Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence Both Want an Oscar. That's Not a Catfight.

What Women Really Think
Feb. 11 2013 1:13 PM

Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence Both Want an Oscar. That's Not a Catfight.

161392604
Jessica Chastain would like you to know she is not jealous and insecure.

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

It's not exactly surprising that, if two women are simultaneously achieving a particular level of success in a sector of the entertainment industry, someone will start spreading a rumor that they dislike each other. The most recent victims of this tiresome cycle are Academy Award-nominated actresses Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

Over the weekend, Chastain spoke up to explain why the charges she's freaked out by the younger Lawrence aren't just false—they're getting in the way of making Hollywood a better place for women. She wrote on Facebook:

Advertisement

Please don't allow the media to perpetuate the myth that women aren't supportive of each other. Every time an actress is celebrated for her great work, I cheer. For the more brilliant their performance, the more the audience demands stories about women. With support and encouragement, we help to inspire this industry to create opportunities for women. And as we all know: a great year for women in film, is just a great year for film.

Chastain is getting at something interesting here, perhaps unintentionally. Catfight narratives are common precisely because in many parts of the entertainment industry there is a scarcity of opportunities for women, and rather than broaden the pool, these stories encourage women to fight over what's already available. When, say, a promising new female rapper like Nicki Minaj emerges, the story becomes less about a new talent and more about forcing a choice between Minaj and her now-threatened predecessors, as if only one of them can possibly survive in the market. And when a rival does lash out, as Lil' Kim did as Minaj's career took off, that only feeds the perception that there's a limited amount of success to go around, and that the women who are allowed access to it must be held to unusually high standards.

It's hard to imagine tradeoffs between male actors being posed so bluntly. Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner may be at similar points in their careers, and are probably competing for some of the same roles in search of a definitive chance to break out with the public. But there's room for both of them, and I certainly haven't heard of an anonymous whisper campaign suggesting that the two are eager to claw each other's eyes out at the next awards show after-party.

So I'm glad Chastain is not only speaking out about her personal respect for Lawrence, but also about her disdain for the dynamic at work here. She and Lawrence, 13 years apart in age, may both play complex women, and may both have avoided getting sidetracked into romantic comedy deathtraps, but that doesn't, or at least it shouldn't, mean that they're in direct competition with each other. If Hollywood worked right, studios would come up with parts aplenty to meet the talents of these two women—and the demand audiences have shown to see them on the big screen.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 1:29 PM Want to Know What Makes David Fincher Great? Focus on What He Doesn’t Do.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 1:22 PM If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would You Notice? What cyranoid experiments reveal about how people act.  
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?