It’s all so inevitable, isn’t it? A big scandal breaks, there’s a backlash, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon, a witch-hunt ensues, it all gets confused and in the end nothing much changes. I’m talking about the whole exploitation and molestation of women subject matter brought to you now in glorious technicolor and with full Hollywood treatment. I was going to say it’s big news because it’s been made sexy. Which is quite ironic as it’s all to do with sex. Well – sort of. It’s that kind of seedy sex where one party has the greater interest and power. Okay that’s the scandal part. And typical of when most big scandals break ordinary people who’ve suffered under the prevailing regime over the years take a few minutes out from their ordinary lives to say ‘thanks for noticing, now what are you going to do about it?’
Okay, change and action is pretty difficult. Much easier to have a backlash, bandwagon and witch-hunt. And as this is going to be staged by the creative industry headed by Hollywood it’s going to have a fair bit of stardust sprinkled on it. Unfortunately though wherever there’s the old razzle dazzle there’s going to be fantasy and dodgy testimony.
I have to be careful here as anyone who dares suggest that every single allegation isn’t 100% true is going to get shouted down and pilloried. I present my first witness in the form of Morrissey. Okay he can be a silly old sod whose desire to deliver a controversial sound bite is an almost pathological compulsion but he’s hardly ever 100% wrong. This time he’s firing out a few home truths about the world of the stage, film, music and performing arts in general. It’s a strange parallel universe where everyday rules don’t apply. So much of it is based on creating a dream, a fantasy, an ideal of beauty where pretty young girls and boys are presented to us as latter day gods and goddesses. And it doesn’t matter if the screen persona is based on an Oscar-worthy ugly-make-over, the ‘real’ impossibly beautiful alter egos will be there on the red carpet* making mere mortals swoon and instilling a feeling of desperate aspiration in the starry-eyed. Desperate being the key word here. On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams thousands apply but only a lucky, talented few get chosen. Lucky? Talented? Really? It’s such an old adage which probably existed in the days of ancient Greek theatre. ‘How on earth did he/she get the role? Must be sleeping with the producer… ‘ Being accused of which – with or without any foundation – probably being the main reason for the silence of so many actors (or ‘actresses’, if you prefer) for such a long time.
Just because it’s a truth universally acknowledged does it have to be that way? Of course not. But we women have been up against it (figuratively and literally) for millennia now. We’ve all been convinced that our worth lies predominately in being pretty and beautiful. The vast majority of painters and sculptors were male so the myth was perpetuated and that carried on to the days when pictures started moving with an even smaller proportion of women being in the creative driving seat.
Therein lies the circular problem – women are these beautiful creatures who are inspirational muses so they can’t be expected to create works of art. So then generation upon generation of young girls have a limited number of role models. The only inspiration and aspiration is to look young and pretty. And so it continues…
Funnily enough Hollywood hasn’t always been like that. Strong women like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford** Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich ruled the screen in the 1930/40s. Of course they were beautiful and their place was strictly in front of the camera but they were so much more than simpering ingenue/sex bomb/old crone. This had much to do with macho men with too much testosterone being engaged elsewhere (war, for example) and the influence of the immigrant European male – possibly gay but at any rate more open to the idea of a strong woman – calling the artistic shots. Ironically, as time progressed attitudes didn’t. I’m old enough to remember the films of the 70/80s with their depressing parade of hot young starlets whose basic requirements were to ‘get them off’ and ‘get them out’ and when an ‘interesting’ female character was a crazed psycopath. Flash forward and with kick-ass heroines and more complex characterisations the hegemony part is perhaps better but to find out the behind-the-scenes scenes don’t follow the same script is a real kick in the un-veneered teeth of all us ‘ordinary’ women.
So am I glad to have my Hollywood sisters leading the revolt against sexism and unfurling the flag of feminism? Hmm – they certainly generate a lot more hashtag action than the sexually exploited girls of Rotherham (and many other UK cities) ever could. Just as long as the interest and momentum becomes a sea change for the many and not the few and doesn’t go the way of so many other social media trends. Anyone remember #bringbackourgirls ? Or here’s a thought – maybe we should stop looking through the skewed prism of Hollywood and the world of celebrity when we’re looking for role models and advice on how to live our lives. We always suspected it was built on beautiful lies and now we have the very ugly truth.
So what are my words of advice? Don’t get dragged down into the mire with witch-hunts, knee jerk reactions and desperate attempts to get attention by adopting a label or a hashtag. If you’ve suffered abuse get in touch with the authorities or an agency which can help. If you’re one of the many who’ve experienced low level ‘bothering’ – yes, it is bad and it is annoying but don’t waste precious resources and media coverage by confusing it with serious assault and abuse. Instead – campaign in the real world and help the socially and economically disadvantaged (women and men!) deal with sexual exploitation. And if you’re anywhere near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder – be prepared to struggle and fight for what those higher up take for granted. Forget about Hollywood (and the theatre and the music world) for a while – they’ll tell us loudly enough when they’ve sorted themselves out.
* Little-black-dress-chic to show solidarity with ‘ordinary women’ leaves me less than convinced. Personally, I’m waiting for the day when boiler suits and balaclavas (a la Pussy Riot) make an appearance on the red carpet!
Working to end sexual violence:
And for more on the female image, goddesses and consensual love check out Bettany Hughes‘ excellent Venus Uncovered on the BBC iplayer and her accompanying Guardian article.
**Also, it might still be available on the BBC iplayer (or elsewhere) – Feud: Bette and Joan. Great performances but incredibly depressing – and not only because of the hammered-home message that it was a complete scandal that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were thrown on the scrapheap merely because they had the temerity to get older. No – it was the misery porn wallowing, the numerous ‘alternative facts ‘and the continual portrayal of these two marvellous women as victims that left me feeling a little queasy. Far better to watch films from their heyday which offer pretty serviceable blueprints for being a strong woman.