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Graphic by Aymen Sherwani

To be ‘‘Woman’d’’: Unpacking the career life cycle of female public figures

By Aymen Sherwani, April 11 2023

When one is “woman’d,” Rayne Fisher-Quann describes it as when “everyone stops liking a woman at the same time.” An example would include Millie Bobby Brown’s rise to fame as a child star on Netflix’s Stranger Things followed by her subsequent fall as news outlets referred to her as “a massive diva” and being hard to work with. That’s code for “this woman has an opinion regarding her work, and that’s a little unconventional.” 

This same argument can be made for the careers of Meghan Markle, Anne Hathaway, Rupi Kaur, Jennifer Lawrence and Taylor Swift. These have all been women that were adored by the public for the work that they did or the positions they achieved but what promptly followed — time and time again — was the media and public tearing them down just as quickly as they built them up. 

Prior to her marriage, Meghan Markle was considered to be a down-to-earth and compassionate woman whose entrance into the British Royal Family was a symbolic stance against racism, due to her mixed-race heritage. How exactly did she also become known as an over-controlling diva? How did Jennifer Lawrence go from being adored for her character portrayal as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series and winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) to being referred to as a “pick-me” girl?  What often happens is that we are simply not used to celebrating or seeing women in the spotlight for such a long period of time, and within that time frame, these women are scrutinized for everything from their opinions, their clothes, their private relationships — almost looking for a reason to destroy them. Are we simply not used to women who stand out? Why do we applaud them for their outspokenness and then turn around and punish them for secretly having an agenda?

Jennifer Lawrence’s image was destroyed because she was given the verdict of being “too relatable” for saying that she loved pizza. At the time she was applauded for combating cultures of disordered eating at the time that glorified actresses starving themselves when filming, but later was torn down for that same stance and labelled as wanting to seem different and “not like other girls.” 

“Jennifer Lawrence isn’t normal. I’ve been saying it for years,” said Annie Lord, a contributor to The Tab in an article titled Dear Jennifer Lawrence, please can you stop pretending to be normal now.

“She’s not quirky, she’s not gross, and I will literally start bashing my head against the wall if I have to watch her fall over one more time,” she added. 

The media is somehow horrified by celebrity women doing absolutely normal things — such as liking pizza — because it’s hard to grasp the humanity of someone whose life oversaturates news and media so much so that they transcend being seen as the average human. They are either adored and idolized for their lifestyles or demonized — often for the very same thing. 

“For me, there are only two kinds of women — goddesses and doormats,” said Pablo Picasso, the infamously misogynistic Spanish painter

His commentary, if anything, highlights that patriarchal systems of existence condition us to believe a woman can never be on the same plane of existence as that of a male. There is scarcely a middle ground here where a woman can simply be considered human alongside her male counterparts. Rather, her existence is one that is unnatural, in one instance it is revered — like how men built cities in the name of female deities like Athena and Kali — whereas in the other instance, people are screaming to “burn the witch” for going against the status quo for trying to heal villagers with herbalist medicine instead of with bible verses.  

The rise and fall of female celebrity status is an extension of the fear that is embedded within the patriarchy of what would happen if a woman were to speak out. Perhaps against the racism and sexism she’s experienced within a royal family that has historically white supremacists. Perhaps she chose to voice her opinion in an industry where her body is only of value to those around her. To be sentenced to death in the court of public opinion as a woman is entirely different than simply being criticized — meaningful criticism can exist without the misogyny that accompanies being “woman’d.” However, the latter is situated more in the realm of degradation that occurs when the public is tired of that same authenticity they once applauded. Women are metaphorically criminalized for being too seen and labelled for wanting attention for their actions. 

Here, an advocate like Malala Yousafzai is transformed from the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for women’s rights into a puppet of foreign intervention and elitism. She too was hailed for standing up for what she believed in, threatened to change the status quo and was quickly discarded for seeming disingenuous and accused of fabricating her experiences altogether. Just as the multitudes of women before and after her.

How are women supposed to succeed in a system that is designed to see them inevitably fail as they approach greater levels of success? It’s a trick. Female public figures in patriarchy are seen as disposable as soon as they perform outside any arbitrary idea of womanhood, which implies that they are designed to fail in order to make room for the next fresh face. 

There’s this idea that human beings can grow, change, often referred to as strength and adaptability when exhibited by a man, but conniving and manipulative when exhibited as a woman. She is labelled as a strategist attempting to rebrand herself as more marketable but even within that argument, there exists an acceptance of the fact that women are viewed as commodities who are waiting to be valuable again.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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