06/06/2013 06:36 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

He's a Bad Boy, But She's a Hot Mess: Is It a Gender Thing?


Former Nickelodeon child star Amanda Bynes is not having a very good year. An arrest in May for tossing a bong out of her NYC apartment window, which has subsequently lead to her eviction, coupled with drug possession charges was capped off by a resume of outrageous public behavior, most notably in semi-nonsensical, and in more than a few cases offensive, tweets that only Allen Ginsberg would love (or get). It's sad, cluck many entertainment and media critics as they simultaneously repost photos of the troubled star with her head half-shaved or file another 300 words about her "cray cray rants." Meanwhile, the voice of truth comes from a woman who is also no stranger to outlandish public shenanigans. Speaking to E! Online, Jersey Shore's Snooki said: "I just think she's entertaining, and I think she needs a reality show because I would watch it all the time. If she needed help, I would wish that she would get it, obviously, but she's entertaining. She's my guilty pleasure on Twitter."

Amanda Bynes is, without a doubt, an 11 on the media dubbed "hot mess" Richter scale, and it seems like there is some kind of cultural payoff in watching her seismic mishaps expand. Not only has our consumption of scandal become more voracious -- after all, we can binge on dirt, gossip, and tragedy 24-hours a day like bellying up to an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet of salacious happenings -- our tolerance for the lurid and humiliating has increased. Public drunkenness, a sex video "leaked" to TMZ, Nazi vitriol spilled across Twitter and Facebook, showing up high to your own probation hearing for drug possession (a fact proudly captured in an Instagram pic), nothing seems too outsized to put on display or too juicy to slake our tiger blood thirst for the purveyors of bad behavior. And then of course there is the lady parts factor.

Bad boys earn monikers such as, well, "bad boys" in that Lucille Bluth sly wink-like fashion, "rebels," and "hotties." In many cases, their exploits end up boosting their careers. Even Charlie Sheen seems to have emerged from his cuckoo-n with something of a career in tact and more than a few stories to tell around the Thanksgiving table about that "wild" time when he declared himself a Warlock. The men who battle their dementors publicly to eventually re-emerge supposedly contrite and more self-aware are embraced for their humility (even if that humility is inauthentic); their vulnerability -- the bad boy's softer side -- makes them more attractive and ups their desirability quotient. Women behaving badly, on the other hand, straight up "cray cray," train wrecks, "nut jobs," and hot messes goaded by the media machine to unspool in spectacular fashion.

Girls like Amanda Bynes, Lindsay Lohan, and Brittney Spears, in one form or another, perpetually enact the fallen woman trope that has captivated the public since the seventeenth century. Anyone remember a lady made to wear a scarlet letter "A" sewn into her Puritan-wear in a certain book? Talk about broadcasting your misdeeds in 140 characters or way less. For a woman, acting out or acting up is never a sign of her virility, strength, or swagger it is only a mark of her inevitable weakness, an indicator that she could not take the pressure, handle the stress, cope with the temptations or excesses of celebrity life. We watch her fall and the harder she falls, the more we cheer on her descent -- a Perez Hilton headline worthy of a carnival barker sums it up succinctly "Amanda Bynes Dark Night Included Weed, Hook-ups, & Sadness. See It All Here!"-- and when she does redeem herself, we sit back, smugly satisfied, not because it makes her more endearing (though there may be some of that), but because we expect it of her as a woman. This, you see, is what good girls do: they demure so that you can feel better about the restoration of the gender balance. Bad boys will be bad boys -- a little dangerous, a lot sexy, sort of eternally broken in a Russell Crowe kind of way -- and bad girls will realize the error of their ways, sweep up their debris, demonstrate their public shame, and get back in line. And for those who don't, can't, refuse to, or simply won't? Cray cray, train wrecks, nut jobs, hot messes.