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The Kate Hudson Debacle, or Why Feminism is for White Women Again

April 26, 2010

Lately, the definition of the word “feminist” has become somewhat vague. With so many women fleeing from the term, whether because they don’t feel represented by it or because they fear its perceived negative connotations, the relevance of referring to yourself as such is in dispute. Perhaps because the meaning of feminist — and in turn, the meaning of feminism — is in flux, a disturbing slant towards a kind of “selective feminism” has emerged.

For example, many women seem to feel that because another woman is privileged in some way, or because her lifestyle is different, or her actions distasteful, she is not deserving of the basic rights we as feminists demand all women have — namely, control over our bodies and the way in which our bodies are discussed. Celebrities are routinely slammed with decidedly non-feminist language when they exercise their right to alter their bodies, especially when said alteration is of a body part which is perceived as sexual in nature, like say, a boob job. They’re referred to as “plastic”, their choices derided as superficial and detrimental to women, called “bimbo”, “Barbie”, “slut”, “whore”. Do female celebrities exempt themselves from the protections of feminism because they have money and fame? Is it true that when a woman becomes famous, she’s traded in her right to not have her body denigrated and her choices regarding her body respected? I understand that being in the public eye puts you in the line of fire for snarky comments, but should we as feminists be the ones shooting? As I understand feminism, it applies to all women, and an attack on one subgroup of women puts the larger group equally open to attack. A woman should not be “Othered” because she’s overly privileged.

If it’s okay for people to comment negatively on say, Kate Hudson’s surgically altered body, then it follows that it’s fair game for people to comment negatively on Gabourey Sidibe’s body size. Most self-described feminists, or feminist refugees, would object to that comparison. But the fact remains that both women deserve the right to have agency over their bodies without judgment or condemnation. You can’t have your Kate and Gabby too. Either all women have that right or none do, if we believe in the basic tenets of feminism. Express your disappointment that women feel they need to alter their bodies to succeed in an appearance-obsessed industry, but don’t attack the woman’s choice to alter her body.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the example of Tina Fey’s classist, sexist attack on Bombshell McGee is a pertinent one because those kinds of feelings are expressed by many women on a regular basis, not just famous comedic writers/performers. In situations where an affair has taken place, the default is to eviscerate the mistress and not the cheating husband. Whether it happens to a woman in the public eye or to the woman down the street, wives are cast as the long-suffering madonnas and the mistresses as the home-wrecking whores. Why do so many women blame not their husband for cheating on them, but the woman he cheated with for “luring” him into that situation? One might answer that men are expected to be unable to control their sexual desires, but the other woman should “know better” or have some kind of sisterhood with the wife. Breaking that perceived bond of sisterhood means the other woman is no longer welcome to benefit from the protections of feminism — she is fair game. Her body, her morals, her values are all legitimate topics for public discourse. Once again, the woman is Othered by her distasteful-to-some actions.

I would think it would be fairly clear why selective feminism is a slippery slope. However, many women will fight tooth and nail for their right to body snark, or blame other women for a man’s actions, or look down on women who make choices they don’t agree with. Only when the tables are turned on them do they understand why we need to support even straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered, rich, white women’s choices in regards to their bodies. Yes, these same women have been responsible for the erasure of many marginalized groups’ lived experiences in the past (and unfortunately, sometimes in the present). But it’s a testament to the success of feminism and vocal, visible marginalized feminists that most of us now recognize and support the rights of women of color, trans women, queer women, and many other truly oppressed groups of women. However, it appears we need to again have the backs of those who feminism, in its nascent form, was designed for — the privileged. Because if we don’t, we’re all back at square one.

[This post also appeared on my personal blog, Red Vinyl Shoes]

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. araymondjohnson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 8:14 am

    thank you for laying this out so clearly for those who still don’t quite get what’s happening. I watched that Tina Fey bit and felt like I’d been punched in the stomach when she got to the punchline to Bombshell McGee.

    and to people who whine that feminism puts a cramp on their pop-culture trashing/analyzing desires, there are PLENTY of legitimate concerns to snark about Kate Hudson, I don’t need to bring her breasts or her body into it for material.

  2. April 26, 2010 8:39 am

    Thanks, indeed. It is a pretty depressing trend. Jilian Michaels (of Biggest Loser fame) recently said in an interview that she didn’t want to get pregnant because it would ruin her body. Here is the article since I am probably not paraphrasing this correctly: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/22/jillian-michaels-i-wont-r_n_548256.html
    The comments are crazy! (One commenter even drags her bisexuality into it!) Yes, she goes on to say some very problematic things about adoption, and yes there are issues with the show she stars in and the products she shills, BUT IT’S HER BODY. Period. End of story.

  3. April 26, 2010 8:54 am

    You can’t have your Kate and Gabby too.

    A gem of a line among many in this post.

    Why do so many women blame not their husband for cheating on them, but the woman he cheated with for “luring” him into that situation?

    I watched Sydney Pollock’s film The Firm again this weekend. Abby leaves Mitch after learning he had a fling on the beach while on a business trip. Abby asks something to the effect “why is it that you’re the one who did this and I’m the one who feels guilty?” And of course, the unstated answer (especially after we find out that Mitch was set up) is that men can’t control themselves. He was lured. He couldn’t possibly be at fault — though of course we’ve watched him make one questionable, thoughtless decision after another, and only gets through because he gets saved by the women whose lives he’s ruined. Still he’s the hero, and she takes him back.

  4. araymondjohnson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 9:00 am

    oh redlami, those movies that rely on sexist ideas of women to provide character motivation/plot drive me NUTS. I actually thought that film everyone loved “The Lives of Others” was stupid in a similar way, where the woman is passive/used/has no agency and makes decisions that male characters would never be allowed to make in a story, lest everyone else would see they were two-dimensionally drawn (or even one-dimensionally). as soon as a movie relies on these flimsy assumptions of women, I tune out and can’t really pay attention to any of the supposed ‘good’ parts.

  5. J.E. permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:21 am

    “Express your disappointment that women feel they need to alter their bodies to succeed in an appearance-obsessed industry, but don’t attack the woman’s choice to alter her body.”
    I know what you’re saying, but it’s kind of a fine line to walk sometimes. The “standard” for women in Hollywood is young, extremely thin, with large breasts. As a result, many women in Hollywood undergo invasive procedures and starve themselves to meet that standard. But you CAN be successful without doing all that–see Meryl Streep, for instance, or Gabby Sidibe. Imagine how things would change if more women refused to succumb to the “standard.” By conforming to it, they perpetuate it, and make it more difficult for those who would prefer to stay their natural selves. I will admit to taking issue with that, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t just because we’re all women. (Yes, I understand most Hollywood execs are men, and they make the standard, and I certainly hold them responsible. But I also think it’s women’s responsibility to fight it, rather than succumb to it. It’s the only way to change it, in my opinion.)

    As for the issue of blaming the “other woman” instead of the married man in an adultery situation, I agree totally. But when the other woman decides to make the whole situation public instead of keeping it private, it’s a little difficult to sympathize with her position. I’m not a fan of kissing and telling, no matter who you are. I also wouldn’t say that “so many” women blame the other woman instead of the husband. Maybe on internet message boards where sexism and trolling run rampant, but not in real life. Even on the internet, I’ve seen plenty of vitriol doled out to Jesse James and Tiger Woods.

  6. badhedgehog permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:26 am

    You can’t have your Kate and Gabby too Exactly! Respect is for everybody, even people who make choices we wouldn’t make, even people we don’t like.

    Encouraging women to snark on each other, compete for who can be the “good” woman and who has to be the “bad” woman, and fight for the scraps is such a HUGE distraction away from actual feminism, as well as a patent undermining of actual feminism. If we’re all busy policing each other, we don’t notice oppression and inequalities that damage all of us collectively.

    Oh, I love your final paragraph. Beautifully set out.

    Also, I think there’s some weird kind of confusion around the idea that the personal is political. I think it’s taken on a weird twist that now kind of says that an individual has entire responsibility, through their individual personal choices, for the political situation. So rather than separating the systemic situation from an individual woman’s personal body agency, as you so rightly say, people think that because they are angry that there is an oppressive beauty standard, they can be as angry with individual women for “supporting” it or “bolstering” it or whatever. Or even blaming an individual woman for the whole thing. The beauty standard isn’t the fault of Kate Hudson or Katie Price.

  7. April 26, 2010 10:28 am

    Terrific post. I am someone who is bothered by the pressures put on women to be perfect and the spike in plastic surgery in the last 20 years. But no woman owes me or anyone else an explanation about her choices. And yes, the language surrounding the criticism often sounds very slut-shaming.

  8. April 26, 2010 11:26 am

    I agree totally. But when the other woman decides to make the whole situation public instead of keeping it private, it’s a little difficult to sympathize with her position. I’m not a fan of kissing and telling, no matter who you are. I also wouldn’t say that “so many” women blame the other woman instead of the husband. Maybe on internet message boards where sexism and trolling run rampant, but not in real life. Even on the internet, I’ve seen plenty of vitriol doled out to Jesse James and Tiger Woods.

    I would say we (as women) are culturally instructed to blame everyone but the cheater for cheating, reserving the most scorn for the so-called other woman. The very fact she is often called “the other woman” tells me all I need to know in regards to how I’m supposed to frame her.

    Terrific post. I am someone who is bothered by the pressures put on women to be perfect and the spike in plastic surgery in the last 20 years.

    Even a sentiment such as this is a dodge in the sense that at the end of that tunnel there is train ready to roll over a woman and her choices.

    @Raymond and Redlami:

    Abby and Busey’s girlfriend were the only people in that movie who had any damn sense! A typical trope in Pollack films, but nevertheless easy to dismiss (for folks not paying attention) given they rarely are credited with saving the hero’s ass.

  9. April 26, 2010 11:31 am

    Even a sentiment such as this is a dodge in the sense that at the end of that tunnel there is train ready to roll over a woman and her choices.

    This is like when my mom gave my kids a shit-ton of candy one Easter, and within the hour was chastising “you’re going to let them eat that?”

  10. April 26, 2010 12:22 pm

    Yes, I understand most Hollywood execs are men, and they make the standard, and I certainly hold them responsible. But I also think it’s women’s responsibility to fight it, rather than succumb to it. It’s the only way to change it, in my opinion.

    I don’t think it’s a member of an oppressed group’s responsibility to fight their oppressors in order to be seen as not “succumbing” to the oppression, you know? I think that’s a slippery slope because it can be applied to many situations and circumstances more complicated than just getting a boob job. And what if a woman chooses to get plastic surgery not because she feels pressured into it by sexist beauty standards, but because she wants to change a part of her body on her own terms? Is that succumbing? I know we can say that no one makes a choice in a vacuum and that sexist beauty standards are so pervasive as to penetrate your subconscious so that any choice you make is informed by sexism, but there comes a point where you just have to let it be an individual’s choice without judging the individual.

  11. April 26, 2010 12:33 pm

    I know we can say that no one makes a choice in a vacuum and that sexist beauty standards are so pervasive as to penetrate your subconscious so that any choice you make is informed by sexism, but there comes a point where you just have to let it be an individual’s choice without judging the individual.

    Folks in the cheap seats, pay attention. Here’s the MESSAGE – spoonfed to you!

    Slamming post, Tashie!

  12. IrishUp permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:49 pm

    “…The “standard” for women in Hollywood is young, extremely thin, with large breasts….By conforming to it, they perpetuate it, and make it more difficult for those who would prefer to stay their natural selves. I will admit to taking issue with that, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t just because we’re all women.”

    It seems to me that if I am framing another human being’s life as lived – including their body habitus and choices – as a product to be consumed with regards to how it does or does not comform to said $_Standard and how it affects ME ME ME, I am FAR more a part of the problem than that other person. I’m the one who’s running the toxic script, and I’ve got to work on my relationship to that shit first.

    Quite franky, I am puzzling over how the difference between the normative script (or cultural narrative, or whathaveyou) and another person’s life can be characterized as a fine line. One is a sentient being with feelings and basic inherent rights, both of which deserve respect and protection in the real world. The other is like, not. Where is the fine line?

  13. April 26, 2010 1:04 pm

    and to people who whine that feminism puts a cramp on their pop-culture trashing/analyzing desires, there are PLENTY of legitimate concerns to snark about Kate Hudson, I don’t need to bring her breasts or her body into it for material.

    Piggybacking onto what Raymond wrote here…

    It seems outside of legitimate film criticism, I only hear feminists discuss Hudson in relation to something she’s done with her body! She’s a grown ass woman, dawg! She can do whatever the hell she wants with what her mama gave her.

    As far as legitimate critique of her acting abilities.

    MOAR Le Divorce. Less Bride Wars. She needs to reunite with Naomi, because they have some AMAZING chemistry together.

    END OF LINE.

  14. April 26, 2010 1:28 pm

    @redlami
    I remember in The Firm when toward the end someone tells Abby, “The girl? It was a set-up.” and she’s all, *whew!* and we’re supposed to return our Hero to Hero status and he gets his wife and all that and because it was a set-up apparently he had no culpability whatsoever.

    Yeah, that whole part where he totally stuck his **** in that lady, that was a SNARE! Like a big ol’ beartrap. But for his ****, not his leg.

    @Tasha
    Whether it happens to a woman in the public eye or to the woman down the street, wives are cast as the long-suffering madonnas and the mistresses as the home-wrecking whores.

    Agreed. And don’t forget the bonus part where if the wife has aged or gained weight or become a mommy or had a bad picture taken or lost her shit in public, then she risks losing the “madonna” halo and becoming the pathetic, bloused-out hulk that can’t even deserves a man (boner-killer!).

    And: thank you for a great article. Truly awesome.

  15. badhedgehog permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:47 pm

    @IrishUp
    It seems to me that if I am framing another human being’s life as lived – including their body habitus and choices – as a product to be consumed with regards to how it does or does not comform to said $_Standard and how it affects ME ME ME, I am FAR more a part of the problem than that other person. I’m the one who’s running the toxic script, and I’ve got to work on my relationship to that shit first.
    Yes, yes, yes and yes!

  16. Heather Flescher permalink
    April 30, 2010 4:15 am

    This is a tricky issue to deal with, but a really important one.

    Tasha, I just read the “fembot” article from The Daily Beast that you linked to on your Facebook page. I think it shows one of the main sources of the anger that fuels the snarking. The anger that these women are getting the husbands, getting the jobs, getting the attention, getting all the good stuff. The anger because we’re in competition with them, and the further they go down that path, the further the rest of us fall behind. It’s simple to see high-profile women as the enemy, and it doesn’t take any thought at all.

    Maybe I don’t see Kate Hudson as the enemy because I can’t imagine myself being in competition with her for much of anything. I mean, as I’ve been transitioning, I’m struggling just to get my body to the point where people would see it as female, as any kind of female. Achieving what most people would consider to be an attractive female body isn’t even an option. And that used to make me really angry and bitter. But what’s the point of that? It doesn’t help. So I’m working on letting it go.

    Again, great posts. I’m glad this dialogue is happening.

Trackbacks

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