Accidental Feminism and the 2013 Oscars

MacFarlane 2013 OscarsDid this year’s Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, go too far with the jokes? BuzzFeed ran an article called the “9 Sexist Things That Happened At The Oscars.”

Meanwhile, Maureen O’Connor writing for New York’s fashion blog The Cut, listed the most egregiously sexist moments of the night.

It seems that for the most part, the critics were right to feel outrage. Many of jokes he made that night gave off a strong sexist vibe. His joke about the Kardashians, for example, managed to be both sexist and racist. Here’s the joke if you missed it:

This man has gone from starring in “Gigli” to becoming one of the most respected filmmakers of this generation. I feel like we’re six months away from having to call him le Benjamin Affleck.  I thought we’d cut this joke but really, want to do it? First time I saw him with all that dark facial hair I thought, my god, the Kardashians have finally made the jump to film.”

Other jokes MacFarlane told weren’t so much sexist as they were awkward. One example of this was the “We Saw Your Boobs” number, which gave a shout-out to actresses who’ve appeared topless in movies. The bit could have worked if it had served to humorously point out the fact that in film, a woman’s body is much more likely to be treated as ornamental than a man’s body. Instead the number fell flat because the humor seemed cruel. The mockery was directed at the women and not the men who call the shots.

Amy Davidson, writing for The New Yorker, had a particularly scathing assessment. She wrote:

You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the ‘we’ was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.”

However, one joke MacFarlane that night is being unfairly derided as sexist. It’s this one:

So let me just address those of you up for an award, so you got nominated for an Oscar, something a 9-year-old could do! She’s adorable, Quvenzhane. She said to me backstage. “I really hope I don’t lose to that old lady, Jennifer Lawrence.” To give you an idea how young she is, it’ll be 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.”

This joke succeed in doing something the “We Saw Your Boobs” number failed to do. On the surface it was a not-so-subtle dig at Hollywood’s youth obsession. Ultimately however, the joke put a spotlight on the sexist, age gap double standard when it comes to dating.

When a  man dates a younger woman, it’s considered the norm, when a woman does it, it’s considered an abnormality. How is it treated as an abnormality, you might ask? It’s done using terms that can range from being patronizing  (cougar and puma) to outright hostile (like grandma or granny).

If 51-year-old George Clooney were a woman, you can be sure he’d be called things like desperate and pathetic for not being married and for dating women who are (a) much less famous and (b) much younger.

To give you an idea of this double standard, consider this; Clooney is 18 years older than his current girlfriend, Stacy Keibler. Biologically, he could easily be her father, yet no fuss is made over their age difference. We never hear concern tolling stories about whether or not the aging star can hold on to someone so much younger.

At 50, Demi Moore, who was once hailed as the cougar poster child, was only 15 years older than her 35-year-old ex-husband, Ashton Kutcher. Yet as we all know, so much was made over that age gap.

A recent development that’s particularly appalling is that the age gap double standard is also being used against women in their early 20s. Back in December, Gawker ran an item titled “Cool Mom Taylor Swift Took Her 18-Year-Old Boyfriend to Get a Giant Tattoo Yesterday.”At the time she had only recently turned 23.

It seems like the only time a man receives this kind of teasing or ridicule is when the age gap is so extreme.  Stories about the  60 year age difference between Hugh Hefner and his wife, Crystal Harris, portray their age gap as being repugnant.

So why does this age gap double standard in dating even matter? It matters because it boxes women in sexually; it puts them in their place, so to speak. As a woman ages she’ll find that her pool of “acceptable” men to date has gotten smaller, while for men the opposite is true.

Seth MacFarlane made a lot of lot of sexist remarks on Oscar night, but his joke about the fact that the women Clooney dates keep getting younger and younger wasn’t one of them. Feminist sentiment was almost certainly not MacFarlane’s intention when he made the crack, but in the end he used humor to focus attention on a double standard that’s so often overlooked. It’s just too bad that it got lost in all the tasteless remarks he made that night.

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