Writing about the season two premier of the HBO series Girls, New York Post critic Linda Stasi had this to say about show creator, writer, and star Lena Dunham who plays the character Hannah: “It’s not every day in the TV world of anorexic actresses with fake boobs that a woman with giant thighs, a sloppy backside and small breasts is compelled to show it all. In fact, Adam (Hannah’s onscreen love interest) as well as another man are now obsessed with her and can’t get enough of her blobby body.” Further on in the piece, Stasi notes that the show shortchanges the merits of the typically ideal television female character as embodied by Marnie, played by Allison Williams: “Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be smart, breathtakingly beautiful, nice and kind. Not when there are blobbies who are willing to take their clothes off in public constantly — even when they aren’t in character.” If you’re keeping score, that’s “blobbies” 2, beautiful girls, 1, actual women zip. Blerg as Liz Lemon would say.
The descriptors applied to Dunham’s body are, surprisingly, not the most troubling element of Stasi’s piece. They are cringe worthy for readers and writers alike. “Blobby” is the vocabulary pinnacle of the six year old, not, one presumes of the accomplished journalist. It is the sophomoric, junior high school mean girl tone with which they are delivered, a tone that has become innocuous in our current culture where women judging women has become a weird kind of blood sport.
Whereas at one time, such types of personal slams, untoward remarks, or intimate criticism remained the bread and butter of tabloids, soap operas, and the occasional, shocking tell-all memoir, this trend has evolved into a wide-spread industry. Snark sells. The more mean spirited, the more celebrated. Women engaging in the equivalent of linguistic cat fights. Reality tv shows like The Biggest Loser, American Idol, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and the Bachelor/Bachelorette encourage a brutalizing, bruising approach to discussing its participants (many of whom are women). These shows as well as others enable a kami-kaze style of self-important judgment and righteous criticism leveled at what the media has persuaded us to view as “characters” but who, are in actuality, living, breathing, feeling people just like you. Surprise.
The fact remains that women are notorious judgey mcjudgers. Any woman who has spent more than five minutes being a woman can attest (sheepishly or not) to this truth. Some complex psychological reasons behind this behavior include instances where women feel threatened, self-absorbed, insecure, or find the need to scape-goat another woman by throwing her under the proverbial bus. And for women in the public sphere—politicians, leaders, celebrities, other types of social icons—the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” argument is readily supplied, thus engendering the climate of permissive and increasingly unchecked judgment to persist. This does not make it acceptable and does not excuse women from treating each other like contestants in a Hunger Games-esque competition of insults, slurs, and snark.
It is not realistic or humanly possible to do away with this mentality together. We all (at least those of us who cannot claim Buddhist enlightenment) partake in this behavior from time to time. Nor is it feasible to expect the industries that profit from judgment culture to shift their business focus, to forgo the easy money made by critics such as Stasi willing to offer 800 words that keep people talking about a television show, celebrity figure, or online newspaper. We can, however, hold ourselves accountable for our actions. We can use our consumer power to send a message or start a movement. What we can do is change the conversation to make the real impacts of this toxic practice visible: that it erodes women’s efforts to collaborate with and support one another, it undermines the artistic and creative accomplishments of women, it detracts from the more important, genuine, provocative dialogues about the individual’s contribution to society, and it allows for, to take a page out of Stasi’s thesaurus, “sloppy” work poorly disguised as thoughtful analysis.
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