Lady Problems is a weekly column that looks at how the entertainment industry — and its corresponding culture and constituents — is treating women in a given week. (Hint: It will almost always be "poorly.") Every Thursday we’ll review the week’s most significant woman-centric conflicts, then provide a brilliant solution to each problem that nobody in Hollywood will ever listen to or enforce.
The Lady Problem: Owen Gleiberman, a man who writes for Variety and whom I do not know in the internet sense or in the IRL sense or in the biblical sense, wrote a bonkers column about Renée Zellweger's face, specifically, how it does not look like its younger self, and how that upsets him. The title — "Renée Zellweger: If She No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become a Different Actress?" — is both indicative of Gleiberman's level of self-awareness (low) and of the general tone of the piece (pseudo-intellectual but essentially ridiculous), but here are a few choice highlights:
• In which Gleiberman feels personally offended by the fact that Renée Zellweger has aged in a way that he does not approve of: "I was caught off guard the other day when I saw the trailer for Bridget Jones's Baby. The movie’s star, Renée Zellweger, already had her 'Did she or didn’t she?' moment back in 2014, and I had followed the round-the-world scrutinizing of her image that went along with it, but this was different. Watching the trailer, I didn't stare at the actress and think: She doesn't look like Renée Zellweger. I thought: She doesn’t look like Bridget Jones! Oddly, that made it matter more. Celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to look however they want, but the characters they play become part of us. I suddenly felt like something had been taken away."
• In which Gleiberman — almost impressively — simultaneously indicts and perpetuates the culture that insists women alter their appearances by suggesting Renée Zellweger went against GOD (!!) when she maybe got some work done, but then suggesting that Renée Zellweger is naturally unattractive: "...It may look to a great many people like something more than an elaborate makeup job has taken place, but we can’t say for sure. What we can say is that if that happened, it reflects something indescribably sad about our culture. For in addition to being a great actress, Zellweger, as much or more than any star of her era, has been a poster girl for the notion that each and every one of us is beautiful in just the way God made us."
A few lines down: "So here’s the thing: You have to realize just how radical it was that this nobody, who looked not so much like the sort of actress who would star in a Tom Cruise movie as the personal assistant to the sort of actress who would star in a Tom Cruise movie, was suddenly ... starring in a Tom Cruise movie ... 'You complete me' is one of the great lines in modern romantic movies because of the way it takes its inner meaning from who Renée Zellweger is. This is what completes you: someone who looks just like this. What completes you is reality."
• In which Gleiberman invents his own hierarchy of acceptable plastic surgery for women, then suggests that Renée Zellweger got some work done because she hates herself: "A great many stars who don’t look nipped and tucked, and who publicly decry plastic surgery, have had the work done. But that, by definition, is to keep them looking younger, to keep them looking like "themselves." (That’s why you can’t tell.) The syndrome we’re talking about is far more insidious, because when you see someone who no longer looks like who they are, it’s not necessarily the result of bad cosmetic surgery. It’s the result of a decision, an ideology, a rejection of the self."
The Solution: Owen, bro. BRO. There are so many things wrong with this piece that I had to stop listing them because I was running too close to the Lady Problems word count (but please check in with Rose McGowan, who's gloriously tearing you a new one over at THR). Next time you feel like writing mountains of repetitive prose speculating upon and maligning the aging process of a woman you've never met, how about just ... don't. Next time you feel like describing a woman's face as "lightly slovenly doughy-cuddly perfection," then criticizing that woman for MAYBE altering said face PERHAPS, on some level, so that men would not write about it in that exact way, how about just ... don't. Next time you stand up, look in the mirror and remember these things: You are a white dude who has aged, who does not look like he once did, due to a couple of natural functions called "time" and "mortality." You are a white dude who will never have to hear a single opinion from another human being about the fact that you've aged. You are a white dude who cannot scratch the surface of what it feels like to be a woman in a society that simultaneously demands youth and beauty but also the complete obfuscation of whatever methods you use to achieve said youth and beauty.
Sorry if we can't crack this impossible matrix so that you don't feel "robbed." Sorry our faces can't meet your exacting specifications every single time. Sorry Bridget Jones is ruined for you. The good news is, Bridget Jones wasn't made for you in the first place. She was made for us, for women who desperately needed a break from consuming literary and cinematic canons chock-full of the self-indulgent, misogynistic ramblings of old white dudes. Thanks for proving it continuously vital.
The Lady Problem: In an interview with W Magazine, Thandie Newton told a horrifying but 100 percent unsurprising story about being sexually harassed by a director, a tale as old and as irreparably fucked up as the human experiment itself. Here it is, in her words:
"A director, on a callback, had a camera shooting up my skirt and asked me to touch my tits and think about the guy making love to me in the scene. I thought, 'Ok, this is a little weird,' but there was a female casting director in the room and I’d done weird stuff before so I did it," said Newton. Years later, Newton explained, she ran into a producer at a film festival, who drunkenly said, "'Oh, Thandie, I've seen you recently!' And he lurched away looking really shocked that he’d said that." Newton said her husband approached the producer, who explained that "the director was showing that audition tape to his friends after poker games at his house. And they would all get off on it."
Newton shared that she's since learned to be less "naive," because this is the world we inhabit: one in which a male director gets to shoot upskirts and jack off to them with his disgusting friends and live a safe and comfortable life undisturbed and unexposed in every possible sense of the word, while women like Thandie Newton have to endure acts of unspeakable sexual harassment and personal violation, with the only vague reprieve being a "lesson" that implies that, on some level, it was her fault for being so trusting.
The Solution: Female directors. Female producers. Female DPs. Female writers. Female editors. Female crew members. Female makeup artists. Female costume designers. Female craft-service workers. Failing this, angry female on-set poltergeists. Female yetis that run, arms akimbo, straight into the set and destroy everything. Vengeful female god.
The Lady Problem: Box Office Mojo recently identified Scarlett Johansson as the highest-grossing actress ever, amassing $3.3 billion in domestic revenue over the course of her career. And everyone lived happily ever after, the end! No, of course that's not what happened. First of all, Johansson was the only woman to break the top 10; the next woman on the list is Cameron Diaz, who's all the way down at 19, her corporeal form somehow pissing off Owen Gleiberman. Then there's this interview Johansson did with Extra (h/t Huffington Post), in which she's asked about this excited statistic for approximately one second (she is, correctly, "disappointed" to be the only woman in the category), then asked the following questions:
How do you maintain being a mother and taking care of the terrible twos for a toddler?
Do you change dirty diapers still?
• What's your technique?
• WHAT'S YOUR TECHNIQUE?
• WHAT'S YOUR TECHNIQUE???????
The Solution: Johansson, bless her, was incredibly cordial and actually responded to these patently regressive questions with answers that were not "Go fuck yourself for infinity." I am not cordial, so I am going to respond to these questions like Johansson might have, were she not part of an industry that stipulated she embody the ineffable notions of "likability" and "not being possessed by Satan" at all times.
Extra: How do you maintain being a mother and taking care of the terrible twos for a toddler?
Extra: Do you change dirty diapers still?
Extra: What's your technique?
The Lady Problem: A male shark bumped into a female shark one too many times.
The Solution: She ate him.