As this NYT article, “A One-Way Ticket To Disaster,” aptly demonstrates, one of the only areas of the entertainment industry where women are proportionately represented (at a minimum) is in “scandal coverage.” The story is even accompanied by a “timeline of disasters” framed by these words:
“So many careers ran off the rails in 2007. And didn’t we enjoy the view?”
No, some of us don’t find “displays of personal collapse” all that edifying. And we can’t help noticing the messages that are being communicated: If you get fat, grow older, or simply wear the wrong clothes, your career and maybe even your life is over. Remember actor Tara Reid? Want to read about her “bloat,” her substance abuse challenges, her difficulties finding work now that she is over 30, or her “botched plastic surgery”? Go Fug Yourself has an entire blogroll category dedicated to tearing her apart. Here’s the text of one of the nicer posts:
Not too bloated, nothing popping out, hanging out, or trying to escape, no mascara dribbling down her face like strained carrots from the mouth of a baby… Yes, okay, I still think she’s lying about not getting a facial tweak or three when she went in to drain those godawful sandbags, but on the whole, it looks like her resolution to be less terrifying has indeed taken hold.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s start a slow clap for Ms. Tara Reid, potentially (please forgive my reluctance to go full-bore on the optimism) a guttersnipe no more.
That’s the kind of thing women in the entertainment industry can look forward to if they become successful enough to be noticed by the media. While there probably isn’t any way to quantify the phenomena, it’s certainly my impression that women get hit a lot harder than men by “journalists,” and I’m not the only one. And while they are at the extreme end of a very nasty and superficial continuum, entertainers are not the only women who are made to suffer to avoid nonconformity.
I recently had a startling conversation with a group of college aged women about feminism, and their impression that feminism had accomplished little in terms of deemphasizing the importance of convention feminine female attractiveness. They felt that investing a substantial amount of time, money and effort into looking stereotypically “pretty” is a requirement for both social and career success, and that this message is almost universal. Where, they wondered, is the mainstream feminist response to Go Fug Yourself values? (Go Fug Yourself is far from the only misogynistic celebrity site but it is notable, regrettably in my view, for having a following among some women who define themselves as feminists, see e.g. links in this post). As this case demonstrated, employers have a legal right to require female employees to submit to the trappings of femininity, which are if not defined, at least communicated and legitimized by the “celebrity journalism,” that dominates tabloids, the Internet, and also the self proclaimed Paper of Record.
Feminism is risky to generalize about, but I feel very confident asserting that it does not require make-up, thinness, buffness, well coiffed hair, high heels, expensive clothes, hairlessness or youth, and it does not support anyone or anything that mocks or derogates women based on their appearances. Yet somehow this message is not being delivered to women who are very anxious to hear it.