Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mockingbird on loving Jennifer Lawrence and hating Anne Hathaway--what's the underlying law of feminine appeal here?

DZ has been noting for weeks that there are people digging Jennifer Lawrence and hating Anne Hathaway.  I'm okay with both actresses myself.  Lawrence had a pretty thankless role as a young Mystique in X-Men: First Class but anyone who saw that film would have realized it was hardly her fault there was little for her to do. When I saw the film with my brother a few years ago he said she wasn't that memorable or good.  I opted to be more generous, I said that if someone gave her a real character and an actual story she could do some good work.  Well, take that brother, apparently she's been given some better material! 

As for Hathaway, I frequent comic book discussion forums enough to remember the Hatha-hate revolving in part around Hathaway not being "sexy" enough to play Selina Kyle. Those were moments when I remembered a long-ago quote from comics author and artist Andi Watson in which he said that comics would look different if more comics artists had ever touched a real, living woman even once in their lives.  But I'm in danger of digressing again, I spotted over on Slate that an author quoted Howard Stern on Hathaway with the sentiment, "She tries too hard."

Whether we're talking about the tomboy or the glamorous princess apparently the big put-down is if the effort shows.  Now this may be a useless, sweeping generalization but men seem eager to show off how much they work at something. Even when a guy makes light of how effortlessly he did or said something the underlying point, for many a guy, is you know the guy is saying that he has paid his dues and he has earned the respect you should be giving him now.  Men are supposed to be able to conspicuously earn whatever they get.  Women, it seems, are expected to be so naturally and effortlessly lovely and charming that letting slip the amount of ambition and effort going into being whatever kind of woman you are is a betrayal of some underlying law of idealized femininity, "Thou shalt not be seen as working at being a woman."  If this were really some hegemonic patriarchal impulse, though, there shouldn't be any women in any context hating on Hathaway, should there? 

That in as enlightened an age was we're supposedly in that there's any "Hatha-hate" at all suggests that we'll never be that enlightened.  There's going to be some visceral lizard-brain reaction if, as DZ and others have put it, someone is considered not-pretty-enough or too-pretty.  The women who are considered too-pretty under normal circumstances will get a pass if enough people have decided "Well, she's not conspicuously working at it, so she must be okay."  These kinds of status assessment games don't stop getting played just because we tell ourselves we're above them. 

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