Empowerment

Natalie Portman’s Comments Reflect Our Toxic Media Culture

This isn't a Times Up issue.

Women supporting women. That’s been the motto for us the last year and a half. If one woman is caught shaming a sister, she’s called out. The age of social media has made this instant and inevitable. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman was the most recent woman to find that out the hard way.

Natalie Portman sat down with an interview with USA Today to discuss her new movie Vox Lux. The interview led her to examine her own relationship with the media and admits to being confused as a teenager after seeing Jessica Simpson in a bikini in a magazine with the tagline ‘I’m a virgin’.

Jessica didn’t take too kindly to the comments and called her out on Instagram.

On the surface, I get it. In a way it seems like Natalie is criticizing Jessica for dressing the way she did. But if you read the whole article, Natalie is really criticizing the media culture both of today and that of the late 90’s. It was the magazine who used the wording ‘I’m a virgin’ not Jessica.

Media coverage of women in the 90s wasn’t positive, even compared to what we see now. Author Allison Yarrow tackles this issue in her book aptly titled 90s Bitch. What Natalie and Jessica are battling with, or against, is something Yarrow calls 90s Bitchifiction- women being pitted against each other in the media or being made out to be a ‘bitch’ simply because she has power.

The 24 hour news cycle gave the media much more opportunity to attack women. Yarrow explained that a woman in the limelight who happened to experience a scandal would be in the news cycle for days or months. This domination of attention caused the woman to be attacked again for all the attention she was receiving. Thus they are looked back on and considered in a negative light again and again.

Women are still constantly attacked for their looks and stereotyped for society. Even if Natalie wasn’t thinking of her comments in this light, her comments sure do reflect this negative influence. Both stars grew up in the spotlight and were objectified at a young age or saw peers their age objectified.

I think we can all agree that Natalie’s comments didn’t come across as she intended. However, her comments are a product of the toxic media culture women fall victim to all the time, not her personal opinion of Jessica. We’ve all been confused by the ways women are portrayed in the media for various reasons and that isn’t our fault.

All we’ve been force fed are thin, white women. Anyone that doesn’t fit that mold is made to feel less than a person and that’s not okay.

It’s not okay that any woman with power is preyed upon or that two women in a simple disagreement are portrayed as being in a cat fight. Our male counterparts are not defined in this manner.

Those women receiving negative attention from the media are a victim of a sexist media culture. It isn’t the fault of the woman being portrayed, but the media itself. The way women are covered in the media hasn’t really changed since the 90s. Media outlets are still quick to call out weight gain or severe weight loss, anything that makes a women ‘less appealing’.

We should be upset that anyone has been made to feel less than by media culture.

This feud between the two does nothing but feed into the 90s bitchification Yarrow describes. In this scenario, they both play into the classic catty girl stereotype. Until we recognize this subtle yet sexist way we as women view other women in the media, we will never break out of the cycle that has engulfed those that came before us.

The next time you see a photo in a magazine or posted by a news outlet on social media, ask yourself why they chose that photo. Especially if it poorly portrays a woman.

The media is all about making money, not being correct or empathetic.

It’s our job to bring the empathy to the table and then demand the media start embracing it as well.

Natalie Portman’s comments are not a Times Up issue. It’s a media issue and until we stand up and demand change, feuds like the one between Jessica and Natalie will continue to be blown out of proportion. Our sisters of tomorrow deserve better than this.

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Davyn is a journalism student at Arizona State University. During her free...