Reel Women: Why Don’t We Ever Have to Defend Male Celebrities?
'Iron Man 3' hit theaters today, and since the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow, the conversation naturally turns once again to why so many people hate her, inspiring some to defend her much like we've done for Anne Hathaway in the past. And with Reese Witherspoon's recent arrest video made public, the jokes about her personal life just keep coming -- but why don't we ever have to defend male celebrities?
Earlier this year I ran a defense of Anne Hathaway that wasn't so much a defense as it was an exploration of why people seem to dislike her and how tabloid culture has created an environment in which we believe we're owed something from celebrities, but more on that in a minute. There's another actress who seems similarly despised, and that dislike is befuddling. Gwyneth Paltrow has been the source of internet mockery and the target of tabloid entertainment far longer than Hathaway has, and with a new film out this weekend, people are once again voicing their disdain for Paltrow.
Drew McWeeny wrote a little about this over at HitFix, where he ran an interview with Paltrow and wondered why so many people seem to take issue with her:
"Is it because she's married to a rock star and because she runs a lifestyle blog? Because I've never visited it, and I'm not even sure what it's called, and I certainly don't think there's any chance anyone's going to force me to read it any time soon. And who cares who she's married to? I think the reason many people love gossip is because it gives them something to compare their own life to, and when they see someone living better than them, it gives them a specific target for their anger."
It's true that Paltrow has a lifestyle blog -- it's called GOOP and yeah, it's a little silly if you're not into her whole health and fitness regime (its main focus is on the "positives of life," including fashion, health, and fitness). But it's successful because people subscribe and ascribe to it, and that's only possible because Paltrow has been so popular in magazines, with articles focusing on her amazing body and readers dying to know the secret to how Paltrow, a mother of two, stays so incredibly healthy and fit. There's a market, so can you blame her for capitalizing on it? It makes no sense to scorn Paltrow for doing something you practically bought and paid for with your needless interest in her personal fitness regiment.
In his piece, Drew goes on to wonder why else we might hate Paltrow, aside from her healthy lifestyle and her rock star marriage:
"Is it because she was just picked as "The Most Beautiful Woman Alive" by People magazine? Because that's another thing that seems very silly to be upset by. It's not like she demanded that they run the headline, like when M. Night Shyamalan insisted they call him "The New Hitchcock" in a story. I doubt she campaigned for it at all. She's got a big new high-profile film coming out, so it makes sense that they'd pick her."
Again, this all comes back to tabloid culture. We rejoice when the bodies of female celebrities are picked apart and examined under a malicious microscope -- it makes us happy that something about them isn't perfect when we hold them to immaculate standards. They are famous, so they are supposed to be better than us. When they get divorced or arrested, we spread the gossip like a virus and laugh about it (take Reese Witherspoon's recent arrest for example). As my colleague and friend (and fellow celeb gossip-hater) James Rocchi so succinctly put it on Twitter: "Reese Witherspoon probably isn't going to watch the video of the worst night you have this year, and I think we should return the courtesy."
I feel as though the conversation is getting redundant at this point. I've discussed in this space, at length, how harmful tabloid culture is, especially for women -- it's a machine that runs on the unhappiness of women, that places female celebrities on a pedestal and routinely knocks them down for our amusement. You will never look as perfect as this actress, but isn't it great that she was arrested so we can all laugh at her for being a human being? You will never have this actress' legs or abs, but isn't it wonderful to laugh about her husband cheating on her? This culture makes it easy for women to be negatively and harmfully critical of one another, and it promotes wildly unhealthy and unattainable beauty standards. But don't worry -- turn the page of the magazine and you'll find 10 tips on how to get Paltrow's abs or Witherspoon's skin or Hathaway's hair.
First of all, their personal lives are not our business, nor should they be fodder for our amusement. Their job is to act, and the only thing that we should be discussing is what they do while they're at work -- on screens big and small. But more importantly, all this talk about Witherspoon and Paltrow this week serves as a depressing reminder that we never -- ever -- have to defend male celebrities. When Snoop Dogg (or Lion, whatever) gets busted for smoking pot, we just shrug and laugh it off. When a male celebrity is accused of cheating on his famous wife, we turn to the wife to exploit her pain and sadness in a very difficult and personal time, letting the man off the hook for his bad behavior. Don't get me wrong -- this isn't information we should be privy to in the first place, but we're always shaming and exploiting women and never men.
I cannot think of a single male celebrity whom we have to defend. There isn't one male celebrity out there who is met with the same casual disdain as Paltrow or Hathaway. I've racked my brain over the last few days trying to figure it out and I keep coming up empty. The simple fact is that tabloids and gossip sites are aimed at women, and they have to keep us simultaneously hating/envying each other if they want to ensure our continued readership. We love to hate women, and we love to love men. It's a serious problem that, sadly, appears to have no end in sight because we feel as though celebrities put themselves in a position to be thoroughly examined, and women are the easiest targets for derision -- they also make up the largest demographic for gossip.
We need to stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated and start thinking about what we choose to digest. Put it this way: when you are considering what to eat for dinner, you aren't going to load up on ice cream and candy. That stuff is sugary and provides temporary satisfaction, sure, but it's empty -- there's no protein or meaningful nutritional value, and it's just going to leave you hungry again in an hour. When you read tabloids or visit gossip sites, you're doing the same thing -- you're digesting information that lacks meaningful insight and integrity; empty calories for the brain. Now just imagine if eating ice cream and candy wasn't just harmful to your body, but harmful to an entire population of women, to the way they think about, criticize, and treat themselves and each other. You wouldn't eat it, would you?