Renee Zellwegger, Monica Lewinsky: Stuck in the Past

On Tuesday morning my news feed was full of images of Renee Zellweger at the Women in Hollywood awards. A gasp of shock could be heard across cyberspace, and thousands of people went online to note that Zellweger looked completely different.

By Tuesday evening the conversation was starting to turn and op-eds began to appear arguing that Zellweger’s appearance was the result of our culture’s obsessions with youth and beauty, and that actresses who have made their name playing ingénues and rom-com heroines are expected to remain eternally youthful and castigated if they don’t or if their plastic surgery is too obvious. Exceptions may be made for character actresses like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep or Melissa Leo, but being over 40 — and worse, looking it — has you assigned to the Hollywood scrap heap.

Now I am not going to argue that Hollywood is a meritocracy or that older actresses don’t have a hard time finding work. A 2013 study from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that actresses received only 28 percent of all the speaking roles in Hollywood films in 2012 — a five year low. The film industry has a preference for young, beautiful faces, and today’s “sweetheart” becomes tomorrow’s non-entity. Meg Ryan, once the most bankable woman in Hollywood, has been conspicuous by her absence.

You could argue that actresses, like sports stars and models, have short careers and are richly rewarded for it. And you could also argue that many male stars who made their name as the “hot guy” in their twenties and early thirties are no longer being offered starring roles. You’d get no arguments here. But with Zellweger something different is afoot.

Now I love a good opinion piece with a feminist slant on popular culture, but Zellweger, who is now in her mid-40s, doesn’t look younger — she looks different. There is no getting away from the physical evidence that her face, eyes and cheekbones seem to have radically altered.

Zellwegger has, predictably enough, denied using plastic surgery, claiming her new face is the result of ageing and of being at peace with herself. Whatever the truth, like Mickey Rourke, she appears to have morphed into an almost different person entirely. There’s no getting away from that. But whether or not we, the movie going public, have a right to nitpick over a star’s face and body and subject it to critique is another matter. But in this case, the public outrage, or confusion, surrounding Zellweger is understandable.

While Zellweger was hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you may have missed the news the Monica Lewinsky has reinvented herself as a public speaker tackling cyberbullying. If anyone can relate to what it is like to be the target of ire for millions of strangers, it’s Lewinsky.

The public outrage that still surrounds Lewinsky is a whole lot less forgivable, particularly twenty years after the fact.

Predictably enough, under the articles I read, the content of Lewinsky’s speech was glossed over in favour of jokes about cigars, blow jobs and stained dresses mixed in with comments on Lewinsky’s looks. Like Zellweger, many suspect that she has had plastic surgery because at 41 years old, Lewinsky is presumed to looked “better” than she did at 22 years old.

Has Lewinsky had plastic surgery? Possibly. I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters except that if she has, it is probably a reaction to the sustained abuse she has received over the years. One of the ugliest aspects of the scandal was the constant stream of bile calling Lewinsky ugly and overweight.

The comments proved Lewinsky’s point — in the age of social media, there is no escaping the cyberbullies. Not that you’re likely to have forgotten it, but what exactly was Lewinsky’s great crime? Nearly twenty years ago, she gave someone a few blow jobs — that’s it, but Lewinsky has become such a whipping girl and figure of ridicule that huge amounts of people immediately react to her with derision or anger.

Piers Morgan — himself no stranger to social media flame wars — blamed Lewinsky of the her own downfall and summed up what many people were thinking.

“If you’re a 22-year-old intern working at the White House and you embark on an affair with your married President, then most people would probably say the shame-ometer probably starts right there and then.”

Yes, Bill Clinton was definitely married, but if you believe in the sanctity of marriage vows then it was up to him to keep them. Lewinsky wasn’t breaking any solemn promises of sexual fidelity — Clinton was. Besides which, Lewinsky was just 22 years old, and Bill Clinton was the most powerful man in the world, and a well-known rogue in the mould of JFK to boot. That a young woman was dazzled by his Southern charm, good looks, and most particularly, his position, is complete understandable.

Despite the huge coverage the scandal received many people think that Lewinsky broke the story herself, which is factually incorrect. She was betrayed by her colleague Linda Tripp who taped their conversations about the affair, and gave the evidence to Kenneth Starr, who then kicked off the presidential impeachment nonsense.

There was no way Lewinsky could have predicted what came after. Most people who have affairs with married men or women do so in secret, and they certainly don’t expect to become the target of the world’s media or a political witch hunt. Unlike someone like Rebecca Loos, Lewinsky initially tried to distance herself from the affair and went into hiding. She gave a rare interview to Time magazine in 1999 hoping to rehabilitate her image, but she has turned down several offers, and millions of dollars, to write a book about her indiscretion. While Clinton has gone on to be a respected elder statesman and beloved public speaker, Lewinsky has spent the past twenty years trying to dodge the scandal but no-one is prepared to let her forget it. From her Vanity Fair piece on shaming earlier this year, it seems she has decided to embrace the scandal and turn it into a cautionary tale about cyberbulling and slut shaming.

Although very different women with very different public personas, Zellwegger and Lewinsky make an interesting comparison. While Zellweger cannot escape the star image we have of her as the fresh faced chubby cheeked twenty something of Empire Records and Jerry Maguire, Lewinsky cannot escape the image of the fresh faced chubby cheeked twenty something intern in a stained blue dress.

Why won’t we allow them to grow up?

celebrities, News, sex laws

John Grisham thinks viewing child porn is fine – as long as it’s not boys…

John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers The Firm and The Pelican Brief, took on the American judicial system in a recent interview. Grisham argues that American prisons are full of people who shouldn’t be there, such as black teenagers on minor drug offences, white collar fraudsters like Martha Stewart and “sixty year old white men” who look at child porn.

His views seems to be largely based on the conviction of an old friend who was jailed for looking at child porn.

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there… He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys.”

First off, you are extremely unlikely to accidentally stumble upon child pornography. Porn producers are very, very careful about the age of performers; hosting services and search engines automatically scour the web looking for anything dodgy and most child porn is hidden in the deep web.*

Secondly, why are sixteen year old girls seen as less problematic than ten year old boys? They may be teenagers, on the brink of adulthood, and legally allowed to have sex with other teenagers (in most American states as well as here) but they are still very young girls who cannot legally consent to perform in porn. Therefore it is impossible to know under what conditions the images or films were produced, or if coercion or force were part of the equation.

Finally, Grisham seems to think that child porn is a victimless crime, since the person viewing it did not touch anyone. He overlooks the fact that the child in the image was hurt, and anyone who views child porn creates the market for more and more of it to be produced – which means more and more children are harmed.

Grisham argues that people who look at child porn are not pedophiles. That may be true in the sense that anyone viewing child porn may never have touched a child, nor have any intention of doing so. But it is hard to square that with the fact that when most people search for porn, we search for the scenarios, images and people that we find sexually exciting, not the ones that leave us cold. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t leave a child alone in the company of someone whose porn preferences were for children.

You could certainly make a case that the US government is far too fond of locking up its citizens, particularly young African American men – and since Grisham is a lawyer as well as an author, he would have been in an ideal place to open up the conversation since he is on the road promoting his new book Gray Mountain. Unfortunately, his bizarre views on child porn are sure to make any nuanced discussion impossible as well as dodge his new novel. What a pity.

*It is possible some images of underage people were part of the “Snappening” – an unauthorised release of stored Snapchat photos.

celebrities, evil trends, News, opinions

Hackergate: Is it a sex crime?

Jennifer Lawrence recently spoke out about celebrity hackergate. In an interview with Vanity Fair, the actress called the release of her private naked images a “sexual violation” and said that, “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime.”

Lawrence makes an interesting point. On the one hand, technology has given us new ways to interact sexually with one another. Whether you send a nude image, engage in long-distance sex play over Skype or make a porn at home, we all recognise that this behaviour is sexual. Therefore, the theft and distribution of sexual images could be seen as a sexual violation. On the other hand, you could argue that seeing this as a sex crime does a disservice to victims of sexual assault. After all, Lawrence’s images – not her body – were the target.

Just after Lawrence’s interview became public, trolls defaced her Wikipedia page, replacing her picture with one of the stolen naked images. Luckily Wikipedia caught that and the page was returned to normal within 20 minutes. Someone, it seems, was not happy about being called out on their behaviour.

What do you think: is stealing, distributing and using someone’s sexual images a sexual violation or just a privacy violation?

News, sex laws, Technology

Consent? There’s an app for that…

I am a big fan of sex, and a big fan of technology, but there are times when the two don’t mix. A case in point is Good2Go, an app designed with the idea of curbing sexual assaults on American college campuses. Lee Ann Allman, who created the app, was apparently inspired by a discussion with her college-aged children.

You may be aware that California recently introduced a “Yes Means Yes” consent law on college campuses. This is partly in response to a number of high profile reports on the extent of sexual assault at American universities. College authorities have been ignoring the problem for years. It seems an institution’s “brand” is more important than their students. While any measure to reduce sexual assaults is a good thing, I am at a loss as to how Good2Go could help. If anything, it puts users in a more precarious position than before.

First off, consent can be withdrawn at any time – even if you are naked and in bed, you are allowed to change your mind and your partner has got to respect that decision. If he or she doesn’t, it is sexual assault. If you’ve answered Yes with Good2Go there is a greater chance you may feel pressured into continuing; or your partner may think he or she will be able to force you without any consequences since they have a record of your initial consent. This means that victims would be less likely to speak up for fear that they would not be believed.

Secondly, who the hell would this appeal to, other than rapists? I can see the point in the Good2Go app if sexual assault is your thing. You could steal a victim’s phone before the assault and answer Yes; or you could force them to download the app and “consent” at knifepoint. Good2Go might not be legally binding, but the courts will take any evidence of consent into considerations, and this may be enough to convince a jury that a rapist is innocent.

The only people this app could reasonably protect is students afraid of being falsely accused of rape. While there is a lot of discussion about this online, the chances of actually being falsely accused are slim. Various studies suggest 1 or 2 percent of all reported rapes are false, but these very, very unlikely to make it to court due to lack of evidence and the accuser recanting.

As far as I can see, the only people who need be worried about a “false” rape accusation are rapists – not jump-out-at-you-with-a-knife rapists, but those who target victims who are too drunk to consent, or who pressure an unwilling partner into sex. These rapists may kid themselves that what they do is fine because they don’t use force, but it is sexual assault. Giving them any tool, such as an app where they can protect themselves is madness.

In the US, sexually assaults on campus are generally investigated by the university instead of the police. This is supposed to protect students because the university doesn’t have as high a bar for evidence as the courts, but even when a student is found guilty, the university generally won’t expel the rapist, withhold transcripts or enact any real punishment anyway. The sad fact is that in a closed community like a campus, a rape victim is more likely to become the target of malicious gossip than a rapist.

And finally, if you find discussing sexual consent so icky that you have to do it via an app, you are not Good2Go because you are in no way emotionally mature enough to have sex. End of.

sex quiz

How much do you know about sex?

Here is a relatively tricky quiz from Buzzfeed about sex. It should be no surprise to anyone that I did very well on this quiz. After all, I have been writing about sex for a *while* now. Go on, you know you want to…

celebrities, evil trends, News

Emma Watson threatened with nude release by 4chan MRAs

Emma Watson dared (dared!) to give a very mild speech about feminism and how rigid gender roles define both men and women at the UN recently and has been threatened by 4chan users with having nude photos released as punishment. Let’s have a look at some sample quotes from 4chan users enraged by her speech: It is real and going to happen this weekend. That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman. she is a delicate flower and it is time for her fans to see her in full bloom, unlike your shitty cow tit attention whore there she makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH Lovely. For comparison, let’s look at what Watson said that got the neckbeards enraged:

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

It is possible it may be a hoax, but even if so, the message is clear: if you talk about gender equality you will be punished. In an interview with Hot Press, Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project told me of the numerous threats she had received, including violent threats targeting her wedding. For more examples see: Anita Sarkeesian, Caroline Criado-Perez, and Amanda Hess to name a few.

EDITED TO ADD: It seems the leak may have been a stunt from Rantic Marketing aimed at discrediting 4chan (or at least their users). 4chan is of course not averse to hosting hacked private nude pics, and many women who speak out about gender equality are rewarded with death and rape threats, having their address made public and other sensitive information doxxed. If this is indeed a stunt, it is easy to see why it was so believable.

Online Dating, Sex and Psychology

Swipe left or right? Here’s why.

Do you judge someone’s class by their Tinder picture? According to a study done by journalist Anne Helen Petersen markers of class, race, religion and education all affect whether we decide to swipe left or right. Here’s the full piece. There are a few issues with how the study was conducted (Petersen doesn’t focus on weight, for example) but it is a pretty fascinating read.

celebrities, News, opinions, relationships

Kelly Brook: Serial Abuser

If you’ve been reading the US media for the past few weeks, you’re sure to have seen the shitstorm around the American football player Ray Rice, who was caught on an elevator camera punching his then-fiancee, now wife, Janay Palmer. In case you missed it Rice hit Palmer so hard she passed out and Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, suspended him for two games.

The Baltimore Ravens’ response to the incident is not surprising given that Rice is a star player and brings in a lot of money – but after a media and public outcry, Rice was fired by the team and indefinitely suspended by the NFL. Some commentators argued that Palmer married Rice after the incident, which they took as evidence that she didn’t mind been punched in the face by her partner, while others took the view that one’s personal and professional lives are separate, and it is not up to your employer to police your behaviour outside of work. However, by and large, most people were disgusted by the incident and the slap on the wrist Rice initially received. That’s as it should be – so why aren’t more people up in arms about Kelly Brooks’ admission that she has punched two of her previous partners, Jason Statham and Danny Cipriani?

You could argue that when talking about domestic abuse, size counts. Certainly Brook is no match physically for Statham or Cipriani, just as Rice significantly outmatches Palmer in terms of size and strength. In one sense this is a perfectly valid argument: a punch or kick that causes permanent damage or breaks bones or leaves marks behind is a worse thing to experience than a slap that doesn’t.

The 2005 National Crime Council and ESRI research into the domestic abuse in Ireland found that 1 in 7 women in Ireland compared to 1 in 17 men experience severe domestic violence. Chances are you know an abuser, and a victim, if not more than one of each. According to this survey, women are twice likely to be injured as a result of domestic abuse; more likely to experience serious injuries; more likely to require medical attention as a result of abuse.

But domestic violence isn’t only about the physical abuse, but the emotional toll too.

Western culture (at least the English speaking part) prefers to pretend domestic violence only happens infrequently or that the perpetrators are almost always uneducated men from low income backgrounds. This is not the case. Abuse happens across the socio-economic spectrum, and abusers can be male or female, gay or straight. We particularly have a blind spot when it comes to female on male violence, treating it – or the victim – as a joke.

The fact that Brook felt free to publicly admit to her violent behaviour speaks volumes about how we treat male victims of female domestic abuse. Brook did not expect to be castigated for her behaviour. Instead she’s been making a meal ticket out of it. In interviews over the past few days, Brook has engaged in victim-blaming: “I started to think all these men are absolutely spineless” and “I’ve wasted so much time with stupid boys and doing stupid things.” When TV host Phillip Schofield called her on her violent behaviour, Brook suggested that the men were to blame: “I’m not going to do that in the future, I’m just going to pick more wisely in the men I be with.”

Sure, Statham and Cipriani are both bigger and stronger than Kelly Brook, but that’s not really the point. The point is that nobody, no matter what your size, deserves to be their partner’s punching bag. Cipriani has admitted to cheating on Brook, but that doesn’t excuse her behaviour either. Why has Brook been largely given a pass? Is it because she is a woman, and an incredibly attractive one at that? I suspect it is – and that’s not nearly good enough.





celebrities, evil trends, News

Iggy Azalea ex flogging sex tape

I’m writing about the celebrity nudes hacker scandal in the next issue of HP, and hot on the heels of that, TMZ has reported that Iggy Azalea’s ex-boyfriend is shopping around a sex tape featuring her. Azalea originally denied making a sex tape, but now her legal team have hinted that it might exist, but if so, the home movie was taken “without her knowledge or consent.” If this is true, then her ex is a piece of human excrement…

Adding to the skeeviness of the entire thing, it seems it may have been taken when she was under 18. In that case, it qualifies as child porn and her ex could find himself facing charges instead of a big, fat payday.

opinions, random surveys, Sex and Psychology

Do Straight Women Secretly Hate Themselves?

Are you a straight woman who prefers the old P in V to oral sex? If so, maybe you are suffering from internalised misogyny and body issues.  That’s according to an not-very-scientific study done by vlogger Arielle Scarcella.

Scarcella hosts the popular “Lesbians Explain” YouTube series, and she wanted to know what kind of sex her viewers preferred, so she asked 500 of her straight female viewers and 500 lesbian viewers whether they prefer oral sex or penetration. She found that a majority, 55 percent, of her straight female viewers preferred penetration, but only 25 percent of lesbian viewers agreed. Scarcella wanted to know why there was such a large difference, and analysed the responses.

Many of the straight women felt that oral sex requires a greater level of vulnerability, and felt uneasy about receiving pleasure without giving any in return is uncomfortable. That’s entirely believable given that simultaneous orgasm is the Holy Grail of straight sex – despite the fact that this is can be very difficult for many couples to achieve.  Gay and lesbian sex tends to be more turn-based, for obvious reasons, so it is not surprising that Scarcella’s lesbian viewers felt more comfortable being on the receiving end.

However Scarcella loses me when she concludes that a preference for penetrative sex “all relates back to misogyny and how women feel about their bodies.” Er no. I can think of several reasons why straight women might prefer P to O more so than their lesbian sisters that have nothing to do with sexism or self-esteem. Here’s a few:

1. Penises are better than strap-ons or dildos. No matter how fancy your strap-on is, it is never going to be as flexible or as fleshy as a dick. If you are in an exclusive sexual relationship you have skin-to-skin contact, which allows a man and woman a lot of sensory feedback about their partner’s enjoyment, which is not possible with a toy.

2. Furthermore, penetrative sex is *supposed* to be about mutual pleasure, if not necessarily mutual orgasm. If you are both having a great time simultaneously, that can feel more emotionally satisfying than taking turns.

3. Practice. Straight couples probably have more penetrative sex than oral. Orgasm is partly a learnt response, so if you have more P in V than oral, and learn to achieve orgasm this way, you’re likely to prefer it.

4. Many men are not that good at oral. If you have a full set of lady parts, you’re probably going to be better at dealing with them than if you don’t. No disrespect intended. I’d bet good money that the average gay man is better at blowjobs than the average straight woman too.

5. Having to return the favour. Many women just don’t like giving blowjobs, and if you nix oral in favour of penetration, you won’t feel obliged to.

That’s off the top of my head. Anybody have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them.