Men hating on famous women is a pastime as old as fame itself. From the vilification of Eve (as if Adam didn’t eat the apple of his own free will) to Annie Oakley (“When a man hits a target, they call him a marksman. When I hit a target, they call it a trick. Never did like that much.*”) to Kim Kardashian (“When there’s so many haters and negative things, I really don’t care.”), people love to hate on famous women.
But there’s always a good reason to do so, right? I mean, Kim Kardashian cares about her appearance! What a monster! Kristen Stewart was in a set of movies that weren’t exactly feminist and played a character that mostly lacked in personality. That must be what she’s like in real life, and she can’t act, and she cheated on her boyfriend! She’s a dumb, home-wrecking harlot! Nicki Minaj twerks and makes sexually explicit songs, which makes her a bad role model for young girls! She showed her butt, which makes her a Bad Influence.
Too bad all of these criticisms are rooted in misogyny. Have you ever seen the magazine headlines when Kim gains a pound or looks less than perfect in any way? Kristen Stewart did have an affair, yes, but why does no one point out that the director who she had an affair with was married and almost 20 years her senior? Or that that she played Bella Swan from Twilight as the character was written, and has been great in several other movies? As for Nicki Minaj, why is it that men are sexually explicit at almost all times, but only Nicki seems to get shit for it? Did you also know that she speaks to fans personally to remind them that school is the most important thing?
I’ll admit it: I used to be on the Hate Train on these women (and many others) as well. But then I started to do something that drastically changed my perception of famous women: I assume that all criticism of women is rooted in misogyny.
I know that some of you are cringing at that and think I’m overreacting. But think about it: when you live in an overtly sexist (or racist, or homophobic, or ableist…etc.) society, do you truly think your judgements are free of bias? Completely? I don’t think so. If you aren’t actively fighting your internal biases at all times, you’re being influenced by them.
“But I’m not a sexist! I love women!” you think. I know. But you still have sexist thoughts and behaviors. You were raised in a sexist society and you live in a sexist society. You are the product of a sexist society, and that means you have biases, whether you admit them or not. You probably think “I’d have the same reaction if it were a man (or a white person, or whatever), but you wouldn’t. This example is about race instead of gender, but the point is applicable to both sexism and racism. Robert Downey Jr. says he’s “one of the best actors” of his generation and that “It’s not like this is the greatest swath or generation of actors that has ever come down from the pike.” Then he declares that winning an Oscar is “inevitable,” and everyone thinks he’s hilarious and adorable (for the record, he still hasn’t won an Oscar). But when Kanye West says “I’m the number one rock star on the planet,” and then follows it up with
If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me. You’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time.
He gets called the world’s biggest asshole. Hmm, I wonder why people reacted differently to these two statements from these two different men! What is different about them that would make people judge them differently? What a mystery!
Now, before you remind me that any of the people I’ve defended so far have done a Not Perfect thing, I want to remind you that I’m not saying any of them are perfect. I don’t agree with any of them 100% of the time, and they all make mistakes. What I’m trying to say is that if you think they’re worse than their male or white counterparts, your judgement is rooted in bigotry. And you need to fix that.
When I started to really look into what these Most Hated Women were doing and saying, I was shocked. Not because they were awful, but because almost all of them were smart, funny, charming, and often said very feminist things! Kristen Stewart said “it’s a really ridiculous thing to say you’re not a feminist.” Kim wrote a very personal and touching blog post about how she started really thinking about racism after she gave birth to a mixed-race daughter (which, of course, some people shit on her for not “already being aware of it,” but if you’re going to shit on someone for learning and growing as a person, then you’re gross & I hate you). Nicki constantly talks about how she’s disadvantaged and overlooked in the rap world because she’s a woman in a male-dominated industry. In one very impassioned speech, she says, “When I’m assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. Bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.” (I don’t want to ignore the fact that Nicki gets extra hatred because she’s a woman of color, either.) It’s almost like these are all intelligent women who are being vilified by the media for some ~unknown~ reason!
So when a collective group of people piles on to a popular woman and criticizes everything she says…well, I’m going to go directly to the source and see what that woman is actually saying. And it turns out, I almost always agree with the woman in question. And even if I don’t agree with them, I usually defend them. “Jokes” about how Ann Coulter is a “secretly a man” are horribly transphobic, and if you say something like that you are out of my life. No, it also isn’t okay to make fun of Sarah Palin’s disabled child. I don’t care how wrong you think a woman is, personal attacks (especially bigoted ones) are not acceptable.
I feel awful for these women for the incessant harassment they receive, but at least it led me to follow and appreciate their work. I only heard about Anita Sarkeesian when people started screaming about how she wants to ban games or hates men or something like that. So, of course now I follow her and watch (and love!) her videos. When Gamergate first got started and I started hearing about Zoe Quinn, who supposedly “bought” reviews of her game (Depression Quest, which I highly recommend, especially as it’s free-to-play) with sex, I was immediately skeptical (by the way, these claims have yet to be substantiated in any way…what I’m saying is it’s a complete lie). I had played Depression Quest before but didn’t know it was developed by a woman, so of course I had no idea who she was. Naturally, I had to go investigate what she actually did and said, I found a funny, compassionate, and talented woman (who I, of course, followed as well). There’s also developer Brianna Wu who experienced death threats and got doxxed so she had to leave her home. The one positive aspect of Gamergate is that it gave these women a bigger platform than before. Keep in mind that it only happened due to a great but involuntary sacrifice on their parts, which includes (but is not limited to) their personal happiness and safety.
There’s an internet law called Lewis’s Law that says “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.” There’s another one called the Streisand effect, which “is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.” I think we need a new law that seems to be a combination of the two: The more you try to silence a woman through incessant criticism and harassment, the more likely I am to look into what she actually says and (inevitably) become a fan. I think we should call it the Sarkeesian Effect, because 1) she was the first woman who made me really experience this, and 2) I think it’s hilarious to mock the “documentary” of the same name that will “expose her lies.” (They want $15,000/month to make this piece of trash? lulz)
I’m not asking you to put these women on a pedestal and never criticize them. They make mistakes, just like everyone else does. What I am asking you to do is simple and probably in line with your values.
1) Don’t just trust what other people say about a famous woman if they don’t include a source with evidence. If possible, go to the direct source (aka the woman) to see what she actually did/said.
2) Be skeptical. The media distorts facts all the time. Don’t just question articles when they disagree with your biases.
3) Be critical of your own reactions. Your gut reaction is not necessarily the right reaction. Take some time to think it over before you make a final judgement, but also be willing to change your opinion based on new evidence.
These sound fairly easy to do, but they require a continuous, conscious effort to apply them. Keep working at it, and you’ll find that your worldview is a lot more fair.
*I was unable to independently verify this Annie Oakley quote, but even if it wasn’t said by her, it’s still a good quote.