“We need to stop expecting other women to help us just because we’re women, too.”
Critics and viewers lauded Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s hosting job at the Golden Globes this year. The rave reviews agreed their timing was flawless, their writing was smart, and their charm was undeniable. What should have been a celebration of women in comedy became a stereotypical catfight thanks to one attendee who was less than impressed with their comedic performance. Taylor Swift did not take well to the hosts’ jab at her well-documented romantic foibles. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Swift responded to the joke by referring to a pearl of wisdom offered to her by Katie Couric, noting that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Aside from the ways in which Swift’s statement makes her look like someone who takes herself far too seriously (particularly in light of the fact that the reason we are so familiar with her love life is that she has made millions of dollars writing songs about it), there are myriad problems with her statement. Surely Swift would not argue that female comedians can only make jokes about men. And what exactly does she mean by “help,” anyway? Why would Fey and Poehler aim to help or hurt anyone in an awards show monologue? Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the idea that women should be helping women just because they’re women. The concept reeks of sexism, and undermines the ability of women to achieve on their own merits.
The relationship of women with other women is fraught with allegations of cattiness, competition, and childishness. This “feud” between Fey, Poehler, and Swift demonstrates the way some women believe the “sisterhood” of gender should provide a safe haven, thereby rendering them immune from criticism or, in this case, harmless jokes. I’m also curious about Katie Couric’s intention in making this statement in the first place, assuming she actually did. Surely, she wouldn’t argue that “helping” other women means turning a blind eye to their flaws in the name of some unspoken vagina-related bond. I think it’s safe to say Sarah Palin would reserve a spot in that “special place in hell” for Couric after the much-lampooned (by Fey!) interview she did during the 2008 presidential campaign where she appeared, well, less than prepared.
The complicated relationship women have with each other has played out recently in the media coverage of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. The obsession with her “bump” has become fodder for countless magazines who either claim she is gaining weight at the rate of approximately five pounds a day or that she is desperately trying to stay thin during the pregnancy and already planning her tummy tuck for the “post-baby bod” covers that will inevitably follow. Curiously, women have been writing articles about how even though Kardashian has made a career of broadcasting (literally) her life, this “fat-shaming” is bad for women. I think everyone agrees that calling people fat simply to flog them in the public square is mean-spirited and fruitless. But who buys these magazines? Women.
Perhaps when demonizing the media for printing these stories, we could also consider why they do it. Celebrity and pop cultures magazines will not print stories they don’t think women want to read. We love nothing more than to watch the women we covet for their beauty succumb to the reality of gestation and childbirth. When they somehow manage to get back into their size 2 jeans six weeks after they give birth, we snarkily refer to their private chefs, plastic surgery, and celebrity spas. “Well, if I had a million dollars and a chef, I could lose the weight too,” we cry. If you don’t like the stories these magazines and entertainment shows produce, don’t consume them.
For me, these two examples connect in the ways women navigate their relationship with other women. We want women to be considered just as funny as men, but don’t allow any of those jokes to be about one of us. We want to simultaneously be angry with the media for “fat-shaming” Kim Kardashian, but we clamor to buy the next In Touch Magazine to vote on which celebrity wore an outfit “best” (and, implicitly, who looks like crap in the outfit). Our sisterhood is rife with contradictions, and we need to stop expecting other women to help us just because we’re women too. This does not help our cause and it reinforces gender stereotypes. The last thing we need is to be the perpetrators of the sexism we fight against.
For the record: the Fey and Poehler joke was funny, Swift needs to learn how to take a joke and contextualize advice from her mentors, and Kim Kardashian is not fat–she’s just pregnant. If you consume the content that pits women against each other, then you’re a part of the problem. Instead of reading about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy diet, you could be writing a song about how you are “never, ever, ever, getting back together” with someone. Or something.