Monday, February 18, 2008

Which Came First: the Tabloids' Double Standard or Our Own?

An article in The Huffington Post pointed me to this New York Times article about celebrity coverage and the double-standard in celeb coverage.

It's a really good article, and it illustrates the difference between coverage of female celebrities and male celebrities.

We all know the Heath Ledger, Owen Wilson, Robert Downey, Jr., etc. coverage doesn't even compare to the Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, etc. coverage.

But the article touched on something important, through quotes from tabloid editors and celebrities.

1) women read USA Today and People more than men
2) women tend to feel sympathetic toward male celebrities
3) there's a schadenfreude that comes with female celebs-gone-wrong
which equals more time spent on the failures of female celebrities.

In this case, society has failed. Women are encouraged to go off the rails, men are encouraged to get on with their lives, triumph over addiction, crime, etc.

The other side of the equation:

1) women read USA Today and People more than men
2) there is more coverage of female celebrities than male celebrities in those magazines
3) readers of the magazine come to expect stories of female celebs in the dumpster
4) they start to like these stories
5) they buy more magazines when female celebrities are covered.

In this case, the tabloids are active participants in a double-standard that has hurt gender equality in this country. But in a way, the blame still falls on society.

Either way, it sucks.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we call female celebrities and politicians by their first names. The only exception I can think of is Amy Winehouse, who is usually referred to by her full name. Not sure how to explain that one. Maybe because there are too many famous Amys out there.

But with men, it's always either their full name or their last name. I think this is a symptom of the same problem: the public generally respects men more than women. Long ago, someone decided that a first name is a sign of familiarity. The full name or last name is a sign of respect.

"Hillary" isn't respected as much as "Obama." Sure, Hillary Clinton's campaign adopted this tendency in an attempt to make Clinton seem more friendly, but the media has co-opted it as a way of reminding everyone of her female-ness, her weakness. And why shouldn't they? The campaign opened the door, and it's what society's used to. They should've thought twice.

I don't think Hillary has the best personality, which is why she's attacking Obama for his "cult of" it, but unfortunately, every election is won, at least a little bit, on personality. It's not like anyone voted for Bush because of his policy. No, they voted for him because they thought he was one of them - someone he could drink a beer with.

I went off on a tangent - sorry. Anyway, there is clearly a double-standard, which I can't lay out better than the NYT article did. The worrisome part is that society is responsible for it. But I don't want to hear how we're responsible. I want to know how to change it.

I, for one, like hearing about powerful women doing good things. I don't want to talk shit about people, I want to hear about successful women making the world a better place. I know this is only entertainment, but, as you can see, it's seeping into politics. Any famous woman has to try twice as hard to maintain her privacy, and succeed twice as much as a male celeb. And it's unacceptable.

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