“Three cheers for misogyny: why the world can't handle Susan Sarandon and her 69-year-old cleavage”

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Harriet Hall
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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. This week writer, Harriet Hall, discusses the social media backlash that Hollywood actor, Susan Sarandon, faced surrounding her outfit choice for the Screen Actor's Guild Awards - and why it merely serves to highlight society's continuing misogyny and ageism.

Feminist Harriet Hall says:

This Saturday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards have been somewhat of a talking point.

Not because of the winners, though - which usually point towards which way the Oscars might go at the end of the month – no.

People aren't losing the plot over Idris Elba’s reference to the whiteness of the Oscar noms: “Welcome to diverse TV,” he said when taking to the stage to present an award.

They aren’t even talking about How Leonardo DiCaprio won best actor for his role in The Revenant, upping the odds for his first-ever Oscar win.

Nope. Two days later and the world is still talking about Susan Sarandon’s breasts.

The Oscar-winning actor wore a white, double-breasted, buttoned-up Max Mara suit with a visible black bra underneath.  

And so what?

Well, it seems the world can’t quite handle a woman having breasts; let alone a woman who, god forbid, has breasts after the age of 40 - or even (gasp), north of 60.

Within minutes of her appearance on camera, people took to social media with force, to shame Sarandon for her ‘risque’ outfit choice that revealed her decolletage, making the hilarious and astute connection between the SAG awards and the sagging of a breast (hahaha good one, guys).

Piers Morgan accused Sarandon of being ‘tacky’, others complained about having to see ‘old cleavage’ and desperately grappling for a pun, one commentator even referred to the Thelma and Louise star as ‘rack-diculous.’

What’s truly ridiculous is that nobody was commending Sarandon on her nomination for her role in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe because they were more concerned with discussing her body.

Three claps for misogyny.

People shot hateful remarks at Sarandon for daring to expose her over-fifty flesh whilst delivering the In Memorandum speech, saying her chest distracted them from her moving tribute. Some even suggested the celebrated actor should have considered a change of clothes prior to giving the speech.

Ironically, Sarandon’s speech opened with a reference to her close friend and ex-lover, David Bowie.

Less than a month prior, Bowie’s death – at age 69 – plummeted the world into mourning. Articles and tweets flooded the internet that celebrated Bowie’s rabid rejection of the status quo. People danced in the streets remembering a man who, from the very off, wore clothes that entirely defied all the ‘rules’ of conventional dress.

Nobody seemed to lose their rag over The Martian star, Kate Mara’s ensemble - a sheer Valentino gown with a plunging halter neck that exposed not only cleavage but also so-called ‘side boob.’

Equally, Rooney Mara’s deep-cut dress was subject to zero controversy and, when Orange is the New Black star, Vicky Jeudy, posed with Leonardo Di Caprio and accidentally exposed a nipple, she did not receive an onslaught of abuse.

Not that they should have, of course, but it's strikingly awful that Sarandon alone was the target of the social media bigots.

Sarandon is 69 and therefore it's apparently not OK for her to remind us all that she’s still a living, breathing, sexual being. 

Not only are women confined to the rules of acceptable female behaviour, but the rules of acceptable behaviour alter depending on their age.

While some referred to Sarandon’s chest as ‘saggy’ – a neat reminder that, along with navigating the labyrinthine requirements of the patriarchy that require women to retain the pert breasts of a 22-year-old - other perpetrators even congratulated Sarandon for the youthful appearance of her breasts.

Don’t worry about the fact she’s mothered three children or starred in numerous award-winning films – making it to seventy without your breasts reaching your knees is the real achievement here.

I’d like to think that, of all arenas, Hollywood would be one of the more forgiving, as a place built on the bricks of self-expression.

But how silly of me.

Misogynistic notions of female perfection and appropriateness teach us all to call-out those we feel aren’t mirroring society’s ideals and conforming to subtly defined boundaries of acceptability.

The glass ceiling is nothing – it’s 2016 and women are still trapped in prisons of impossible beauty and sartorial standards. Standards that outline how large or small women should be (just large enough to be sexy – see the recent #Underboobchallenge – but just small enough to be ‘cute’.)

Women are measured in terms of cup size, weight and thigh circumference, they are told how audible and how visible they should be (just the right amount of covered up but not too covered: women in hijabs, beware).

This kind of rampant sexist reaction to a woman over 50 exposing a bit of cleavage is just another example of the endemic sexism and ageism that we see, not only in Hollywood, but all over the world and it needs to end, now. 

Send your feminist dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.  

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