The Lessons and Wrath of Dani Mathers

17 Jul

Dani Mathers.

Just 24 hours ago, I was blissfully unaware of that name, as I imagine most of us were.  We had never heard of the 29-year old 2015 Playmate of the Year, because unless you’re a 15-year old boy or Hugh Heffner or live in your parents’ wood paneled basement surrounded by role-playing games and your VHS porn collection, why would you?

But yesterday I was slapped in the face with the hot mess that is Dani Mathers when she did one of the most despicable and vicious things I’ve ever heard of:  she took a photo of a naked, elderly woman showering in the locker room of an LA Fitness without that women’s permission; posted it on Snapchat; and captioned it, “if I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”  Mathers is seen with her hand over her mouth, wide-eyed and in faux shock over the horror of the nude and unsuspecting body behind her.

Dani Mathers

I had a whole bevy of immediate reactions to this absolutely horrific situation.  I was shocked at the cruelty that motivated it, heartbroken for the woman whose privacy and dignity was so brutally violated, furious at the hatred women can show toward one another, and hopeful that the immediate backlash would provoke some sort of tangible result.  (As of this writing, Mathers is being publically shamed and has been banned from all LA Fitness locations, and there is a change.org petition encouraging the LAPD to take legal action.)  I’m livid, and I’m writing from a place of anger and humiliation and supreme disgust.  So bear with me.

The thing is, I have spent my adult life working in the defense of women.  I work for  women who are like me (fat, lesbo, former bulimic, cancer survivor, high femme, gym addict, etc), and for women who are nothing like me at all.  I consider myself a feminist before anything else, and I work hard to assume the best about other women, even when their actions are extremely suspect.  So while my immediate, gut instinct was to throat kick Dani Mathers, what I want to be able to do right now is think about how this happened to her, how she went from an ignorant young woman whose #1 goal in life was to spread her legs for Hugh Hefner to a full-on sexual predator, creating victims of other unsuspecting women.

But I can’t.

Look.  In some ways, I realize that Dani Mathers is a victim of a misogynist culture – we all are.  I realize that she didn’t decide to be a Playboy model because she got tons of positive reinforcement about her talent and intellect and potential.  I get it.  She probably turned to taking her clothes off for the same reason so many women do: we can make far more money naked than clothed, provided we fit a terribly uncompromising image of what women are supposed to look like, the very image Mathers herself is acting to reinforce.  “Empowerment” often comes at the expense of actual power, and there’s no better example of that than the sex industry. I get all of that, and so I want to be able to muster up some sympathy for a woman who could be so utterly cruel to another woman, an elder no less, and then laugh about it publicly, assuming she would get some sort of kudos from other people for being “daring” enough to assault a woman in a public locker room.  Something is definitely wrong, that a person like Dani Mathers came to be.

Mathers

But I really don’t care about Dani Mathers right now.  What I care about is the anonymous woman who was photographed, against her will, without her consent, without agreeing to be a punch line for a young, privileged, white woman whose subsequent “apology” is nothing more a self-serving series of excuses:  she thought she was having a private conversation, not a public one [so she only intended to humiliate this woman in front of her closest friends, not the whole world], she doesn’t really know how to use Snapchat [except she managed to use it perfectly to post both the photo and the apolog], and she really loves women’s bodies [as long, apparently, as they look just exactly like hers].  Yeah, Dani.  We get it.  #sorrynotsorry.

With all due and honest respect to the amazing men out there who actually own their privilege and treat women like fully-realized and fully-capable members of society, this is the type of bullshit I expect from some douche-bag guy performing a fraternity hazing ritual, the same kind of frat that hangs banners reading “No means yes, yes means anal.”  I expect this from one of the dudes in a Hangover movie, or on Howard Stern’s show, or at a Trump rally.  Misogyny is less startling when you’ve been trained to expect it.  But when it comes from another woman, another person who has grown up in a culture that is designed to be demeaning to women, to strip us of all sense of actual personhood, to convince us that our worth is in our T & A, not in our minds and hearts… it’s shattering.  It devastates that part of me that wants to continue to believe in the best of people, that given the opportunity to do what’s right and just, most of us would.

But not Dani Mathers.

What she did to another woman, a woman who entered that gym to be the strongest and healthiest version of herself, is, dare I say it, unforgivable.  And it’s unforgivable because she didn’t just violate that one woman who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.  It’s unforgivable because she violated the trust of every single woman who has ever hesitated to walk in to a gym for fear of being judged.  She validated the fears of capable-but-hesitant women everywhere.  She has told hundreds of millions of women that because they don’t look like Playboy “playmates,” there is yet one more space that is unsafe for them, that prying and judging eyes are never, ever closed.  It’s not enough that LA Fitness has rightfully banned her from their premises.  It’s not enough that she has been suspended (but not fired) from her regular radio job.  She needs to be treated like the criminal she is and arrested for not just violation of privacy, but for sexual assault.  And if I had my way, she would be investigated for a hate crime.

This all hits me so personally not just because I am a woman, not just because I am a woman who will never fit the ideals of conventional beauty, not even just because I’m a personal trainer and therefore spend a lot of time in gyms.  It hits me right in the gut because I have been working my ass off to open a truly safe and body-positive gym, in the hopes of creating the exact space where things like what Mathers did wouldn’t happen.  I have invested all of my savings and thousands of hours trying to brainstorm and plan and prepare a space that would create community between people of all sizes and ages, for sis and trans people, for people of color, for people with abilities all along the spectrum of possibility.  I have worked harder on this project than I have on anything in my life…and now Dani Mathers happens.  And I’m so afraid that people who might have supported this project will turn away in disgust, assuming that gyms cannot, by definition, be safe.

women should empower eachother

But look, no place can ever be fully safe.  But there is still the potential to create a safer space, a place where no one is expected to look like the cover of a magazine, where we don’t have to be alike in order to support one another, and where the kind of malicious treatment of other people modeled so conspicuously by Dani Mathers just doesn’t happen.  I guess what I want to create is a place where people are simply nicer to one another, a bit of a reprieve from the world of spiteful Playboy models and their adoring audiences.  And I refuse to let a misguided, foolish, and mean-spirited woman like Mathers take that from me, or from us.

If you want to support the creation of this truly body-positive gym, to resist the body tyranny displayed by Dani Mathers and so many like her, please contribute here:  https://www.gofundme.com/29wvjxkc.  And in the meantime, please don’t let this petty little snot tell you that you aren’t beautiful.  Because underneath it all, she’s the ugly one.  #nomorevictims.

rosie

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