When I was in high school, somebody once told me, “Men who speak out are brave, women who speak out are bitches.” Each time I am told to be a good sport or “not ruin things” by getting upset over reproductive issues, rape jokes, fat shaming and the like, I can’t help my increasingly feeling like that adage is accurate. Not that I’m brave by any means — seriously, I have called innumerable friends over to kill spiders or, um, check for ghosts — but I do think it takes a certain amount of resolve to have a dissenting opinion from the people around you and to take issue when somebody directly, purposefully hurts you with their words. Men, too, are sometimes told to be “good sports,” but when they refuse to be, they’re not nearly as often criticized for not being able to take a joke or not finding something obnoxious to be hil-arious.
The whole ordeal between Lena Dunham and Howard Stern bothered me for two reasons:
- He was a complete and utter asshole about a woman’s body for no particular reason, calling her a “fat little girl,” among other gross and obnoxious comments.
- She forgave him instantaneously because he said he “totally” loved her and she loved “his particular brand of free speech.”
His apology, by the way, started like this in preparation for her to arrive on the show:
“I have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, Lena. I watched your show and I hated it at first, but I stuck with it and now I love it. That’s the story. And, yeah, I was disturbed by you naked, and now I like when you’re naked. I don’t know, I had a change of heart.”
And once she was on the show, he said:
“I was thinking out loud. That’s what I do, I just kind of ramble on. “Not only am I addicted, but I totally get you. I’m in love with you and your character…So I came in and said to Robin, on the air, ‘I changed my mind. I love the show. And I love Lena and I love what she’s doing with it.'”
I am all for forgiveness, but what the hell? He didn’t say anything that remotely redeemed his fat-shaming, ridiculous words; instead he essentially said, “J/K I think you are like, the coolest even though your body made me disgusted but now you rule and I love you!”
With the exceptions of women-driven websites such as The Gloss, most media outlets covered both sides after his initial comments, but did not particularly lean towards one or the other; typically, the reaction was just, “Oh shit! Celebrity fight!” rather than, “Something is seriously wrong with Howard Stern’s mindset.”
And then, once Dunham had given him huggle wuggles on-air, they began portraying the situation as Stern making a slight misstep and Dunham being a “good sport” about his “cracks” regarding her weight. Aw, she’s such a sweet heart and a “darn good sport” because she came on his show and, rather than telling him that his behavior and comments towards her were unacceptable and that he should reconsider calling women “little girls” and insulting their bodies, she just let him sheepishly apologize and everything was all better.
It’s not that I don’t think people deserve forgiveness for saying idiotic things; believe me, I say idiotic shit all the time and apologize for it because I know I was wrong. My issue is that Stern, like most people who apologize only at the will of media coverage, didn’t seem to understand why those comments were wrong. But “being a good sport” is more important for many young women who want to be taken seriously rather than seen as some sort of bitch who gets upset over “cracks” about their bodies.
Remember how Matt Lauer said something very rude about Anne Hathaway after she had an unfortunate crotch-flashing incident? He introduced her by saying, “Anne Hathaway, good morning, nice to see you. Been seeing a lot of you lately.” As Ashley interpreted it with great accuracy, this can pretty easily be translated to, “Good morning, I recently saw your vulva,” a comment that is obviously not okay to say to a woman, particularly one you’ve invited to be on your show in front of millions of viewers.
For a beat, she was visibly confortable. But, being the poised, diplomatic star that she is, she quickly reverted to giving a little laugh and saying, “Sorry about that.” Lauer, unable to drop the clearly unsettling subject, went on to say:
Let’s just get it out of the way. You had a little wardrobe malfunction the other night. What’s the lesson learned from something like that? Other than that you keep smiling, which you always do.
Hathaway responds incredibly articulately (whereas many of us, i.e. myself, would have likely burst into tears while still smiling, waved a middle finger and run to craft services for fondue):
“It was obviously an unfortunate incident. I think — it kind of made me sad on two accounts. One, I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and rather than delete it and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which brings us back to Les Mis.”
Solid response! But yes, of course she “keeps smiling” which she “always” does. Why? Perhaps because she is a strong woman with a lot of wherewithal, but also because females are expected to brush off unpleasant comments about ourselves.
Every time I walk down one end of the block I live on after 5pm, I feel uncomfortable because I know that there at least one person will say something vulgar or, at the very least, suggestive towards me. It might be sexual, it might not; sometimes it’s from a walking person, sometimes from a car of people, but it inevitably happens if I’m out around dusk — and sadly, there is no other route that doesn’t go past this corner because I live next to a freeway with not enough bridges, so I’ve just taken to not leaving the house at night unless I’m with somebody. But every time, I just sort of give a half smile and keep walking because the one time I didn’t, somebody yelled from behind me, “Fuck you, you rude bitch.” And that was how I realized that I always brush off comments by smiling and laughing, even when they upset me.
When people hit on women in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, such as cornering them, some of the females I know are extraordinarily good at getting those guys away. I, on the other hand, giggle and apologetically tell them I’m not interested, which leads them to push harder. Similarly, when people have made horrible rape jokes in my presence, I often try to voice my opinion and request that they stop, but in the past, I have done so in such a way that the jokesters don’t think I’m serious. To be fair, the few times I have been truly angry in my reaction toward “lolrape,” I’ve been called a wet blanket and told by people to stop ruining the mood.
Men get irrational and up-at-arms when arguing their points about things that offend or upset them, yet women are the ones who always get labeled as overly sensitive. So we wind up getting little pats on our heads when we’re good sports or when we keep smiling. But to be a good sport is not something I want if it means that I can’t be upset when something shitty is directed towards me. I’m not saying Lena Dunham doesn’t have the right to be forgiving of Stern; by all means, that likely makes her a better person than I. I just don’t like the kind of attitude that might tell her she’s doing anything wrong if she had gotten verbally responsive and angry, as well as what people would have said about Hathaway had she criticized Lauer’s crude behavior.
It’s not as though women who are “good sports” are being given more respect; in actuality, it’s the equivalent of a little kid being smacked by another child during nap time, then forgiving him so everybody else can keep sleeping. How very considerate, right? Sadly, I think until everyone is able to be as pissed as they rightfully should be, progress regarding how the media and others treat women will be slowed, and we’ll continue apologetically smiling or nodding and hugging when the world calls us fat or talks about what’s between our legs.
Photo: Faye’s Vision