As we are all painfully aware, the comings and goings of celebrities of all skill levels are kindly chronicled for us in various publications both online and in hard copy, and even down the sides of revision websites used by school children, phrased in a hip, groovy way in order to let the kidz know that they’re totally down with them. From this, we learn that the way in which these people are looked at, talked about, and spoken to, is normal.
So it’s no surprise that often we often don’t realize the sexism that is ingrained in our media culture, because it is so normalized. We often think nothing of the “male celebrity cheated on his wife, what did she do wrong?” and “female celebrity has gained minimal amount of weight: has she lost control of her entire life forever?” way of looking at situations. Because of this, it is young female celebrities who bear the brunt of media scrutiny as they are constantly shamed, insulted, and objectified in a way that their male counterparts simply are not.
However, it’s good to see the new trend of female celebrities calling out sexist treatment and refusing to answer inappropriate, frankly insulting questions that undermine their skills as artists and reduce them to simple bodies to be looked at. Anne Hathaway has become very well known for cheerfully mortifying sexist interviewers by sweetly turning their questions back on them. After her role as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, she was asked if there was a certain regime she put herself through in terms of diet or workout, to which she responded by asking the interviewer if he was trying to lose weight. And she didn’t let it go when he tried to retract the question, instead pursuing his motives by saying, ‘Seriously, we have to talk about this … Are you trying to fit into a cat suit?’
While remaining light-hearted, Hathaway tactfully refused to answer the question and highlighted just how inappropriate common interview techniques can be. Before she gave her response, most people wouldn’t have seen anything out of the ordinary about that question, as actresses are interrogated about their physical appearance in almost every interview they give.
When she was asked how she went about losing weight for her role as a woman literally dying of starvation in Les Miserables, she responded, ‘I didn’t do it to get hot; I did it to look like I was dying.’ The fact that her refusal to glamorize her weight loss is still considered shocking and noble only serves to highlight how necessary it is for more and more female artists to start speaking up and calling out inappropriate reporters. And, of course more importantly, how necessary it is for reporters to refrain from creeping and start treating actresses as legitimately talented artists as opposed to just the slightly worse version of actors.
Scarlett Johansson has also evidently had enough of being treated as if she is incapable of answering the intelligent questions put to her male co-stars. The most notable example this intolerance being a press conference for her film The Avengers, in which she stars alongside Robert Downey Jr. In this instance, a reporter is quoted as asking Downey Jr., ‘Throughout Iron Man 1 and 2, Tony Stark started off as a very egotistical character but learns how to fight as a team. And so how did you approach this role, bearing in mind that kind of maturity as a human being when it comes to the Tony Stark character, and did you learn anything throughout the three movies that you made?’
In practically the same breath he goes on to ask Johansson ‘to get into shape for Black Widow did you have anything special to do in terms of the diet, like did you have to eat any specific food, or that sort of thing?’ Johansson immediately called him up on this lack of respect, demanding, ‘How come you get the really interesting, existential question, and I get the like, “rabbit food” question?’
While it is immensely reassuring to see these women speaking out against sexism in Hollywood and the media, it is still endlessly frustrating to see that it is necessary for them to do so; that reporters honestly see them as incapable of comprehending anything unrelated to salad.
Another recent example of the intense sexism that prevails in Hollywood is, of course, the infamous ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ song, with which ‘comedian’ Seth McFarlane serenaded some of the world’s most respected actresses at The Oscars, the year’s classiest event. As well as the fact that several of the actresses listed had revealed their cleavage during rape scenes, the whole thing was just embarrassing for all involved and for women everywhere, as it showed that no matter how well respected you are, no matter how skilled you are, you can still be shamed for your body at the most high profile event of your career. The facial expressions of some of the actresses mentioned in the song said it all. Sickened.
McFarlane went on to talk about nine year old actress Quvenzhane Wallis, saying, ‘To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be 16 years before she’s too young for Clooney.’ Was that meant to be a joke? Was McFarlane’s sexualizing of a nine-year-old who has more talent in her puppy-shaped handbag that he does in his entire being, meant to be funny? Were we honestly meant to laugh? I mean, God forbid he make reference to her age in a complimentary context, as in, ‘Well done for making it to the Oscars before a lot of people have learned to read.’ But no, where’s the fun in that!
Making fun of girls is apparently SO enjoyable that McFarlane decided to do it at literally every chance he could, implying that some women intentionally give themselves the flu to lose weight and that the pretense for the film Zero Dark Thirty was women’s ‘innate ability to never let anything go’ to name but a few. In the manner of a prepubescent schoolboy, he pigtail-pulled his way through what should have been the most elegant event of the year. And STILL, there are people who think feminism is unnecessary. Someone send help.
This issue could be discussed solidly for about seventeen years and there would still be more to say but for now, I’m going to finish with the double standard applied to young celebrities in relation to their personal lives and in particular, their relationships. We all make mistakes, and it is up to the people we hurt to react as they see fit. But when a young female celebrity makes a mistake, it falls upon the world to judge them. For example, when the news broke that Kirsten Stewart cheated on her Twilight co-star and boyfriend Robert Pattison with a married director, people got angry. Like, really angry. As in, selling T-shirts bearing her face and the caption ‘Trampire’ angry.
No one seemed too peeved that the married director had cheated on his wife, and no one seemed remarkably upset that Stewart was allegedly dropped from the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, while the director was to return. Actress Sophia Bush tweeted at the time ‘When men cheat they don’t lose their jobs #FuckedUp.’ The entire media world dropped everything to slut shame and humiliate Stewart, to brand her a bad person and to make sure that everyone knew what a vile, dishonest creature she truly was.
Naturally, it is not nice to cheat on one’s partner. But the action and its repercussions are the business of the people involved, and if those people are in the public eye, the public’s reactions shouldn’t depend on the gender of the cheater. If roles had been reversed, I guarantee there would have been a plethora of fans claiming it was Kirsten’s fault for driving Robert to it and that they wish they were the one he had cheated with. No way would he have been the Trampire. Meanwhile, male celebrity Ashton Kutcher, star of sitcom Two and a Half Men, retained that title and suffered very little media backlash when he cheated on his wife of seven years.
Comparisons like this one are innumerable and I could go on, and on, and on, but I’ll leave it at this. Female celebrities face judgement, humiliation, objectification and shame at every turn. Every little thing they do, say and wear is dissected. If Krsten Stewart is a Trampire, why isn’t Ashton Kutcher a Marriage Butcher? But that said, the question is not why are men not being treated in the same way as women, but why are women not respected in the same way as men? Why isn’t Scarlett Johansson being asked interesting, existential questions? Why isn’t Anne Hathaway being asked about how she mentally prepared for her heart wrenching performance in Les Miserables instead of her chosen method of starvation? (I just really like Anne Hathaway, okay?)
Until actresses are not being tormented with boob jokes and children are not being pre-emptively sacrificed to George Clooney, until actresses don’t have to defend themselves against offensive questions, the media will continue to perpetuate the idea that women are frivolous, image obsessed creatures whose worth lies in who they’ve slept with and how good they look in a cat suit.
So next time some charming publication prints in garish red lettering, a story about a female celebrity’s indiscretion, think about how you’d react if it was your best friend. If your best friend made a mistake, would you get Trampire T-shirts printed with her face on them? (That is a rhetorical question, please do not answer “yes.”) Try and think of these women as people, and not objects. Now I’m not saying ‘think of these women as your friends’ because they can’t hear you and you should you find a person in real life to talk to because that’s healthy, but what I am saying is that it’s important to observe the way in which we treat female celebrities and how that compares to their male counterparts. We don’t need a Marriage Butcher crack-down, we need an end to rabbit food questions.
Written by Laura-Blaise McDowell