Does The Guardian Hate Successful Women?

(The title of this post refers to an episode of 30 Rock called “TGS Hates Women”. You should watch it if you haven’t – it’s funny.)

Today’s Guardian features an interview with Kristen Wiig that I just can’t stop being furious about.

The Guardian regularly runs bizarre and demeaning interviews with women. My recent least favourite is Decca Aitkinhead’s relentless investigation into whether or not Louise Mensch has had plastic surgery. This piece places Mensch’s appearance under quite extreme scrutiny – presumably exacerbating Mensch’s feeling that she needs to look perfect, increasing her likelihood of having surgery in the future.

Even in the Weekend magazine, I would have expected more emphasis on Mensch’s unusual moral framework and opinions and her impact as an MP, but instead we get lots of speculation on the scars behind her ears.

Emma Brockes’ interview with Kristen Wiig is a rambling passive-aggressive put down and a lazy piece of writing. I can think of no circumstance in which a man would receive the same treatment, and I can’t understand why it was published without more editorial diligence.

As is mentioned twice in the article, rather self-consciously, Wiig is 38. She’s been an actor for around 20 years, has made a massive hit movie and is a great success. She should be considered as someone who’s made it – as established in her chosen field. And yet Emma Brockes’ piece isn’t concerned with that; it’s concerned with pigeon-holing Wiig as a woman. It’s accompanied by a slew of photos of her in which she’s been primped and preened beyond all recognition. And despite the fact that she’s off to work all night at Saturday Night Live and has written a scene that involves “shitting in the street” (Wiig’s words), she is described as being “slight … with an eager tilt to her body language”. All the evidence points to her being robust, funny and confident, yet Emma Brockes seems to spend most of the piece trying to bring her down.

There are three particular things that make me very cross:

1) The headline of the article is “My next movie – it’s a Porkie’s prequel”. This is accompanied by a picture of Wiig wearing a top slashed down the middle of her torso and come hither stare. When you actually read what she says, it’s:

“Raunchy means like Porky’s,” she says and smiles. “Which is my next movie; it’s going to be a Porky’s prequel.”

Which is a joke, for crying out loud. She’s a comedian making a joke in an interview. Perhaps Brockes doesn’t have a sense of humour, because it’s not picked up on. Instead, it’s the headline of the whole article.

2) The following comment:

“Her understatement is fuelled perhaps by the inevitable and awkward comparisons she has gained with other women in her business, as if the culture can sustain only a couple at a time.”

As I’ve already said on Twitter, if journalists and commentators stopped saying things like that, perhaps people would be less likely to perceive women who are good at things as being tokens or as competing with each other.

3) The non-sensical conclusion:

Wiig is riding so high at the moment that when, as we leave, I ask her to confirm her age, I’m surprised when she grimaces. Yes, she says, she’s 38. Why the face? Under her breath, like a dangerous heresy, she says, “I feel like women are asked their age more than men.” And she snaps on a smile and leaves the restaurant.

The first sentence makes no sense: why is her age in any way relevant to her status? I can think of no corollary between the fact that “Wiig is riding so high” and the necessity of her confirming her age. Perhaps it would be relevant if she were a 20-year-old ingenue, but she clearly isn’t, so why bother?

I need to declare a conflict of interest, I’m 38 too – but it’s not all that. I don’t feel it means I’m either one thing or another. I just am – I’m a woman midway through her career. And while age and background are often mentioned in celebrity interviews, I can’t help but feel there’s some kind of judgement here that I don’t understand. Rather than it ending on a note about Wiig being on the verge of another great project or going off to write gags for a brilliant comedy show, it ends on a point about her age that seems somehow damning or significant, and which is supported by Wiig’s reaction. She clearly thinks it’s irrelevant too.

Finally, and most entertainingly, the comments on the article seem dominated by rage that Wiig is referred to as an actor and not an actress. As if she hasn’t already been put in her place.

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