Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Diets and Weight Loss

[Trigger warning for discussion of disordered eating]

I tend to avoid conversations about weight, fat and weighing yourself because I have, and have since I was a teenager, thought that what really matters is whether you are healthy. Of course, I have the privilege of being able to avoid such conversations on account of my being thin without putting in constant effort.

However, it is impossible for me to avoid it completely, as occasionally a person who I am talking to will begin such a conversation.

So recently, I was having a conversation with one of my female coworkers. I think we had been talking about buying t-shirts or something, and thus got led onto the topic of weight and fat. At first, she was lamenting the fact that the t-shirt she would have to buy was a bigger size than me, so I was pointing out that it is because I have a very narrow ribcage and shoulders. Somehow we got onto the topic of one of her friends, who is fat. I don't think she was even particularly fat, at size 18 (in Australian women's), but she put tremendous effort into weight loss.

Apparently she stopped eating every second day, and ate reduced quantities on the days that she did eat. She did this until she starved her way down to a size 12.

I expressed my horror that she would do something like that to her body, just for an impossible aesthetic standard that society imposes. I expressed that starving herself is extremely unhealthy, and could have numerous side effects like vitamin deficiency, anaemia, difficulty concentrating, etc. I expressed that I thought that she would gain the weight back and more when she started eating normally again, since the body would interpret the deprivation as a famine, as what it really is, as starvation, and thus lower her metabolic rate to store more reserves for future famines.

I expressed these things, only to be told that "I don't understand because I'm thin", and "I don't understand what it's like to need to do this to attract a husband".

You're right, I don't fully understand the pressure that fat women get to loose weight in our society because I haven't experienced it. However, I believe I am qualified enough to speak about the unhealth of starvation, even though I haven't experienced that. I believe I am fully qualified to be horrified at our society that shames fat people so ruthlessly that people are driven to starvethemselves, that they are driven to harm their bodies in pursuit of an impossible ideal. I can also express my sadness at society for placing a woman's worth on her marital status, and on her physical appearance. I can express sadness that damaging ones body is seen as necessary in order to achieve that worth through the necessity of being thin.

How did society get this broken, and how do we fix it? Where can we start? What can I do as an individual?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Women in Technology

This is the reading packet I sent to a man who questioned the need for the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for women in Computer Science and related fields. I had the privilege of meeting and congratulating the finalists for this year's scholarship.

The Anita Borg Scholarship:
Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003) devoted her adult life to revolutionising the way we think about technology and dismantling barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. Her combination of technical expertise and fearless vision continues to inspire and motivate countless women to become active participants and leaders in creating technology.
As part of Google’s ongoing commitment to furthering Anita’s vision, we are pleased to announce the 2010 Google Australia and New Zealand Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship. Through the scholarship, we aim to encourage women to excel in computing and technology, and become active role models and leaders.
Scholarships will be awarded based on the strength of candidates’ academic background and demonstrated leadership. A group of female undergraduate and graduate student finalists will be chosen from the applicant pool. Each scholar recipient will receive a $5,000 scholarship towards the 2011 academic year.
I'd also like to add: 
All the women at the retreat have spent significant amounts of time actively mentoring younger women in eng, organising outreach programs both university women and high school girls. The Anita Borg Scholarship is in recognition of these efforts, in addition to being a high-achieving woman in computer science. As such, I would not have been a good candidate for this scholarship, on account that I did little for the advancement of women at the University of Canterbury, despite the glaring problem of being 1 of 5 females in a pool of about 70 students.

This is the book we studied for the Anita Borg Scholarship Retreat this year:
Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher
In which the authors do a study by interviewing over 100 CS students at Carnegie Mellon University. I highly recommend this book, as the experiences described by the women who were interviewed are very common amongst the women in engineering whom I have talked to.

Some other interesting links:

On privilege and why you won't have heard of the comments I spoke about ("you're only here because you're a girl", "why are you making your life harder by doing X", "you'll be meeting lots of eligible bachelors at Google")

Anita Borg Institute research index:

Feminism 101 has a lot of clarifying articles:

If you're feeling very ambitious, I recommend reading all the articles here:

Enjoy some weekend reading!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

No, you may not call me "sweetheart"...

... or darling, love, baby, honey, or any other term of endearment without my permission.

That means you, bartender, you, shopkeeper, and you, the random person(s) I nod hello to when I'm walking down the street.

Terms of endearment are reserved for those who you hold dear - not for random people you meet in every day life. You might call your partner "darling" or your child "sweetheart". Why are you cheapening these terms by using them on everyone, rather than reserving them for those you are close to? Are you intending to imply that I, a stranger, am as special to you as your partner? Are you (especially young male offenders) assuming that by the fact that I appear to be a woman, that I want/like the familiarity you imply by calling me "sweetheart"? Are you assuming that I want/like the implicit approval of my "cuteness" or "prettiness" you feel like you are giving? If you're an older man, do you realise that I might find it incredibly creepy? Young women, I think you may be using it to convey community with me, but I'm not sure. Please don't assume that I belong or want to belong to whatever club you are including me in.

Do you not all realise that it is horribly condescending to assume that I would be ok with you using a term of endearment for me without first getting my permission?

Actually, I don't care what your reasons for using terms of endearment for me inappropriately are. I don't like it. Please stop.