I don't understand a lot of things. I don't understand why my neighbor is pursuing a career as a 1990s electronic music artist. I don't understand why the ice cream shop near my house considers two scoops of ice cream one scoop. And I don't understand how women, educated journalists, can be so unfair when writing about other women.
Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times was saddled with the task of writing a review of NBC's newest show, Best Friends Forever. The article "Old Pals Falling Into a New Dynamic" starts off strong by setting up the premise of the sitcom, the tone of the show, joke quality and a serious review of the acting. JUST KIDDING! She kicks off her article by ripping right into the looks of star and writer Lennon Parham:
"Ms. Parham, who is funny and appealing, has the pleasant, ordinary looks that are usually reserved for sidekicks."
Ms. Stanley is right to make this point. In the history of ALL OF TV, there has never been a woman driving a sitcom who has looked like a normal person. Except for Lucille Ball. And I guess Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, and of course, my comedy idol, Bea Arthur.
Ms. Stanley marches forward with her unique brand of media criticism, mixing random and personal observations to prove her point about this new era of "interesting"-looking women on TV. While this would be an opportune time to discuss that talented, funny women have taken things into their own hands by creating careers and names for themselves, thereby circumventing the system by which women are cast only for their looks and ability to set up/respond to the joke delivered by the male lead. But it's more Ms. Stanley's style to prove her point by bringing other successful female leads into the fray and describe their looks. Like Whitney Cummings:
"Whitney Cumming, a sexy comedian with an Olive Oyl figure."
Sure, "Olive Oyl" is not an outright mean way to describe a woman's body. It would have been meaner to describe Cummings' body as a "skinny, nothing pile of skin-covered sticks", but "Olive Oyl figure" has a more whimsical feel to it. And take what Ms. Stanley says about Lena Dunham:
"Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture), doesn't look like a Hollywood actress pretending to be a Brooklyn slacker; she looks like a Brooklyn slacker, and not the Zooey Deschanel kind."
What a skill! Calling out the average looks of one woman by insulting the "conventional beauty" of another. It's like a weird competition all women are participating in, where no one really knows the rules and there are no winners and everyone is sad. Also, TV fun fact -- Zooey Deschanel's New Girl character neither lives in Brooklyn nor is she a slacker. Way to watch TV, person who is paid to watch TV!
The most insidious thing about Ms. Stanley's piece is that she seems to think she's doing something worthwhile by pointing out the plainness of the actresses. What it comes down to is that for it or against it, discussing either the attractiveness or the "normalness" of a woman's looks still means that you're keeping it in the cultural zeitgeist. It's not relevant, dude! This is supposed to be a review about a half-hour sitcom, not a piece about beauty trends in TV. When was the last time a review of Two and a Half Men felt the need to go into how Jon Cryer is "such a normal-looking man?"
All in all, here are the terms used in this piece to describe women in comedy: "not conventional beauties," "jolie laide" (French for "pretty-ugly"), and "pleasant, ordinary looks." Add similarly overused "not the meanest" adjectives like "interesting" and "unconventional," and you've got the perfect list of "not the meanest" way to characterize the "not hotness" of a woman.
Slate.com, not to be outdone, threw their own hate hat in the ring with an article that does nothing to hide its real intention with the tear-inducing title "Is Rachel Dratch Too Ugly for Hollywood?" Written by, yup, another woman. In the article, Torie Bosch explores an argument that Dratch makes in her new book Girl Walks Into a Bar... Says Dratch:
I am offered solely the parts that I like to refer to as The Unfuckables. In reality, if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I'm a troll, ogre, woodland creature, or manly lesbian. ... Trolls, ogres, and woodland creatures can be done with CGI, so that leaves yours truly to play the bull dykes.
But Ms. Bosch doesn't buy the argument that Dratch is too "ugly for Hollywood." Her deep journalistic desire to get to the bottom of this problem pushes her past this obvious solution (that Dratch is too ugly to be hired in Hollywood, in case you forgot what we were talking about) to a more complex explanation -- that Dratch's looks aren't to blame for her lack of success, but rather she's unsuccessful due to her talentlessness as a comedic actress. Yay! A definitive answer! Just goes to prove that every problem has a solution because life is super simple.
Bosch herself wrestles with the theory that Dratch's lack of success is due to her lack of talent. Despite her real feelings, she's confused about what to think because OTHER cool woman think Rachel Dratch is a talented comedienne. Bosch writes: "That comedy sisterhood is part of what so makes me want to like her: She is considered hilarious by women whom I consider hilarious."
How will Torie ever be besties with Tina Fey if she doesn't like Rachel Dratch? Will Amy Poehler ever let Torie sit at the "cool table" if Torie's down on Dratch? And if Torie can't laugh at Dratch's jokes, she's never gonna get high with Maya Rudolph on the soccer field during study hall! WHY IS HIGH SCHOOL SO HARD?
Dratch has a book out, one that Torie (I guess?) likes, or at least that's what I imagine she means when she writes "I'd rather read another Dratch memoir than watch her in a sitcom." But really, why dive into Dratch's book Girl Walks Into A Bar... when there's a bunch of space on the page to compare Dratch to another comedienne?
"But maybe the best rebuke to Dratch's argument at the moment is Lena Dunham, whose HBO comedy Girls is about to debut to already rave reviews, despite that fact that she spends significant time in the show examining her rolls of fat."
Wait, so the point of all this is that Rachel Dratch is not "too ugly for Hollywood" because fat Lena Dunham's doing just fine? I feel like I'm reading the transcripts of vodka-fueled vitriol spewing out of the freshly glossed mouths of a bunch of shitty 16-year-old girls who have been binge drinking at a slumber party. You know what kind of party I'm talking about. The kind that's over only when someone gets stabbed with cuticle scissors. On purpose.
Why is it nearly impossible for women, even journalists, to talk about other women without bringing up looks? I don't know. But I do have a solution. Stop talking about women's looks in articles that have nothing to do with women's looks. I did it. I didn't once mention the looks of Torie Bosch or Alessandra Stanley. I wrote about how shitty they were to other women in their articles without once mentioning anything about what they look like. I didn't even Google Image search them. I promise It's possible to talk about the merits of a woman's creative work without talking about how weird her hair is or how much her butt weighs. All it takes is retraining your brain to stop being a superficial dick.
Thanks to Lindsay Katai for editing help.