Paris Hilton got out of jail today. Whether you care about Paris or not, the uproar over her stint in jail is telling. Like Hillary Clinton, Paris is a divider. She inspires both great admiration and great animosity. It is the animosity in which I am interested.
Consider these comments (two typical ones out of the more than 1,000) by readers of this TMZ update:
"Why can someone not execute her - PLEASE lets get rid of this trashy Herpes infested slut... UGLY WHOREBAG."
"I'm sure the cereal[she's eating in jail] tastes better than the penises she usually has in her mouth on the weekends though..."
"Grow up you spoiled little rich bitch while so many little girls never get a chance to go to school and university you are a major fuck up and screw up. So many opportunities wasted on a diseased sexed up fuck like you."
The amount of pleasure that Americans like these are experiencing is obviously about class inequality and an easily-inspired hatred for the filthy rich. But our hatred of Paris is not just about her money and the (underserved) power it accrues to her. These quotes show that our hatred of Paris is conspicuously gendered. Not that we wouldn't hate her if she were a man, but we would hate her differently.
What brings about this distinctly sexist disgust?
Paris Hilton both embodies and defies idealized femininity in contemporary America. She embodies idealized femininity with her (racially) white, blonde good looks, a thinness that evokes fragility, and a clear need to be admired by others. She is the perfect female: coy, but ultimately passive, counting on her beauty to inspire our devotion. And Paris draws both men and women in...even those of us that find her appalling find her performance of femininity fascinating, even hypnotically appealing. Many more of us, perhaps, than would admit as much.
But Paris also defies idealized femininity. She's a dick. And I mean that exactly how it sounds. She is unapologetically rich. She is callous and cruel towards the disadvantaged on The Simple Life. We can only imagine how frivolously she must treat her trendy pocket pets; how unkind she must be towards her entourage of paid help; how fickle with her friends. She even has sex when she wants with who she wants and doesn't apologize for it (something that the commenters above find particularly infuriating). In a world which expects women (especially, studies show, beautiful ones) to be nice and care about other people, she is mean and selfish in ways that we only allow men to be.
So Paris is, simultaneously, the ultimate beauty and an utter beast. And she exudes a sense of entitlement to both. She can strike a pose as quickly as stab you in the back... and she flaunts both sides of that coin. In doing so, she completely upends the Playboy fantasy ("I'm a beautiful woman who wants nothing except to please you") because she's a beautiful woman who wants your attention, but is not the least bit interested in pleasing you. That is what we can't stand.
She is the ultimate tease. And that pisses us off. And that kind of makes me love her... just a very little bit.