice and will be written and directed by Scott McGhee and David Siegel, who co-directed The Deep End (2001) and What Maisie Knew (2013). Two men. But that’s not what bothers me – although I’m sure others will certainly be bothered. On a business level, McGhee and Siegel were the ones who brought it to Warner Bros., so they certainly have the right to want to write and direct the film. (I don’t know whether or not the deal includes a clause in which Warner Bros. has the right to “exchange” (i.e. fire) them if the studio isn’t happy with their work, and even if it does, and Warner Bros. does so, it doesn’t mean that any women would be given the project.) And on a personal level, I’ve never believed that men aren’t capable of writing or directing a “woman’s story” if it is the right man with the right talent. And vice-versa, by the way.

What does bother me is apparently there are people, mostly women, who apparently think that women are not capable of cruelty and power mongering. For example, Roxanne Gay, author, essayist, journalist, professor, and comic book writer

(whose latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body was the driving force behind ComicMix cohort Martha Thomases’ August 11th column tweeted this:

roxane gay@rgay, 6:30 PM – 30 Aug 2017

An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because… the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women.

And this, from Clara Mae, a TV writer and contributor to WomenWriteAboutComics.com:

Clara Mae‏ @ubeempress, 3:58 PM – 30 Aug 2017

Lord of the Flies starring only girls: “Girls get marooned on an island. Band together to find food, shelter, rescue. Nobody dies. The end.”

William Golding also believed that “gender was also crucial to the larger point of the story (from the Times article):

If you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls would be. Don’t ask me why, and this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I mean, I think women are foolish to pretend they’re equal to men – they’re far superior and always have been. But one thing you cannot do with them is take a bunch of them and boil them down, so to speak, into a set of little girls who would then become a kind of image of civilization, of society.’”

Fuck that!!, Roxanne and Clara Mae and William. I have some “in-your-face,” upfront and personal experience with the cruelty and power mongering of the sugar and spice set.

I was in eighth grade when my parents moved us to Bayonne Bew Jersey, 12 going on 13. For my parents, originally from Bayonne, it was a homecoming. For my brother – well, all he had to do was show that he could sink a basket, field a baseball, and go deep for the pass, and no problem with the boys. For me, it was quite a different experience.

A week before the move, the family went to the bar mitzvah of one of their friends’ children. On the other hand – one of my mom’s friends had asked her daughter to introduce me to her friends. “Sure, mom,” she said (or something like that). But she dumped me a.s.a.p, running to the bathroom (probably to giggle about the “new girl” who was about to move to Bayonne) with the rest of the gaggle. So there I was, standing by myself. That’s when the bar mitzvah kid, Paul, came over to me. My guess is, now, that his mom or father saw me standing by myself and told him to not leave me like that and to introduce me to his friends. So he did. All his “boy” friends. And suddenly I was inundated with boys. They huddled around me like I was Fran Tarkenton calling the play and they were my offensive team. They were curious, friendly, and even asked me to dance.

Well, the gaggle returned and watched the stranger become the “belle of the bar mitzvah.” I didn’t know it then, but I became Piggy that night.

A week later. First day at my new school. First recess. First day in hell.

I was loudly and openly made fun of for being flat chested. I was loudly and openly made fun of because I wore no makeup. I was loudly and openly made fun of because I didn’t have my period yet. My clothes were loudly and openly made fun of.

And then I was attacked for trying to “steal their boyfriends” at Paul’s bar mitzvah. (Even the girls who hadn’t been there joined in the attack – they had “heard.”)

And it didn’t get better as the school year progressed. I was made fun of for being a tomboy. (Yes, there were other girls who were good at sports, but they weren’t “open” about it.) I was openly snubbed whenever a teacher wasn’t around. I was the butt of jokes – and I distinctly remember one teacher joining in. A chair was pulled out from beneath me just as I was about to sit down, so that I landed on the floor, and ended up getting yelled at by the teacher for “fooling around.”

And it continued into high school.

Yeah, I was Piggy.

And being Piggy has continued into my professional life, in a field (nursing) that is rife with woman – to – woman cruelty. Hell, it’s so common that it’s been given a fancy name in nursing peer-review journals and studies: Lateral and Horizontal Violence in Nursing – Lateral being peer–to–peer, Horizontal being superior–to–subordinate. And it encompasses everything from bullying to sabotaging to actual physical violence. Google it. You’ll be stunned. It happens everywhere around the world, which I discovered when I wrote my college senior thesis on the phenomena – Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Great Britain, Peru. And yes, it still happens in this “post-feminist” era.

So don’t ever tell me that girls…and women…aren’t capable of being Lady(ies) of the Flies.

Martha Thomases: Obesity and Honesty

Roxane Gay’s new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a knock-out of a book. It kept me glued to my couch for a long weekend. I finished reading it about ten days ago, and I cannot stop thinking about it.

Does it have anything to do with comics? Well, Gay wrote a mini-series for Marvel. Beyond that, if you want to know more, you’ll have to keep reading.

In addition to being an accomplished author and journalist, Roxane Gay is, in her own words, a morbidly obese woman of color. Hunger is about what happened to her, how she got this way, and what it’s like to live the way she lives. It’s incredibly honest, so much so that I couldn’t look away, even as I squirmed in recognition.

I am not morbidly obese. Sure, I could drop twenty or thirty pounds to look more like the mannequins in the department stores, but I can pass. I am not a woman of color. As a Jew, my people have a history of persecution, but I can pass. Unlike Gay, I was not gang-raped when I was twelve years old. Because I have these privileges, I could sneer at her with my societally-approved advantages, but I can’t. I feel my own version of what she feels, and I went through my own version of what she went through.

Gay started to overeat because she wanted to make herself unattractive to men so she wouldn’t get attacked again. She knew that a woman who is overweight is considered to be ugly – and an ugly woman is invisible. By building a wall around herself, she would be safe.

Her descriptions of her experiences are harrowing. Strangers in the supermarket take away food from her shopping cart. People complain to airlines about having to sit next to her, even if she pays for two seats. Instead of taking her ideas seriously, critics comment on her looks. Everything about her life, good or bad, is dismissed by those who only see her size.

And then there are the people who think they are helping her. The people who tell her that maybe she doesn’t really want dessert. The people who suggest exercise. I can assure you that every woman in Western society who is larger than a Size 0 knows about diet and exercise.

Still, reading about her pain, the Jewish mother in me did want to lean in and offer Gay some advice. She talks about regularly starting (and giving up on) a diet-and-exercise plan, and my first suggestion is to uncouple those two things. Various eating systems have made me feel variously better and worse, but if I didn’t exercise, I would go mad. I don’t do work because I expect it to make me a fashion model or an Olympic athlete but because it keeps me sane. Working up a sweat on a regular basis burns up a lot of my hostility. My resting pulse is 48. I can’t claim I’m never angry or never hating, but it doesn’t burn me up inside.

Except I know that she is a different person than I am, and what works for me as a coping system might not work for her. I’ll try to shut up about that now.

Women obsess about our appearances because society consistently tells us that it is our most important duty. My mother used to beg me to lose weight, starting when I was twelve (5’ 3” and 113 pounds), telling me that “boys don’t like fat girls.” Even now, at 64 years of age, when I know that my life is about more than boys liking me, those thoughts won’t go away.

My mom (and Roxane’s) were only trying to teach their daughters how to get ahead. To succeed, we were told, a woman must be thin and fit and beautiful. That was difficult enough. Today, when society pays at least lip service to the idea of diversity, we are supposed to be not only thin and fit and beautiful but also, if we are not, to pretend that it doesn’t matter (even though it does).

It gets even more difficult at menopause. Not only can we no longer bear children, the only true purpose for the female life, and the reason we must be attractive to men, but biology conspires to make us more fat.

We can’t win.

I would like to be like Faith, the Valiant superhero who is large. She wears a skin-tight white costume that does nothing to conceal her size. She is strong and she can fly and she has an interesting life and, in her current incarnation, spends no time at all thinking about her looks or what she eats or how many calories she burns off.

Sure, she also catches bad guys and saves the world, but that’s not why she’s my hero.