Benevolent Sexism and Hollywood

HannahmileyThis week some people in Hollywood have drawn attention to a double standard regarding photos of two teenage stars. In 2008, the 15 year old teen singer and actress Miley Cyrus appeared in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine in which she was shirtless and wrapped in a sheet. Shortly after these images were released, many criticized the photographer and magazine for taking advantage of the young star and sexualizing her to sell magazines.

taylorlautner

A similar phenomenon is currently occurring, but this time with Taylor Lautner, one of the teenage stars of Twilight. Many of the promotional images and videos for the film have featured the 17 year old start appearing shirtless. However, unlike with the situation involving Cyrus, there has been little criticism or media attention about his photos and whether the marketing campaign unfairly sexualizes him to promote the movie.

This double standard, that a young male can appear shirtless to help publicize his movie while his female counterpart is criticized for similar behavior has brought attention to the differential treatment of men and women in Hollywood. Consequently, many are left wondering why only the Miley Cyrus pictures brought such staunch criticism while the Lautner ones have not. One possible explanation is that of benevolent sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1997). Ambivalent Sexism Theory states that sexism may exist in two forms: hostile or benevolent. Hostile sexism seeks to relegate women to subordinate roles typically through overt and derogatory characterizations. Benevolent sexism, while problematic because it also relegates women to subservient roles, is often more covert. This form of sexism typically views women as weak or objects that need to be protected.

From this perspective then, widely held benevolent views may prompt people to act protective of the female Cyrus  and characterize her as being otherwise unable to take care of herself. Conversely, the male Lautner is not viewed as helpless and escapes any potential scandal. Such behavior, or in this case the lack of action, may be at least one illustration of modern sexism.

square-eyeA Hollywood Double Standard?

square-eyeGlick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1997). Hostile and Benevolent Sexism.

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One response to “Benevolent Sexism and Hollywood

  1. You make some interesting points, though the examples aren’t perfect – for one, the 2-year age difference, and then there’s the fact that a woman bares more than a man when the shirt comes off.

    I’m a little torn on the issue, but I think here it comes down to age. If I had a daughter, I’d react very strongly to her posing in a magazine at 15, and I’d imagine most men would feel the same. It would be very hard to call that reaction “sexist” – if I had a 15 year-old son do the same, I’d likely have the same reaction. At 17, however, it’s not as big an issue – he knows what he’s doing, and he’s gonna get laid like gangbusters. Likewise, if my daughter was 17, I certainly wouldn’t be happy, but it wouldn’t trigger the same protective urge as before. I don’t think “benevolent sexism” is a real issue when it comes to the big picture.

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