No Legislation Without Fat And Female Representation

Unless you’ve been living under a lovely rock this week (and I would love to crawl under there with you), you’ve heard about the Congressional investigation into the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate spearheaded by Congressman Issa.

Here’s an image showing who was allowed to speak.

Congressman Issa's All Male Birth Control Panel
Congressman Issa's All Male Birth Control Panel

Here are a few words from a woman who originally was asked to speak and then denied that right by Issa:

The only people asked to speak at this conference were men. Not only were they men, but they were all religious leaders who are anti-birth control.

So much for fact finding, huh?

As I looked at this panel, my thoughts went to an earlier panel, convened in 2003 to consider the “Obesity And Dietary Guidelines.”

Here’s the first panel:

2003 Congressional Obesity Fact Finding Panel
2003 Congressional Obesity Fact Finding Panel Part 1 (image courtesy of C-Span)

Hmmm, why is this so familiar?

And here’s the second panel:

2003 Congressional Obesity Fact Finding Panel Part 2
2003 Congressional Obesity Fact Finding Panel Part 2 (image courtesy of C-Span)

So Congress looked into the question of obesity, and thought it completely reasonable to: (a) not include any women and (b) not include any fat people!

Back in 2003, I was working as an attorney and happened to read about the hearing. This was before I had an inkling that there was such a thing as fat activism, but I remember remarking to a fellow lawyer (who was pretty slim) that I thought it was wrong to have a hearing about fat people without any fat people present. The response I got was something like, “Of course, there aren’t any fat people there. Fat people obviously don’t know what to do about the obesity epidemic!”

At the time, her response really hurt. Even if I wasn’t a fat activist, I didn’t like seeing my body as part of a societal problem. And I thought my colleague was wrong. Legislation is supposed to be well-thought-out. Our representatives are supposed to see the intended and unintended effects of the legislation they write, and part of that process is hearing from experts. After a lifetime of dieting, I was an expert on fatness. I knew what it felt like to lose and gain weight over and over, to have trouble finding clothes, to feel like a second-class citizen solely based on my body size. There were millions of us that could have shared our story, so why weren’t we asked?

And the decades-long, sad history of the war on fat is that it has been waged on women’s bodies especially. The message we get, again and again, is that we should take up as little space as possible. That our voices shouldn’t be heard too much, and that voice is only valid if reverberating from a slim, youthful-looking, fair-skinned body. The war on fat is part and parcel of the war on women and the war on people of color. The message we get is that we should let men (and only men) figure out what’s best for us.

Congressman Issa’s panel wasn’t just a blip, a weird moment in political history. Neither was that obesity panel. It is all part and parcel of the war on women’s bodies, and on the right of privacy, and bodily autonomy. We have to keep fighting for real representation.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton "To deny political equality is to rob the ostracised of all self-respect" quote
Still True Today -- Elizabeth Cady Stanton (public domain image)

Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Go to to get your free download – Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining! And, please join her and twenty of the biggest names in HAES(R) and Fat Acceptance at the Body Love Revolutionaries Telesummit.

17 replies on “No Legislation Without Fat And Female Representation”

Ugh. I just had to lay the smack down on my brother, who posted on my wall that taxpayer funded contraception was a slippery slope to taxpayer funded brothels. And that it is just evidence of our ‘do what ever you want’ society that ‘the real aim of progressivism.’

Argh. I just don’t understand why people can’t understand how sexist this type of thinking is; and even if it weren’t it makes more economical sense to provide contraception anyway. And our tax dollars go to lots of things, not all of them will be in line with my values. Same is true for catholic institutions.

I am so mad. I’m going to have to put my brother on the restricted list, so he doesn’t see my posts any more. This is the second shitstorm in a few days and my mental health will not withstand more.

Can you imagine an all-woman task force on, say, erectile disfunction? People would lose their damn minds.

~redacted too-personal overshare~

I guess I don’t need to tell you your colleague was an idiot. Who else but fat people could say, No, that doesn’t work, or No, that’s absolutely the wrong message–try this instead! 

Well, OK, but then you risk the opposite assumption (The Thatcher fallacy) – that representatives who are members of a group automatically represent that group. I agree that theoretically representation should be as close to proportional as possible (and certainly, when you’re specifically running a focus group to deal with a particular issue, those who work on that issue should be involved), but women don’t automatically understand, sympathise, or prioritise women’s issues, and men don’t automatically dismiss them. I think there’s a risk in assuming that legislators can’t be female-friendly without being female, even as I stand as someone who thinks male feminism is massively overvalued in mainstream discourse.

A panel of old men talking about birth control who are all religious leaders isn’t representative, no. But neither is a random sample of fat women necessarily expert. I don’t consider myself an expert on LGBT issues (in terms of representing LGBT people politically) just because I’m LGBT, and I wouldn’t if I hadn’t spent years studying public policy, LGBT rights, didn’t have experience with LGBT-specific problems (which I don’t, particularly) and wasn’t able to talk about LGBT rights as they relate to funding and as they relate to politics/lobbying.

Are women underrepresented in government? Yes. Are priorities relating to healthcare off? Also, probably, yes. But the solution isn’t just to shove more women or fat people in whenever it relates to women or fat people – that shallow idea of what representation is has led to some of my own country’s (the UK’s) governments’ worst kinds of blind legislation.

But I would say that 0% women, or 0% fat people, is bad regardless.  I *do* think that having any woman or any fat person on one of these panels would make a difference, even if they aren’t experts.  Of course, we want experts (OF COURSE OF COURSE OF COURSE).  But the thing is – it is so easy to just assume that your viewpoint is the one that holds sway for everybody.  Having *a* woman on the panel, even one with no experience, would at least mean that the men would be required to accept that there is a female point of view.

It’s not that I think we should shove people onto panels because of how they look, but that 0% representation is really, really terrible.

I think it was far deeper of an issue than the lack of physical presence of women. They actively barred women from participating, and it was such frighteningly one-sided garbage that the two women who were allowed to attend high tailed it with fingers in the air. The point is, the whole thing was so brazenly anti-woman that they couldn’t even trot out a Phyllis Schlafly or Michelle Bachmann to co-sign all their bullshit.

You’re right that simply shoving a woman or a fat person at the problem isn’t a good way to do it; assuming that a woman is going to be the best spokesperson on women’s issues because of her womanness, or a fat person would be the best spokesperson on fat issues because of their fatness is BAD. No one should be made to be the “representative” for a whole group just because they don’t fit the norm.

I do want to mention, though, that it is important, when talking about issues related to a particular group to get their voices mentioned. Like, I would throw a fit if I saw a panel talking about race issues in America that consisted of all white Caucasians. It’s not that a white Caucasian couldn’t be an authority on race issues in America, and it’s not that a non-white person WOULD be… But it all comes down to, whose voices are heard?

When we exist in a world where I, as a white American, would be judged as a greater authority on a black American’s experiences AS RELATED TO THEIR BLACKNESS, and I’m judged as a greater authority because I’m white, if you’ve got just voices from white people talking about issues black individuals experience, it could blot out their real, lived experiences. Even if I’m totally wrong.

I’m reminded of various sources I’ve seen trying to “show” people that women are totally not babies about having periods and cramping and whatever. Specifially, a source in which a teenage boy woke up one morning with a vagina. Specifially, the sentence where he said something along the lines of, “Wow, girls really aren’t joking about this! This sucks!”

He also proceeded to become interested in fashion and looking good and started becoming more emotional. But that’s another matter.

It’s like, even though many women talk a lot about how, sometimes, menstruation SUCKS, it took a man’s voice to show that we ladies weren’t just making it up.

And the whole point to this overlong example being, when a man’s voice is a favored authority over countless women’s voices over women’s bodily experiences, if all men were talking about women’s issues, they could be totally wrong and still be viewed as a greater authority than the women talking about their everyday lives.

“ Legislation is supposed to be well-thought-out. Our representatives are supposed to see the intended and unintended effects of the legislation they write, and part of that process is hearing from experts. ”

I wish this were reality and not just a “should be.” If our legislature actually thought about what was going on more than to just pocket gifts from lobbyists, our government would run much more smoothly. It might even actually do something positive for all of its citizens without being detrimental to any of them. I’m looking at you bill to extend payroll tax cut (yay) by cutting medicaid and medicare payouts yet again (really? You have to pay doctors something to help meet their costs; stop cutting their funding without making it up to them in anyway).

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