Howling at Wolves

I am a feminist. Unapologetically and without parenthetical demurral. I believe women are unfairly regarded and treated and that social justice and quality of life require equal rights and a rejection of misogyny. I shouldn't have to provide my bona fides on this, but I find I often DO because my assertion that EDs are not a feminist issue (or a female issue or a symptom of sexism) tends to lead to questions about my own values.

I won't bore you with details, but my lifetime commitment to feminism is genuine and -- as it should be -- isn't always easy.

Questioning Naomi Wolf is a sacrilege to feminism, I know. It puts me in bed with people with very different fetishes. But question I do, and have.

I believe the assertion of an eating disorder epidemic and OUTRAGEOUSLY wrong statistics on prevalence have done more to hurt ED advocacy than Wolf has ever helped. Yet I've sat unsmiling, literally, amid standing ovation for Wolf's poor grasp on facts or logic.

That's why I find such comfort and feel such gratitude for Tetyana, and for ELT, for speaking truth to Girl Power here. The one chance I had to talk to Wolf made me so sad. She has spent so many years being lauded and thanked for her facile ideas about EDs and it must be hard to have the same sort of moxy SHE dared to have in a hostile past calling her to account now. But we should.

Eating disorders don't have to be a feminist issue to be important, and the objectification and denial of women's rights doesn't have to cause eating disorders to be important to us.


  1. Lots of feminists question Wolf and with good reason, she has said some truly unbelievable things about sexual assault as well.


  2. I completely agree! Of course. I'm so sickened by the so-called "war" on women's rights, in the US. And I don't even live in the US. Everywhere, really. It angers and upsets me so much.

    But EDs are not a feminist issue. Fudging the facts not only does disservice to women who suffer from EDs, but also to men, and those who don't identify with a particular gender. That's roughly 10 or so percent. One in 10!!

    There is a plethora of biological explanations for why EDs are more prevalent in women (hormonal changes during puberty is a part of it).

    The idea that women are starving themselves, or binging and purging, to be sexy for men, for example, is ludicrous. I've been told things along that line so many times. (Why the assumption that I'm heterosexual??!!) Maybe a tiniest of the tiny percent, are. Extreme dieting, dieting in general, might be. But not full-blown EDs. Not the compulsion to binge and purge non-stop, the entire day, or starve yourself to death, or close to death. Gah. It is stuff that makes me so angry.

    It discounts the experiences of males. It simplifies things to an extreme, and it makes light of the situation, I feel. Oh, if we just had curvier role models, things would be fine. It is not that simple.

    I feel like I often sound like I believe in genetic determinism, that society and culture plays no role. No, of course it does. Genes don't code for complex behaviours << needs to be repeated all the time, I find. But for fuck's sakes, blaming everything on the media, and society, and misogyny, when that's not the real issue, is major disservice.

    I have not read Wolf's work, and I don't plan to. But people like her, they make it WORSE, MUCH worse, for those like me, who are trying to educate anyone who cares to listen, that for example, for me, anxiety, particularly uncertainty about the future, and feeling unaccomplished and unproductive, are the main drivers of ED behaviour in the last few years.

    I must stop ranting. I just feel really passionate and often angry about this issue (and too many other issues).

    I'm SO happy to know that my blogging is appreciated. It is been such a huge factor in keeping me less symptomatic, I would do it just for that. But to know that writing about things that interest me, is of interest to others, is just amazing.

  3. Completely agree with your "rant!"

  4. Tetyana

    Keep ranting. You rant very well and I am in complete agreement with you. I am a professional ranter - it's good for the blood pressure.

    I used Tetyana's BMI rant a lot when preparing the "State not Weight" film and I am really pleased to have her interacting with us. Perhaps she could join the Canadian FEAST team and keep them on the straight and narrow, like ELT does with us here in the UK?


  5. I completely agree with your 'rant' too, Tetyana.

    My biggest concern, in all of this, is medical ethics. Two principles underpinning medical ethics are 'do no harm (maleficence)' and 'do good (beneficence)'. The idea that culture or misogyny cause EDs is what underpins 'ED prevention' and 'treatment' strategies that focus on 'finding your voice' and 'speaking out'. At present there is no evidence that changing culture prevents EDs, or that 'finding your voice' is an effective treatment. Yet, there is evidence that strategies that focus on eating ARE helpful, at least in treatment. It would be downright dangerous (and hence unethical) if we were to focus on changing society to prevent/treat EDs, rather than to address the disturbed body and brain physiology that is present in people with EDs.

    Like Tetyana, I agree that society/environment must surely play some role in the development of EDs. I know that interpersonal factors played a role in the development of my AN. But once an ED is established, in people with a particular vulnerability to these illnesses, the illness effectively drives itself.

  6. So I don't annoy people who have already read my response:

    (I sit in the middle and piss off both camps; it's kind of what I do!)

  7. So, let me get this right. After twenty years of rampaging anorexia and bulimia leaving me looking haggard and gaunt; skin flaking like body dandruff; eyes puffy; face mis-shapen and ageing double-quick; hair lank and fragile; all traces of femininity pretty much stubbed out, oh yeah, and with the social skills of a house brick and I'm supposed to have chosen this "strategy" as a way to get a man?? Oh good grief. Silly me.

  8. @RuftyRoo: That's NOT what feminist theory has to say about EDs. This is an excellent article, by way of example:

    "Building on these themes, other sociologists and anthropologists (Banks, 1992; Thompson, 1994) argue that the image of anorexia as a transitory, self-inflicted problem developed by young women lost in their world of fashion and calorie restricting is a belittling stereotype that may mask women’s real worries. By emphasizing slenderness, the dominant imagery about eating concerns misnames as much as it discounts real biases against
    women and their limited access to other forms of power of self-expression beyond corporeal power..."

    "In calling for such a polythetic stance to diagnosis and treatment, male cross-cultural writers are united with feminist theoreticians in urging an understanding of patients that
    acknowledges societal precipitants for extreme food denial beyond caricatured cosmetic compliance—the latter being the socially sanctioned coloring of distress and not the cause (Russell & Treasure, 1989). Such an approach would value the authenticity of the patients’ illness experience, not merely the validity of available experimental tools. By highlighting the need for a ‘‘shared narrative’’ in an intersubjective milieu (Miller, 1991; Lee, 1995) that respects the communicative power of anorexia nervosa, male and female clinicians and theoreticians in Eastern and Western countries are casting doubt on ‘‘fat-obsessed’’ models that blind the choice of questions asked and limit the answers to be obtained. The repetitive polling of women internationally on fat and food-focused instruments such as
    the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), Bulimia Investigation Test—Edinburgh (BITE), and the 390 Katzman and Lee Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI) may provide a false sense of knowledge as to the
    motivation for women’s war with their bodies. Unexpected results, such as the low EDI scores of East Berlin anorectic patients in Steinhausen, Neuma¨rker, Vollrath, Dudeck, and Neuma¨rker’s (1992) study, call into question the cross-cultural validity of constructs tapped by our most frequently used instruments. Perhaps the renewed interest in qualitative analytic tools (Streigel-Moore, 1994) will provide a mechanism by which to examine the deeper meanings of self-starvation and forge broader paths to recovery."


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