Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Evil Robots? Yeah, they're after me. And yeah, I'm fighting them.

You know Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips? Whattasong.

I've listened to it hundreds of times and it just gets more meaningful over the years, despite that the meaning, for me, hasn't really changed at all in more than a decade.

There was a time when I worked way up high in a gleaming office tower in the sky. I spent most of my full-time hours there with ear buds in, listening to and building and organizing my music collection. I did some work too. My anthem? Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

And I've gots to tells yas, I'm quite a bit likeYoshimi in the song because, hellsyeah, I battle the pink robots. We all do. They're at us, from all corners, all the time. Here are some:

Fight them! They are not real. They are computer generated images with human heads glued on top. They are evil and we can't let them destroy us.

Women and robots can be hard to tell apart. But they are different in fundamental ways. The one is capable of feeling, thinking, philosophizing, childbearing and buying clothing. T'other is capable of making you feel vaguely uneasy, making you wonder why everyone looks like that except you, distracting you from thinking about anything worthwhile, is cloned (has many twins but no daughters), and sells sells sells clothing. 

How the gob-smacked pickle-munching lucky-strike slinging Hallelujah has the fashion industry convinced us that we should fit into clothes instead of the obvious fact that clothes should fit us?

Evil robots. That's how.

The person on the left is a woman who works in the fashion industry. The thing on the right is a robot. Her ribs have been photoshopped out to make her appear less frightening and more alluring. She is not real, she is a digital cyborg. 
Clothing is a thing. It is a useful thing. We need to wear it. You know that. You also know that besides just being a useful thing, clothing is a system of signs, a semiotics. We need to navigate both things -- the utility of clothing and the semiotics.

When I was a little girl, I experienced a crushing thing: whenever I would grow out of clothes, or clothes wouldn't fit me, I would say, "These pants are too small," or "This shirt isn't big enough." And my parents would diligently correct me by explaining that I was too big for the pants, or that the shirt was perfectly fine but that it was my size that was problematic.

When my slim older sister would grow out of her clothes, they would concede that it was the clothes that were wrong. But with me, with my body, with my wrong-sizedness it was important that they communicate to me that it was my obligation to fit into clothing, not clothing's obligation to fit me.

Most women, I know, experience that feeling of not fitting into their clothes like they are supposed to.
This is a thing to rail against. Clothes are supposed to serve women. Women are not supposed to serve clothes.

If you read my last post you might erringly conclude that I despise thin bodies. This is not true. Honest 2 Betsy does not endorse battling, besmirching, or devouring supermodels or any other spaghetti-sized people. It's not people and their people-bodies I have a problem with. Not at all. I like people. I wish them well. It's the cyborgs that piss me off.

A robot e-mailed me recently to see if I would like a guest post by it.

"Hi Betsy,I really enjoyed reading your blog - it's great! Most women really have insecurities concerning their figure and appearance but we should always remember that it's not always our outside appearance but we must also consider who we are as a person inside is the best." 

To paraphrase this communique from a pink robot: it would be happy to write some blog posts for me about looking pretty and weight loss. Would I like that? Also, could I click on a link?

No. Because I fight pink robots. Evil robots! They're everywhere! They are programmed to destroy us!

Do you watch Mad Men? It's the damnedest. There are all these fantastic female characters in fantastic outfits. And the show reveals, like a just-below the knee A-line, how very crappy it can be for these women to be judged on their looks and every so often you can peek through the artful cracks in their well-coiffed composure what it costs them to be so wonderfully "packaged" all the time in a lovely semiotics of hosiery and pearls, slimness and deference, chauvinism and constraint.

There's quite a few moments when the human cost of all this "fuss" over women's bodies as things that must be rigidly controlled so as to be at all desirable is exposed. Moments like when Peggy overhears her male colleagues laughing about how fat she is, when in fact she's concealing a pregnancy. Moments like when Joan, ever so composed and good-natured about having another abortion, is assumed by a mother in the doctor's waiting room to be waiting on a teen-aged daughter like she is, and decides not to go through with it because she wants a baby and it's her body.  There are moments when the female characters behave like people, not well-put together props. Then, mind you, the pink robots do like to take center stage.

Now here's the part in the blog post where I was struggling to say something deep and intelligent about Mad Men but went to bed instead, thinking some gem of wisdom would probably be waiting there for me in the morning. But it wasn't, so I carried on with my day, shopping and packing for a weekend trip to the Rocky Mountains where we stayed in a gorgeous hotel with outdoor hot pools, went skating on Lake Louise, went X-country skiing, went for an Alpine hike up on Sulphur Mountain and then through the Fenlands below, etc. etc. etc.

When I came back to real life and this post I still didn't have a satisfying conclusion for you, dear Reader, or for me. When I watched the new Mad Men on my PVR I was expecting a little inspiration but I got, HOLY EVIL, BETTY DRAPER IN A FAT SUIT.

I was so viscerally repulsed by the suiting up of this bitchy character in every fat-loathing stereotype possible (her husband likes fatties because his mom is one, she hates herself, she's depressed because her husband re-married a skinny hot French chick so she eats ice cream to make herself feel better, etc. etc.)

The point of the episode, Tea Leaves, sort of, is that Betty's lucky to be "Just fat" and not to have thyroid cancer like her doctor suspected.

But of course that's not the point. The point is to loathe this female character who smokes in front of babies and slaps her daughter and is a really poor sport about her husband sleeping around on her. We've loathed her for all these reasons before but now we can really get our hate on because she's getting her just deserts. She's getting what she had coming to her, the worst possible fate a pretty woman can possibly be consigned to: she's a fat housewife now. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

But she's not a fat housewife. She's a very thin actress named January Jones in a fat suit. Here she is finishing off her fictional daughter's ice cream sundae because she's a fat, disgusting pig.

Here she is all photoshopped up in GQ to look exactly like the computer generated models in an H&M catalogue. Robots. Evil pink robots.

It is my fear that all this is getting much, much worse instead of better. It is my fear that my daughters are growing up in a world full of pink robots, and Yoshimi isn't going to defeat them for us. It is my fear that Yoshimi just might let those robots eat my daughters.

I know it's going to be demanding, to fight those evil machines. But it's worthwhile. Because so much of it depends on women being "good sports" about it. I don't want to be a good sport about it. I don't want my daughter to be a good sport about it either. So much depends on women playing along with the notion that we're supposed to fit clothes, instead of vice versa.

The Fat Suit episode began with Betty not being able to zip up one of her dresses and refusing to go out with her husband because of it. Her mother-in-law came over to visit a house-dress clad Betty and urge her to do something about her weight so that she could get "back into that great closet."

So much of it depends on women literally "buying into" it because that's what IT is all about -- getting women to buy shit we don't need. There's really nothing else there.

But it hurts people. It really hurts real people. Once upon a time a small girl, about 5 years old, approached me in a public park and told me that her father would kill her if she ever got fat. Sigh.


And now, an Honest 2 Betsy pledge: I am enrolling myself and my six-year old girl in an all ages karate-class.

I'm just looking for some practical ways we can fight the pink robots together. We're going to need lots of vitamins, and to discipline our bodies, because we've got to be strong to fight them. Maybe we can get our black belts in karate.




  1. That song, Betsy, was the perfect companion to read through your post; excellent post that it was.

    We stopped watching Mad Men somewhere in the midst of the 2nd season. The women-bashing got to me.

    Miss Piggy in a Karate suit? ROCK. ON.

  2. Mmm hmm. Evil robots programmed to destroy us/distract us from systemic oppression/sell us shit. Sing it, sister.

  3. Hey! My friend Inder sent me over here bc I just wrote about this too. All the Betty hate really makes me angry. I am hoping Mad Men does something more complex with it--please let me know what you think of my interpretation!


    I love Miss Piggy.

  4. Did that seriously happen in Mad Men? Betty Draper in a fat suit? Jesus fuck. You make so much sense, Betsy. I wish anything else did.

  5. Well, that gives me a whole new way to think about clothes. Thank you. Also, "many twins but no daughters" is lovely writing.

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Tell Betsy...