Anne Hathaway, Janet Jackson, and the sin of women daring to take up space.

"It came true."

Three small, ill-fated words, uttered by Anne Hathaway as she looked down at the Oscar statuette cradled gently in her hands. It was 2013, and she had just won Best Supporting Actress for her turn as Fantine in Les Misérables. She then addressed the audience in a trembling voice, carefully thanking and acknowledging a long list of people. She had clearly practised her speech

For the occasion, she wore a long, pink columnar dress by Prada, which happened to have two darts at the chest, creating the subtle illusion of cone boobs. The wider world couldn’t abide these offences: the earnest acknowledgment of a long-held dream, the suggestion she thought it could happen and prepared for the possibility, and a poor fashion choice. 

The self-titled "Hathahaters" spun into action, slamming her for being an overly enthusiastic, excited theatre dork and "try-hard." It didn't help that the other female winner of the night – Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook – tripped on the stairs and laughed it off with the audience before bumbling through her speech, shocked at her win. 

Lawrence at the beginning of her ascent to stardom was just so funny, "real," unwitting, and lovable, while Hathaway, who was becoming old hat (she'd already been nominated in 2009), expressed in her composed delivery that she'd known her dream could come true. She believed in her gifts; the award acknowledged what she already recognised about herself.

Watch: Anne Hathaway stands up for herself. Story continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

After her dress and speech were criticised, Hathaway lamented that she had learned the night before the Oscars that another actress was wearing a similar dress and so made a last-minute swap to avoid being lambasted for that faux pas: "I really needed a dress, and everybody hates me, and I just really needed a dress." 

And as for that speech, Hathaway claimed that she was actually miserable about accepting the Award – playing Fantine had been depleting and hard and she was still recovering. Instead, she had feigned enthusiasm, and she suggested that for that she deserved to be shamed: "I tried to pretend that I was happy and I got called out on it, big time."

Forced contortions to redeem herself for no crime, all in response to a hard-won, crowning achievement. And she continues to contort herself: All these years later, every media appearance for her acting still includes questions about why people hate her. As she tries to shine and share her gifts, she’s continually told not to.

Hathaway's downward slide in public opinion had begun a few years earlier, when she was asked to co-host the 2011 Academy Awards with a clearly stoned and smug James Franco. She tried to overcompensate for his not-charming highness by acting, in her words, "slightly manic and hyper cheerleadery." She was panned for being a "chirping," "relentlessly peppy," attention-seeking dork, while the same critic described Franco as a "sleepy-eyed multi-hyphenate." 


This wasn’t the first time a woman had taken the fall for her male co-star's poor judgment during a live performance: Cue Justin Timberlake stripping Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl, for which she alone was censured and ultimately blacklisted by CBS’s Les Moonves. [Fourteen years after "Nipplegate," Les Moonves was forced into retirement from CBS Corporation after multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.] Jackson was slut-shamed and accused of staging a publicity stunt for self-promotion. Meanwhile, People called Timberlake the "Teflon man": He didn’t take accountability, continued to perform, and complained that his own image had been tarnished. Like Hathaway, Jackson endured endless press about the event, and it derailed her career.

Sadly, we know this cultural cycle well. It’s the story of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun: His waxen wings melted and he dropped to his death. His story is a parable about hubristic overreach; it shows what happens to those who fly too high. While the spectre of Icarus hasn't prevented men from taking literal moonshots – three billionaires privatised space travel during the pandemic – women seem to have gotten the message to keep their heads down, to lie low.


Or the public, it would seem, will lay them low, especially the most visible women of all: famous ones.

This is an edited extract from On Our Best Behaviour: The Price Women Pay to Be Good, by Elise Loehnen (Bloomsbury), $32.99.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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