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Are Celebrities Effective Voices for Feminism?

Because Mila Kunis has something to say.

11.04.16
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Famous women are very clearly tired of Hollywood’s bullshit. The latest installment of this dropped on Wednesday, in the form of Mila Kunis’ open letter in A Plus about her experience wading through the storied misogyny the industry is known for. The piece doesn’t break ground; it just kind of stomps around in a familiar mud pit.

“I taught myself that to succeed as a woman in this industry I had to play by the rules of the boy’s club,” she wrote. “But the older I got and the longer I worked in this industry, the more I realized that it’s bullshit! And, worse, that I was complicit in allowing it to happen.”

Her characterization of producers and execs makes me do a combo-pack of yawning and whatever this sound is: UGhhhhhhhhhhhHhhhhHHhhhHHhhhhhhhhhhh. One producer told her she’d “never work in this town again” if she didn’t pose semi-naked on a men’s magazine. Another — who she was meant to be collaborating with as a producer herself — described her in an email as “Ashton’s wife and baby mama” in lieu of using her personal accolades.

These are tiny moments. I get why some people might be sick of hearing about them. Micro-aggressions don’t quite pack the same punch as — just to pull a random example out of thin air — being grabbed by the pussy. And micro-aggressions lodged against filthy rich celebrity women whose lives are defined by awe-inspiring opportunities most people can’t even conceptualize? They feel even more microscopic.

Remember Jennifer Lawrence’s essay in Lenny Letter about making less than her male costars?

“It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable.” she wrote. And a little later: “I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me).”

Micro-aggressions are problematic as fuck. But Lawrence is right. It is hard to relate to her woes and those of others like her. I’ve stumbled at times myself. But this is where framing and acknowledgement become important. Because, like it or not, celebrity women are beacons of representation.

Kunis’ final statement: “If this is happening to me, it is happening more aggressively to women everywhere. I am fortunate that I have reached a place that I can stop compromising and stand my ground, without fearing how I will put food on my table.”

She’s addressing her privilege. She’s saying that her experience is worthy of sharing because it’s indicative of worse behavior elsewhere. But I think it’s worthy of sharing for another reason: the struggles of celebrity women don’t just echo through their mansions, they echo everywhere. They manifest in failed Bechdel tests, sexist magazine covers, a continued tradition of the marginalization of an entire gender in the media. “Micro-aggressions” in Hollywood grow legs, nestle into the collective unconscious and become macro. These women should keep talking, and we should keep listening.

Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage via Getty Images.

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  • Jackie

    Amen.

  • I love her! Well said x

    http://www.wonkylauren.com

  • Mariana

    More than being paid less than man, I face more the problem of certain jobs / career opportunities being offered more to man than to women. Because, even if we don’t want to admit it, women still have more responsibilities at home and sometimes have to leave early to stay with a sick son, are breast feeding, take 5 months of maternity leave. If you are a recruiter and you are indecisive between 2 candidates, one man and one woman, I believe the tendency is to choose the man. And that is not good or fair. At one point, in a very advanced stage of a recruiment that later I declined due to diferent reasons, I have been asked: “Do you have a boyfriend? Kids? Do you have any hobbies? Because you future boss is someone very demanding…” Like, do I have a life, is that what are you asking me?! I was tempted to answer that, but I gave her a less passive-agressive answer lol.

    • Lindsay D

      Me too! I also rarely talk about my boyfriend, i don’t want to be put on the “mom track” at work

  • Adrianna

    Trickle Down Feminism – these celebrities are igniting conversations that need to be had. For example, I can start off a conversation about the sexism I experience by asking “did you see what was trending about Mila Kunis.”

    I think the current election has helped me formulate why it always bothered me that people respond with “well, people are going through much worse than you.” People don’t stop using that phrase just with celebrities. Trump was asked about the Billy bush video during the second debate – he literally responded with “well, people are being killed by ISIS.”

  • Jolie

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. My reaction when I read these types of “celebrity realizes sexism exists” stories like Mila’s is usually “oh yeah, I’m sure her not getting treated well by some asshole director in an audition is so hard for her.” Then I wonder why I react so aggressively. I think it’s because I’m bitter about being an average, twenty-something woman who has to deal with worse shit all the time. I experience blatant sexism nearly everyday, mostly on a larger scale than they seem to. But I hate myself for even thinking that because…solidarity.

    In the end, you’re right, Haley. They need to keep speaking out. Because even if they represent a much more privileged group of people, they’re showing that these things happen to EVERYONE, even the richest, prettiest, and most powerful among us.

  • She is so cute.

  • This article just completely answered the question I had been walking around with ever since I read about Kunis’ letter. Sometimes I feel like Man Repeller can read my mind 😀 Thanks for a great read!

  • snakehissken

    I honestly don’t really understand their reaction. Sure, their problems aren’t relatable because they’re rich… but they can stand up and speak out. If Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis kick up a fuss and force the powers-that-be in Hollywood to consider their words and their actions, then that has a direct impact on the thousands of women in Hollywood who can’t stand up for themselves. Now that Mila has told everyone that she refused to pose half-naked and the movie still made money, a young actor who is still building her career can point to that and say, “No, I don’t have to do that – Mila didn’t and the movie was fine.”

    The perception that women don’t need as much money as men because they’re the secondary income is still out there despite the facts that women are often the primary income nowadays and that it shouldn’t matter anyway. It’s a big deal for Jennifer Lawrence to be saying, “Hey, it’s not cool if you think it doesn’t matter, women should still be paid the same.” It’s also a big deal for actors like Bradley Cooper to say that they’re going to tell their female costars what they’re being paid – it shows that men have a responsibility to make sure that equal pay is taking place and again, could have a direct impact on the salary of a young actor starring in her first blockbuster. It’s my hope that the women on top kicking up a fuss will trickle down all the way to the production assistant’s salary, but we’ll see.

    A lot of these things are happening because the oppressed minority is cowed into silence. The women who speak up while acknowledging their privilege shouldn’t be criticized. We should see them as starting a movement.