You are a bright young female celebrity, emerging from years of training, struggles, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles to break out onto the international scene. You’re famous. You’re beautiful. You’re young, but tough; and the future is spread out in front of you for the taking.
And then you get the phone call. It’s a leading fashion magazine, and they want to put you on the cover. Yes, YOU. The shoot goes well – albeit slightly uncomfortable – and they take you out for lunch to speak with one of their leading journalists, who will be profiling you.
He’s older, approaching 50. You sit down, and he compliments your beauty. You feel, once again, slightly uncomfortable, but he’s held in high esteem so you put on your best smile and turn up the charm. Weeks later when you read the article, your skin crawls. It’s not what he said, but how he said it – the tone of his piece is leery, and patronising, and over sexualising what you thought was meant to be a conversation about your career.
You’re disappointed. But what were you expecting?
In recent months, we have seen a spate of high-profile male journalists come under fire for the tone of their interview profiles.
From Rich Cohen’s widely-panned piece on Margot Robbie for Vanity Fair, to this week’s Vogue interview with Selena Gomez by Rob Haskell, a similar narrative is emerging: older man profiles younger woman, and something just doesn’t feel right.
The tradition of the male entertainment reporter runs deep. From Jimmy Breslin to Russell Baker, Truman Capote to Johnny Carson, the role of the ‘fatherly’ figure reporting on the beautiful and naive starlet is as old as Hollywood itself.
Indeed, it was the story of Hollywood overall, really – whether they were marrying them or seducing them, auditioning for them or trying to capture their attention (and imagination), it was forever the role of the young woman to play into the hands of the older man.
But in 2017, the role of the damsel in distress does not sit as comfortably as it once did. Actually, it doesn’t sit well at all. The young women of Hollywood today are self-aware and strong, striving to portray feminist ideals and inspirational female characters for the younger generations to idolise. Little wonder some of the recent celebrity profiles have landed to earth with a disapproving thump.
We all remember 48-year-old Rich Cohen’s drooling write up of our own Margot Robbie.
“She is 26 and beautiful, not in that otherworldly, catwalk way but in a minor knock-around key, a blue mood, a slow dance,” he wrote.
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“She is blonde but dark at the roots. She is tall but only with the help of certain shoes. She can be sexy and composed even while naked but only in character.”
To call his lingering description of Robbie ‘inappropriate’ is an understatement. To him, she was little more than a sexualised beach babe, a ready smile, a big-screen goddess from the land of ‘throwback people’ who graced the earth for the appreciative eyes of men like himself.