Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing by Margaret Atwood

Wanted to share this amazing poem:

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing
by Margaret Atwood

The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn

Fat Stigma & Acceptance

Another really fascinating part of school last week was a presentation on fat studies, fat stigma, and fat acceptance.

Here are my notes from class (a lot of it is verbatim from the presentation slides; contact me if you want the reference):

-Fat studies: interdisciplinary; primary focus on identification/elimination of bias based on body weight, shape and size; deconstructs and critiques research related to weight and obesity; challenges cultural and political meanings ascribed to the fat body; challenges medical models that pathologize fat and prescribe weight-loss as a means of attaining health; weight/size bias combined with oppression based on other areas of difference such as gender, race, social class, and sexual identity

-Fat bias in the dominant culture:

  • Research related to systemic fat/size discrimination is less common, but no less valid, than findings that continue to report ongoing oppression in race and gender
  • Discrimination evident in hiring, wages, promotion, employment termination, delays in obtaining necessary healthcare, ability to obtain health care coverage, acceptance to college, parental financial support for college
  • Similar pattern of discrimination (but more research needed) in public accommodations, jury selection, housing, adoption, representation of overweight participants in research
  • Stereotypes of people perceived as overweight: lazy, less conscientious, less competent, sloppy, disagreeable, emotionally unstable, slower, poor attendance records, stupid, and worthless
    • These stereotypes are based simply on appearance or perception and are unrelated to actual health

-Dominant culture belief that being fat is a moral choice related to a lack of discipline: if fat people simply ate less and exercised more, they would lose weight and thus not have to experience the stigma and shame of being fat

-Losing/regaining weight can be more physically damaging to people than remaining at higher weights

-Counselors must challenge their own biases and assumptions about fat clients and presumptions of weight loss to promote genuine emotional and physical health, regardless of size

-Health at Every Size: a fast-growing approach that work to separate the issue of size and health

-Fatosphere: fat blogosphere

-My main question at the end of the presentation was: how do fat studies address the issues of food desserts, cheap unhealthy food, and the intersection of those with class and SES? What about the politics of safe public spaces, gentrification, etc?

This is a fabulous article I ran across the next day after my class; I love it:

Let’s Talk About Thin Privilege

Fatness brings up a lot of emotions for me. My mom gave my sister and I a lot of training around the “right” body shape and size, even while also trying to help us love our bodies “no matter what.” From my public health education, I have been acculturated to medicalize bodies: obesity=bad for health. I have my own body image stuff, which has been at times both exacerbated and soothed by comparing myself to movie stars, models in magazines, my friends, stripping, and being in an open relationship (and being more exposed to naked bodies). 

J and I have had a number of conversations, and sometimes with other people, that attempt to delineate the difference between discrimination against certain body types/shapes/sizes and preference/attraction/chemistry. There is clearly a difference to me and it feels quite different. However, I have seen the two conflated very unattractively in open spaces. For instance, I know that our swingers’ clubs attract a wide variety of people, and I am glad that the spaces are relatively inclusive. But when I meet people who disparage fat people and their presence at our clubs and then cloak that sentiment in “well I don’t want to go somewhere where I’m just not attracted to the people,” my social (in)justice radar goes nuts. Just say it: you don’t like fat people. Or, when J and I were socializing with a couple at a club, J asked the guy if he and his partner have a “type.” He responded simply with “thin people.” Why? I’m guessing because, for him, “thin people” connotes other positive qualities: good, healthy, smart, hardworking, etc. 

Want to test your own implicit attitudes toward fat people and thin people? Take the Implicit Association Test! You can take the test on myriad other categories of people, too. My own results: moderate preference for thin people. (I wonder when they’ll add a category for alternative relationship structures?)

Patriarchy & Stripping

We had a pretty thought-provoking panel this week in my equity class: all three guest were white, straight men talking about their experiences with patriarchy. It was really interesting because they have all taken a path to counter patriarchy in their lives, and they discussed how this has affected their relationships with their families of origin, how they view the world, etc. 

One little comment at the end was evident to me that the men took different feminist views than me:

One man made some disparaging remark about “ugh strip clubs” and “yeah, isn’t it crazy Portland has like the highest number per capita?” [Subtext: isn’t that awful??]

I caught my professor’s eye and she sort of apologetically/nervously smiled at me. I felt pretty calm; I expect to encounter that kind of attitude sometimes. I know it’s a pretty dominant discourse (strippers are oppressed women who have internalized patriarchy; there is no other explanation that tells us why women engage in sex work. Or, women are forced to strip or engage in sex work to make money. The power flows from the dominant group-men-to women in the form of exchanging money for sexual energy.)

The thing is: I can’t really argue that strip clubs don’t support patriarchy. I also can’t say that I’m not stripping outside the patriarchal system. I know I have been socialized to desire attention and to dress and present myself in ways that are pleasing to those gazing upon me (namely, men). 

But the explanation that patriarchy has oppressed me and forced me to strip is too simplistic for me. There are so many other factors at play (which I have discussed at length in various posts).

It’s fascinating to me, and I try as best I can to simply remain curious about, the variety of views within the folks who identify as a feminist. This particular guy, who so clearly and evidently opposed men powering over women and supported women as equals, inadvertently took agency and power away from the women who engage in sex work. Simply by making a negative comment, and assuming he knows the motivations and stories of all sex workers, he once again assumed the dominant role: “I know what’s best for women: not stripping.”

[Of course: people can have different views, and I think that first-wave feminism language is powerful and persuasive. But again: for me, it takes away power from individual women and is too simplistic. This picture assumes that one cohesive “feminism” has the answers to dismantling a thousands-year system of privilege and oppression, when in reality, there are so many diverse beliefs under that umbrella and so many ways of subverting power.)

The truth is, for me, is that all of these factors (including the system of patriarchy) have influenced me. Which means I embrace the “both, and” approach to life, not the “either/or.” I can be a stripper and a feminist and queer and straight-looking and a lover of consent and someone who has non-consent fantasies. I hold many complex, seemingly opposing desires and beliefs and identities, inside me, as do (I believe) most people.

Therapy Student Syndrome?

(like Medical Student Syndrome?)

I seriously don’t know some days…

Oh god! I’m not differentiated enough from J! Or from my parents! Or from my friends! Or from anyone else!

Oh no! I create double binds!! How awful! (Another blog post on that to come, I think)

I ruminate. I can be pessimistic. Gottman’s divorce indicators?! Oh jesus.  

Do I have signs of major depression? Schizophrenia?? 

I’m anxious! Tendency to be OCD! 

And more!

I’m also human. Like all y’all and everyone. (Side note: I’m definitely leaning toward a theory of therapy that is based on present-moment experience, mindfulness, and not pathologizing of experience and emotions. Whew)


People in My Corner

It was so affirming to hear from my advisor this week:

Stripping is not an ethical issue. You’re not harming anyone.

No kidding!

And, another lovely part:

If you get any pushback from anyone around here, just use feminist language and they’ll back off. If you have any problems with people, just let me know. Especially if it’s a professor.

I had reached this place a couple weeks ago, of feeling like it really didn’t matter to me what my advisor was going to say to me about this potential ethical issue of dancing and being a therapist. Which itself felt great. And it also felt great, like a big awesome hug, to hear that.

Also, to have another fellow classmate disclose to me that she felt really good hearing me disclose my dancing experience because she has a history of doing it as well. And to have my advisor say that outing yourself is important in giving those marginalized communities a voice. If you can out yourself (and I can, in many ways, and have), then it can be such a powerful thing.

I have so many affirming and strong people who back me up, and I feel so lucky and so grateful to have them (you) in my life. Thank you.

Queering Myself

I have been struggling a little with the following lately:

I look so damn straight.

I can’t (and definitely don’t!!) want to change my primary relationship. But that makes me look straight.

I like my feminine gender expression, and some of the traditional things that go with that: make-up, long hair, etc. That makes me look straight, too.

How do I tell other hot queer chicks that I am “one of them”??

I don’t want to change myself to gain “acceptance.” I want to just be me, long hair, mascara, and all.

Does the fact that I don’t seem to be “noticed” by other queer people mean that I don’t put out the vibe that I identify that way? Does it tell me that I’m not actually queer?

Haha, oh goodness… that can’t be! Right?? Because I know how I feel across gender and sex lines. I know when I’m into someone and what that means (i.e., jump them, take them home, and spend hours with them doing lots of things…).

I want to be noticed and appreciated by other queer people.


Maybe I need to try noticing and appreciating other queer people?
Maybe I need to put myself out there more? (*what does that mean exactly?)
Maybe I should try hitting on people?
Maybe I should try harder to meet people?

Does it have to to do with the vibe you get from people (me) when they are already in a relationship, versus when they’re single? Am I entering an age group where people want to “settle down” with one person, and aren’t interested in dating someone who already has a partner? Is that dynamic perhaps more true for queer women? Am I finding that my dating pool is simply declining, as people rule me out for not wanting to date someone in an open relationship, not attracted to a straight-looking girl, etc.?

Why do I have more questions than answers? 😛