Content Notice: violent fatphobia including burning
Giles Coren writes a column about fatherhood for Esquire UK. His most recent column is called “I Don't Care What My Son Becomes... As Long As He Isn't Overweight"
In the piece, he calls his four-year-old son a "fat little bastard" and a "chubby fucker,” and says that when it comes to fat people "I'd kill them all and render them down for candles."
This piece is blatant sizeism; there is every likelihood that his son (as well as countless other fat children and adults) will someday read this piece and be harmed in innumerable ways. And he engages in violent hate speech. None of this is remotely ok.
So I created a petition to demand that Esquire pull the piece.
As you can imagine, people got onboard quickly and the petition got over 8,000 signatures in the first three days, including one from Whitney Way Thore, star of the TLC reality show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, former Biggest Loser Contestant Kai Hibbard, clothing designer Malorie Dunn, photographer Substantia Jones, and Plus Size Model and creator of #FATANDFREE, Saucye West.
But not everyone was onboard. Some people tried various justifications for why it was ok for Giles to fat-shame a four-year-old and then suggest killing all the fat people. So I thought I’d take a moment to break them down:
He’s just being provocative
I think he’s just being a rabid fatphobe and misogynist, but you say potato…
Is this really fat shaming? Isn’t it just traditional British humor?
I think that, in the very best case scenario, it might be both. Still, the fact that something is traditional does not make it harmless or right. The excuse of “humor” has been used to justify all kinds of oppression and hate speech. Perpetuating bigotry under the guise of humor is still perpetuating bigotry, and may even be worse because it becomes more insidious when people are laughing rather than having to be forthrightly bigoted.
But I don’t think it is just part of British humor because, in the original piece, Giles said his son looked a little “r*tarded.” There was an immediate outcry and, in response, Giles (rightly!) changed the word and apologized. In response to the outcry about the extreme fatphobia and violent suggestions about harming fat people, Coren said he stood by it. Which means that he understands that some things shouldn’t be said (and aren’t funny) because they are harmful to others; he just doesn’t care about harming fat people. So this isn’t just about his sense of humor, or being provocative, it’s about him insisting that hurting some people is okay because of the size of their bodies, and that’s just wrong.
But he is terrible to everyone!
This is vaguely true; he says horrible misogynist stuff about his wife and daughter in this and other columns, including saying it’s okay if his daughter gets fat because “there are uses for fat women,” and that it’s okay if she doesn’t do well in school because she can marry a banker. Still, the fact that someone engages in numerous types of bigotry and says many offensive things does not make any of them better or more acceptable.
But aren’t you just giving him (and Esquire UK) more publicity? Isn’t that what they want?
I understand the argument about not giving bullies attention and publicity. My problem is that I don’t know any oppressed group that has gotten better treatment by letting people engage in hate speech about them and not pushing back. I think that the problem with the “ignore the bullies” argument is that it gives the bullies a free pass to harm people with no pushback or consequences. I don’t believe that Esquire UK wants negative brand attention, and that’s what they are getting, and what they are going to get more of with this campaign.
In truth though, this really isn’t about Giles. In my activism, I try not to center the feelings or desires of the people who are doing active harm to marginalized communities. What Giles and Esquire UK did with this article is saying: It’s entirely okay to treat fat people, including very young fat children, horribly. What we are doing with this petition is to say: You are wrong, and we won’t allow it. Fat people are human, and we demand to be treated with basic human respect.
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If we don’t do that — if we let the piece go without pushing back, then the only narrative that exists says that violent hate speech against fat people is a reasonable thing to engage in and, in fact, is hilarious.
Isn’t it censorship to shut down hate speech?
No. In Schenck v. the United States, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech. Hate speech, especially violent hate speech, is dangerous. It may also be the law in the UK.
Judy, one of my blog readers, pointed out that as a response to the Nazis (whose atrocities included doing to Jewish people what Giles says he would do to fat people), a number of European countries now have laws making it a crime to advocate crimes against humanity, even when it’s supposed to be a “joke.” It’s something that we’re researching for the blog.
I think that what too often happens is an argument of false equivalency. People will say that if my argument (that fat people are human and deserve to be treated with human respect) is allowed, then freedom of speech requires that the opposite (“I’d kill them all etc. etc. ”) must also be allowed. Which is roughly like saying that if they are allowed to ask us to silence our cell phones in a crowded theater, then we must also be allowed to yell “FIRE!”
It’s not the case — one thing helps people, the other harms them. They are not in any way comparable, and Esquire UK has no obligation to host violent hate speech.
I have a right to read this kind of humor if I want.
While, sadly, you have a right to be a weight bigot (or any other kind) within your own thoughts, you don't have any right to be delivered violent hate speech against fat people by Esquire UK or any other media outlet. If you want to read extreme hate speech, there are plenty of groups on Reddit and other online cesspools for that. The only way you can consider this piece humor is if you are okay with laughing at the idea of people being killed and burned for sharing the same physical characteristic, or laughing at a father fat-shaming his little boy when eating disorders are a serious issue among adolescent boys.
You may think that's funny and I certainly can't stop people from being horrible human beings, but I can do my damndest to get Esquire UK to stop catering to them, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Remember, you can sign (and share!) the petition!