As a writer, you always kind of hate to take a fellow writer to task. We’re an eclectic bunch with opinions as sharp and varied as shards of glass, yet there’s an inherent solidarity in the way we lay our voices (and souls) bare for the world through our words.
But, as is often the case in life, sometimes you come across something you just can’t let fly under the radar — and, today, that something comes by way of a specific subset of my peers: The male journalists who are spinning the sexualization and oversimplification of women into a trend.
You may know them as the dudes who write sexist think pieces about actresses, female musicians and other women in entertainment.
This think piece is for you, guys.
Last month, you — and very specifically music critic Art Tavana — penned an overtly inflammatory think piece in LA Weekly about 23-year-old musician Sky Ferreira. It started by comparing Ferreira’s breasts to that of Madonna’s.
“Boobs”, “knockers”, “killer tits”, all were qualifiers you used in describing these women who, last time I checked, didn’t play guitar or sing to sold out arenas with their breasts.
And just when we thought there was a sliver of a chance you were attempting to (and failing at) being satirical, you described Ferreira as being “too nasty to be anyone’s schoolgirl fantasy.”
Congratulations! In one article supposedly about the promising future of an up-and-coming pop star, you managed to reduce not one, but two incredibly talented women to little more than the sum of their actual, anatomical parts.
The focus stalled out on Ferreira’s perceived sexiness and never shifted into her actual craft. Because a woman’s talent is, what? Contingent on her sex appeal?
For her part, Ferreira did not take kindly to being the wet dream you wordsmithed — she responded accordingly in a series of scathing tweets underscoring that she is “obviously a lot more than my ‘sex appeal’ or my ‘knockers.'”
Sadly, though, Tavana isn’t the only male journalist getting his rocks off by weighing in on how women in Hollywood look and why that’s important to him.
Last week, Variety‘s Chief Film Critic, Owen Gleiberman, devoted an entire think piece to why he is so damn concerned about Renée Zellweger’s face. In an article titled, “Renée Zellweger: If She No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become a Different Actress?” the writer cited his concerns with how our “vanity-fueled image culture” is sparking an epidemic of women in Hollywood suffering from a “rejection of self.”
In no uncertain terms, Gleiberman admits he feels betrayed by the fact Zellweger doesn’t look exactly like she did, say, five or ten years ago. And, what’s worse, he tenders this complaint under the guise of concern… a sexist, ageist insult cloaked in a compliment.
Sure, Zellweger was beautiful, he said. Just not Julia Roberts beautiful, he said. Like Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Fontaine and Bette Davis, Zellweger was never one of Hollywood’s “beauty contest winners,” he said.
Gleiberman wrapped up his reductive observations about women by lamenting the “fascist standards of the new American beauty.” Here is a man, writing an entire article devoted to devaluing a woman’s professional worth based on her appearance, wondering why women in Hollywood feel so compelled to alter themselves to conform to such standards of beauty.
The irony of it is almost too much to bear.
Then, on Thursday, yet another illuminating commentary emerged from the camp of men who write about women in the entertainment industry through the lens of their looks, their sexuality.
This one comes courtesy of Rich Cohen, the co-creator of HBO’s Vinyl, author of several books and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair — the latter of which housed his ridiculous think piece on cover subject, Margot Robbie.
“America is so far gone, we have to go to Australia to find a girl next door. In case you’ve missed it, her name is Margot Robbie. She is 26 and beautiful, not in that otherworldly, catwalk way but in a minor knock-around key, a blue mood, a slow dance. She is blonde, but dark at the roots. She is tall but only with the help of certain shoes. She can be sexy and composed even while naked but only in character.”
Wait, what? On my first pass of Cohen’s first paragraph, I felt certain this was some sort of misunderstanding. Perhaps he was going to use this unabashedly sexist introduction to segue into something more meaningful. Perhaps he was going to make a point other than the one everyone was reading between the lines: Cohen was sporting a stiff one for Robbie.
But, tragically, that was pretty much the gist of it. And when — after expounding at length about how her seductiveness nearly overshadows her ambition — he asks her point blank about her graphic sex scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street and how she prepared for them, you can basically picture her “painfully blue eyes” searching for the nearest exit.
Which, for the record, she found and took with little hesitation.
“We sat for a moment in silence. She was thinking of something; I was thinking of something else,” he wrote. “Then she stood, said good-bye, and went to see a friend across the room.”
For the record, Cohen, we’re all pretty sure we know what you were thinking about. As for Robbie? Well, aside from scanning for that exit, she was probably wondering how she just sat through such a sexist exploitation of her time.
So, here’s the thing, guys — don’t. Just don’t. For the love of all things holy, don’t. If you start to write an article and think writing about women in a way that is undeniably misogynistic is somehow avant-garde and appropriately provocative, just don’t.
Women’s bodies are not foddered for your entertainment; women’s bodies do not exist for you. Not for your viewing pleasure, not to sensationalize your think pieces, not to sub in when you have no other original thoughts rattling around in your head.
Women’s bodies and our looks are not tied to our worth.
Who told you it was a good idea to start writing about women like this? Who gave your obviously sexist article the stamp of approval and set it live? They did you a disservice, dude. Unless you grow ovaries sometime in the near future, please refrain from writing about women’s bodies in a way that is marginalizing and, quite frankly, gross.
Women can do whatever they want with their bodies. You cannot do whatever you want with women’s bodies, and speaking about them like this makes you seem predatory. It feels like a violation. You see how that works?
I’m not saying there aren’t any male journalists who write about women with the respect they deserve and who direct the focus of their think pieces where it belongs: On women’s talents and contributions to the entertainment industry.
And I’m not saying male journalists shouldn’t write about women at all. The respectful ones I just described are doing a damn good job of it.
In fact, I encourage men to write about women in Hollywood from an allied perspective — we need more men taking a firm stance against pressing social issues that women struggle with like ageism and gendered double standards.
What we don’t need are any more Tavanas, Gleibermans and Cohens churning out ill-conceived sexist think pieces.