"I’m going to blame Mad Men. Sure, it’s given us many good things – the clothes, Jon Hamm, Joan’s bottom, Roger’s one-liners, Jon Hamm, the aching coolness of Sixties Manhattan, and Jon Hamm – but it has also given us A Bad Thing. It has given some of the stupidest, antiquated and wearying manifestations of sexism a groovy, retro vibe. Man.
And it’s confusing people. More importantly, it’s confusing celebrities. There can be no other explanation for the inanities spewing forth from perfectly lipsticked mouths at the moment. Miranda Kerr is the latest, giving an interview in which she lauded licking her husband Orlando Bloom’s boots. No, wait… I paraphrase. She said, ‘I am quite dominant in my career, so what works for me when I come home is to relax more into the feminine side. If you’re really an alpha female, you don’t allow [your partner] to have the space to feel like a man in the relationship.’ Adding, ‘Maybe I am too traditional, but men feel important when you ask for their help, instead of thinking you can do it all on your own.’
Before Kerr, it was Gwyneth Paltrow. Last year she told the world she wants ‘to maintain my marriage and my family, so I have to be here when he comes home’ and followed that up with advice to a friend that when her husband was angry, she should ‘go at him with love and give him a blow job.’ Oh, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a marriage needs ‘someone who is superior to me, who I can lean on.’
Obviously, there is many a slip ’twixt celebrity pronouncements and the eventual form in which they emerge in the papers. And there is a kernel of common sense and truth to many of them. Most of us, for example, want someone to lean on. There’s not much point being in a long-term relationship (or friendship) with someone who runs away or collapses the minute you need something from them. (Also, I kinda feel CZJ should get a free pass for the next five years for that very public Michael Douglas-cunnilingus-cancer thing. But that’s another story).
Still, even if you cut them all that slack, the essence of their messages still sucks. Power is unfeminine. Strength is unwomanly. Professional success is threatening. The male ego is both more fragile and more worthy of protection and veneration than the female. Tread softly, ladies, and preferably in high heels, for you tread on men’s dreams.
Tread softly, ladies, and preferably in high heels.
Kerr’s message would be relatively inoffensive if she’d couched it in human terms. ‘Nobody likes people throwing their weight around.’ ‘Everyone likes to be needed a bit. It feels nice when someone turns to you for help.’ But she didn’t. She put it in gendered terms, and especially within marital terms, perpetuating the notion that for a marriage to work, it cannot be between equals. It cannot even be seen to be between equals. The woman must blunt her edges, play down her talents and not rock the boat. An ‘alpha female’ (heaven forefend!) could hole the entire thing beneath the waterline.
There is something particularly galling too when this kind of encouragement comes from figures who are just playing at being little women and have no experience – and maybe no notion of – what it feels like to be genuinely disempowered or marginalised. Or of how little those who are in these far more common positions need to hear reinforcements of the status quo.
I long to hear more from women – both in the public sphere and real life – who say honestly that they are so talented/capable/confident in their own abilities and are so non-needy/all-round generally awesome that they have either found a partner who admires them for it or are happy to stay single until they do.
Relationships should involve compromise. But they should be over practical, superficial, everyday decisions, not which bits of your personality you should suppress and which should be allowed free expression. And of course everyone, male and female, should identify and work on their flaws. But a flaw is selfishness, or stubbornness, greed, poor impulse-control – something like that. It’s not simply ‘something that makes another person uncomfortable’. It’s not ‘something that the sex to which the other person belongs has not traditionally had to face and would rather not now either, thank you’. Right. I’d better go and run this past my husband. I’d hate for him to think I’d gone too far.”