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Emily Ratajowski: why does the “attention whore” label only apply to women?

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For many women, Emily Ratajowski presents something of a conundrum. The 25-year-old model and actress is a prominent advocate for women’s reproductive rights, campaigning in support of Planned Parenthood in the US, and has spoken and written extensively about the importance of female sexual empowerment – giving Piers Morgan a much-needed dressing-down in the process.

But some feel uncomfortable about allowing Ratajowski the feminist badge she has publicly claimed. Particularly problematic, for some feminists, is Ratajowski’s modelling career: it was, of course, her (naked) appearance in the video for Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines that propelled her to fame. Several writers have questioned whether one can oppose the objectification of women while simultaneously profiting from one’s sexuality.

Now, in a new essay for Glamour, Ratajowski addresses the suggestion that women cannot be both sexual and political – and highlights the double standard that exists when we accuse women of “attention-seeking”.

The Gone Girl actress says that she was “criticised in a very specific way” after speaking at an event for US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in February. Her critics, she says, dismissed her “for seeking attention.”

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Ratajowski first found fame in Robin Thicke's much-criticised video for Blurred Lines.

“They wrote me off as ‘a desperate attention whore,’ saying I was taking part in the conversation only because everybody else was too.”

It was then, Ratajowski said, that she realised that “I’ve been called an attention whore so often that I had almost gotten used to it.”

She observes that women are often criticised for “seeking attention”, in a way that men rarely are: “whether for speaking out politically, as I did, for dressing a certain way, or for even posting a selfie.”


Read more: Why our clique called feminism won't accept Kim Kardashian's nude selfie


And while men are often responsible for perpetuating sexist double standards, Ratajowski says that woman can also be guilty of dismissing other women.  

“Think about how many times you’ve heard a woman say about another woman, ‘Oh, she’s just doing that for attention’,” she writes. “We’ve internalised this trope. Our society tells women we can’t be, say, sexy and confident and opinionated about politics. This would allow us too much power.”

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"Our society tells women we can’t be, say, sexy and confident and opinionated about politics": Emily Ratajowski

Crucially, Ratajowski points out that men are rarely judged or mocked for being “attention-seeking”. Just look at the difference between how Mick Jagger and Madonna – both no-longer-young, openly sexual pop culture icons – are treated by mainstream media: Jagger is venerated, while Madonna is mocked as being “desperate”.

“It’s absurd to think that desire for attention doesn’t drive both women and men,” Ratajowski says.


Read more: Sara Pascoe debunks five of the biggest myths about female sexuality


She adds: “Our society doesn’t question men’s motivations for taking their shirt off, or shaving, or talking about politics – nor should it. Wanting attention is genderless. It’s human.”

At its most dangerous, Ratajowski observes that criticising women for being “attention-seeking” can tip into the worst kind of victim-blaming: where brutal violence against women is explained and legitimised by discussions about what the victim was wearing at the time of the attack, or how she might have presented herself to the world on social media.

“We shouldn’t be weighed down with the responsibility of explaining our every move,” Ratajowski says, concluding: “It’s not our responsibility to change the way we are seen – it’s society’s responsibility to change the way it sees us.”

Read Emily Ratajowski’s essay in full here.


Images: Rex, Getty

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