When you’re not the smartest person in the room

Cat with a paper cup for a hat

My cat is never the smartest person in the room.

I notice that a lot of the people I end up “debating” with get huffy as soon as they realize they’re not the smartest person in the room, and then I’m the bad guy for knowing more stuff.

Here’s how it goes:

Somebody (okay, usually a dude) will say something asinine and offensive (okay, usually misogynistic), and will use language he thinks makes him sound informed and intelligent. The other day, it was a dude trying to say that it isn’t societal oppression holding women back from powerful careers (in this case, comedy), but “biological differences.”

(He later revised his argument to say that society DOES play a role, but a small one, and the crime is “ignoring” biological differences, because women totally don’t make it into boardrooms because their estrogen physically yanks them back like a strong wind.)

So when these dudes (and sometimes ladies, just not often in my experience) say something asinine and offensive, coating it with big words, the Dunning-Kruger Effect kicks in and they assume that their argument stands because they are the smartest person in the room. I mean, they use words like “science” and “logic,” which means they ipso facto know how to use science and logic, right? (A variant of these people is the Calories In/ Calories Out troll, who justifies their fat bigotry by citing thermodynamics, thereby ignoring the complex interplay of biology and chemistry that governs the human metabolism.)

I am not always, or even often, the smartest person in the room, but I’m usually smarter than these people.

Especially when they’re dudes trying to tell me things about my lived experience as a woman. When they tell me that the things I’ve experienced are incorrect, they’re making two epistemic claims: a) they have superior knowledge to me in this regard and b) I’m reporting my experiences and memories incorrectly, meaning I’m either lying or crazy. The first claim is just stupid. The second is gaslighting, and it’s abuse.

So I get testy.

I take issue to this kind of “debate” for epistemic reasons as well as moral ones. Morally, we don’t need to get into why gaslighting is bad. Or at least, I hope we don’t. Some things we really don’t need to drag in ethical philosophers to explain.

But epistemically — that is, when our goal is to seek truth — it just makes sense to defer to the expert in the room. That’s not an appeal to authority. That’s called taking-a-break-from-pulling-things-out-of-your-ass.

If a man is talking about a woman’s lived experiences, and then a woman talks about her own lived experiences, the woman is the expert.

If a cisgendered man with no scientific, medical, or personal background in endocrinology is talking about estrogen, and a woman who has been the recipient of hormonal therapy talks about estrogen, the woman is the expert.

We don’t even need to talk about feminism or womanism here, though the sickness of misogyny does amplify the bad epistemology by virtue of automatically assuming the woman has inferior knowledge (due, perhaps, to a biological difference — we can’t discount those, right? My only regret is that I have but one head to slam into my desk.)

Tom Nichols, professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, recently wrote an article for The Federalist called The Death of Expertise, where he laments the fact that his knowledge holds no more clout than that of a layman or student:

And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.

I’ve seen this in the classroom, as well. In college I took an honors seminar in, of all things, epistemology. The honors program at my college stuffed its students with elitist garbage, constantly reminding us that we were somehow superior to our peers because we got this-or-that test score and filled out an application. It was exhausting for me, but it also left many of my peers with the confidence that they were the smartest people in the room.

Smarter, even, than the professors.

My epistemology professor, whose undergrad degree was in Physics, was making an example of non-Euclidean geometry to explain a point. Something-something-straight-lines-are-actually-circles or something. I won’t pretend to be an expert in non-Euclidean geometry, and I was probably hungover.

I do remember, however, my classmates straight up telling him he was wrong. Loudly and petulantly.

Here’s the thing: it is important to challenge authority. That’s the upshot to all this complaining about gaslighting from ignorant, opinionated people — the other side of the coin is healthy, researched, reasonable debate. Authority fucks up. Andrew Wakefield published a scholarly, fraudulent article claiming that vaccines cause autism. “Science” used to assert that women were crazy because our uteri were floating all over our bodies.

But simply throwing stones because something chafes against your intuition or worldview, without challenging your own assumptions first? That’s just ignorance.

And so the ignorant, unwilling to give up their Smartest Person in the Room trophies, begin to flail. Their arguments get even sloppier. They backtrack. They project. If you call someone out on racism, they’ll claim you’re a reverse racist. If you call somebody out on their blatant misogyny, they turn around and call you a misandrist.

Because you didn’t just find fault with their argument, you took away their trophy. Their superiority. I don’t have patience for these people; I didn’t get my BA in Philosophy just to entertain the death throes of their pathetic excuses for “arguments” (I got the degree for the instant fortune it promised, obviously).

So I troll them. I’ll call myself a Great Castrator or whatever, because I’m not going to get through to them. Is it the high road? Maybe not, but I never promised them a saint. I’m more Old Testament-style, plagues-of-locusts justice than I am Robert Rules-style decorum. I’m pretty open about that, though. People should know what they’re getting into with me.

I did get an A in Ethics, though.


“It only matters if we say it matters.”

I’m not saying go out and bash people over the heads with a baseball bat and steal purses. I’m saying that when it comes to our life accomplishments the universe doesn’t give a rat’s ass. We have to have resolve. We have to be resolute because whether we accomplish something “great” or not in life doesn’t matter in the infinite grand scheme of things. It only matters if we say it matters.

So does it matter?
Do heroes matter?
Do exceptional deeds matter?
Does accomplishment and achievement matter?

Only if you say so.
BUT if you DO say so
you better do so.

Lisa Sargese

Man, if you haven’t made your way to Lisa Loves Life Lessons, you really ought to. This woman inspires the crap out of me, and I’m privileged to call her a friend in real life ❤

Weight loss does NOT cure PCOS

Cat with glowing eyes

Weight loss won’t make my cat’s eyes stop glowing, either.

I really believe that if doctors stopped believing that weight loss cured PCOS, we’d have better treatment options.

I was inspired to write this post by a woman in a forum who was frustrated that she wasn’t losing enough weight to alleviate her PCOS symptoms. But even by the bullshit measure that is the BMI, she is not overweight.

Any time you look up “PCOS treatment,” “weight loss” is listed as a primary objective. This is problematic for two reasons: one, PCOS is a metabolic disorder, so weight loss is extremely difficult with PCOS, and two, weight loss does not cure PCOS.

If it did, I wouldn’t be complaining about exploding cysts, or horrible mood swings, or hot flashes. I lost 70 lbs. My weight is considered “normal” now. Where is my cure? Where do I cash in?

I ovulate now and my triglycerides are low. That is not due to weight loss. These things happened mere weeks after I started eating a certain way, while I was still obese. But my hair continues to thin. I still have symptoms. I still whine about my symptoms on this blog!

I feel like researchers are less concerned with making cysters’ lives better and more concerned with making us look more pleasing to them. Does that sound cynical? I don’t care. There is a lot of fat bigotry out there, and it would be naive to think that that’s not influencing research. Ever since I lost weight, I’ve been met with incredulity when I tell new doctors that I have PCOS. “You don’t look like you have PCOS!” they say, because obviously they can see right through my pelvis and into my ovaries.

No, I don’t “look” like I have PCOS. I’m thin. My hair is only in the beginning stages of thinning. I groom my facial hair. I nuked my acne with Accutane. My shirts cover my stomach hair. A lot of people can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that PCOS is more than an aesthetic condition. As a matter of fact, it’s a leading cause of infertility in women. It’s a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes. And for many women, like me, PCOS is very physically painful.

Doctors, researchers: stop focusing solely on how women with PCOS look, and start caring about how we feel. Weight loss will not and did not cure me. Weight loss will not cure anyone. Give us better options.

If you want my business, don’t call me ugly

cat lying on floor

My cat weighs 15 lbs. Those are 15 very not ugly lbs.

So recently I started working out, and I’ve actually been enjoying it! I’ve started to incorporate cardio into my routine, and I find pleasure in the feeling of elevating my heart rate and moving my body. I thought I’d look around at local kickboxing classes, because I used to practice martial arts and really enjoyed it, but actual sparring and grappling are a bad idea because I only have one kidney.

So I found a kickboxing class that was close, reasonably priced, and compatible with my schedule, but the following advertising copy stopped me dead in my tracks:

Make All Your Friends Jealous When Our Amazing Kickboxing Program Helps You Lose 15lbs. of Ugly Fat in Just 2 Weeks!

Notwithstanding the questionable use of title case here, are they really trying to invite me to hang out with them by calling me ugly?

And why would I want to make my friends jealous? They’re my friends; I want them to feel happy feelings. And you clearly don’t know my friends, because if I lost 15 lbs, most of them wouldn’t be jealous. For one, I’m way more than 15 lbs heavier than a lot of my friends; I’m a stocky lady. Secondly, my friends all have very nice bodies (of many different sizes!) and many of them don’t want those bodies to change, even if they have — gasp! — fat on them.

First of all, ugly fat? I mean, props for your honesty. Companies like Dove keep trying to tell me I’m beautiful just the way I am while selling me products aimed to change the way I look — you’re straightforward here. I’m not fine the way I am; I’m at least fifteen pounds too heavy. Never mind you don’t know what I look like. Apparently skinny chicks never do kickboxing. Who knew?

But seriously, fifteen pounds in only two weeks! That’s incredible! That’s the kind of weight loss you only see in people who get, like, mono! But guess what? I’ve already gotten mono, so no use trying to kiss me (plus, that privilege is reserved only for my fiance, thanks!).

I feel like companies are starting to get hip to the fact that it’s just not proper to blatantly fat-shame your potential clientele. Even Special K is telling women not to focus on the number on the scale (but to totally eat their weird cereal products to get skinny anyway, except they’re not actually telling you you need to get skinny, but you should probably eat their cereal… just in case…). Most of the ads I’ve seen for fitness classes have focused on health or fitness goals, not weight. “Get in shape!” “Feel great!” “Bench press a rhinoceros!”

But at least one company thinks it will get my money by calling me ugly.

I’ll stick to my yoga, thanks.

A love letter to this cup of coffee

The coffee I am drinking at this moment is so, so good.

It is so good.

Every sip is like a kiss. One of those long, gentle kisses that fill your head with helium.

The flavor evolves on my tongue. It starts off as just a sensation of heat, then a complex interplay of bitter and sweet that mellows and soothes as my mouth fills with saliva.

Every sip makes me happy to be alive. I feel at peace, and simultaneously able to do anything. I could climb the Empire State Building barehanded and then hang glide down to the sidewalk.

I could curl into a ball and close my eyes and just be another nameless part of the Universe — no — just be the Universe.

That’s what this coffee does to me. Sweet Jesus, do I ever love coffee.

There’s a troll living under the bikini bridge; we can all go home now

Oh boy, do I feel sheepish. Well, more billy-goat-like, I suppose, as I have been had! I HAVE BEEN HAD! by trolls.

Remember that whole bikini bridge thing? Apparently it was cooked up by 4chan. Admittedly, had I looked into it further, I probably could have pulled that apart within five minutes of deploying my Internet smarts. That said, I have, like, a job and stuff, and a cat to feed and friends to talk to, so I didn’t really take that time.

That said: all that good shit I said still stands.

But this tendency cuts both ways. We mock “cankles” but we revere “thigh gaps” and “bikini bridges.” It’s six in one hand, half dozen in the other, really — we’re objectifying women’s bodies. We’re not seeing them as a whole. We’re not appreciating all the wonderful things they do, but focusing in on a minor, tiny little visual detail. What’s next? Will we develop macro lenses so powerful, and small enough to fit on our iPhones, that we’ll start lusting after certain types or quantities of microorganisms feeding on the bacteria on our skin?

Look, all I’m saying — trolls or no — is man, I write some good shit.

And my prediction? Despite the trolly origins of this whole bikini bridge scandal, it will nonetheless be absorbed into the consciousness of young women as something to aspire to. The desire to have poky hipbones is not new. In fact, it is the source of the humor in this image (warning: joke is based on “thinspo” and could be triggering).

There is a bikini bridge in the upper left hand of this picture, which one of my friends shared on Facebook well over a year ago, meaning it predates the 4chan scheme.

But none of this actually matters. What does matter is this:

Hipbones are good. Fleshy hips are good, too. You are good. I am good.

First lady of goodness, Martha Stewart

We’re all one of these.

And as for 4chan’s supposed “War on Feminism” — I’m not convinced that they’re actually trying to cause a real “fourth wave” so much as parody all of the “waves.” I don’t pretend to understand people who frequent 4chan, but there already are plenty of divides within feminism, mostly due to people not acknowledging intersectionality. Feminism does have a problem with acknowledging the complexities that lie in the intersections of marginality — size is one of them, and so are race, sexuality, gender identity, class, and so on. Anyone who pays attention knows that.

Patching up my relationship with fitness

My muscles and I need to see a couple’s counselor.

Exercise and I have never had the healthiest relationship. It began when I was a preteen, ebbing with all sorts of hormones and strange ideas, and it was the obsessive kind of relationship you expect from a young, hormonal person. I didn’t want to take it slow; I got down on one knee on the first date.

I felt similarly toward food — I was a binger. Excess was my game, so I took the same approach to working out.

I talk about being lazy a lot, but the fact is, I’ve been detoxing from exercise. Because for years, I exercised to the point of injury. Hours a day as a teen. I hurt myself quite a bit — tore my hamstring, sprained my hip, all from overexertion (coupled, likely, with undernourishment). I scoffed at the notion of listening to my body, of doing things the “healthy” way.

I didn’t want to “overcome” my limits; I wanted not to have limits in the first place.

I talk about being lazy and unathletic, when once I ran several miles every day. When I used to be able to do 60 push-ups, or 80 sit-ups (yes, with good form) in a single minute. I could do the splits. I was strong as hell, flexible, and fast.

And hurting myself.

I slowed my frantic pace only when a physical therapist insisted that I rest, that I’d hurt myself to the point that I’d need months to recover. So I slowed down. Eventually, I stopped. Eventually, I realized that just thinking of exercise — the ex I’d obsessed over — was painful.

I stopped working out completely. I flirted with picking it up on a few occasions — ran a few miles here, did some push-ups there. But I always gave up.

The only thing with working out is, it’s good for you. And I’m trying to do this whole being healthy thing, because I want to live a good long time. So I’m giving it another go.

I decided to take up yoga again, because yoga can be gentle.

When I say “gentle,” I certainly don’t mean “easy.” I did about an hour yesterday, and holy hell, are my muscles sore now. Holding even the most basic asanas required strength my body has long forgot; where once I could do splits, I can now barely touch my toes.

I say “gentle” because yoga forces you to slow down and respect your body. It’s not competitive. It’s contemplative. It’s kind. It begins and ends with meditation, with self-compassion. You can’t do corpse pose to fast-paced, violent-sounding music, or with somebody screaming at you to motivate you. You don’t win trophies for yoga.

You just do it, and take your time with it.

Here’s hoping I can stick to this, that the pain in my body won’t remind me too much of  a time when I romanticized pain in my body, when I saw it as a badge of honor. Here’s hoping we can make this relationship work. Here’s to real health, body and soul.