In January, I launched HelLA, a web show about funny, hellish, "only in LA," moments.
Sick of being told I wasn’t fill-in-the-blank enough by Hollywood, I started making my own content. After all, I’m so much more than my physical appearance.
Ironically, when I released my first episode “Shopping in LA...” I found myself forced to confront exactly what I was trying to escape by becoming an independent artist: superficial, misogynistic bullshit.
To summarize, in this 38-second video, I’m trying on a dress with my friend Jackie, and I ask her if it’s flattering or not. She tells me that I, “look amazing” and that I “look like a model” at which point supermodel Heather Marks walks out in the same dress.
Heather is one of my best friends, and I know that she’s neither anorexic nor a “meth head” as some of the comments accuse, she just happens to be in the .01% of the population that is perfectly suited for modeling. That’s the joke, LA is full of the .01%. You’re probably not going to be trying on bikinis next to Heidi Klum in Kansas, but it’s entirely possible in LA.
Unfortunately, this message was dwarfed by the overwhelming amount of comments like, “I think the right one is far more attractive than the left one...” or, “All three are very f#$kable.”
So, I watched as our numbers grew, and my video was reduced to some sort of "hot or not" competition. I thought about saying something, but the conversation had strayed so far from the original concept that it seemed futile. This was what it was now, the Reddit thread and the YouTube comments said so.
In the beginning, most of the negative comments seemed to be aimed at Heather. On the one hand, I thought, maybe maybe society is expanding its ideal of beauty. On the other hand, thin shaming is just as bad as fat shaming, and both objectify women. Heather’s beautiful, she’s funny and kind and stunning in person. In these comments, people talked about her like she was a one dimensional layout in a glossy magazine and not a human being who may actually be reading and internalizing their comments.
Then came the “white knight” backlash. The assumption being that everyone knows I’m not the “hot” one and therefore I need a knight to defend me. Call me out of touch, but I’d never heard this term before. If you google it, these are some of the definitions:
“One that comes to the rescue; a savior.”
“Men who go to extreme lengths to defend or justify a woman's behavior, because she is a woman, though she may not need defending, want defending, or is fully capable of defending herself. It's also used to get on that woman's good side, for the purpose of repayment in whatever form later.”
Aside from the fact that these knights were missing the point, that this wasn’t a beauty contest, I was unfazed. I don’t know if it’s that I’m used to it, or that I like myself enough not to let comments about my body upset me, but I laughed at almost all of them.
Like the person who detailed the exact amount of weight I needed to "loose" (1-2kg) in order to be “101% perfect.” That’s like a colonic away from being perfect, what am I waiting for?!? No, the body image comments didn’t bother me, but the generalizations about women did.
And the rape comments.
As I read through these comments, I felt my face get warm. I thought, “What is wrong with these people,” which was immediately followed by, “Well, it’s the Internet, you have to expect this sort of thing." But that’s the problem, the Internet isn’t some separate entity. The internet is us, a reflection of society. And by all accounts, society hates women.
It worries me to think about what Mr. 101% says to his girlfriend, or the other women in his life, about their appearances. It worries me that we live in a culture where a joke with three women turns into open-season for anyone with sight, fingers, and a keyboard to attack all of our bodies. It worries me that being pro-women is such a negative ad threatening thing. And, more than anything, it worries me that my first response when reading such horrible things is more often than not simply, “But I guess that’s to be expected though, right? I mean, it’s the Internet.”
By expecting and excusing this sort of behavior, I became an apologist and part of the problem that allows misogyny and rape culture to continue to this day. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I expect this sort of behavior. I should expect more, we all should. This wouldn’t have happened with three men in the video.
When I made the series, I wanted it to be successful. And I got that, but not without having to confront misogyny and rape culture. Now I can’t help but wonder if there will ever come a time when a woman can create something that captures the truth about how women are represented in American society without being reduced to less than human for doing so? I guess this question makes me a “crazy feminist” huh? I’m cool with that.