In Defense of TaySwift, KStew, and Young Women

| Monday, March 11, 2013

Photo from Just Jared Jr.
So, this post isn't really going to be new or revolutionary. It's something that a lot of people have already discussed at length, especially since the Academy Awards aired this year. Really, the thing that spurred me to write this post was that someone sent me an ask on my Tumblr regarding my opinion about Tina Fey/Amy Poehler saying a thing about Taylor Swift and then Taylor Swift alluding that they should go to hell. I had to Google the thing to know what they were referring to, but once I found the articles, I was sadly unsurprised.

This is something that I feel like I see a lot of when it comes to not only young starlets, but young women in general. Whether people are ragging on Kristen Stewart for being boring/ungrateful/awkward, or snarking about Taylor Swift's relationship status, or hating Anne Hathaway for being... a goodie-two shoes or something? It seems like it never ends. And of course, there have been a veritable avalanche of articles responding to the treatment of Quvenzhané Wallis, who is not even ten years old. Many of which I think you should read: here and here are good places to start. This one too.

I asked myself why it was that people are so quick to lavish praise and pump up Jennifer Lawrence while simultaneously shutting down so many of her contemporaries. I think there's a lot of interesting discussion to be had about accessibility and an aura of "one of the people," but I also think it's more than that. I think it has to do with the idea that she portrays this sort of "cool girl" vibe of "I don't really care about makeup or Hollywood vapidity, I just want to have some pizza and beer." Which is an attitude we see a lot. And I'm not hating on JLaw for that! I get the distinct impression that that's her personality, and more power to her. She's also appears to be reasonably friendly/friends with many of her fellow actresses, which helps.

But I do find it interesting that being irreverent and not caring who made her gown and constantly talking about how much she loves food is seen as cooler, more real, or more genuine than other actresses. Other actresses who play the game, pose, answer questions, don't smile on cue, openly take their career seriously, date around, or whatever else. Is it because women are expected to be amicable, friendly, and always fun? Is it that we expect celebrity women to shut up about their career, their beauty regimen, and their diet despite the fact that the public demands they're polished, professional, and slender?

I couldn't help but be on Taylor Swift's side when she commented that Fey and Poehler made a jab at her expense. I don't exactly approve of her making a general statement that women must always lift up other women (women are most certainly allowed to be critical of other women when they're upholding crappy or oppressive behavior), but I feel her on the media's constant need to take pot shots at her dating life; to invent new "boyfriends" for her every time she's photographed in the same vicinity of a guy.

 Here's the thing about comedy and satire: social commentary and satire are entertaining because they uncover injustices and nonsense in established systems. They cleverly point out the way in which an accepted social order is corrupt or just plain ridiculous. They lift the marginalized and mock the powerful. Why? Because the powerful walk away unscathed. They may have a bruised ego, but they are still on top. But when you mock the less powerful or the powerless, you're maintaining the status quo. When you make fun of a young woman for dating freely, you're upholding the idea that young ladies don't get to date around, lest they be viewed as fickle or - gasp - slutty.

And I can't help but feel for Kristen Stewart every time someone chides her for looking "bored," for not smiling, for slouching, for whatever. It stings me, because it speaks to a very real issue I dealt with growing up: having other people dictate how I was allowed to express my emotions, and being called a "bitch" when I didn't conform. I'm not a super smiley person. I'm also rather shy and reserved. I like being around people, but I'm not usually that bubbly person chatting everyone up. Even when I'm happy, I'm not constantly beaming everywhere. All my life, people have DEMANDED that I smile. They have seen me sitting quietly, listening, and assumed I was bored or snobby when really I just like to absorb the world around me.

This is what the public does. It polices young women's behavior every second of every day. It tells people that we're allowed to dictate how other women interact with the world, how they act, how they express their emotions. If we don't like it, we can sneer at them and presume that they're a "bitch." It's not just with reserved ladies. It's with ladies who are "too loud," or "too serious," or "too ditzy," or "too full of themselves." We read these behaviors not only into celebrities, but into every woman around us.

Now, I don't know any of these women. They could be great, they could be horrible. I don't know. But that's the thing: I DON'T KNOW.

None of these ideas are new or groundbreaking, I know. But they are things I think about. I can barely watch awards shows or interviews with actresses anymore without cringing at the inevitable onslaught of people picking at how she sits, how she speaks, how she smiles, who she dates, whether or not she's "annoying."

Anyway. I'm not here to tell anyone they shouldn't participate in celebrity gossip or that they can't dislike certain actresses. I just can't help but feel a certain level of protectiveness when I see a young star criticized not for her actions or her art, but for simply existing as a woman in Hollywood. So yeah.

I HAVE THOUGHTS. Do you have thoughts?


{ Old Kitty } at: March 11, 2013 at 5:53 AM said...

Misogyny is all around, sadly. It's insidious and worms its ugly way in all aspects of society. And people (men and women) still think feminism is a dirty word.

Take care

{ Phire } at: March 11, 2013 at 10:23 AM said...

Idk. I'm totally with you on the general principle of "the media loves to be misogynistic assholes to young female stars", and I happily and frequently defend KStew, Hathaway, Wallis, etc. But I personally have complicated feelings about Taylor Swift. I agree that the "who are you dating" and "your songs are too clingy" criticisms stem from a place of bitterness and disdain towards young women, and I think most of the criticisms against her music is as vapid as some of her music -- worse stuff is put out all the time without drawing ire, and so what if some of them are just cheesy dance pop? They're fun. But at the same time I also find her incredibly irritating, and I'm open to the idea that I'm being irrational.

Part of it is because she purports to be a model to young women, but her earlier music pushed the same kind of intra-girl misogyny and Madonna/Whore dichotomy that we rail against. (I wrote about it before it was cool to dislike TSwift, and before I knew how to write properly.)

Whether it's her or her handlers, her entire image is structured around a sort of subtle slut-shaming - she is different from all other female pop singers because she's pure and sweet. Her public appearances until fairly recently (lots of demure white gowns) certainly reinforced that. And that also means part of her persona involves pretending to hold herself above the fray of celebrity gossip and being better than the whole thing, while also being kind of passive aggressive about it. In the interview, she didn't say Poehler and Fey should go to hell, she sidestepped the question and said that women who don't help other women have a special circle in hell. I would've been A-Okay with the first one, but what she actually said (to me) sounded far too much like a Southern "bless your heart"-ism and the implications were far more toxic than their joke about her (IMO). It just makes her out to be little more than a hypocrite.

(I didn't think Poehler/Fey's jokes about her specifically were all that funny, but I also didn't think they came from a place of misogyny. Although I could see an argument made that they were feeding into a misogynst culture, certainly.)

So all of that kind of falls into a rather insidious trap, where you have misogynist criticisms of a female public figure, but there are also (IMO) legitimate reasons to dislike that person. And often the legitimate criticisms are drowned out by the misogyny, so that if you say anything negative at all, by default you're swept into the media storm of misogyny. Which sucks, and which is a fair reason to err on the side of not being negative about her. But I do think the criticisms leveled against Swift are different from the criticisms against Hathaway et al.

{ Kristan Hoffman } at: March 11, 2013 at 11:05 AM said...

I DO have thoughts! They're fairly aligned with yours, though, so I can keep my comment short. ;) Thanks for being so eloquent.

{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: March 11, 2013 at 12:46 PM said...

Great points, Steph, and they're fostering a great discussion in the comments too.

{ Krispy } at: March 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM said...

Thoughtful post, as usual, and really nothing I can add because I agree with most of your points. I also agree with Phire's comment about TSwift though re: complicated feelings about her and the whole valid criticism of her vs. misogyny. It's the whole hypocritical aspect of her image/attitude that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to her. :P Phire already put into words better than I could how I feel about her.

But yes, it is interesting the way all these young women are treated by media and society as a whole and how frustratingly fickle the standards are.

{ Mrs. Silverstein } at: March 12, 2013 at 7:44 PM said...

Ack, this whole thing has been bumming me out. I totally love my girl Tay, and Amy Poehler is absolutely my hero (have you seen her internet video stuff? She is amazing.). So I've been following this from the beginning. I think the joke at the Golden Globes was intended as like, "Honey, we're older and wiser, we've been there: you need to get to know yourself." They were riffing on Taylor's perceived public/lyrical persona of "girl whose relationships end badly" or "girl who dates guys who don't treat her well." I don't think the joke landed like they wanted, and as someone who watches T-Swift do a lot of meda, I probably wouldn't have chosen to make a joke about her, as she has pretty clearly been uncomfortable every single time anyone has joked about her. That said, if Taylor was, in fact, referring to Tina and Amy with that comment, I don't think that landed either; those two women have pretty well established credentials for supporting other women. I think Amy Poehler responded gracefully, complimenting Taylor and making a joke at her own expense.

That all said: I am working on the skill of separating my feelings toward a person from my feelings about her work--just because I didn't like Season 1 of Girls, it doesn't mean I necessarily "hate" Lena Dunham--that's harmful, reductive thinking, but it's *just so easy* to fall into. And it happens most often (by me and by The Internet) to young creative women. I think that's the real issue--rather than saying, "Hey, isn't it great that Taylor and Jennifer and Lena and Kristen are all successful? You go, ladies," a lot of us seem to feel like, ok, she is a young creative lady, and I am a (maybe young) (maybe creative) lady, so if she doesn't accurately represent me and my interests, She Is Wrong and I Personally Dislike Her. And the internet hive mind validates that, so we keep thinking that way. So my 1/4-of-the-way-through-the-year resolution is to try to stop thinking and speaking like that. "I don't like that song," or "I didn't care for her work in that movie," are ok things to say about an artist; "Ugh, I HATE her," probably is not.

{ Mrs. Silverstein } at: March 12, 2013 at 7:45 PM said...

Oh, and P.S. : I'm really into Girls Season Two--so I'm glad I didn't write off L.D., because I'd have missed this thing she's making that really works for me.

{ Kristan Hoffman } at: March 16, 2013 at 10:15 PM said...

Re: Mrs. Silverstein's comment-

{ Sarah Hipple } at: March 18, 2013 at 2:32 PM said...

It is sad that both men and women are so very, very critical of women. I liked your article, but I also liked seeing some of the responses regarding Taylor Swift & her music. One of her lyrics comes immediately to mind:"She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts." A fun, sort of dumb, pop song. It's like Taylor wants to be perceived the same positive way Jennifer Lawrence is perceived. And I do think that its worth noting the song has a very negative take on "high maintenance" type girls, especially high maintenance girls who have the boy you want. So . . . yeah. TaySwift isn't exactly a great role model either, so I'm glad some of the responses point that out. But that, of course, doesn't make it alright for the media to get so down on her having dates.

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