Without excuses

19 May

If you don’t watch the comedy series Louie with Louis C.K., I recommend that you at least check it out, starting with the episode “So Did the Fat Lady,” which you can check out in part here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/05/13/heres-that-epic-mesmerizing-fat-girl-speech-from-monday-nights-louie/.

This episode has been much written about as an apology to fat girls and women, not just from one man, but from an entire society that is pointedly, systemically and unapologetically anti-fat women. As Amy Zimmerman of the Daily Beast writes, C.K. “ma[kes] some really powerful points about gender, media, and American standards of beauty, all while avoiding the common traps of stereotyping or mansplaining” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/13/louis-c-k-apologizes-to-the-fat-girls.html).

What, you may be wondering, is mansplaining? Notes Lily Rothman of the Atlantic, “The word is relatively new, but the idea has been around for decades” (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/11/a-cultural-history-of-mansplaining/264380/). Mansplaining is the act of educating or enlightening someone, “without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.” Author Rebecca Solnit provides a vivid example of being mansplained here: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/13/opinion/op-solnit13. What is poignant in her recounting of the interaction is her own participation in the mansplaining: “So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain [the presumption that I needed to be educated],” in this case, about her own book.

Notice that mansplaining is not necessarily “done by a man to a woman.” I think this is true. Among other configurations, a woman can mansplain to a woman, and a man can mansplain to a man. (And yes, a woman can mansplain to a man. Although I wonder if we then call her behavior–and her–something else.)

But it’s definitely mansplaining when a man explains a woman’s experience to a woman, and that’s exactly what the character Louie doesn’t do in this episode about being a fat woman. He doesn’t get to rationalize and make it better (but not really) for the fat character Vanessa or himself. And in not mansplaining, he does something very simple and powerful: he makes it OK for Vanessa to “just say it:” “it” being “how bad it sucks” to be a fat girl.

And just being able to name that experience isn’t liberating just for Vanessa. It’s a huge exhalation for all of us, regardless of our sex or weight. Because fat-phobia isn’t really about someone else. It’s about ourselves.

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