I have to say I am kind of happy this finally happened to someone like Anne Hathaway. For years the paparazzi, encouraged by our endless appetite for simultaneous celebrity worship and schadenfreude, have hounded those actresses, divas and the Kardashians, eager to snap these photos of women in embarrassing positions. Generally their, and our, focus had been on the “bad girls”, the Lindsay Lohans and Brittney Spears of our media culture. Anne, however, has long been accepted as one of the “good girls.” This is probably no doubt partially due to many people still seeing her as that girl from The Princess Diaries or Ella Enchanted. Still, she is a genuine class act and smart to boot. She has spoken out for marriage equality. She has called out reporters sexism in their interviews with actresses. If she indulges in any chemical recreation she has made sure to do so in a manner that does not leave her behaving like a complete mess. Which is why so much more is being made of her “wardrobe malfunction” in the wider media than has been made of incidents with the above mentioned celebrities. I am glad, because maybe it will give us an opportunity to talk about some troubling issues with women’s bodies and how they are regarded in our culture.
Somehow any woman, in any public space, becomes an object of scrutiny and/or gratification. It is acceptable in our society for men to stare at women in short skirts, low-cut tops or form-fitting sweaters. Any opportunity to comment or take advantage of that situation is viewed as being OK because clearly the women in question should have known better. We feel comfortable judging Lindsey Lohan for not wearing underwear and, you know, needing to get out of a car wearing a short dress, but would not think to judge the scruples and basic decency of the photographer. We shake our heads in a “boys will be boys” fashion, if we even do that much, when men engage in street harassment of women. We tell their victim she should have known better, or worse, “it’s obvious what she wanted, otherwise why would she dress that way?”
Maybe some women wear short skirts, high heels, or tight sweaters because they like how they look in them. Maybe it is about how they view themselves. Maybe it is because they are OK with who they are. No one thinks a man in a tank top and shorts is advertising for sexual attention, and if women do notice, despite what a few whiny MRA memes would have you believe, they are admonished for not being “lady like.”
Ms. Hathaway had every right to dress as she felt comfortable. So too, however, did Lindsey, Brittney, and even Paris. Women’s bodies are not objects for consumption. Their bodies belong to them and when we let these vultures do this, regardless of who they do it to, we send a message to all women that their value lies in how they stimulate men’s wants and needs. Women, all women, deserve better than that and it is time we reminded men of it.