For decades, we have seen the vilification of women in the media, however recently this has come to the forefront of conversation once again with the release of “Framing Britney Spears,” the New York Times made documentary examining the popstars life in the public eye. While Britney Spears has been heavily disrespected within popular culture media for many years, we have also seen the same treatment given to countless other women, including Meghan Markle, Taylor Swift, and Jameela Jamil. Jamil has recently been drawing attention to these tactics, exposing the patterns and rhetoric that the media deploy to demonise women. Jamil understands this as an ‘over-exposure,’ stating on her Instagram, “This is the pattern for so many women. It’s FASCINATING. Once you see it you can’t unsee it. The system is: build her up, over-congratulate her, overexpose her ‘til people are sick of her face, take her out of context, start the rumour mill and destroy… then on to the next,” as reported by Stylist Magazine. It is a mechanism that shapes the way we view women who are in the spotlight and garners a collective misogynistic distaste for the person in question.
As Laurie Penny wrote back in 2012 for The Guardian, “Sexism is the stock in trade for the tabloid press.” Similar to Jamil, Penny noted that this process follows the narrative of “vapid idealisation, followed by shame and sexual humiliation.” Britney Spear’s portrayal followed this system exactly, with one journalist asking her if she is a virgin during a press conference, to interviewers discussing her breasts because “everyone is talking about them,” as reported by Harpers Bazaar. However, once Spears’ high-profile relationship with Justin Timberlake ended and there was much speculation with regards to Spears’ infidelity, she became the villain who had to endure endless slut-shaming. As a result, Spears – like practically every woman in the public eye of Western media – underwent commentary in line with the fine line and contradictions regarding sex when it comes to women.
While we condemn the sexism Britney faced in the early 2000s as outright disgusting, it does not mean that this is something we can look back on in distaste and complacency. In fact, tabloid misogyny is alive and well, when time and time again, women are portrayed in tabloids as hysterical and manipulative. Take Meghan Markle for example, someone who is consistently portrayed as a manipulator, accused of breaking up the royal family’ upon her move with Prince Harry to Canada.
Jamil states that the abuse Markle faces is down to her not fitting the “stereotype for women” so tabloids choose to put energy into discrediting her. Whilst Meghan Markle’s experience within the tabloids is fuelled by misogyny, it must be acknowledged that this treatment is heavily influenced by racism also. Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie, authors of “Finding Freedom,” noted that “The double standard was exacerbated when it came to successful women of colour, often labelled demanding or aggressive.” There are so many examples of this misogynoir playing out in the tabloids, perhaps most notably, Serena Williams’ depiction as aggressive and a ‘sore loser’ after her loss to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open Final.
An interrogation into the lives of famous women still drives the tabloids and decides for us as a collective how we will portray particular women, and women in general. This demonstrates the fine line that women still have to walk when existing in the public eye, as they are not afforded the same concessions when it comes to societal expectations. And when the complex lives of famous women get used as a tool for clickbait and ridicule, it not only impacts their lives individually but acts as a mirror into how women are perceived and treated within everyday society. To this note, our choice to buy into the narrative peddled by the tabloids exacerbates that overall misogynistic narrative that women should fit a particular perception of how they ‘should’ be, and if they do not, they deserve justice and to ostracize.
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