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.

When celebrity image-crafting backfires

Mean Girls list In the movie “Mean Girls” (one of the best teen flicks of the 2000s, in my opinion) Lindsay Lohan and her cohorts set out to sabotage reigning queen bee Regina George. They list of all of her assets, which include things like “’hot’ body” and “army of skanks,” and after painstaking sabotaging efforts, they cross out the assets as she loses them. So far this year, it seems like some ominous “mean girl” force is doing the same thing to Beyoncé. Don’t believe me? Here’s a Regina George-style list detailing the now infamous incidents that have dinged her carefully crafted public image. In the spirit of the movie, I’ve crossed out the assets (yes, I’m fully aware that this is dorky.) Grab some popcorn.

Beyoncé the “Independent Women” pop star feminist

First she graced the cover of the February issue of GQ Magazine, which declared her the sexiest woman of the millennium. The provocative cover revealed panties and underboob, and with that she was slammed for promoting the type of cheesy, hypersexual representation women one has come to expect from a men’s magazine. Despite some feminist statements Beyoncé made in the interview, Hadley Freeman at the Guardian claimed the photographs promoted the tiresome idea that despite power and success, (two things Beyoncé has in spades) what’s valued most in a woman is her ability to look “sexually available.” The criticism didn’t end with the photos. Beyoncé was also criticized for being narcisitic. Unlike Mariah Carey, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé has always had the ability to present a public image that’s “Sasha Fierce” diva yet still down to earth. An A-lister who’s still humble and grateful. That illusion took a beating in the GQ interview when it was revealed that she has a temperature-controlled “Beyoncé archive” of almost every image of her. The criticism over that had just begun to die down when….

Beyoncé the ‘I’m above all those other pop stars who sometimes have to lip-sync’

In addition to humility, another core element of Beyoncé’s image has always been authenticity.  That was questioned when it was revealed that (gasp!) she didn’t sing live during President Obama’s inauguration. Some of the criticism reached such hysteric proportions, that I had to reread to make sure it was lip syncing she was being accused of and not treason. A Washingtonian article went so far as to call the incident “a violation of the spirit of the presidential inauguration.” Just when the buzz about lip-sync-gate reached a frenzy, Beyoncé shut the haters up with a Super Bowl press conference, in which she sang an a cappella rendition of the national anthem. When she was done she cheekily asked “any questions?” After this well played damage controlling move, she gave a Super Bowl performance that wowed. Once again Beyoncé was riding high in the press, and all those earlier missteps seemed to be solidly behind her, but then ….

Beyoncé the ridiculously photogenic superhuman

BuzzFeed ran a “tribute” to her performance with “The 33 Fiercest Moments From Beyoncé’s Halftime Show.” I put “tribute” in quotes because much like that lame “friend” on Facebook who tags you in a picture, you just know they knew looked fugly, BuzzFeed was fully aware that in some of the photos, Beyoncé looked not so much “fierce!” and more like an unhinged goth gladiator who somehow wound up on stage. Beyoncé’s publicist then asked that the pictures be removed and changed out with more flattering images. I guess the publicist never heard of the Streisand effect (I learn so much from Wikipedia) because instead of quietly fading away, (like when you untag yourself in those gnarly pics your friend put up!) these unflattering images garnered even more attention after the removal request. A lot more attention. Like viral. And the ‘Unflattering Beyoncé’ meme was born. But thankfully there’s probably thousands of pictures of her floating around on the internet, so a few less than pretty pictures is like a drop in the ocean, right? And just as that controversy was fading, perhaps the most damning criticism (for a celebrity anyway) quietly crept into the conversation.

Beyoncé the interesting person

When the HBO documentary “Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream,” premiered, she was once again accused of being narcissistic and overly manipulative of her image, but this time critics also claimed she had nothing interesting to say. “There’s no question that Beyoncé is a terrible judge of what is interesting about Beyoncé,” Jody Rosen wrote in The New Yorker. What’s more,  the documentary was like catnip for the “Beyoncé birthers” who believe she staged her pregnancy. “If you’re going to present an image of your pregnant self to prove the naysayers wrong, why do it in such an obscure way?” Gawker said of the grainy black and white images of her pregnant belly.

On the surface, these “missteps” peel back the curtain to show someone who (shock!) isn’t always perfect and that’s actually refreshing. Female stars are often saddled with the difficult task of having to juggle the contradictions their public image is suppose to represent: strong but soft, bombshell sexy but girl next door, mysterious but open. For most of her career Beyoncé has mastered this juggling act, but like Regina George’s demise (that’s the last “Mean Girls” reference I’ll make, I swear!) the press Beyoncé’s generated lately shows the revelry people take in seeing the queen bee tumble.

Luckily for Beyoncé though, there’s a limit to how nasty the bad press or backlash will get for now. Unlike female stars who are considered “washed-up” or a “train-wreck,” Beyonce’ is still seen as fresh. As a star who’s deserving of adoration because of her talent, beauty and the fact that she’s untarnished by seamy scandal, like drug abuse or a sex-tape. I could go on about the clean vs. unclean dichotomy and the sexist vitriol it inspires when female stars lose their glossy nice girl sheen, but I’ll save that for another post. Instead I’ll leave you with this clip (OK, I lied, I had to include just one last “Mean Girls” reference):

The Power Of Money And Fame

A new coroner’s report on the death of Natalie Wood suggests that she sustained bruises and scratches shortly before she drowned in 1981. Already those rumors about her husband, actor Robert Wagner, being involved but getting off scot-free have started to creep back into discussions about Wood’s mysterious death.

Is this another instance where the saying: “In Hollywood if you murder your wife, you don’t go to prison, you just pay a fine” rings true?

We may never know, but it’s certainly not the first time a man of wealth and fame walked free despite incriminating evidence. Here’s a list of other notorious cases:

– Robert Blake:  Arrested and charged in connection with the 2001 murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. Two people claimed Blake had tried to hire them to kill Bakley. Their testimony was ripped apart by Blake’s defense team and he was ultimately acquitted in 2005.

– William Kennedy Smith: Tried for a rape in 1991. Testimony from three women who claimed he had sexually assaulted them in the 1980s was excluded from the trial. Smith was eventually acquitted.

– O. J. Simpson: Perhaps the most infamous out of all these type of cases. Simpson was tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Police strongly suspected Simpson based on evidence at the scene of the murder. After a legendary trial Simpson was acquitted.

Pomp and youth don’t mix

First Anne Hathaway did the “gauche” thing during her acceptance speech at the Critics’ Choice Awards by pointing out that her first name was misspelled in the Best Actress montage.

Now it appears Jennifer Lawrence made a similarly tone-deaf remark when she accepted the Best Actress nod at the Golden Globes.

Jennifer Lawrence Golden Globes

What does it say?” she asks looking at the statue, “I beat Meryl.”

There was audible rumbling in the audience. Click here to check it out. But according to Access Hollywood she meant no disrespect. The comment wasn’t a dig at the screen legend, Lawrence was trying to channel her inner funny by quoting Bette Midler in 1996’s “The First Wives Club” (was Jennifer even alive when that came out?)

So let me see if I have this right. A 22-year-old quotes a comedy about middle-aged divorcees being dumped for younger women as she accepts an award in which she not only beat Streep but also Dame  Judi Dench (78) Maggie Smith (also 78). How apt!

Perhaps both Hathaway and Lawrence could use a little reality check courtesy of Bette Davis in the classic “All About Eve.”

For those of you haven’t been lucky enough to see the 1950 movie, here’s the gist: Davis plays an aging Broadway star, who takes Eve, a young fan, under her wing. Eventually Davis discovers that docile Eve is actually scheming to take over her life.

Fasten your seat belts indeed.