Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading for pleasure (*snicker*): Sisters by Lynne Cheney

I first learned of Lynne Cheney’s novel Sisters earlier this year from an article at (5 Famous Artists Who Tried To Destroy Their Own Work)

Copies of the text are selling for more than USD 300 on Amazon, so I requested the book from ODU’s interlibrary loan office (my absolute favorite part of ODU, if I am every in a position to endow anyone or thing, it’ll be ILL…or Planned Parenthood…or both). If you search for the book title and author, you will land on a PDF version that you can read online if you are so inclined. I will not link to it here as I am not entirely sure the copy is legal.

Sisters was not the salacious, titillating, Sapphic piece I had hoped for. However, it was an educational read set in Wyoming with a feminist protagonist and a sex-positive message. I am not sure that I’d recommend the book—I found myself skimming large chunks of text. However, Cheney researched the work thoroughly, and her effort shows.

Fatshaming shows up in all sorts of places

I tend to write about issues directly connected to North Africa or the Arab world in this blog. However, since February I have not had the privilege of being paid to read about that region for 45 hours a week. As a result, my exposure has been greatly reduced. In addition to completing my dissertation on the role of illiterate women in political change (which I have written about here), I have been reading in other areas. I have written previously about fatshaming here.

For example, in preparation for my marriage in August, I read several books and blogs to educate myself about the privilege and injustice of the institution. The books include:

Rebecca Mead's One perfect day: the selling of the American wedding (2008)
Bella DePaulo’s Singled Out: how singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored and still live happily ever after (2006)
Tamara Metz’ Untying the knot: marriage, the state, and the case for their divorce (2010)
Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History (2006)

I enjoyed all of the books, and all four provided a basis for my address at the ceremony. I did have a problem with some of DePaulo’s points.

DePaulo analyzed the rhetoric of a CDC press release that measures the correlation between health and marital status. Her goal is to show that being married or ever having been married is erroneously tied to enjoying better health compared to being single. However, she shows that the results of the CDC data conclude that those 'currently married' and those who have always been single are the two groups with the best health indicators. The other groups are cohabiting couples, divorced or separated people and widowed people.

But DePaulo is simply not satisfied that the data back up her hypothesis that marriage does not necessarily make one healthier or lead to a healthier life. No, she must also include a disparaging remark about the rates of obesity. It turns out that those in the "currently married" group have the best health indicators out of the 5 groups measured and also the highest rates of obesity. The group of people who have always been single have the second best indicators for health. DePaulo writes that she would change the title of the press release to "Adults Who Are Currently Married or Have Always Been Single Are the Healthiest". She adds, though, that she is tempted to say "currently married adults are the fattest."

What is she really saying this remark? What I read is, "sure, currently married people are healthier in comparison to other groups, but they're also a bunch of fatties." So what if they are a bunch of fatties? They are healthy fatties, and that is the point. The actual title of the CDC press release was "Married Adults Are Healthiest, New CDC Report Shows." The summary is "A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that married adults are healthier than divorced, widowed, or never-married adults." (page 45)

Considering that never-married adults have the second best health outcomes, the title and summary are certainly misleading, but DePaulo's remarks about obesity are baffling. She reasonably concludes on page 46 that those currently married may have been healthier than others before they were married. There is no proof that marriage causes greater health. So then why does she resort to quasi fat shaming of the marrieds? Why is it remarkable that the marrieds are fatter than the other groups? Marriage most likely didn't cause their fatness just as marriage didn't necessarily cause their better health.

Later in the book (page 154) DePaulo challenges a conclusion that married men consume more fruits and vegetables and less fat and cholesterol than single men. While she is right to challenge the conclusion, which is based on the "women belong in the kitchen" trope, she undermines her point by resorting to obesity=unhealthy=underconsumption of fruits/vegetables trope. She writes, "if married men are getting fed fruits, vegetables, and low-fat and low-cholesterol meals, and single men are not, then why did the CDC study show that married men are fatter?" Easy, because *News FLASH* fatties, like non-fatties, eat fruits and vegetables. A fair point is tainted by sloppy, heavy-handed bias.