Female aesthetics take precedent over their work
A sharply dressed E! News reporter stands on the red carpet awaiting the latest red carpet arrival. The celebrity is Angelina Jolie, dressed in a floor-length ruby gown that skims the floor of the red carpet. The reporter waits as Jolie strides over, and after exchanging formalities, pops the question:
“Who are you wearing?”
This is often the first question female celebrities are asked during red carpet events. This trend has continued for so long that it is an expectation of any entertainment reporter to ask this question and the celebrity to come to each reporter with the name of the designer.
Tahlia Fischer, women’s and gender studies lecturer at Ithaca College, said the wearing of designer dresses is part of a statement about fashion culture and class.
“Problematically, this puts the actress or the musician in a position of having to discuss their physical appearance and by extension their beauty, and it has very little to do with why they’re there in the first place,” she said.
With a thriving feminist movement fueled by celebrity feminists, the emergence of new gender equality organizations such as HeForShe and the growing influence of the feminist voice of social media, people are paying more attention to the treatment of women; the women of the entertainment world being no exception.
People are questioning the underlying intent of such sexist questions and the social ramifications on the perception of women in entertainment. Solely focusing on what a woman is wearing reinforces the stigma that the only important characteristic of a woman is her appearance. When women are branching out of their old social roles, this continued emphasis on beauty and appearance can be detrimental to the feminist movement.
Freshman Jacquelyn Kazim, member of Ithaca College’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action, said the feminist movement is about women choosing how they act and what they want to do. She said while it may be a goal for some women to look nice, it is not every woman’s goal.
“This constant focus on how women dress and how they look says that is what you have to do to be a woman and to be a proper woman,” she said.
To worsen the matter, the question “Who are you wearing?” appears in other variations, like, “What is your workout regimen?” or even, “Were you able to wear undergarments?” The implications of these questions raise eyebrows at the perception of female celebrities. The fact that reporters still believe it pertinent to know how Anne Hathaway physically trained for The Dark Knight Rises suggests a continued backwards thinking of a woman’s bodily appearance.
This trend has placed entertainment journalists under scrutiny for asking superficial questions to female celebrities while devoting more in-depth questions to males. Female celebrities are hardly ever asked about their works or opinions, only their appearance. This implies an inferiority of female celebrities compared to their male counterparts, despite the rising success of females in the industry. The lack of attention on a woman’s work neglects her talents and work ethic. Because reporters choose questions based on what they believe their audience will want to know, it suggests that the general population only cares about a woman’s physical beauty, which is far from the truth.
The Representation Project, a movement dedicated to combating gender stereotypes, began the Twitter hashtag “#AskHerMore” in February of last year to bring attention to and enact change in the way women are treated at awards shows. Many Twitter users who participated in the conversation demanded that reporters ask questions recognizing talent and work ethic instead of questions that focus on appearance.
The questions asked on the red carpet are not the extent of the problem, for the aftermath of such celebrity-studded events continues to perpetuate the issue. Magazines immediately publish issues surrounding the “best dressed” and “worst dressed,” online tabloids create compilation slideshows of the women and television shows like Fashion Police dissect women’s appearances from head to toe in the span of an hour. The primary dilemma lies in the continued acceptance of these programs as viable forms of entertainment.
Kazim said the popularity of these types of publications creates a woman-against-woman mentality, since women are the ones reading these magazines to make themselves feel better.
The focus on a female’s physical appearance can be detrimental to young girls who look up to these women. Reducing intelligent and successful women to beauty pageant contestants continues to stress the archaic idea that beauty ideals are the most important goals for a girl to aspire to. Emphasizing these standards can foster insecurity in girls who feel they do not meet these ridiculous beauty standards.
“They get this mentality that all their worth will come from how they’re dressed,” Kazim said.
The manner in which celebrity journalists talk to female celebrities impacts the daily treatment of women.
“It continues to affirm for us that we are constantly put in a position of being a kind of object to be looked at,” Fischer said.
Celisa Calacal is a freshman journalism major who doesn’t dress to impress you. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.