Egg Sandwiches, Domesticity, and Gender

by Sarah on November 2, 2015

Earlier this week, I was at a writer’s retreat, and one of the other women let us know on the first night that she had made these egg-things which were in the fridge. If we wanted a protein-ful breakfast, we should just help ourselves to one from the fridge, put it on an English muffin, add some cheese, stick it in the microwave for 25 seconds, and voila, Egg McMuffin knock-off.

I’ve heard of this concept before, although the versions I’ve seen are often weirdly textured, unappetizing versions of eggs. These were not. They were runny and delicious and apparently super-easy to make.

When I asked her how she made them, she said, “You know how you see those things go around Facebook, and usually they’re terrible? Well, this one was actually great.”

And I jokingly replied, “I’ve blocked most of the people who share those kinds of things on Facebook.”

I know this is patently offensive to a lot of my friends, many of whom manage to hold a love for cooking, sewing, and hand-crafting their home decor while also maintaining a critical perspective on the state of the world and actively participating in challenging the patriarchy on a daily basis.

It is possible that I am just less complex than these friends. Or more emotionally burdened. Or less capable of accepting contradiction in my own life.

(In fact the idea that one can enjoy something which is also problematic has been a hard won realization and a battle I still fight every time I reread Twilight or watch basically any kind of visual media ever.)

But the truth is, I have a long-felt and deeply-held distrust for all things domestic, a conflict which many folks in my generation seem to have reconciled through a kind of modern reclamation. My friends and my generation are not the housewives Betty Friedan was writing about.

Instead, to quote EMily Matchar in this article from The Atlantic, “they’re reclaiming traditional women’s work in the name of environmentalism, sustainable living, healthier eating culture, anti-consumerism.”

As these are all values I support, it seems logical that I should be able to reframe some of these tasks through this new lens as well.

And yet, for me, it isn’t that easy.

“Women’s Work” or the Gendering of Domesticity

Gender is, of course, at the center of the tumultuous feelings for me around domesticity.

My mother, a brilliant woman and lawyer who helped my dad run his business on the side and who I’ve heard refer to herself as a feminist on multiple occasions, still did a disproportionate (think like 95%) of the housework, cooking, and cleaning in my childhood home.

While my dad would sometimes throw on a load of laundry or take the garbage out when asked, she did all of the emotional labor and planning that come with running a household.

And even today, even with my most feminist friends (of all genders), I have yet to see a truly radical reframing of this.

As Matchar says, “There’s much to admire about the culture of new domesticity. But… the belief in the power of homemaking too often overlaps with a weird brand of neo-gender essentialism.”

And this is where even this new perspective on domesticity starts to feel oppressive.

We’re trying to reclaim traditional “women’s work” by tying it in with a new set of progressive values, but we haven’t actually done the work to remove the connotations associated with it.

Dude-allies, I’m looking at you.

Furthermore, women are doing enough already, and we don’t have time for reclamation, especially when reclamation actually looks like even more work.

To me, the whole thing sounds like nothing more than a thinly-veiled re-marketing of the same ‘ol bullshit.

Just Me and My Gender

On the other hand, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of expectations related to my assigned gender.

I’ve always felt a strong sense of rebellion against anything that I’m supposed to do or be interested in. It feels oddly satisfying that my fridge usually looks like a stereotypical bachelor’s, containing some leftovers, condiments, and beer on its best days, and that my fine motor skills make things like sewing or crafting unlikely to ever become my preferred pastimes.

“Fuck you, assigned gender,” I think, rebelliously, as I purchase my egg sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts each morning.

Of course, because I like to wallow in complexity on a daily basis, I took a knitting class last week, a hobby about which I feel conflicted… and to which I’m also becoming addicted.

It’s therapeutic and relaxing, and I like having something to do with my hands while in meetings or conversations or watching things.

I can also likely get away with knitting in meetings more easily because it matches my perceived gender, although the possible detrimental effects of being seen as someone who knits at work are as yet undiscovered. I’m willing to take the risk.

But does this count as queering knitting, if I’m doing it because it serves a useful function in my life, and not because anyone in the world expects me to do it? It feels that way, and yet, I can’t get to the same place with cooking and other things in the genre.

Gender is not knitting. Gender is not cooking. Gender is not cleaning the house, or liking to craft, or wanting to have things neat and well-organized. And yet, sometimes the connotations become so oppressively strong that they become almost unbearable.

If I looked around and saw that even a visible minority of the folks in that knitting class, or sharing DIY home decor tips on Pinterest, or passing around the 15-minute egg cup recipes on Facebook were men, maybe I would feel differently.

If we were really all in this together, all trying to reclaim homemaking for the environment, and our own health, and to fight capitalism, then I wouldn’t look around and see only thousands of already over-burdened women trying to conform to yet another set of expectations and mandates on how they should live if they want to be truly successful.

And I wouldn’t feel like the expectations of me are different because of my gender presentation.

The Game Is Rigged

The idea that we can address these things on a individual level is a shared delusion.

Sure, making the egg-things means I’ll be eating a healthier breakfast each morning, which will make my grandmother very happy.

I also won’t be participating in the grab-n-go consumerist thing that is Dunkin’ Donuts and will reduce my environmental impact as well.

But at the same time, the problem doesn’t lie with me.

We perceive things as personal which may also be structural. And while we can change the things that make us feel better on a personal level, interrogating the structures can make change that makes us feel better differently. And changing the structures means that we don’t have to continue to fix the problem over and over again with each new person.

As Matchar says, “ All too often, the movement ignores broad social change (workplace reform, school reform, food reform, etc.) in favor of a DIY approach.”

To which I say yes, yes, yes, and yes.

As I sat at the writing retreat and listened to everyone talk about how they’re going to create more and better structures in their lives to support their art, I couldn’t help but feel angry that we each have to do this alone, or for the luckiest of us, with a few close family members or friends to occasionally lend a hand.

I’d like to believe that there is a possible world out there where we all have much broader bases of support, both in terms of larger community structures as well as societal level change that values things like artistic creation and spreads the domestic labor out among larger groups.

But right now, what we don’t need is one more 15-minute egg recipe to make women feel guilty for not doing enough.

Eggs Are Not My Priority

the DIY culture has some social significance. It’s an attempt to address a set of social and cultural issues on an individual scale. It has obvious value, and I’m not trying to take down anyone who chooses to engage in this particular set of ‘domestic’ endeavors. Some days, I wish I cared enough.

But that’s what it comes down to for me – caring enough.

At the end of the day, it’s about prioritization.

There are only so many hours in the day. And, as I read recently, we don’t actually all have the same 168 hours each week, even though the folks in power like to try to tell us that we do.

My mother was expected to prioritize taking care of us kids and the house. My dad was free to go back to the office and work some more after dinner. Leaning in will not be enough until this problem is solved, and leaning in may just be killing us.

So if I order takeout to give myself a little more time to get my writing done, and in the meantime also get to blow off a bunch of gendered social expectations and give my internal rebel a little boost, is that really such a bad trade-off?

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As a fat person, coming to terms with my own physical and sexual attractiveness may well be one of the hardest bits of self-work I’ve had to do.

In college, the first time my first boyfriend mentioned the idea of sex, I remember standing in the doorway of my room looking confusedly at him and feeling surprised. I mean, yes, we were dating, and I vaguely understood that sex was oftentimes a part of that kind of relationship, but I still felt genuinely taken aback that anyone would want to have sex with me. I had so deeply internalized the message that fat bodies were not sexy that it literally hadn’t occurred to me that not everyone would agree.

I’ve come a long way since that day, and now I feel much more confident in my body’s own sexual attractiveness and my own sexuality. I also recognize that there is shame and stigma towards folks who find fat bodies attractive, and so I feel grateful for the body positive folks in my own life and for the infrequency with which I have had to confront people who subscribe to cultural norms and pressure around beauty standards.

So last week, when an article from Jezebel entitled, “I Fuck Fat People“, was making the rounds, I decided I should read it. I cringed at the title and the accompanying photo, which depicted a hand with neatly lacquered fingernails digging into an amorphous pink blob that I believe was supposed to be a fat person’s body, but enough of my friends shared it that I felt the need to give it a chance. I figured at best it was some incredible manifesto about fat people, sexuality, and normative beauty standards, and at worst it was a trite piece on being open-minded enough to be sexually attracted to fat folks.

So I was surprised when I read the article and felt angry. And not a little angry. A lot angry. Like, seeing red kind of angry.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

To Fat or Not Too Fat?

At the very beginning of the piece, the author self-identifies as fat and attempts to drop her “fat creds” by listing out her height, current weight, and former maximum weight. I didn’t read the comments (never, ever read the comments) but one of my friends reported that in the comments it was quickly decided that the author is not, in fact, fat, and this criticism of the author’s self-identification is the one I’ve heard most often as I’ve discussed the article with people.

There are a ton of difficulties and nuances here, and I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether the author’s size qualifies her to describe the world from the perspective of a fat person because it actually doesn’t matter. It is impossible to tell what the author looks like from her height/weight, and more importantly, it is not my place to question how she identifies.

However, it is quite possible that the author walks through the world with some amount of body privilege, which her “fat kid brain” does not excuse her from having to acknowledge.

She may be fat, but she is not the same kind of fat as the 400 pound men she is objectifying, and her attempts to lump herself in with them were an immediate red flag.

Yes, we are all affected by patriarchal standards of beauty. Yes, people of all sizes are affected psychologically and emotionally by the war on fat people. Yes, her body dysmorphia makes loving her body difficult and radical. And none of this means that she can’t also address the ways in which she does experience body privilege and how that affects both her own perceptions of her appearance and desirability as well as other people’s perceptions of her.

For me, as a fat person, it’s important that I consider what it means to be an ally to other fat people. As someone who is white, has an hour-glass-ish shape, can buy clothes in the plus size departments of regular stores, and generally passes as a cis woman, I have to remember that my experience of being fat is also colored by the body privilege I do experience.

This article, which takes the guise of a work of allyship, ignores this important aspect of what it means to be a good ally. Awareness of one’s own privilege shouldn’t really be too much to ask.

And still, this wasn’t the part that made me so mad.

Fetish Says What?

The second most common complaint I’ve heard is that the article starts with a statement about how the author’s appreciation for fat bodies is not fetishization because she also fucks thin people.

This is not how fetishes work.

A fetish, according to Merriam Webster, is simply “a need or desire for an object, body part, or activity for sexual excitement.” If someone has a foot fetish, but also like breasts, it doesn’t mean their foot fetish is not a fetish.

After reading the way the author describes “the feel of soft skin and flesh you can dig your nails into,” I have trouble believing is not indicative of this kind of objectification of fat bodies. She waxes lyrical about Reuben Stoddard’s “heavy embrace” and how she’d like to have him lying next to her and feel the weight of his large body on her “like a down comforter mixed with a hot bath” and, well… let me just say that it doesn’t sound like she’s also interested in his personality.

I will admit it’s challenging to describe the ways in which fetishization differs from purely sexual attraction, but I will argue that it does differ. Even though she has sex with people of all sizes, she is discussing fat bodies, including Reuben’s, as objects that exist for her sexual pleasure. There is no sense that she sees these bodies as belonging to real, actual people, and this is where we start to plumb the rage-inducing depths of this article.

The People Part of Fat People

If the author’s self-identification and her refusal to call a fetish a fetish were my only gripes with the article, I would roll my eyes, let the author go her own way, and remind myself that reading things on Jezebel is rarely a good idea.

But unfortunately, it goes much further than this.

Let’s take apart a few more pieces of the article.

As I mentioned early on, reclaiming one’s sexuality and sexual attractiveness as a fat person is hard. But this is only one facet of the myriad of complex ways in which society attempts to remove our humanity from us on a day to day basis.

The answer to this problem is not to reduce us to sexual objects, made suddenly desirable by the softness of our flesh and the roundness of our curves. Stripping away our personalities, intellects, and experiences, reducing us down to the most stereotypical aspects of ourselves, and then rebuilding us in her narrative as sex toys does nothing to further the cause of fat folks.

Furthermore, the author spends a substantial part of the article discussing how she chooses which fat people are worthy of her fucking. For example, she says she is not “attracted to people who are drowning in a sea of self-loathing.” And this, apparently, makes finding fatties to fuck quite difficult for her because mostly we’re sad pathetic saps who are incapable of viewing ourselves in a positive light.

In other words, she takes the effects of societal oppression and makes them sound like they are the fault of the people in the affected group.  And then, she turns this around and says that while she is willing to have sex with fat people, she is absolutely not willing to have sex with any who haven’t done the work of sloughing off a lifetime of learned behaviors.

Instead of trying to be a helpful partner to people she cares about, she insists that she needs someone who is “confident enough to read [her] blatantly encouraging signals and act on their desire for [her].” So not only do we have to rout all sense of shame about our bodies from our self-conscious before we are eligible for her consideration, but we also have to win an elaborate game of unclear communication, which, of course, is in and of itself a sex-negative side effect of the patriarchal suppression of sexuality. Sounds like fun, huh?

When the article took this turn, it became very apparent to me that this article was not written to support fat people in reclaiming our own sexuality. Instead, it simply aims to depict us as tools, here to appeal the author’s ego. And of course, in turn, we should be so grateful that she is willing to risk public shame and stigma to tell the world about her interest.

What All Fat Allies Should Know

It is one thing for the average human to be fairly ignorant of the day-to-day realities of fat oppression and body politics in our society. If this ignorance were spouted off by someone else on some other website, I probably would have breezed by it. But the idea that this person sees herself as a fat person and, as far as I can surmise from her penning of this article, as an ally to fat people makes this all much more heinous.

As allies, it is our job to educate ourselves about the realities of the people we’re trying to be in allyship to. It is our job to listen to their experiences and not try to tell them how they need to respond to the oppression they are experiencing. It is our job to be questioning of our own behaviors and to think critically about our positions before airing them in front of the world.

And it is abundantly clear from the article that none of this is the case here.

Far from helping break down the shame and stigma associated with fat sexuality, this piece actually further contributes to the idea that fat people, our bodies, and our identities are simply clay for others to mold to satisfy their own desires. And to be honest, we get enough of that from every other aspect of society. We don’t need it from our sexual partners as well.

As a fellow writer on the internet, I can attest to the fact that none of us are perfect all the time. And I don’t think the author should be punished or shamed or chased away from the internet because of this piece. But I do think she has a lot to learn about how to be a good ally to people of all sizes.

When we live in a culture that strips our dignity away from us on a daily basis, her sexual interest is at best a bone and at worst an expression of her complete disregard for the societal oppression that fat folks face on a daily basis.

By reducing us to sexual objects and creating a list of demands about how we need to behave in order to be worthy of her bestowing sex on us, and by doing it all from within a framework, however false, of allyship and cameraderie,  the author prevents us from being able to reclaim our humanity in our own way. She is enforcing a different set of normative values around the sexual behavior of fat people, but they are still normative values. And the carrot at the end of the stick that awaits us for jumping through her normative hoops is the promised land of sex, where we can be happily fetishized forever after.

No thank you.

Maybe the author needs to reconsider her intentions, read a bit more about what fat oppression looks like, or take a page out of someone else’s book on this one. But all I know is that, as far as this fatty is concerned, she can keep her fucks to herself.


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