I am alternately disgusted and saddened that women continue to be valued for their beauty and their reproductive capabilities over their accomplishments. I fully support Patricia Arquette’s dutiful writing out of her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Supporting Role so that she could thank everyone and fit in a call for gender equality, even if she got some legitimate criticism for it. Yet, despite my ardent support for feminism, I found that the #AskHerMore campaign, which advocates that reporters talk to actresses about what’s inside their minds rather than what they’re wearing, and which was begun by Amy Poehler—and re-ignited for Oscars 2015 by Reese Witherspoon—to be eye-rollingly annoying. It is yet another offering from a brand of feminism that includes things like the Dove Real Beauty Campaign and lowers the movement into something cheap and silly, and suggests that a simplified, liberal critique around the importance of female beauty can have an effect on real, systemic oppression.
First, I found it painful watching the red carpet reporters tie themselves up in knots to not ask beautiful women in beautiful dresses anything about being beautiful women in beautiful dresses. Robin Roberts, talking to The Theory of Everything’s Felicity Jones, mentioned upwards of 70 times how great it was that Jones was at the Oscar’s with her family. Then she asked Jones about the film’s subjects, Stephen Hawking and his ex-wife, and Jones said something about both of them being alive and how therefore the actors “brought everything they had to it,” which led you to wonder, if Hawking and his ex-wife were dead, would the actors have all slacked off? Mostly, it made you wish that this awkward moment would be saved by, oh, I don’t know, a question that was actually relevant like: “So you wore Alexander McQueen tonight when you’ve worn Dior this whole awards season—why?”
And then there was Naomi Watts standing there in a controversial and great Armani gown with Ryan Seacrest asking her, horribly, about frittatas — which people got upset about, reasonably — oh if we can’t talk to a woman about what she looks like, let’s talk about cooking. But people. We’re talking about Ryan Seacrest here. Suddenly told he can’t discuss the elephant in the room, what can we really expect from him? You can’t be the nation that puts Ryan Seacrest in charge of things and then suddenly demand that he become Christiane Amanpour.
And then there were the moments where #askhermore “worked.” Julianne Moore — resplendent in a dress Karl Lagerfeld made himself — informed us that Alzheimer’s is actually a disease and not just something you get when you’re old. Upworthy tweeted this as a meme with Moore’s photo, a quote and #askhermore. Yes, Alzheimer’s is a disease that needs more visibility, and yes, I applaud Moore, an intelligent, successful actress, for taking up the cause. But, I also just wanted someone to ask her regular dumb stuff. Like what you were wearing when Karl told you he’d make you the dress? Did you guys drink Coke Zero together? Did you meet Choupette?
Robin Roberts introduced the subject with Witherspoon by abruptly shouting “askhermore!” with such jubilation, it was as if Reese had just discovered how to perform cold fusion instead of promoted a hashtag to convince reporters not to ask people about their fashion at what is basically a fashion show. “This is a movement to say we’re more than just our dresses. This is a group of women — 44 nominees this year are women — and we’re so happy to be here and talk about the work that we’ve done,” Witherspoon said. Well, I like Reese Witherspoon and I have without interruption ever since I saw her in Freeway. But, sue me, I’d rather hear her talk about Tom Ford on the red carpet — even about his sunglass collection — than to hear more about her role in Wild.
You’d have to be a complete moron to think that Hollywood isn’t sexist. It is desperately in need of an overhaul, both to improve the quality of its output and to increase opportunities for the non-male and non-white artists who might bring this to fruition. I realize that men are asked about their work more on the red carpet than women, but the truth it, it’s just a night of stupid questions, and I’m not sure why awards ceremonies are the place where women need to showcase their intelligence and interests. It seems like a positive thing — what kind of animal doesn’t care what women think? Not I! But I also think it plays into a sort of weird notion, that women never get to stop working, that they always have to set some kind of perfect example, “Oh, we’re not just beautiful, we’re also smart, we also care.” #AskHerMore seems to me to be the celebrity version of having it all — another manifestation of the pressure on women to be everything at all times. Women created this movement, and many seem to be empowered by it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others wanted to just talk fashion.
Also, this night is really not just about the actors, it is about the thousands of people who have labored to get them there looking as great they do. And this is their night to get recognized, and to get their names spoken, and a lot of them didn’t, because we had to hear hacky questions about movies and frittatas and “how does it feel to be here?” and watch Lara Spencer rub Patricia Arquette’s shoulder, uninvited, instead of hearing hacky questions about clothes.
I don’t mean to make light of women wanting to be taken seriously in Hollywood. I think it was very serious when Charlize Theron got a $10 million raise in the wake of the Sony hack. I think Arquette’s concerns were serious, even if she did not express them perfectly, and I think it’s extremely serious and a crime that most directors are men, and that they are regularly paid handsomely to make movies that most women would be laughed at for even proposing. But, I feel like demanding to be asked more thoughtful, probing questions by not terribly serious journalists on the night of an awards show when people want to know what you’re wearing like they want to know who did it at the end of a whodunnit is maybe not such a great use of time, energy… or even a hashtag.