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: This weekend, while "President" Rotting Sourdough Loaf That Has Been Punched Repeatedly and Draped in a Coat continued to vengefully dismantle our democracy, Salma Hayek and Shirley MacLaine helped usher things along by All Lives Matter–ing a Sundance luncheon. As Amy Kaufman of the L.A. Times writes, "under the cavernous, vaulted ceiling of a mountain mansion, where the driveway was heated, an indoor stream trickled, and a string of faux llamas stood guard on the stone staircase" gathered Hayek, MacLaine, Alfre Woodard, Jessica Williams, Elle Fanning, and Jill Soloway, among others, to sip vegan cream of vegetable soup and "celebrate women in film." The infuriating disingenuousness of these sorts of events — "women surrounded by faux llamas eating ridiculous foods while patting each other on the back solves sexism!" — was incredibly, almost immediately, and absolutely accidentally exposed.
Hayek kicked things off by sharing with the table that "my feeling is that we are about to go to war." But, as Kaufman writes, "she had a warning." "Don't do Grown Ups 2," Hayek said, eyes wide. JK, she actually said, "But be careful that we don’t fall into victimization. I don’t want to be hired because I’m a girl. I want them to see I’m fabulous. Don’t give me a job because I’m a girl. It’s condescending.” MacLaine added that the women at the table should find "each of our inner democracy” and explore their "core identity." (IDK what any of this means, but perhaps it is because I am not fabulously wealthy enough to purchase, much less lease, an inner democracy.)
While most of these useless events would end there, with everyone one-arm-hugging each other and promising to follow back on Instagram, Williams thankfully (and unprecedentedly) decided to call bullshit. Kaufman transcribed the following interaction:
“I have a question for you,” Williams, 27, said to MacLaine. “My question is: What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered [sic] person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict?”
“Right, but change your point of view,” MacLaine offered. “Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.”
“I’m sorry,” Hayek said, jumping in. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Williams answered.
“Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”
Williams took a deep breath. “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman,” she said. “Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.”
“No, no, no,” Hayek said. “Take the time to investigate. That’s the trap! ... There is so much more.”
“Right,” agreed MacLaine. “The more is inside.”
The mindfuckery continued as Hayek began to belittle Williams for suggesting that there is not One Shared Global Experience of Womanhood. “I think what you’re saying is valid, but I also think that what you’re saying doesn’t apply to all women. I think that’s impossible," said Williams.
And then, folks, Salma Hayek "That's Your Journey"–ed Jessica Williams.
Said Hayek, "If you have to do that, then do that. That’s your journey. But I want to inspire other people to know it’s a choice."
Somehow, the ignorance only deepened, with everyone except for Dee Rees and Kimberly Peirce speaking over and criticizing Williams for refusing to buy into the dangerous myth of one-size-fits-all white feminism. Writes Kaufman,
Williams, visibly uncomfortable, said she also wanted to encourage all of the women in the room to pay special attention to women of color and LGBT women. "I think we need to not speak over black women," she said, "not assign them labels." "What does this mean, speak over?" Hayek asked. "To project your ideas on me," Williams said. "I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, hey, maybe [black women] have it a little bit harder in this country — because we do; black women and trans women do — if we’re having it a little bit harder, it doesn’t invalidate your experience. I really am begging you to not take it personally."
Hayek listened to this thoughtful, intelligent plea and responded condescendingly, implying that her own experience as a nonwhite actress — and subsequent refusal to feel "victimized" (whatever that even means in this context) — was the only possible one: "Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab," she said. "I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility. My generation, they said, 'Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.' By the heads of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand."
"You don't understand," Williams said, shaking her head quietly. And neither do we. Salma!!!
The Solution: First of all, for those of you who just read that and thought, ... So? I'll do a quick briefer on The Fuckery of White Feminism. White feminism is that thing where you're like, "Let's have a luncheon where we celebrate women in film and talk about how equally hard it's been for all of us to become famous, and what we've all overcome together — like how Elle Fanning overcame being the second blue-eyed blonde Fanning sister and how Jessica Williams overcame her ancestors being actual slaves."
White feminism is the failure to recognize the profound differences in the life experiences and oppressions of women who are not straight, white, cisgender, and able-bodied. Applied practically, white feminism is posting photos of yourself with a coterie of supermodels and tweeting about "empowerment" and then going totally silent when our president reinstates a global gag order that denies basic and essential health care to the most vulnerable women on the planet. White feminism is when you idolize and celebrate the suffragettes without criticizing the fact that their movements were racist as fuck. White feminism is voting for Trump because you know your race will protect you even if your womanhood is attacked. White feminism is speaking out about the gender pay gap, but not about the fact that white women make 82 cents to the white male dollar, black women make 65, and Latinas make 58. White feminism is going to the Women's March and following it up with celebratory pat-on-the-back margaritas with your girlfriends, rather than experiencing shame about the fact that you've only become an activist after you personally felt threatened, that you've been silent about Black Lives Matter, that you've stood back for most of your life and let black women take to the streets and fight for you. White feminism is being like, "Wait, who is Kimberlé Crenshaw, and what is intersectionality?"
Yes, all women deal with unparalleled bullshit on a near-daily basis. For example, I, a relatively privileged white woman, just had to write an explainer of White Feminism that Trump's Twitter trolls will likely pounce upon and use as an excuse to send me concentration camp photos! But not all women have to deal with racism, or transphobia, or ableism, on top of the whole "being a woman sucks aggressively" thing. Failing to recognize the intersectional and various ways in which the patriarchy fucks with women who are not various descendants of the Fanning dynasty is a failure to be a feminist, period. You don't just get to put on feminism like a cute choker and take it off when it gets too tight. You're either in it, ready to shut the fuck up and listen to other women and validate and fight for their unique struggles, or you're an asshole, bye.
Here is the solution to this particular episode of The Fuckery of White Feminism (no, Salma isn't white, but she's laying the classic White Feminism trap: making sweeping, generalized statements implying that only your life and interpretation of that life is valid). First, somebody buy the inimitable Jessica Williams a goddamn drink. Imagine being a young black woman on the verge of megafame but not quite there yet, trying to knock sense into a room full of rich-ass veteran celebs with no idea how the world actually works — women who refer to your lived experience as "victimhood." Salma and Shirley, it's time for you guys to sit the hell down, apologize, and start listening. Here is a script to get you started on your kourney.
SHIRLEY: Whoa, sorry, we were both just possessed by white feminist demons for an hour, and actually, for quite a while before that, too. LOL. Let's start over. Salma, why did you do Grown Ups 2?
SALMA: [puts face in cake]
SHIRLEY: I see. Jessica, you beautiful genius, we spoke over you and discredited your entire life because we've literally never considered another experience outside of our own. Except when we act, and acting is fake. Hahaha! [laughs all around the table; Elle Fanning begins to cry] But really. Acknowledging another person's reality means having to engage in a real dialogue, and engaging in a real dialogue means acknowledging that things have to change, and change is scary, especially when it means you might lose your prime spot in the social hierarchy, just beneath all of the rich white men, or, in our case, right next to them, gripping their hands, enjoying the illusory protections their status provides, but silently miserable and subconsciously imagining the sweet release of death!!!
SALMA: [wipes cake off glasses] And you know what's not scary? Never having to think too hard about anything ever again because you have a frightening amount of cash and cachet and a white billionaire husband —
SHIRLEY: Yes, that last thing, or English/Scottish ancestry —
SALMA: — and you could just coast from here on out and die happily atop a bed made of this cake.
SHIRLEY: Although not anymore, because your face was in it.
SHIRLEY: Anyway, Jessica, now you talk. God, we were just the worst for a bit there, sorry.
ELLE FANNING: Just quickly chiming in to say that acting is not fake [disappears into ether].