January 30, 2023
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Celebrity Backlash: Yet Another Gender Gap?

“My impression is that people needed a break from me,” Anne Hathaway joked in a late-January Huffington Post interview.

In 2012, when asked about her continued collaboration with abuser and ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna said “It’s music, it’s innocent… I’m still going to do what I want to do.”

Let’s examine this for a minute. Anne Hathaway took a hiatus from her career after the media attention she garnered for a (well-deserved) Oscar win led to a backlash so strong that she was intimidated into putting her career on hold. (Jennifer Lawrence is likely on the same path, by the way.) Rihanna had to defend her own career agency after being the victim of physical abuse, while her abuser continues to experience success across the board, including two number-one albums since his heinous acts of violence entered the public consciousness.

Countless other women have been at the hard end of a swift public opinion turnaround in recent years: Taylor Swift (dates too many men), Beyoncé (her feminism isn’t authentic enough), Michelle Obama (“too glamorous”) and Oprah Winfrey (every time she talks about race).

With all of these women being forced to go on the defensive for inoffensive (or, more accurately, entirely fair and correct) behavior, where are the male celebrity backlashes? Sure, Chris Brown has earned his fair share of opposition, but his career is far from over. Certainly farther from over than that of, say, Dixie Chicks, who disappeared from radio after speaking out against the war in Iraq. If their comment, which aligned with what would become a majority opinion only a few years later, sparked a string of radio boycotts, public bulldozing of their records, and death threats, how has Chris Brown’s history of assault not diminished his status in the R&B community?

And what about the slut-shaming of Miley Cyrus? The defensibility of her aesthetic from 2013 onward aside, it’s certainly worth noting that her first post-Hannah Montana release, 2010’s “Can’t Be Tamed,” was met with a “think of the children” reaction, while Justin Bieber’s newly sexualized persona on 2012’s Believe had no such controversy. Even today, in the wake of his DUI/marijuana possession/assault arrest, discussion of his antics hasn’t caused an outcry from parents of his young fanbase.

What makes women go-to targets  for media and public scrutiny? Are they just more interesting subjects of criticism to tabloid readers? Or is this just a reflection of the double standard to which we hold successful people across all fields? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.