Fame & Humanity

Moving swiftly on from gorgeous meteorologists . . . well actually, kind of onto a related topic. Thanks to Dr Petra Boynton, the psychologist, sex educator and academic who tweeted about it, I read a very touching piece by Gia Milinovich, who is married to Dr Brian Cox, the ex D:Ream member who is now an academic and tv scientist, thanks in no small part to my own academic alma mater, the Open University (yeah, I'm more attached to the OU than I am to my former one of TCD, but thats a blog for another day). While many of the OU-sponsored BBC science and humanities programmes are often presented by slightly geeky academics, Cox's prior life on Top of the Pops has turned him a massive sex symbol for de laydeez.

Well, unfortunately for them, Cox is married to the very charming and herself rather attractive Gia. But it doesn't stop unthinking fans from not considering her feelings when posting away goodo on forums. And really this comes back to what I said in an earlier blog about thoughtless and unfeeling comments about somebody in the public eye, although its particularly tough on somebody like Gia who herself is experiencing this at arms length. It seems she gets the worst of both worlds: as much of the public notice came while she was heavily pregnant with their latest child and having to cope with living apart while they were filming.

Well I have to say I've no more time for people who make mean comments about somebody who just happens to be married to somebody famous than I do people who read alternative sexual proclivities into somebody on account of their fashion sense. And just as dressing flamboyantly doesn't justify anybodies twisted notion that you are gagging for it, being married to somebody in the public eye does not justify criticisms of clothes, unwanted intrusion into everyday life or snide comments about appearance.

In a sense, being in the public eye, however unwittingly, and even where wittingly, does bring with it a level of self-responsibility. You cannot expect people simply to not notice things which are unusual or unexpected. And it might be naive to expect that other peoples worldview is as all-encompassing as your own. Unfortuantely being female is a curse in this area. A few years ago I was stunned at the comments made in a work meeting insinuating that the dress sense of one of my colleagues was somewhat racy. She is a fine looking girl in her 20s, well endowed on top and makes the most of it. She looks well. So why do guys feel entitled to comment on what frankly, as woman who is also well endowed on top, is not exactly easy to hide? I sometimes find it quite shocking when people feel the need to tear into a woman, whether its because she looks dowdy, or because she looks fabulous, as if she was a piece of meat without some sense of personal self esteem.

The thing is, people rarely care what a man looks like - although obvious in the case of Dr Cox, it has struck a chord. One thing I have noticed is that women married to exceptionally good looking men have it particularly hard. An acquaintance of mine has (in my opinion) a really dishy husband, but unfortunately herself is very overweight and rather plain, though a fantastic person. It actually pains me to say this because I cannot stress how fantastic a person she is, despite really not being endowed with the best of phsycial attributes. Likewise a former partner of mine, who shall we say, didn't have the prettiest face in the world. Thing is, right, while it actually pains me to discuss my friends looks even in close company, as I hate to paint a friend or former lover up as unattractive, some people have no such qualms and even seem to do so with malicious pleasure.

Anyway I found this particularly striking:

Then there is the weirdness of seeing things written about you. Admittedly, most things about Brian have been very positive and most things about me have been more or less benign. I have, however, received the odd "unkind" email and seen some bitchy things about me on messageboards. The few nasty things are not so easy to brush off when I'm trying to come to terms with being a totally awesome woman masquerading as a reluctant housewife who spends 90% of her time on her own, is still breastfeeding and is desperately trying to work out what the hell this new post-baby body shape is all about. Let's just say that I'm not at the most confident place in my life right now so those kinds of things sting more than they normally would. If, however, I stand up for myself then I get even more bitchiness back. Apparently, "the wife" is just supposed to take it. This is the part of being married to a famous person that I'm not quite on top of yet.

... These days when I go out with my husband for a walk or a coffee, everyone stares at us. Suddenly, I've started to feel very self-conscious. It won't be long before "they" start talking about what a frump my husband is married to. So now along with looking after both the kids, doing all the shopping, cooking, laundry, etc, I've got to put on freakin' make-up and wear something vaguely "nice" to go out of the house with him. If only to avoid having to read something about how I look "twice as old" as my husband... again.

You know, I found this rather poignant, given the increasing unease I felt at some of the really hypersexualized comments on various forums and Facebook of one rather flamboyantly dressed Irish lady. Its like by throwing on a revealing frock, and having a nicely proportioned body and lovely face that somehow, she's just game to be leered at like some kind of media whore. Most distressing to me is the implication that dressing well for oneself - anywhere! - is somehow now an attention-seeking, provocative act. And worse still, the interpretation of coyness about one's private life as indicating that somebody has something to hide?

But I'm shocked at the notion that somehow anybody would moan about some cute guy's wife as looking "half his age". Aside from the "Mean Girls" style cattiness, its just way out of line. A buddy of mine was described by some little cock-sucker in the Fox & Hounds in Ballyvolane recently as being "haggard, battered and old." There was almost a riot before his friends wisely took him away. Why is it that the older a woman gets, the more ripe she seems to be to open, rude and hurtful attacks regarding her appearance? Even if she looks well.

Ultimately, I think it comes back down to the horrible idea, most obvious in porn for hetero males, that women are simply there to please men. The idea that dressing nicely is to decorate their bodies for male consumption - whether physical or visual. The idea that its fine to poke, prod and judge somebody on their bodily image or even worse, on account of their partner. Women cannot be read merely in terms of themselves but only as objects for some kind of consumption, implicitly by males. Those who do not obviously conform to the norm are heavily poked and prodded and discussed like a piece of meat. The worst notion is of course that women are simply past it sexually once they pass child-bearing years and its somehow "surprising" if women are still attractive. In fact a lot of the commentary starts before the menopause even does, sometimes as young as into the late 30s as if somehow women of that age are "over the hill."

The rather nauseating article by Kate Holmquist in today's Irish Times reinforces the stereotypical notion that somehow its a bit revolting for a woman over 40 to still be sexually active at all, nevermind enjoying the choice or power that comes with maturity. Holmquist paints up the images of older women getting it on with younger guys as some kind of dirty old woman, an image blatantly reinforced by the ridicule showed upon the admittedly deeply hypocritical Iris Robinson on the public exposure of her affair with a 19 year old boy.

The idea of mature women as oversexed and "desperate" is not what a lot of older women's commentaries on their own sexuality shows. Dumb writers like Holmquist would be suggested to have a good read of the really wonderful A Round Heeled Woman by Jane Juska, a wonderful account of one woman's descision to take her own sexual life into her own hands and enjoy it for herself. By ignoring the fact that middle aged women are both sexually active and have a right to be so, Holmquist merely reinforces the sneering and leering that goes on when any woman of that ilk steps in any way out of line and crashes right into the expectations of society. The key issue really does seem to be that women are judged so heavily in terms of appearance that its really hard to otherwise gather credibility. I mean who cares what Ryan Tubridy looks like - he doesn't get asked whether or not he bought his outfit in Topshop or Warehouse. But women are somehow both supposed to be beautiful AND available AND at the same time not heard. Its time all of that changed, but respect must be felt for those who inadvertently find themselves splashed across the papers as a matter of accident, lets not judge those who don't always look a million dollars or have the figure to carry off a fancy little designer number.


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