By now, we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect feminist. That doesn’t stop us trying to be the best version of a feminist we can be – but we’re all human, we’re all learning, and that means everyone is liable to slip up once in a while.
When this happens, it takes a not insignificant amount of courage to hold up your hands, acknowledge you got it wrong, and think about how you can do better in future. Props, then, to Anne Hathaway – who has called herself out for “internalised misogyny” in questioning the ability of a female film director.
In 2011, Hathaway starred in the film version of One Day, the beloved British romantic-comedy novel by David Nicholls. The big-screen adaptation was directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig – and Hathaway has said that she worries that she might have treated Scherfig unfairly because she was a woman.
Speaking to US chat show host Peter Travers, Hathaway admitted that she initially found it difficult to “trust” Scherfig on set – and that she thinks this could have been because she’d inadvertently absorbed negative messages about women filmmakers.
“I really regret not trusting [Scherfig] more easily,” said Hathaway, 34. “And I am to this day scared that the reason I didn’t trust her the way I trust some of the other directors I work with is because she’s a woman.”
Hathaway, a staunch feminist and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador who recently advocated for paid parental leave, revealed that she is still “so scared that I treated [Scherfig] with internalised misogyny.”
She continued: “I’m scared that I didn’t give her everything that she needed or … I was resisting her on some level.”
‘Internalised misogyny’ refers to the phenomenon of women demeaning other women and/or themselves through their words, behaviours or beliefs, while simultaneously elevating the status of men. It’s one of the many unfortunate consequences of living in a patriarchal society where sexist messages swirl around us like fog, and we can all fall prey to it.
Ever thought your body hair was unattractive, called a powerful female leader a ‘nag’, or been critical of another woman’s sex life? Ever worried about your weight for aesthetic reasons, or decided not to text a prospective romantic partner first in case they think you’re ‘desperate’? That’s some internalised misogyny right there.
Hathaway said that she was embarrassed by the fact that she’d ever doubted Scherfig on the set of One Day, but that she believed that internalised misogyny is an important topic of feminist discussion.
“I’m getting red talking about this. It feels like a confession,” she said. “But I think it’s something we should talk about.”
She went on to explain how her attitude towards working with female directors had been affected by internalised sexism.
“When I get a script, when I see a first film directed by a woman, I have in the past focused on what was wrong with it,” said Hathaway. “And when I see a film … directed by a man, I focus on what’s right with it.
“I can only acknowledge that I’ve done that and I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Hathaway said that she had always “actively tried to work with female directors”, which made it all the more shocking when she realised that she might still have a misogynistic “mindset buried in there somewhere.”
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Elaborating on why she regretted not trusting in Scherfig’s ability, Hathaway pointed to the fact that it is “way harder” to be a successful woman director in Hollywood than a male director.
“It’s not equal,” she said. “And I wonder if it’s about… undervaluing what it takes [for a woman] to make [her] first film.”
Hathaway added: “I never apologised to her about it. It wasn’t an issue of professionalism, it wasn’t an issue of … nothing.
“I hold her in such a dear place in my heart and I think she does for me too.”
Hathaway’s admission is a brave one at a time when women – particularly famous women – are often torn down for getting feminism ‘wrong’. And in admitting that she messed up in how she treated Scherfig, Hathaway has highlighted an important point. We can all absorb sexist beliefs without realising, and these beliefs can manifest in all kinds of ways. This in itself doesn’t make you a ‘bad feminist’, much less a bad person.
But being a better feminist – not a perfect feminist, but a better feminist – involves stopping to ask yourself why you hold particular negative beliefs about women, and then trying to fight against those misogynistic messages. If everyone did that a little more, we think the world might look like a much brighter place.
Images: Rex Features