Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Louis CK takes on fatphobia X sexism

Last night, I sat semi-aghast as the latest episode of Louis CK's Louie took on a big (pun totally intentded) topic: being a fat lady in a sexist and fatphobic society.

As I told Ronald at the time, the scene in which a new character, Vanessa (Sarah Baker), tells Louie (CK) what it's like to walk in her shoes, was the realest 10 minutes of TV I've seen in a loooooong time. If you haven't seen it, check it out here:

The scene (and the episode in general) were remarkable for a number of reasons. The one that stood out to me the most was how CK, who writes every episode, isn't just calling out how society treats fat women, he's actually calling out himself and men like him. I mean, Louie has frequently fallen into the "schlubby guy, hot girl" trope in the past. (Unless, as Vanessa points out, the schlubby guy wants a lay. She calls bullshit on guys who fuck fat girls but won't date them. Yet again, women can be fetishized and objectified, but heaven forbid they want to be treated like humans.)

The message that is delivered through Vanessa is fantastic. She describes her situation saying, "it sucks." But it's not that living in a body like hers or mine is what sucks...it's the reaction of our culture and the constant degradation of fat women that sucks. 

Vanessa also does something that all of us bigger ladies know we're "not supposed to do": she openly calls herself fat and when CK tells hers she's not, she shuts that right down. I know for me, reclaiming "fat" as a descriptor for my body and NOT an insult has been really liberating. I don't want someone to tell me I'm "not fat" because A) is a flat out lie and B) plays into the nonsense that some people's bodies are better than others and therefore fat is a horrible thing you don't call someone you like, even if they are.

I all around loved it because Vanessa, like me, isn't really hoping to be thin. But we are looking for a world which doesn't totally devalue or hate us. Unlike myself, however, Vanessa is dealing with this on the front lines of the dating world, which brings all kinds of added challenges. And it sounded to me like CK, in writing the interaction, had really done his research...actually listening to fat women about what their experiences are often like, and giving them a credible voice. I think it's fairly rare for someone who doesn't live an experience to write about it quite so well.

I know that CK is far from perfect and he's let me down before, but I can't help but see an evolution in his recent work. Just a few minutes into following his stand up and/or show, anyone could see that CK is a very involved father to his two daughters. His care for their experience is becoming more and more apparent. His recent work has examined rape culture, historical sexism, and now the interaction between sexism and fatphobia. I can't help but think that he, as a man, is critically examining the world his daughters are growing up in, finding it lacking, and is speaking out about things. Punching "up," if you will.

Either way, I hope he keeps this trend up. And I hope Vanessa comes back for other episodes.

Related reading:
Louis C.K. Takes On TV Hypocrisy, Aiming Scrutiny Back At Himself
When Looks Count Way Too Much (note, I don't like some of the language framing in this piece, but it has some good content from Sarah Baker.)
'Louie': Sarah Baker breaks down starring in the 'Fat Lady' episode
Women's Worth as a Function of Desirability to Men
Fat Women and Worthlessness

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  1. I saw this episode last night, and it was excellent for all the reasons you described. It also presents an opportunity to respond to other issues you've written about in your blog.

    Imagine the same episode, but with the genders reversed. Instead of Louie and Vanessa , it's Louise and Van. As the episode begins Van hits on Louise at work but she shows no interest. After his last day at work Louise agrees to meet him for coffee and they take a walk through Battery Park. Van describes what it's like being a guy who doesn't fit our culture's notion of what man is supposed to be like, what it's like trying to date women who prefer athletic guys with "masculine" interests. They'll have him around when furniture needs to be moved, but they don't want to be seen in public holding hands and he doesn't get to be the boyfriend. He describes this as being put in a "friendzone," when he just wants to be loved like anyone else.

    How would many feminists react to this episode? They'd call Van a creep who sexual harassed Louise by repeatedly flirting and asking her out even after it was obvious she wasn't interested. After manipulating her into meeting for coffee, Van complains that women put him in the "friendzone," which means that he feels entitled to have sex with any woman he wants and therefore endorses "rape culture." Besides, men complaining about women just makes them less attractive.

    While feminism has accomplished many great things in the past 100 years, it still has a way to in empathizing with the issues faced by men who are not in positions of power. The truth is that our culture and media promote visions of what both male and female romantic partners are supposed to be, both in terms of appearance and behavior. As a result, people who don't fit these archetypes can have a hard time finding partners. Of course, no one should be required to have sex or become romantically involved with someone they find unattractive, but anyone who has difficulty finding romantic partners should look at themselves and ask to what degree they are allowing culture and media to influence who they find attractive, just like Louie did in the episode he produced. And I know from experience that many fat girls also hold out for the athletic guy with the dreamy eyes. The fact that the opposite sex does it doesn't justify doing it ourselves. It only makes it more difficult for everyone to find suitable partners.

    1. "Imagine the same episode, but with the genders reversed."

      We don't have to. It's called real life, and there's a reason that, if there was an episode like that, feminists would be up in arms. Because it's what women are subjected to every day, not only online, but in real life, popular media, music, etc.

      Thank you, though, for providing a wonderful, working example of privilege and the blinders it can put on people.

      Also, may I say that I had /tears/ during that clip, and I actually found myself saying "YES, THANK YOU VANESSA," because she was telling my life story. I was good enough to sleep with, but never good enough to date until I developed an eating disorder, dropped 50 lbs and ended up sickly, but popular. This hit home for me, and god, it feels good to have a fat character who's real and that I can relate to, instead of the same tired old "fat friend" trope. That was really a beautiful moment in TV.


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