Saturday, February 16, 2008

Like Taking the Wings Off a Fly

NYTimes Fashion & Style Section Redeems Itself, Maybe

The reporting in the NYTimes Fashion & Style section often makes me cringe. With a pop-psychology "expert" approach, gender stereotypes are often delivered to readers based on "new studies" - that are often suspect in academia and wildly exploited by media outlets whether or not they have actual merit. Not surprisingly, it's a section that is all about buzz, buzz, buzz and Fashion & Style often has success in landing "most emailed article" status.

In Boys Will Be Boys, Girls Will be Hounded by the Media," however, Alex Williams provides smart analysis of the media's double standard about reporting the life crises of male versus female stars. Comparing the reportage of Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, Heath Ledger, Owen Wilson, Robert Downey, Jr. and other celebs, Williams makes a strong case for differential gendered treatment of stars when they are experiencing a problem in their personal lives:
“With men, there’s an emphasis on, ‘he had this issue, but he’s getting over it,’ ” Ms. [Rebecca] Roy [a psychotherapist] said. “But with women, it’s like they keep at it, keep at it. It’s almost like taking the wings off of a fly.

Pulling the wings off a fly indeed. I have often wondered when the media will in fact "leave Britney alone" - or if perhaps the goal is to drive her completely over the edge by keeping her under the telephoto microscope. Without condoning any antics acted out by those frequently featured in entertainment reporting, I agree with Williams that there is a double standard when it come to respecting boundaries of the personal and private lives of stars. Sure, when you step into the limelight, you do give up a certain amount of privacy - you are taking on being a public figure. At the same time, what does it say about our society that female stars are followed and pursued in ways that would certainly be categorized under many harrassment and stalking laws? And, yes, male stars are subject to similar paparrazi treatment. But when unsavory footage distastefully gained makes it to an editor's desk, why is there discretion for men and all out exploitation of women?

I guess you could say that it's Hollywood - and a specific cultural manifestation of society's misogyny.


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