Enough With the Sexist Criticism of Anne Hathaway, Already

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 31 2013 2:38 PM

In Defense of Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Anne Hathaway at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Last month, BuzzFeed published one of its standard, image-heavy listicles with the title “Why Do People Hate Anne Hathaway?” Offering up such helpful explanations as “her face” and “she looks stupid” (not to mention the ridiculous claim that she “ruined The Dark Knight Rises”), staffer Louis Peitzman reprinted “analysis” from Hathaway haters around the web:

“That bitch ruins everything.”

“To be blunt, I think she’s a bitch.”

“I hate her bug eyed look and that HUGE mouth of hers with big teeth. Then she opens her mouth and speaks.”

“fucking lucky dirty slut whore bitch ugly lucky troll fuck … undeserving bitch”
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Somehow, over the course of curating the quotes above, Peitzman apparently never thought, “Hey, maybe calling Hathaway a ‘dirty slut whore bitch’ is horribly sexist, something I should distance myself and BuzzFeed from.” It’s an unfortunate post, but it served at least one purpose: making plain how much sexism underlies the persistent, widespread dislike of Anne Hathaway.

Granted, it’s usually more subtle than the flagrant hate reprinted by Peitzman. Take the idea, common among Hathaway haters, that she “tries too hard,” or that, as noted feminist Howard Stern put it on Monday, “she’s overly dramatic.” She’s too “chipper” and is always “flittering around”—like a little bird, apparently. The Daily Beast and Yahoo describe this aspect of Hathaway hate by calling her a “desperate theater girl.” Can you imagine anyone calling, say, Hugh Jackman a “desperate theater boy”? Hathaway is an actor. Is she not supposed to be “dramatic”? When Daniel Day-Lewis wins his Oscar, he’ll probably act surprised, too.

It’s worth contrasting the coverage Hathaway and Jackman have received for their performances in Les Misérables. Both made headlines by shedding pounds for their roles, a practice common to all sorts of Oscar-baiting performances. But only Hathaway’s weight loss has attracted scrutiny and shaming. Hathaway’s character starves, sells her hair, and sells her body, while Jackman belts out a song in close-up while crawling through a river of sewage. The movie’s vision demanded over-the-top performances, and they both knocked it out of the park, but only Hathaway gets shit for it

It so happens that both Jackman and Hathaway hosted the Oscars. Did anyone accuse Jackman—who spent the whole evening crooning and pirouetting across the stage—of trying too hard? For some reason today’s Hathaway haters frequently cite  her hosting performance as fodder for how everyone came to hate her, even though at the time nearly everyone agreed that it was James Franco—not to mention the night’s flailing producers—that really left her out to dry.

Hathaway also attracts a megadose of the kind of standard sexist treatment young actresses deal with all the time. And it’s not just dudes who dish it out. There’s the Hathaway hate that comes in the form of endless body snarking, debate whether she’s “ugly” or just “too attractive,” and the mean-spirited fixation on her teeth and her haircut. Consider this bizarre column from Crushable:

I watch her beautiful face do its talented acting and go—my my, what a large beautiful mouth. I don’t like it. Look at those dark beautiful eyes. I don’t like them. Listen to her skinny beautiful words. I don’t like them. Shut up. Shut up, Anne Hathaway.

At the Les Mis premiere, a photographer even snapped a photo up her dress and sold it. In the only redeeming aspect of the episode, Hathaway managed to respond to prying questions about it with characteristic grace, managing to make a point about “liv[ing] in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants,” while segueing swiftly back to the actual movie.

Faced with all this, it’s no wonder Hathaway tries so hard. (When, by the way, did effort become a bad thing?) I may not be able to talk any Hathaway haters into liking her—seriously though, have you seen Rachel Getting Married?—but if we spent more time thinking about her performances, and less about whether her mouth is too beautiful, then the cultural conversation between now and Oscar night might be a little bit smarter.

 

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.