Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Mamamia! When it’s high time for some bitch-shamin

Seven years ago I wrote a book about infidelity. Not a memoir, no, but my own experiences were indeed divulged amid a broader scholarly discussion of sexuality and feminism.

Of the very many radio interviews I’ve done, an early one - about that book - sticks out as my most… memorable.

The interview itself was fine enough. A mini panel discussion. While there was an awkward Madonna/whore juxtaposing of me and the other butter-wouldn’t-melt lady guest, it was okay, passable. Untraumatic for the most part.

It was immediately after, though, when things got… interesting.

Our discussion had concluded the show and the midday host was on his way in. The other panellist had departed and I was on her heels. Before I could leave though, my host - a man - halted my exit; wanted to introduce me to the incoming midday host:

“Lauren, you should meet Bob (not his name), he’s married: I imagine you’d be interested in him.”

I was not-so-fondly recalling that interview today in the wake of the Mamamia/Roxanne Gay brouhaha.

In case you were lucky enough to have missed it, in brief, Mamamia matriarch Mia Freedman recently interviewed the best-selling feminist writer and academic for her podcast.

And it was only after when things got i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶e̶s̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ gross.

In the aftermath, Freedman apparently felt completely comfortable to tell a backstory. There’s a whole lotta bile in Freedman’s now-deleted telling, but the most despicable line - and the one that gets the whole ball ‘o bullshit rolling - was “Now, I would normally never breach the confidence of what goes on behind the scenes of organising an interview, but in this case…”

What followed was a heinous privacy stomping whereby the logistics of Gay’s visit - logistics, I should note, are considered to be of dubious veracity - are “revealed”. Seemingly, Freedman found it perfectly acceptable, perfectly relevant, and – most disgustingly – perfectly professional to go so far as to alert us that Gay is “…I’m searching for the right word to use here. I don’t want to say fat so I’m going to use the official medical term: super morbidly obese.”

There’s a deluge of entry points for me in this story. The fat-shaming, the skinny-bitchiness and the bullshit malarkey apology that completely misses the entire point. Just for starters. The bit that interests me most however, is the dehumanisation of Gay. Because she dared get personal.

Roxanne Gay chose to write a memoir about her weight. In Hunger Gay details some of the awful self-loathing stuff that nearly all women relate to but few will ever be brave enough to actually spill with their name attached.

When you publish something personal - be it about your body image or, say, some kinky sex you might have had - a multitude of calamities follow. The first is that because you’ve chosen to air some of your skeletons/dirty laundry/deepest darkest insecurities you now become related to - you now become judged - using a new and narrow set of criteria.

Lost is the entirety of you as a person; instead, your identity gets diluted to what you wrote about. Suddenly that becomes all that you are. And, with a smile on your face, you’re expected to answer any number of probing questions - often about things you deliberately chose not to write about - and you’re meant to laugh it all off. Laugh off all the breaches of privacy. Laugh off every barb of undignified disrespect. Because surely your hide is thick enough. Because surely you’ve asked for it.

I can’t imagine had I not written about my own experiences with infidelity, that any radio host - least of all the supposedly respected one I was dealing with that day - would have ever dared make that jibe. His dig however, became permissible because I had written about some of my life – I had divulged some of my “transgressions”; about some of the things that, apparently, makes women loathsome – and I had, in turn, become less worthy to him. Less worthy of being respected as a guest, as a writer, as an academic and as a feminist. I was the Scarlet Woman and could only be treated as such.

Similar discourtesies were extended to Gay.

The fact that Gay made her weight the focus of her book prompted Mia Freedman to take some liberties and to treat her not primarily as a guest, as a writer, as an academic, as a feminist, but as only The Fat Woman. Totally lost was the respect that would have been afforded to any other New York Times best-selling author who’d visited the Mamamia locker-room, instead, Gay was just a “super morbidly obese” caricature and could only be treated as such.

Cue bitchy gags about fat women and and broken chairs.

A nonsense apology has been issued - of course. Because a female-centred media site needs to make damn sure that the ladies don’t turn on 'em. Only I have. Because Freedman doesn’t get to play babe-in-the-woods here. Media is her game. Perhaps it’s been so for a little too long.