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Recently there have been a handful of interviews with women celebrities that have really gotten under my skin. There’s actually a good chance that many of you have seen at least one of these gifs and/or photo sets floating around your part of the internet, as they have gotten some well-deserved attention.
The sexism that the following female public figures face may have more to do with street harassment than you think. Street harassment occurs on a spectrum of violence and discrimination. Celebrity interviewers and street harassers alike are enabling harmful behaviors whether it takes place in a studio, press conference, or on the sidewalk. Focusing on the intimidate and oftentimes irrelevant details of women’s appearances (namely making unwelcome comments and questions regarding their bodies and clothing) is influencing a more pervasive form of harassment, a form which 99% of women face at some point in their lives.
Let’s start with Scarlett Johansson. While being the only female superhero, the Black Widow, in The Avengers, Johansson is of course asked about her dieting tricks and tips instead of deep, philosophical motivations behind her character, like Robert Downy Jr. is:
Reporter: “I have a question to Robert and to Scarlett. Firstly to Robert, throughout Iron Man 1 and 2, Tony Stark started off as a very egotistical character but learns how to fight as a team. And so how did you approach this role, bearing in mind that kind of maturity as a human being when it comes to the Tony Stark character, and did you learn anything throughout the three movies that you made?
And to Scarlett, to get into shape for Black Widow did you have anything special to do in terms of the diet, like did you have to eat any specific food, or that sort of thing?”
Scarlett: “How come you get the really interesting existential question, and I get the like, “rabbit food” question?”
Scarlett encounters this blatant sexism again in another interview where she is asked about whether or not she wore underwear while filming The Avengers.
Anne Hathaway faced a similar kind of interview after starring in The Dark Knight Rises as catwoman. Instead of being asked about her acting or character development like Christian Bale often is, the media has many questions about how she managed to “fit into” that catwoman suit:
Emma Stone recently confronted themes of recurring sexism in an interview with Teen Vogue for her role in The Amazing Spider-Man, alongside Andrew Garfield. Like many other interviews with female celebrities, this one focused on Stone’s clothing choices.
Emma Stone: People do always ask that. They ask who is my style icon, what’s the one thing that I can’t leave the house without.
Andrew Garfield: I don’t get asked that.
Emma Stone: You get asked interesting, poignant questions because you are a boy. It is sexism.
And lastly, I’ve seen the clip of an interview conducted in 2010 in which with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is asked “which designers she prefers” to wear:
Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?
Hillary Clinton: What designers of clothes?
Hillary Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?
Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.
Although none of these incidents are necessarily cases of street harassment, I thought that they were worth gathering up and talking about nonetheless. Just as anything else, street harassment does not occur in a vacuum; it is both a product of and an influence on a culture which objectifies women, as well as trivializes their experiences. Reducing the Secretary of State to what clothing designers she wears, or focusing on whether or not a woman playing a lead role in a major motion picture wore underwear during filming, illuminates the fact that we live in a patriarchal society that does not always take women seriously. If it is considered acceptable to comment on what clothes the Secretary of State wears, then commenting on what a woman wears on the street, or on her body while in a public space, can then be seen as acceptable as well.
What do you think? Does the media play a role in harassment that occurs on the street level? Can you think of any other recent instances where female celebrities have been victims of sexism in the media and have spoken out against them?
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