Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

As women, as human beings, we all judge.  Judging, making assumptions, fitting people in boxes - these are all related and are techniques developed during human evolution to protect ourselves.  However, as rational, modern human beings, we have the ability to override our evolutionary responses.  We can try to be less judgmental of others, and we can analyse why we are judging someone to learn more about ourselves.

The discovery of the Fat Acceptance movement had had a huge impact on my thought processes.  I am a lot less judgmental now, and when I catch myself making judgments about others, I question myself.  Why am I making that judgment?  Who am I to judge that person?  What right do I have to judge someone, when I don't know their situation?  How can I know their situation - I'm not that person!

At about the same time as I plunged into the Australian Fatosphere, there was a bit of a brouhaha between that group of bloggers and Mia Freedman.  Mia Freedman is a journalist who used to be editor of Australian Cosmopolitan magazine (about the time I was reading it as a teenager, in fact).  She is currently Chair of the Australian Federal Government's National Body Image Advisory Group, and the creator of the website MamaMia, which is part-blog, part-current events, with plenty of fashion and celebrities thrown in for good measure.  I'm not going to go into the details of the altercation - if you want more info, you can check out Spilt MilkFat HeffalumpFatuosity, or even Mia herself.  Anyway, the whole big deal re-acquainted me with Mia Freedman, and I added MamaMia to my Google Reader, just to see the sort of things she posts about.

I have many problems with MamaMia.  I feel the same way that Definatalie does: MamaMia's focus on fashion and celebrities is at odds with her position as a body image advocate.  She frequently describes herself as such, while at the same time encouraging women to judge other women based on their appearance, and to compare themselves (consciously or otherwise) to slim celebrities.  I also feel that MamaMia displays a slim, white, privileged bias.  Further, many of the posts made liberally quote from elsewhere and are not original or analytical of what they are quoting.  I don't read everything posted on the site, but I do occasionally comment on posts to call her out on things I find particularly outrageous.

The latest post to fall into this category is this one, about pregnant women in war zones.  The tone of the post is very judgmental.  Mia even says herself "[t]his is one of those instances where I try not to judge BUT I JUDGE."  The little "I know" in its own paragraph in the middle of the story shows that Mia assumes that her readers are also going to feel outraged at this woman, and to make the same judgment that Mia herself made.

The problem I have with this is that Mia also says, in her first addendum to this post, that she is "pro-choice".  I feel that she is missing the point of being pro-choice.  Being pro-choice is not just about a woman's right to have (and access to) an abortion, just as Fat Acceptance is not just about a person's right to be fat.  Being pro-choice is about supporting a woman's right to make her own choices, and to not judge her based on those choices.  Therefore, I don't feel that someone who is pro-choice can also be against a woman choosing what she does with her body while pregnant.  When I called Mia out on her judgments of this woman, she took one phrase I had used and turned it into hyperbole while ignoring the point of what I had said.  She was defensive and fell back on "I was simply expressing my opinion".  No Mia, you were not.  As my friend Legally Alien said when we were discussing this, “there’s a difference between being opinionated and being judgmental”.  Mia Freedman was being judgmental.

After a few readers had responded to Mia's post in a similar way to me, she updated the post with another addendum.  Once again, she turned what we had said into hyperbole and completely missed our point.  Essentially, Mia asserted that she had every right to make the judgment she made, because it was based on "facts".  The "facts" that she says she used to make this judgment came, of course, from the original article posted by the woman who caused the controversy in the first place: Elizabeth Rubin, a pregnant journalist embedded in Afghanistan.  Isn't it possible that she overstated the situation?  And even if she is completely honest about the advice she received and the policy of the US armed forces, that still does not give Mia Freedman the right to make this judgment.  Is she this woman's obstetrician?  Is she the colonel making the decision on whether to allow a pregnant journalist to embed?  No.

Mia Freedman is in a powerful position, and with that power comes responsibility.  Many young women read her blog and pattern their thoughts and behaviour after her.  She should could be teaching these young women to not be judgmental, to support the rights of all people to make choices.  She should could be demonstrating how to have reasonable discussions with people who do not agree with your opinion.  Sadly, she does none of these things.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me by a commentator called Flotsam over at MamaMia that this post does not fit with the "ethos" I'm expounding.  I believe he/she is referring to my last paragraph above.  Fair enough, I agree that my "should"s were out of place.  I've transparently made a couple of edits to the final paragraph to reflect that.


  1. I stopped reading any of Mia Freedman's narrow-minded snark some time ago. I'll post something fun to Twitter for you later, which highlights just why nobody should give Mia any space to air her bigotry any more.

    Thanks for the link love by the way!

  2. I'm giving up too. I've removed her from my Google Reader. I never got your tweet by the way.