December 2, 2008


Dynamic Magazine Fall 2008, Issue 20

Was Britney running around town again without panties? Oh my god! Look she shaved her head! Is Lindsay Lohan gay? Maybe so, but she’s definitely still on drugs! Did you see the new Paris Hilton sex tape? And when do you think Amy Winehouse will finally just die?

We are bombarded daily with this endless frenzy of media coverage of young women like Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. They are held up as glamorous icons, and then gleefully torn apart by the very same people who seem to adore them.

When it comes to young female celebrities today: Do we build them up just to tear them down?

More Americans pay attention to celebrity gossip than to world news, but that doesn’t explain why we are so obsessed with females struggling with drug addiction and sex scandals, maintaining their weight, and whether or not they keep their private parts covered in public. It also doesn’t explain why we disproportionately gossip about women’s private scandals over men’s.

The magnitude and profitability of these scandals are unimaginable. For example, when Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana broke her girl-next-door image for the first time with a semi-sexual Vanity Fair photo shoot, racked up 1.8 million unique visitors, as opposed to its usual 20-40 thousand, and a staggering 17 million page views.

These views were not generated from positive reviews of the photo shoot, but from articles calling the photos scandalous the weekend after the VF publication.

As more people stated their shock at Cyrus’s age and the sexuality of the photos, VF posted more photos and videos of the shoot on their website—which only increased the number of people who logged on to look.

Cyrus had to publicly apologize to her fans, and then was trashed by the very same websites that published any photos of her deemed to have sexual implications, including silly pictures she took with her friends and posted on her MySpace page. Somehow, in the world of public scandal, there is more “shock and awe” at a 15 year old taking typical-teenager pictures of herself, than at the fact that bloggers and gossip sites attempt to use them to publicly humiliate her.

However, Miley Cyrus is hardly the face of scandal, comparatively at least.

Britney Spears has been the golden child of humiliation and scorn for the past couple years. She has been called everything by the gossip magazines: fat, addicted, out of control, out of her mind, bad mother, white trash, bad wife, and a fake.

The same Britney Spears whose cutesy teenage pictures were glamorized, whose so called virginity was publicly praised, and who was held up as a role model for teen girls, has now been publicly torn apart.

She may or may not have made ‘bad’ choices, but why her life has been so public, why there has been so much interest in what has been called “her fall” and how so much money was made in the process, is hard to understand.

Women’s behavior, good and bad, raises lots of public attention, and judging it, seems to generate a lot of revenue.

Male celebrities are also harassed by gossip reporters and suffer public humiliations over break ups and breakdowns; however, they do not make up an equal share. We just seem less interested in what they look like without makeup, what their tummy rolls look like magnified with big red circles around them, or what their best outfit of the month was.

They also seem less bound by PR produced images that are too ‘perfect’ for them, not to mention the everyday women who feel judged against them, to ever live up to.

Britney Spears was painted as an innocent, protected virgin throughout her teen years, when in fact she was taken out of high school, sent on tours away from her family-- where drugs and sex were everywhere. She was not protected as an artist or as a young woman. Instead, she was exploited by record industries, older men and her own family. When she couldn’t live up to her own public image, she was publicly shamed.

Now, if she ‘acts right’ she will eventually gain praise again. Maybe she will get some peace to spend all her money, and lucky us, judging women will still be a popular public pastime we can all enjoy. To some women this pastime may feel like revenge against iconic women, but we are only participating in setting the standards we are all judged by.

Judgments that control us, that make us insecure, and that devalue us. Controlling women’s behavior, especially sexual behavior, has long been part of our culture. But is this how we continue it today in the 21st century?

In The Origin of Family State and Private Property, Engels described the connection between the creation of private property and the development of gender based inequality. He drew attention to how as families began privately accumulating wealth, the need to pass it on through generations became important, and from that a need to know whose child was who became increasingly important as well.

Women’s bodies became the carriers of lineages of property and wealth to the point where their bodies themselves became property-- property that had to be controlled, especially sexually.

While capitalism today does not function along family lines in the same way, and the patriarchal control of women’s sexuality is no longer necessary for capitalism’s function, this history has not stopped. Today it is inherent in our views of women’s bodies and sexuality.

While most women agree that comments about J Lo’s weight a month after giving birth to twins, such as “Is J- Lo’s booty just another fat ass?” from celebrity gossip blog Dana’s Dish, are disgusting; there was no decrease in production of these articles. Why are we still buying into it?

Maybe it’s because we are conditioned, from the earliest age, to be “princesses,” to be like Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, to look like Britney Spears, to become BFF’s with Paris Hilton. This leaves a lot of us confused about who we are or who we ‘should be.’ Teenage girls aspiring to be “Mean Girls” and “Plastics” are left with the resulting nastiness that turns into glee when those people we want to be—but aren’t—“fall from grace.”

Competition over unity leaves women fighting each other, judging each other, and ultimately participating in controlling each other. We learn how to compete on TV too, like in all 13 seasons of the popular reality television show “The Bachelor,” where 25 women trash each other to win the acceptance of one man.

(And that’s just on prime time TV. The Cable networks offer similar, even more sensationalistic programs like “Flavor of Love” where various women must vie for the affection of 49 yr old rapper Flavor Flav.)

With women competing for acceptance against standards that we will never reach, who benefits? We can start with all the companies that profit from seemingly endless beauty products, but the buck does not stop there.

It moves into the workplace, where we are still unsure if women’s labor is worth the same paycheck. And even besides those billions made in profits from wage discrimination, there is lots of other money made in shaming women.

If women privately feel shame around their ability to mother, or to be ‘good wives,’ then a political demand for public child care for working and single mothers is stifled. In the end, hating on women like Britney may be the same as hating ourselves.

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