Writer: Sarah Kapesa
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer & Artist: Sasiree Dechwittayaporn
The media and paparazzi are infamous for harassing and mistreating celebrities. However, it is impossible to ignore one major trend: young women face much more dangerous and frequent encounters compared to male figures. For decades, women have been subjected to extreme measures of sexualization and harassment from the public. Let’s discuss how these incidents have affected the lives of the young and vulnerable women of Hollywood.
Norma Jean Morten, or Marilyn Monroe, has become a standard of old Hollywood beauty and is treated as an ageless sex symbol in modern-day society. However, that was not the case during her life. The sultry persona of Marilyn Monroe at the beginning of her career later caused her to be scrutinized and not be taken seriously by her directors and coworkers, the public, and other stars. Though she had become the new “It Girl”, she still dealt with heavy slut-shaming and misogyny from the masses.
Much of the films she was cast in relied on her sex appeal for marketing. One instance that inspired such backlash is the iconic white flowing dress from ‘The Seven Year Itch’. Though the image is now iconic, back then, she faced huge waves of criticism for this particular scene, which was chosen as the main image for the film’s advertisements.
Norma Jean was a woman who experienced the dangerous and damaging effects of Hollywood’s beauty standards. She was forced to pick herself up and wear her mask despite the ridicule and constant hate she faced.
“I know I belong to the public and the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I never belonged to anything or anyone else.” - Norma Jean
When a leak was sent to the news pertaining to the affair scandal between then-president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, America was outraged. Not at the 52-year-old president himself, but instead at the 25-year-old young woman.
She was slathered with hate and constantly portrayed as a “homewrecking bimbo” who wanted to ruin the country as well as the president’s marriage. The media did not care about the possible power imbalance and the uncomfortable age gap of the situation, completely ignoring Bill’s own actions, and painting Monica as a whore. Monica herself reflects back on that time and how she felt completely dehumanized, as her identity was reduced to “that woman” or “that intern”.
The Free Britney Movement has been making headlines as many fans reflect on the early sexualization and trivialization of the young star, as well as her wrongful conservatorship. After the music video for her hit debut “Baby One More Time” aired, many mothers claimed the outfits were “trampy”.
Britney’s media takedown began after her break up with fellow star Justin Timberlake, when cheating allegations against hrt spread. She began hiding from the media as they distorted her image and words, twisting them into the idea that she was “white trash”.
No matter what Britney did she was always the villain: if she allowed paparazzi to take pictures, she was considered attention-seeking, and if she refused she was considered rude. Despite her very public mental health crises, the media and public chose to ignore and trivialize her cries for help and continued to antagonize her.
Janet Jackson, sister of Micheal Jackson, succeeded in the music industry and paved the way for many black women in the industry. However, after the 2004 “Nipple Gate” incident, her career saw a sharp decline. During the performance, Justin Timberlake exposed Janet’s breasts to the public and, ironically, Janet was the one blamed for the entire situation, receiving countless backlash as many believed that she planned it as a publicity stunt.
Despite Janet Jackson vocalizing her embarrassment, she began to be removed from radio lineups and was also notably absent from many music award shows. Justin went on to distance himself from Janet due to how the situation was negatively impacting his character. Yet, despite his involvement, he faced no major backlash from either the press or the industry. Justin is aware of the role misogynoir played in Janet's career, but he still did nothing to aid her or to remedy the situation, similar to his actions during the Britney incident.
Lindsay Lohan, known for her beloved roles in “Mean Girls”, “Freaky Friday” and “The Parent Trap”, was not exempt from the judgment of the public. Once she was old enough, tabloids completely switched her image and began commenting on her body as well as her sexual, physical, and mental health. Some news outlets even went as far as to say that her family issues were the cause of her fall from fame, and that she would end up exactly like her drug-reliant father.
Lindsay was also constantly compared to Hilary Duff, mainly due to their similarity in age. The media presented Lindsay as a wild child, while Hilary was a perfect angel.
Her struggles with addiction were like an offering to the paparazzi who were hungry predators. The media slowly grew increasingly cruel to Lindsay, ignoring her struggles with mental health, her attempts at rehab, and instead ridiculing her for her actions.
It is not an exaggeration to say that women are treated more harshly than men. It is also important to note that there are factors that determine the harshness of their treatment, namely social class, race, and networking options. In the 2000s —and even now— women are trivialized for a variety of reasons, whether it’s their interests, their mental health, or their character.
These mentioned women are only one out of countless stories, all of which were ignored by both men and women alike. Slut-shaming culture was undeniably present as well: women attempted to threaten, humiliate, and degrade each other to fit themselves into the perfect mould tabloids had created. If the stars were viewed as promiscuous, they were compared to everyday women who had dignity, or fellow stars who had good public perception. This leads to a culture where women are pitted against each other and toxic ideals of beauty are sustained.
Despite the anonymity that is accompanied by the current age of social media, we should all make sure to be conscious of the effects our actions and comments make, both to others and to ourselves. We cannot change what has happened to these women in the past. However, through utilizing various platforms and social media, we can continue to support their fight for freedom.