Elissa Maudlin is a sophomore journalism news major and writes “Abstraction” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
It’s March 1. Women’s History Month is erupting from its deep slumber in ecstatic jubilance, the one month in the year where being a woman is formally recognized as honorable and celebrated in unity across the United States. Things feel peaceful and hopeful.
Then, a simple tweet.
Taylor Swift calls out Netflix for what is seen as an unforgivable sin in a month meant to respect women: sexism.
According to Swift’s tweet, the Netflix show “Ginny & Georgia” has a joke that says, “You go through men faster than Taylor Swift.” Swift took offense to this comment, calling it “lazy” and “deeply sexist.”
Swift’s accusation begs the question for all of us: When it comes to relationships and sexuality, are women treated as equally as men in the public eye?
The short answer is no — and it’s a strong no.
Swift has been noted as the poster child for being “boy-obsessed.” Some people feel she always writes about her exes, using that as a means to discredit her success and artistry. Many could argue it's the sheer amount of songs written about her exes or the way she writes them that makes her deserve the criticism.
But, do we make that criticism for men? Do we keep track of the number of songs written about their exes? Did we judge Justin Timberlake when he put a Britney Spears look-alike in his music video “Cry Me a River” or denounce The Weeknd’s song “Save Your Tears” for potentially shading an ex?
No, because none of us cared.
When I was celebrating my birthday with my family last October, I opened a birthday card from a relative that read, “21 and never been kissed!?!?” This came about with the fact that I hadn’t been in a real relationship.
As harmless as the joke was intended to be, I couldn’t help but wonder if my brothers would have gotten that same joke. My lack of romantic relationships was, at that moment, a reminder of how different I was compared to the other women around me. Whether it was true or not, it felt like a man could be single and keep it in shadow, but I, as a woman, would never truly be able to escape speculation for my lack of romance because, as a woman, people cared. People cared that I was single. People cared that I had never had a relationship. People cared that love was not a part of my life at that moment.
Through my own experience, and even Swift’s confrontation with Netflix, it has become apparent to me that women seem to always be interconnected with sex and love.
Women have always been looked at as the beacons of sex, the gatekeepers of sexual desire. Researchers Sarah Levin-Richardson and Deborah Kamen, in “Lusty Ladies in the Roman Imaginary,” said Roman and Greek societies placed an emphasis on the active partner — a higher-up male citizen — penetrating the passive partner — a lesser male, woman, child or slave.
Greek and Roman civilization held the premise that dominant, wealthy males did not have sex with a partner — sex was something done to a partner.
Women are seen as the protectors of their own sexual “purity.” It is almost like a woman’s job is to shield herself and defend her “purity” while a man’s job is to take and perform the act.
Although it seems outdated, this concept still follows women consistently.
For example, Britney Spears was a pop star whose image lit a fire due to its controversial and sexual nature. She took the brunt of many questions regarding her virginity and sexual image, some of which occurred in her 2003 Primetime interview with Diane Sawyer. In this interview, Sawyer defended someone who said they would shoot Spears if they had the chance, saying it’s “because the example for kids and how hard it is to be a parent.”
Is this the same treatment Spears’ male counterparts would have received?
In NSYNC’s 2000 performance on MTV, Justin Timberlake hits two women’s butts, and the men grind on the female dancers.
Where was the controversy for how NSYNC was influencing children with their sexuality?
Spears isn’t the only one who has faced backlash for sexual promiscuity. In 2004, Timberlake ripped off a part of Janet Jackson’s costume at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, exposing her breast.
Although he was supposed to rip part of her costume, her breast was not supposed to be exposed, according to a 2006 Oprah interview with Jackson, where she discusses how the media and public turned on her. She states how she issued an apology hours later, and the interview even shows Timberlake saying he “probably only got 10 percent of the blame.”
Despite the situation not being Jackson’s fault, she still had to issue an apology. She still had to go above and beyond to calm the public after seeing a part of the female body.
But in 2019, Adam Levine takes off his shirt during his performance at the Super Bowl and is met with an ecstatic, cheering crowd?
Instead of focusing on the good that these female pop-culture icons have done — changed people’s lives with their songs, won awards, etc. — we choose to focus on their sexuality and their relationships. We choose to ignore the real questions, like how they’ve been able to do such amazing things, and, instead, ask them about their virginity and who they’re dating.
So, what does all of this mean for normal, everyday women across the country?
It means we are consistently looked at when it comes to sex and love. If we say something about love, it is analyzed under a microscope. If we don’t, we are asked what’s on the horizon for our love life and why we don’t have a romantic partner. If we show our bodies or dress provocatively, we are shunned.
For a woman, it’ll always be about sex and love, and I’m sick of it.
Contact Elissa Maudlin with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ejmaudlin.