Yesterday, I found myself mulling about expectations.
I had read this article in Newsweek about the rage against fatness in the U.S. (I first saw it linked from Lesley at Fatshionista), and thought about the article’s main conclusion that people basically enjoy being angry, and having a target for their anger (even if some of it is self-directed).
I also found myself thinking about my dad, who is one of the most easily disappointed people I have ever met. It’s like his expectations far outstrip the world’s potential to provide him with happiness. He gets so disappointed over small things, like a store not carrying a favorite brand of pickles, or people not going along with his plans even if he’s never expressed what it was he was expecting to happen.
In some ways, I go out of my way to avoid this kind of disappointment by having few expectations, of myself or others. And sometimes this isn’t the best way to go. Other times, there are people who would remind me that I have fairly high expectations of some of the people in my life.
A reader named RosieJo left this comment in response to a post on my other blog:
“I do think fat bigotry is more acceptable than any other form of bigotry because people who do it shrouded it in “its for their own good. We want to support a healthy lifestyle.” Very few people will argue with that comment, ie very few people see the bigotry for what it is.”
And I have been trying to formulate a response to that comment*, and found myself thinking about it, along with expectations, last night while I was dancing. And the realization that came to me was this:
All of the fat hatred I see makes me so upset because I have an expectation that I won’t be hated.
How nice for me. The commenter on my site seems to have a similar expectation, to somehow be able to avoid being the object of bigotry.
I mean, most, if not all, people don’t want to be the subject of baseless hatred. But hatred is out there, it gets acted on in violent ways, in subtle ways, in systematic ways, in myriad ways. Do I think that because I’m white, I won’t be hated? Because I’m cisgendered? Because I’m straight? Because I’m not poor? Because my mental health status is basically assumed to be normal? Why do I think I’ll somehow get through life without being the object of someone else’s baseless hatred? Because I’m sensitive? That doesn’t spare most of the people on the receiving end of racism and many other forms of baseless hatred.**
Quick story — long time ago, I worked for a Jewish community newspaper. At the time, there was a large trial going on pitting a Holocaust denier against a prominent female Holocaust scholar. One of my jobs was to read the letters that came in via email, and print them out for the editors to review (this was in the early days of email, believe it or not). The email that was received was vile, nasty, hateful, anti-semetic women hating shit to have to read and it literally made me ill. I asked to have the task reassigned to someone else until the volume of the horrific vitriol died down. The editor said no, that it was my job. There were people on the staff who were non-Jewish men who might not have had the same reaction as I did to reading it (but maybe would have been repulsed by it). But I think that the editor challenged my assumption that I somehow had a right to be spared from being exposed to this. At the time, I didn’t see it that way, and I hated him for it.
Anti-semitism, it’s like this old sickness that reappears or maybe is always there, and I can compartmentalize it. Hatred against women, too, seems ancient and something that needs to always be fought against. But my reaction to being hated because I’m fat? Somehow, that is harder to manage — more personal, somehow. Maybe it is because there’s this idea (wrongheaded, but there) that I could avoid the hatred by not being fat. Which makes as much sense as saying I could avoid anti-semitism by converting to another religion, or becoming male. Neither one would satisfy the haters, who would say I was still ethnically Jewish, or not really a man. Ultimately, I’m not the source of any of the hatred, it’s the hater who carries it and spews it and systematizes it. My job is to fight it when it’s in my face and realize who it belongs to.
Here’s where I think intersectionality comes in. I can’t control other people’s feelings, but I can control my behavior, and I can advocate for laws and systems that protect people from actions based on this hatred. Another quick story — also long ago, Mr. Rounded worked for someone who got him a job as an apartment manager, but many of the tasks fell to me. A woman with a son wanted to rent one of the apartments in our building, and she passed the credit check. “Do you really want to rent the apartment to that (derogatory word for black person in Yiddish)?” my husband’s boss asked me. I could barely contain my rage. I ranted that what he was talking about was discrimination in housing, which was illegal and wrong, and that I was raised not to do that sort of thing. Fine, he said. Rent to her. I hated him for putting me in that position. I’m glad I found my voice.
But why do I think I’m entitled to not be hated, to not be discriminated against? Just because I believe that no one should be treated that way, I get a free pass? It doesn’t work that way. What I can do, is take my experiences, and how I feel about them, and allow them to provide me with empathy for the experiences of others. I can’t know their exact pain. I can’t experience it first hand. But I have had glimpses.
I’m not free of hatreds, myself. I do my best to question them. To uncover new biases and bigotries lurking in my own thoughts, beliefs, actions. One of these that deserves questioning is the idea that I deserve not to be hated. No one deserves to be hated. But to expect a life free of being hated is a set up bound for disappointment.
When I realized that I had the expectation of not being hated, and I began to let go of that expectation, I felt lighter and more free. I couldn’t be disappointed any longer that someone might hate me because of their hatred of fatness or fat people. I don’t expect to be hated, but I don’t expect to be spared from that, either. A strangely comforting thought to me is that no one escapes from life unscathed — we are all subject to bruises and scratches and injuries and illnesses and, ultimately, death.
Along the way, to love and be loved, that’s a balm.
(It’s also da bomb.)
* This is connected to privilege, but I am having a hard time articulating how — it’s like privilege is thinking you are exempt from being hated.
** Is all hate the same? I don’t believe so, I think there are times when we are slighted and we have a strong reaction that has to do with being mistreated that causes that to well up in us that is, if not justified, understandable on a human level. But many people never question their hate, and the basis of it, and allow it to grow to a global, hating all “people like that”-level.