When Women Attack
Ladies cross the #MeToo line, too. Why do we look the other way?
Picture this: A beautiful female executive sits in her New York City office, listening to a handsome young man as he pitches himself for a junior position at her firm. Equally impressed by his qualifications and his physique, she slowly starts undressing. By the end of the Q&A portion of the interview, she’s standing over him, her blouse unbuttoned just enough to reveal her lacy red bra. The clear message: You’ll probably get the job, but first, come and get the boss!
Now picture this: A powerful business mogul sits behind his desk on Wall Street, listening to a pretty young woman selling herself as the perfect assistant. When she’s finished, he starts removing his business suit piece by piece while staring into her eyes. The clear message: You’ll probably get the job, but first, come and get the boss!
Which scenario has you seeing a brighter shade of red?
Now consider two brief encounters between heterosexual professional equals. In one, a woman compliments a coworker on his suit’s perfect fit. In another, a man compliments a coworker on her dress’s perfect fit.
Which one has a better chance of ultimately being mediated by HR? A male employee’s random comment about a female colleague’s physical appearance is more likely to be considered out of line than when it’s the other way around. Who made those gender rules? Why do we hold men to higher standards when it comes to their professional conduct with women?
Why do we hold men to higher standards when it comes to their professional conduct with women?
These are valid questions for the #MeToo age, and Katy Perry has us asking them again. A male model who costarred with the singer in her 2010 “Teenage Dream” video recently accused her of making unwanted sexual advances toward him at a 2012 party. Whether his claims are true, it begs important questions about the accountability of men vs. the accountability of women in regards to sexual improprieties.
Do we excuse certain predatory behavior, like Perry stealing a kiss from a boy — a teenager! — on air during American Idol auditions, and deem it cute and flirty because a woman is the instigator? Perry’s fellow AI judge Luke Bryan actually high-fived her! Could he have kissed a girl like that on air without major repercussions in the #MeToo era?
Toxic femininity on TV and in movies
I’ve recently been watching old episodes of the ’70s and ’80s sitcom Three’s Company on YouTube, and I’m shocked by how often women aggressively come on to Jack Tripper (John Ritter) and it’s played for laughs. They’re portrayed as beautiful and sexually assertive. Everyone is in on the joke.
When Jack’s female roommates are on the receiving end of such behavior, though, the men are invariably presented as being oversexed jerks. In one 1983 episode, “The Odd Couples,” Terri Alden (Priscilla Barnes), the third blonde roommate of Jack and Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), is worried about getting a promotion at work because she won’t put out for her prospective supervisor — a man — who has been not-so-subtlely coming on to her.
She gets the gig after a series of misadventures and the comeuppance humiliation of her future boss. In the final scene, she’s complaining to Jack and Janet about another male colleague. There’s been begging, pleading, no line that hasn’t been overstepped.
But, as Terri reveals in the punchline, she’s the one who’s been begging, pleading, and crossing lines … and he still won’t go out with her! The studio audience erupts in laughter. The end.
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Can you imagine the reaction if that had been Jack’s story? Yep, that would have been the sound of no-one clapping — even in 1983, decades before #MeToo.
In the fictional world of TV and movies, a poor girl who sleeps around to get ahead is considered trashy, but a woman in power who wields her sexuality with an iron fist is often seen as badass. She might be called a bitch for being tough and demanding, but if she’s sexy and she knows it (and occasionally uses it to her advantage), well, good for her.
Remember the 2009 film The Proposal? In it, Sandra Bullock’s character strong-arms an employee (played by Ryan Reynolds) to marry her in order to prevent herself from being deported from the United States back to her native Canada. Laughter and, of course, love ensues, because who can hate Sandra Bullock even when she’s coercing someone into marrying her?
If the balance of power had been reversed and it had been Reynolds’ character forcing Bullock to marry him, what would we have thought about their arrangement and of the movie? Would love and marriage have been considered a suitable denouement? Would Matthew McConaughey be rewarded with a $300 million-plus hit for playing a character who uses his status as a professional superior to get Rachel McAdams to the altar?
Sex and the not-so-single lady
Here in the real world, considerable inequalities persist between the sexes, usually in favor of men. As Cher pointed out in an old interview that I recently watched on YouTube, for women, it’s downhill after 40, while men just keep getting better.
With onscreen sexuality, though, women, if they are careful to limit their number of sexual partners (for it’s still far too easy for a lady to qualify as a “slut” in the minds of the hopelessly judgmental), can get away with a lot more than men.
For one thing, we more readily forgive them their onscreen infidelities. Diane Lane became a symbol of female mid-life sexiness and an Oscar nominee when she cheated on Richard Gere with Olivier Martinez in 2002’s Unfaithful. Kristin Scott Thomas’s dalliance with Ralph Fiennes behind Colin Firth’s back in The English Patient six years earlier became the screen romance of the decade. (And it made her, too, an Oscar nominee.)
In contrast, Michael Douglas was the hero of Fatal Attraction (the 1987 Oscar- nominated film directed by Adrian Lyne, who also helmed Unfaithful) only because the other woman, played by Glenn Close, turned into a bunny-boiling psychopath.
Michael Douglas was the hero of Fatal Attraction only because the other woman, played by Glenn Close, turned into a bunny-boiling psychopath.
Female rapists and would-be rapists abound on daytime TV (their weapon of choice is generally a powerful sleep aid), and they never require the redemption arc that their male counterparts do. Soap divas may get a worse rap than men for sleeping around, but when they slap men around, it’s boss, not bad, behavior.
Then she kissed me
I’m not immune to the double standard. Two years ago, I wrote about my #MeToo experience in a HuffPost essay, recounting my encounter with a doctor who sexually assaulted me when I was 23.
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In delving into my #MeToo history, it never even dawned on me to write about the beautiful British flight attendant I met at DJ Station in Bangkok several years ago who practically force fed me her tongue.
“Did you see that?” she asked with a posh British accent as she stopped me on my way upstairs. “Please tell me you didn’t see what I just did.”
Apparently, she had almost tripped on her way down the staircase, and she was worried that I was laughing on the inside.
“Don’t worry, Beyoncé does it all the time,” I said, assuring her that I had missed her near-slip.
She had nothing to worry about. She did, however, have my attention then, though it wasn’t exactly undivided. I kept looking over her head to take in the sights.
Women hate that, and I knew it, but she must not have noticed, or cared, because she grabbed my hand and dragged me to the dance floor. After a few bumps and grinds, she leaned in for a kiss. Instinctively, I pulled away. We redid this scene several times before the light bulb finally went on.
“You fancy boys!” she said. “Oh my God! I’m so embarrassed!”
She wasn’t handling this very well. This was one of those instances when the guy can say, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and really mean it, but I decided not to go there. Not that going there would have made a difference; she wasn’t going down without a fight.
“You’re the hottest guy in this place,” she kept saying. Not to be outdone, she added, “And I can have any guy I want, so you are very lucky that I want you.”
I wasn’t sure if she was coming on so strong because she was in a gay bar and felt she could be reckless with a guy there, or because she knew that as a woman she could get away with it.
Was she coming on so strong because she was in a gay bar and felt she could be reckless with a guy there, or because she knew that as a woman she could get away with it.
I’d been hit on by women before, and occasionally, I indulged them — once in Buenos Aires, a group of single ladies insisted that I kiss my straight friend Nico to confirm my sexual orientation— but I couldn’t recall any ever being this aggressive.
“It’s such a shame, such a pity that you’re gay,” she kept saying over and over.
“I don’t think so,” I responded. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
If I were a lesbian and she had been a man, the onlookers who thought her ardent pursuit of me was so amusing probably would have been appalled. Once they recovered from their speechlessness, they might have filed it under “sexual harassment,” “sexual assault,” and possibly “homophobia,” too. That flight attendant got a way with a lot that night — mostly because she was a woman.
I’ll never again give anyone a free pass, regardless of gender, no matter how “lucky” I am. If society is going to demand better of men, society needs to start demanding better of everyone.