There’s a fascinating double-edged sword that comes out of the sheath when it comes to talking about women creators.
On the one hand, there’s an attitude that we should unreservedly support female artists. That they deserve a pass on some things because they are trying to make it in a difficult industry, and that it’s antifeminist to criticize female creators at all. Consumers should look for the intent, they argue, should consider the context, shouldn’t have such unreasonably high standards.
On the other hand, we have people who take advantage of the veneer of ‘criticism’ to spew misogyny and hatred about women. This includes people in feminist spaces who judge creators for everything from showing too much skin to not being feminist enough. This often feeds people who are not feminist and decide that since feminists said it was OK, they have carte blanche to trash female creators and to use really hateful language when doing so.
The polarization that surrounds discussions about works of pop culture created by women can sometimes make it really hard to fairly and honestly critique female creators. We all internalize misogyny to some extent and I am never surprised, though I am disappointed, when it expresses in pop culture critiques.
We have to be able to strike a balance.
It is necessary to evaluate and critique all pop culture, no matter the gender of the creator. Being a woman does not make you immune from criticism when your work is problematic. At the same time, we need to recognize that there is a history when it comes to talking about art created by women. A history of bringing discussions about personal lives into discussions of art, of picking female creative professionals apart personally, not just professionally, of expressing some internalized tropes in the way we interact with art created by women.
(Britney Spears, popular target for slut shaming and accusations of being an ‘attention whore.’)
There’s a reason that female creators on mixed-gender creative teams get all the blame for the mistakes while the men get a free pass. I’ve seen female creators accused of tainting or ruining the creative teams they work with, and this carries a whiff of some very old ideas about women and their supposed ability to poison and corrupt everything they touch.
There’s a reason that when people talk about music and other work created by female artists, they don’t just talk about the art, but also about the way the artists dress. The way they live their lives. I don’t see the same scrutiny being applied to male creators. Not many people say, for example, that a performance of masculinity by a male rap artist is problematic or offensive, yet people freely shred female artists for the way they present themselves. A woman who likes to wear miniskirts on stage is setting a bad example for the children! Artists who wear outrageous heels are reinforcing a harmful beauty standard! How dare actresses get plastic surgery! Actresses in a bad woman-centered film are treated to misogynist bile in their reviews, while horrible films starring men get a pass.
Should we talk about how things like, for example, the way gender performance in pop culture plays a role in how we perceive gender in real life? Absolutely we should, but the scrutiny applied to female creators of pop culture seems to run much deeper to me. It often seems, quite frankly, like an excuse to bring on the hate. As Snarky’s Machine pointed out in comments on Monday’s post, it’s very telling to see what kind of work and creators get passes from the feminist community, and what gets ignored or trashed.
We must be able to discuss art without attacking the creator or engaging in endless prurient speculation about the creator’s gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status, and other personal matters. I do think that there are some things in the personal lives of creators that are relevant to their work—take Roman Polanski, for example. There are some things that provide important context, or a reason to boycott a creator’s work. It’s sometimes hard to sift out when it’s appropriate to bring in the context of a creator’s personal life and history, and to consider matters that are on the public record, and when it’s not, and yet this is precisely what we need to do.
(There’s a great deal of speculation about Miley Cyrus’ mental health, something that should remain a personal matter unless she chooses to discuss it.)
It’s time to step off the seesaw of either blaming women artists for everything and using their personal lives as a vehicle for misogyny, or giving them a pass on everything.