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Weighty matters - John C. Kirk

Jul. 11th, 2006

12:06 am - Weighty matters

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From:nou
Date:July 11th, 2006 09:51 am (UTC)
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Unless I'm misunderstanding, you're saying that "homophobia" is linguistically acceptable, but "fatphobia" isn't? Aren't they constructed exactly the same way? Sure, you can say that people who hate gay people do it because they're frightened, in some way, but you can make a case for people hating fat people because they're frightened, too (frightened of becoming one).

(Incidentally I am very very very interested in the reasons why people dislike fat people, so if anyone reading this knows of any studies then please give me a pointer.)

((Incidentally incidentally I'm becoming a great fan of qualitative interview-based studies. I used to think they were all handwavey faff, but then I read some.))

Going back to commenting on your actual post... it seems to me that if you run up 5 flights of stairs every day then eventually your body will become optimised for running up 5 flights of stairs. Same way as if you play the euphonium every day, your body will become optimised for playing the euphonium. (You may not have to run up those stairs/play the euphonium every day, but if you think there's a strong likelihood of you having to do it, then it makes sense to do it when you don't have to so that when you have to you can.) If people don't want to run up 5 flights of stairs carrying an oxygen cylinder, then fine. If people don't want to play the euphonium, then fine. This is why we have civilisation, so some of us can run up stairs and others of us can play the euphonium.
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 11th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Unless I'm misunderstanding, you're saying that "homophobia" is linguistically acceptable, but "fatphobia" isn't?

Ah, no, I didn't explain that very well. I don't like either word, and I think that "X-phobia" should be reserved for actual fears. That said, I suspect that we're stuck with "homophobia" for the forseeable future, so I'm just ranting against the rot spreading... The only reason I mentioned homophobia is that the web page I linked to was a specific rebuttal of a separate web page.

If people don't want to run up 5 flights of stairs carrying an oxygen cylinder, then fine.

Yes, absolutely, I'm not suggesting that everyone should run out and join the LAS :) I just thought that was an interesting example of an indirect health risk which might normally be overlooked. With regard to specific optimisations, I think that there may be some scope for people to be both fat and strong in a particular area (e.g. arm wrestling), but I don't think that applies to running.
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From:nou
Date:July 12th, 2006 09:28 am (UTC)
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What word would you use instead of "homophobia", then? The thing is that people like to have words for things so they can talk about them, and if a word doesn't exist then someone will make one. The other thing is that words can have more than one meaning, and the meanings of words can change. It seems odd to decide that only meanings which existed before a certain time are acceptable, if only because the certain time is so arbitrary.
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From:johnckirk
Date:July 12th, 2006 11:43 pm (UTC)
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What word would you use instead of "homophobia", then?

I'm not sure that we need one - from where I'm sitting, "homophobia" and "fatphobia" both seem to refer to concepts that are so poorly defined as to make them meaningless. However, if you do want such a word then I'd recommend something that would be accepted by people on both sides of the debate. People who are afraid of spiders would probably say "Yes, I have arachnophobia", but I don't think that people who are opposed to gay marriage would describe themselves as homophobes. Playing devil's advocate (i.e. this isn't a genuine suggestion), how about "traditional moral values" as an alternative term?

More seriously, I'd go for something along the lines of the philanthrope/misanthrope terminology. Mind you, "homophile" and "homomis" are just as problematic as "homophobia" in that they've only taken half of the original word, while "philohomosexual" etc. get a bit unwieldy.

I remember a logic puzzle (a version of Betrand Russell's paradox) that uses the terms "homological" (self-descriptive, e.g. "short" is a short word) and "heterological" (non-self-descriptive, e.g. "long" is not a long word). Is the word "heterological" homological or heterological? The idea is that you wind up with a contradiction whichever way you go.

The point is, homo/hetero are useful prefixes in their own right, to mean same/other, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that "homophobia" means "people who want everything to be different".

The other thing is that words can have more than one meaning, and the meanings of words can change.

So, how do you feel about people saying "That's so gay" to describe something that they don't like? Do you think it's a valid additional meaning ("gay"=happy/homosexual/bad), or do you think that the new meaning is still linked to the old one?
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From:nou
Date:July 13th, 2006 12:00 pm (UTC)
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[Kake] What word would you use instead of "homophobia", then?

[John] I'm not sure that we need one - from where I'm sitting, "homophobia" and "fatphobia" both seem to refer to concepts that are so poorly defined as to make them meaningless.

I don't think the words would exist if people didn't find them useful. Yes, they're broad concepts, but then so is, for example, the concept of food; and just like homophobia, "food" means different things to different people, and the edges of food/not-food are blurred.

[John] However, if you do want such a word then I'd recommend something that would be accepted by people on both sides of the debate. [...] I don't think that people who are opposed to gay marriage would describe themselves as homophobes.

Well, being opposed to gay marriage and being homophobic aren't the same thing; although some people will argue that it's not possible to be opposed to gay marriage without being homophobic, I can quite easily imagine someone who's openly and happily gay and yet opposed to gay marriage on, for example, economic, sociological, or religious grounds.

People who exhibit homophobic (or racist) behaviour often don't consider themselves to be homophobic (or racist), as far as I can see. They accept the word as a label for the concept, but they disagree about whether their behaviour should be included in the concept. It's different from the whole "pro-life" vs. "anti-choice" / "pro-choice" vs. "pro-abortion" argument, where there is a very definite terminology problem that clearly often impedes civil discussion.

[John] Mind you, "homophile" and "homomis" are just as problematic as "homophobia" in that they've only taken half of the original word [...] The point is, homo/hetero are useful prefixes in their own right, to mean same/other, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that "homophobia" means "people who want everything to be different".

This is why I mentioned words having more than one meaning. "homo" is both a prefix which modifies other words, and a word in its own right (albeit one which is often used pejoratively) which means "homosexual". It's in the dictionary and everything.

[Kake] The other thing is that words can have more than one meaning, and the meanings of words can change.

[John] So, how do you feel about people saying "That's so gay" to describe something that they don't like? Do you think it's a valid additional meaning ("gay"=happy/homosexual/bad), or do you think that the new meaning is still linked to the old one?

I don't know enough about why people use that phrase in that way to be able to answer that question; I mean, I don't know why people started doing it. I don't think it's common enough usage that it would be accurate to say that the word "gay" has a new meaning, and this meaning is "something I don't like". I hope it doesn't become that common, since it seems to me that language is important in forming attitudes, and I think it's quite clear where the problem lies in that context. Incidentally, vampwillow recently hosted a discussion on the issue, which you might find interesting.

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From:2shortplanks
Date:July 21st, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
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"-phobia" is scared. "-ist" is discriminatory.

"sexist" would seem to fit best, though maybe "gayist" would be more descriptive if it didn't sound so pretentious.

I like "homophobia" as a word though. It's wonderfully judgemental. It implies that people are performing their actions because they're latently scared of homosexuals.
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