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Many theories have been raised to explain some women’s distaste for Olivia Munn: Jealousy. Insecurity. Her tendency to make jokes about rape, fat women, bitches, and the Holocaust. Get ready for another one! I think part of the backlash against Munn—-to be clear, I’m speaking specifically of the part that accuses her of “flaunting” her “female sexuality” as an “act” to get “famous and rich” by “pandering” for “male attention”—-goes back to the traditional view of women as sexual gatekeepers.
Sure, we want high-profile women to be allies to other women—-and it stings extra hard when sexism is perpetuated through their public personas, instead of exclusively by dudes. But behind one Olivia Munn is a producer instructing Munn to “take it off reeeeeeally slow,” and a network president “standing on a speaker in the back, leaning over to get pictures,” and a team of photographers vying to catch an unauthorized glimpse of Munn’s nipple, and a male co-host who insists that he “violate [her] from behind” despite her protestations, and a whole audience full of fanboys screaming at Munn to put her mouth on something. Behind her is an entire industry making sure this happens.
“Olivia Munn is not the one running this show,” Sady Doyle writes. “If she weren’t willing to play this role, she wouldn’t have her job; if she didn’t have her job, someone else would. . . . Olivia Munn embodies geek-misogynist expectations and desires for women, in this one specific job she does, but those expectations and desires are what make girls’ lives hard, not the women who are paid to fulfill them.”
Another expectation making girls’ lives hard? The equally sexist demand that women take full responsibility for these sexist expectations by always refusing to fulfill them. By faulting Munn for “flaunting it”—-instead of taking a look at the demand side of the Hot Girl equation—-we’re not only accusing Munn of being a bad feminist, but also a poor gatekeeper of sexism. An entertainment industry that’s built on arousing men by wearing women down until they acquiesce? That, we take for granted. Women, who have little power in this structure, are nevertheless expected to keep the industry’s libido under control—-just as they’re expected to hold off sex, keep a sufficient amount of clothes on so as not to tempt men, and never “put themselves in situations” where sexual assailants may strike.
It’s unreasonable, of course, for us to expect any one woman to hold off a whole culture’s misogyny. In fact, we expect all women to do it—-not just high-profile women like Olivia Munn, but our peers and ourselves. In this world, when a woman is subjected to sexist treatment over and over again—-like Munn has been, in magazines and on television—-it’s not evidence of systemic sexism. It’s evidence that we should be “skeptical” of the woman herself who failed to adequately shake it off—-and once again turn our attentions away from that big industry behind the girl.