It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in terms of pop culture, the phenomenon I am equal parts fascinated and horrified by. Between the Marie Claire article where Maura Kelly told the world that fat people repulsed her to Taylor Swift’s less than subtle attacks on exes and love rivals through the medium of terrible pop country music, one can’t help but wonder why the hell women still put up with this shit.
I was comforted by the justified backlash Ms Kelly’s article received, including planned protests, but we need to remember that Marie Claire deserve more blame than Ms Kelly, a self confessed recovering anorexic who really shouldn’t have been given that article to write in the first place. I’m not excusing her borderline bullying but let’s face it; Marie Claire knew exactly what they were doing. I shudder to think how many page views they got out of this debacle. When was the last time you saw a model or actress above a US size 10 on their covers? Actually, how often do non white, non skinny girls make it onto these magazines?
The problem with the show that repulsed Ms Kelly so much, CBS’s “Mike and Molly” has nothing to do with showing intimacy between the title couple (it’s one of the better aspects of the show – I can’t be the only one that thinks they are adorable on screen), it has to do with the overreliance on fat jokes and taking the easy way out, using the overweight characters as punch-lines rather than giving them the characterisation they deserve. There’s a good show in that mess somewhere (and if I’m being completely honest there, I keep watching in the hope that the good will one day outweigh the bad) but if we keep living with this attitude that it’s okay to mock, deride and bully people based solely on how they look, how are we ever going to change anything? Ms Kelly tried to apologise in the most half arsed manner possible, making the teeth-grinding claim that the severely underweight also make her feel uncomfortable – because eating disorders are such relaxing experiences. A lot of great bloggers have discussed this subject much better than I have and you should definitely check them all out.
Then we go to the opposite end of the mean girl spectrum and here we find Taylor Swift. Her latest album is selling like hotcakes but, as with her previous work, there are things that concern and annoy me. Full disclaimer; I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music. It’s catchy enough but her voice isn’t strong enough (even less so live) and she relies on clichéd, schlocky tropes of innocent love, believing Romeo and Juliet and the Scarlet Letter are happy ever after romances, teardrops in the rain and the infuriating virgin/whore complex she gets away with solely because she’s still seen as some sort of victim thanks to Kanye-gate. Her new album verges on psychotic with her less than mature and stable take on exes and in one song, “Better Than Revenge”, she takes a less than subtle swipe at a girl who apparently stole her boyfriend, believed to be actress Camilla Belle:
"She's an actress / But she's better known for the things that she does on the matress."
Now, who would like to tell me what’s wrong with this?
Slut shaming is common, far too common. I’ve discussed it during the Sparkle Project since it’s the easiest way to make a girl a villain (because as Ms Swift is so keen to point out in her song “Fifthteen”, a girl’s worth is in her hymen) and apart from unhealthy relationships being portrayed as positive, it’s my least favourite trope in the genre. Beyond it being incredibly lazy writing, it does nothing to help women. To quote one of my comedic heroes Tina Fey “You have all got to stop calling each other sluts and whore. It only makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Like with bullying and discriminatory attitudes, bad things happen when good people do nothing. Right now with everything going on in the world, where it seems like there isn’t a lot of love or hope for young people, we can do so much better than shameless victim playing, slut shaming, size-ism, anti-women attitudes and all that mess. We certainly don't need people like Swift's fans to be complete children doing stuff like this. Remember how I said that impressionable teenagers are influenced by entertainment and so called role models? There's exhibit A right there. It's Ms Swift's schtick to do stuff like this, to pretend to be the naive little girl who is always the victim fighting against the mean girls but rhe truth is she is the epitome of a mean girl. Genuine people don't slut shame others in the name of record sales and petty squabbles. We know better than that.
I spend a lot of time tearing YA books apart for stuff like this because I genuinely believe that we can do better than this. We certainly deserve better. We don’t need people like Becca Fitzpatrick justifying harassment by saying it’s sexy. We don’t need people like Maura Kelly and Marie Claire to tell us what is and isn’t beautiful. We don’t need mean girls like Taylor Swift to push the lies about sex and women being bad. We don’t need perverts like Terry Richardson trying to pass off sexism and harassment against women as art while the guys get off Scott free. There’s a whole lot that needs fixing, I hope we’re all up for the job.