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.
It's end times in America, with both fish and the basic human rights of anybody who's not a cisgender white dude dying by the thousands. On a personal level, it feels categorically absurd to be writing about popular culture when real life is so deeply horrific, but a part of me also recognizes that it does still matter. As MTV News's own Inkoo Kang wrote last week in a beautiful piece titled “We Lost the Election. Let's Win Pop Culture With Inclusiveness”: “Art and entertainment are how many of us of us simply stay sane, but they also play a huge role in how we’re groomed to look at the world — with largely affluent, able-bodied straight white men as the center of the world, saving the planet, falling in love, taking care of their families, enduring hardship. That’s fine, but also: Fuck that. Nobody is the center of the world, and we need to create a mass culture that reflects the truly mind-boggling diversity of humanity that exists in this world. Politics failed us in 2016. Culture doesn’t have to.”
Though culture is not the only or the most important line of defense we have, we can absolutely use it as a tool, both by thoughtfully selecting the media that we consume and by policing the people who make it, working to ensure sure that it, too, does not fall off the cliff into the white-supremacist abyss that is Trump's America.
One of the central tenets of this column has always been the belief that Hollywood — both film and TV — has treated women, at best, as secondary characters, and at worst, as sexual props. Popular culture has normalized the idea of women as less-than, and this in no small way contributed to a society that would make a populist hero out of a man who grabs women by the pussy and brags about it. Now that our president-elect has confirmed that it's acceptable to continue treating women this way in real life, it's more important than ever for those involved in creating popular culture to select and champion projects that fly in the face of this fuckery. You're the Worst's Aya Cash was one of the first actresses to speak out this week about how she plans to combat the coming Trump apocalypse; in an Instagram post, she explained how, moving forward, she'll refuse to take parts that are “there so a man can want to fuck them.”
Just imagine if every actress followed suit, carefully selecting projects that didn't undermine or reduce women (or people of color or LGBTQ characters or anyone who is not Jeremy Renner). I'm not even talking about the obvious offenders, like, I don't know, Twilight or Nicolas Cage's batshit remake of The Wicker Man. I'm talking about projects ostensibly made “for women” that are insidiously misogynist and therefore even more dangerous than the entire Transformers franchise. Imagine if Mila Kunis had refused to star in Bad Moms, a movie written by the same men who wrote The Hangover, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations, desires, and behaviors of women. (In one scene, for example, Kunis is driven wild with sexual desire after a man tells her she's a “great mom”; in the climactic finale, she becomes president of the PTA and ... that's her biggest victory.) Imagine if Cameron Diaz had said no to The Other Woman, or Charlie's Angels, or Bad Teacher, or basically every movie that Cameron Diaz has been in. (Sorry, Cameron.) What if Jennifer Aniston had been like, “I refuse to badger Ben Affleck into being my betrothed in He's Just Not That Into You and then paint that as the happiest possible ending, Ken Kwapis!!!”
Of course, men have a responsibility to fix this shit, too, though let's remember that they'll be unduly congratulated for bending over to pick up a safety pin they find on the street and attaching it to their North Face fleece. Comedian Brett Gelman is one of the first dudes to not actively contribute to the raging hellfire of American misogyny by backing out of his projects with Adult Swim, citing their mistreatment of women (and intrinsic support of the “alt-right,” which is a cute name for “white-supremacist fuckboys”) as the main reason.
Thankfully, Gelman gets that he doesn't deserve too much praise and that it's what he should've been doing in the first place. He told Paste Magazine,“I think that liberal straight white men really need to stop patting themselves on the back for what they think they think and actually take a look at their actions. And even though their actions mean no harm, we have to admit that we are conditioned to be comfortable, and that is what guides our actions. We have to consciously make an effort to build up the muscle for comfort to not be the main motivating factor in our hiring practices, and the types of material that we create.” UH, YEAH. DO THIS, STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.
You, too, can encourage Hollywood to stop sucking ass by not handing over your credit card to see movies where women offer up anal sex by way of thanks, or run for their lives in stilettos, or feel guilt and shame for being unable to pump out babies. Instead, as Inkoo suggests, “Watch movies and TV shows about experiences outside of your life, since stories are one of our most reliable paths toward empathy.” If you give birth to a son in the next few years, raise him on a steady diet of Golden Girls and My So-Called Life and Six Feet Under (in that order). Make your white-ass husband watch Insecure. Strap your Republican dad to a chair and screen the entirety of Transparent. Kidnap your Breitbart-bingeing family members and play Dear White People and But I'm a Cheerleader on repeat until they no longer remember who Steve Bannon is.
Another thing that all of us — culture creators, culture critics, and culture consumers — need to do is resist normalizing what's happening around us. We can't act like this is business as usual. Racist and homophobic violence has already skyrocketed in the week since Trump's election. Trump is in the process of hiring a slew of white men who've made it their life's work to suppress and disenfranchise everyone who does not look like them. America will not be great again, y'all. As Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker this week, “[Normalization] resides in the way that we speak, in the ideas that get refined and reworked and encoded in ordinary words until they seem harmless enough. It’s the ability to fit things into a narrative that flatters our ability to reason. Normalization is the process through which wisdom becomes conventional and utopian ideals slam against questions of feasibility. And so we should remain suspicious of efforts to welcome Trumpism into the fold of mainstream American ideas, particularly when normalizing him suggests the privilege to pick and choose, to infer the existence of another’s decency and humanity, to laugh, and to think that, at the end of the day, we all just want the same thing.”
Alas, and of course, it's already happening (and has been happening for months, thanks to the likes of Jimmy Fallon, SNL, et al.): People magazine, whose writer was sexually assaulted by Trump, put his bloated visage on a celebratory cover, looking like he'd just fucked a lemon and then eaten it whole.
Trevor Noah and his cohorts are “hoping to thrive” in Trump's America. Oprah — OPRAH! ET TU, OPRAH? — told Entertainment Tonight that seeing Trump and Obama shake hands gave her “hope,” and tweeted the below:
Later, during a Q&A with director Ava DuVernay about her film 13th, Oprah said she regretted the remarks and should've instead tweeted #civilitylives. Alrighty, Oprah. Still, the basic problem remains, and it will continue to hover over all of us like a pale orange spectre in the years to come. In this gruesome new America — which has been here all along, of course, just somewhat more hidden from those of us who didn't care to look very hard — we have to be vigilant about looking at and talking about Trump and the philosophies he represents as abnormal and repugnant. We shouldn't accept this as “the way things are.” We shouldn't “move on.” We can't let Oprah convince us that shit's going to be okay, or let Trevor Noah turn this into a series of toothless punchlines, or let Michael Bay keep doing literally anything. We should stay angry and active and merciless about both our reality and the mirror that purports to reflect our reality.
We should also be worried about those fucking fish.