04 June 2013

Fat hatred in academia

Fat hate stories generally blow up and die down pretty quickly and it's business as usual again. But the case of Dr Geoffrey Miller has just taken some odd new twists.

Miller is a visiting psychology professor at New York University, and also employed by the University of New Mexico. This week he tweeted:

NYU responded to say that they would not give him the sack although an investigation is underway into his actions by his department at UNM.

What's particularly weird is that Miller is apparently now saying that his egregious Tweet is part of an experiment to see how people react to inflammatory statements on social media. Er, yeah. I'd like to see evidence that he had ethics clearance for that. It also doesn't explain why he's beaten a retreat and locked his account. As one person said on the Fat Studies Facebook group: wouldn't he have had a better plan than that? It all sounds a little fishy at this stage.

Oddly enough, this is the second time within a few weeks that a thin white academic guy has said something fatphobic and claimed it as 'truth'. Glad to know these eejits are on the case for the rest of us, letting us know what's real and what's false!

Meanwhile, Cat Pausé of Massey University in Aotearoa/New Zealand has established a Tumblr to demonstrate that there are plenty of fat people who not only have the willpower to complete a dissertation/thesis but who have survived the academic hazing process known as getting a higher degree.

At the moment I feel very ambivalent about my relationship to the academy. I am glad of my fairly recent PhD but need some time to reflect on what it means to me, what it upholds, and how I might use it for good.

Nevertheless, it is pretty amazing to see the names and faces as I scroll through Fuck Yeah! Fat PhDs. Many of us are friends and collaborators and the site represents a new community of power. I was speaking just recently about how old school obesity researchers need to get on board with us, not just for ethical reasons, but also because it won't be long until we are the ones swiping funding bids and accolades from under their noses.

Formal education is a key strategy for social mobility. In the UK, people who cannot afford the recently hiked fees, or the debt associated with them, are now locked out. The general whiteness of Pausé's group suggests that the academy still has a long way to go in enabling people of colour to rise to the top (and raises questions about how this cohort uses its privilege to support others). Although I was relatively privileged in doing my own PhD, my social identities meant that I had to be x times better than others to do half as well. I'm sure my story is familiar to the other Fuck Yeah! Fat PhDs. Far from being an interesting experiment, Miller's bigoted Tweet exposes how hate places people further into marginal positions, and denies them/us full social participation.


Marsha Coupé said...

Thoughtful commentary as usual, Ms. Cooper.

Size acceptance, like the feminist movement, represents white privilege. As hard as it is for a fat, white woman to make it through grad school, it's that much harder for a fat woman of colour.

Activism is a luxury most people can't afford.

Those I know who have done it, will spend the next several decades paying off student loans. Wankers like Miller are the least of their worries.

As of this afternoon, there were nearly 50 of us with advance degrees on Cat's Tumblr site.

I'm full blooded Cherokee, by the way.

Marsha Coupé

Anonymous said...

I don't have a PhD in anything because of having a mental illness undiagnosed until I was nearly forty. Type II bipolar disorder tends to make it difficult for a person to concentrate. I'm also fat. Between the two things, my fat has never made it hard for me to think, although the STIGMA placed on my body has sometimes triggered depressive episodes.
I know it isn't particularly mature to say this, but my knee jerk reaction when I first saw this statement was "damn, what an asshat. They must give a PhD to anyone these days, if he can get one!"
He is loaded with privilege. White privilege, male privilege, North American privilege, thin privilege, class privilege. Easy for him to think he's so high fallutin' when he's never encountered prejudice towards himself in his life.

Anonymous said...

Perseverance, tenacity and cogency - the three traits needed to complete a PhD. Dr. Miller forgets that most people of size have been persevering all of their lives against their own bodies. He cannot even imagine what kind of endurance it takes to achieve in spite of the self-loathing we engage because of fat-phobic culture. Twice as hard, never an end. He's a douche.