Member since: 1982, Fellow since 1992
Occupation: Professor of women’s studies, San Diego State University
Scholar of a burgeoning discipline: Rothblum has made news of late — most notably in The New Yorker — as co-author of “The Fat Studies Reader” (NYU Press, 2009). As she and others in the fat studies field see it, weight, like height, race and gender, is a predetermined and inflexible biological trait.
She’s particularly interested in the discrimination overweight people face. “People won’t tell you if they are sexist or racist, but they are willing to say if they don’t like fat people,” Rothblum says. “In fact, with very few exceptions, it’s perfectly legal to fire someone, not hire someone or reject them from college because of their weight.”
Her research in this field has focused on determining who is most likely to oppress fat people and who gains from their subjugation. One clear beneficiary is America’s massive diet industry, “offering a wealth of weight-loss books, programs and surgeries, all reinforcing that idea that it’s not OK to be fat,” she says.
Surprising findings: Rothblum is also editor of the Journal of Lesbian Studies and widely known for her work in the field of lesbian and gay psychology. In a recent study, she compared lesbians’ and straight women’s help-seeking behaviors. When she asked the women what they do when they need help, she identified an interesting phenomenon: The lesbians had more resources. “They have a broader community,” she says. The heterosexual women, she found, tended to stay close to home and rely on just a few family members and friends for support, while lesbian women were more likely to have moved away from home and become part of a wider gay community for social support.
Rothblum was also surprised by her findings in a study on the siblings of lesbians, gays and bisexuals. She thought these heterosexual siblings would be equally nontraditional, possibly as the result of liberal parents. “I was absolutely wrong,” she says. Instead the heterosexual siblings were more likely to be conservative, married and religious than their lesbian, gay or bisexual siblings.
Silver medalist: Top on her list of hobbies is racquetball, a passion she’s enjoyed for 30 years. And she’s good: Rothblum won a silver medal in the age-45-and-over category in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. She’ll compete again when the games return to the United States in 2014.
Getting more respect: Rothblum says she’s been around long enough to witness a tremendous change in the field of psychology. “When I was a graduate student, my mentor told us, ‘Don’t study women. It’s too narrow.’ And now, every colleague routinely looks at gender issues as part of their studies.”
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