Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Fat Hate Experiment

What would you do?

ABC News put together a social experiment with telling results. A fat actress sat on a boardwalk bench while two thin actresses in bikinis verbally harassed her. The experiment was intended to see how many people stopped to help.

According to the article, only 5 out of the 60 people they determined had noticed the altercation were willing to stop and speak up. One passerby missed a great opportunity to set a good example for her kids when she just hurried them past the scene without a word.

They mixed up the experiment by making the aggressive abusers male instead of female to see if that would increase the number of people willing to stop and help. The article doesn't give a number, but did mention a few cases where people (mostly women) ignored the perceived threat to themselves to step in. Two even stepped between the victim and her attackers and called the police.

So there are several questions that come up for me in trying to analyze this experiment. Is it a fat issue, or an issue of no one ever wanting to get involved in someone else's trouble? Would the results change if the victim were a man? a teenager? What if the aggressor and victim appeared to be a married couple or a parent/child? Why were women so much more likely to step in, even if they felt physically threatened? Also, what would I do?

I would LOVE to organize a continuation where different factors are changed up to see if the results change depending on the gender, weight, age, and race of the victim and aggressors; the nature of the taunts (i.e. sexual harassment or racism) to see if the experiment reflects sizism or a simple reluctance to get involved regardless of the nature of the altercation; the geographical location (i.e. if people react differently in San Francisco than they would in Chicago), etc. Oh, for a PhD in sociology to give me research funding....

The day must have been a special kind of hell for the fat actress playing the victim. I hope ABC springs for a weekend at the spa or something to make up for it! Kudos to ABC, by the way, for tackling this rarely mentioned issue head on!

They're broadcasting the story on "Primetime" at 10 p.m. ET


Anonymous said...

" an issue of no one ever wanting to get involved in someone else's trouble". I think it is the reason why there are only 5 people get out to stop the speaking. I have recently saw a similar experiment at largeplace.com. People are not as helpful as what they were.

vivelafat said...

At what point did it become more important for us to care about ourselves then our fellow man? Only 5 out of 60 people stood up for someone weaker then them? What happened to protecting those who can not protect themselves? I actually have tears in my eyes. This might be one of the most disheartening things I have read in a long time.

Rachel said...

Part of the reason more people didn't stand up when the aggressors were women is that being harangued for being fat isn't seen as a problem. Insert male aggressors and it's immediately seen as intimidating - the fact that the woman was fat or not here was irrelevant in most people's eyes. Those who did step in would probably have done so regardless if the woman was being harassed for her weight or her handbag.

Lindsay said...

Honestly, i think this has less to do with fat and more to do with the fact that people don't want to get involved. Two words: Kitty Genovese.