OPINION: Women in the public eye: sex double standards impede universal respect

Nicole Leonard


Women have long cried out against the injustices they believe our patriarchal society inherently supports. Discrepancies in pay, the impositions of traditionalism and a general disdain for the ambitions women pursue outside of the home are serious obstacles to overcome. Policy changes will only scratch the surface of what is a much stronger underlying issue within this discussion: respectability.

My sex should not determine my eligibility for respect. It does, however, because respect is an objective for which women in the public eye must fight and for which men are handed. While men are applauded for their propensity to aggressively seek empowerment, women suffer consequences when acting on those very same intentions.

Buzzfeed News recently published an article discussing Charlize Theron’s battle for industry recognition and detailed what they described as the transition from cool girl to bitch and from bitch to broad. Though Theron can be applauded for her refusal to give in to the pressures of what Hollywood often deems proper of its women, the theme of her story isn’t remotely unique.

The reason her situation is worthy of recognition is simply that she has, at some point, touched every point on this spectrum. She got to be the cool girl for a while. Then she spent a lot of time brandishing her bitch status to the directors who faced up to her. But, most importantly, she overcame that degrading perception and has presently defined herself as someone worthy of respect in every regard.

The interim stage of this transformation is denoted by a woman’s acceptance and understanding of her own worth as well as the persistent opposition she faces by those who surround her. A woman, specifically a woman in the public eye, is expected to uphold certain standards like thin-but-not-too-thin, smart-but-not-smarter-than-men and sassy-but-not-too-demanding.

Women who publicly reject these sentiments are branded with a scarlet “B” and written off by their male counterparts. They recognize the attributes of a so-called difficult woman as something entirely unlike the qualities of a strong male whose duty is to command a certain presence. A woman who requires respect is somehow different from a man who does the same.

These women are given a bitch status as a result of their competency, candid expression, assertive attitudes and self-determination. When these women should be regarded for their ability to stand against the tide, but they are instead degraded and stripped of their femininity.

Refusing to be merely a pretty face in a sea of pretty faces, pursuing the goal of self-fulfillment through intellectual aims means rejecting ascriptions of feminine behavior. It also means acknowledging that weakness is not an integral component of every woman’s character and that brawn is not a virtue explicitly applicable to a man’s.

Instead of shaming women that seek respect through whatever means necessary, treat them with the same regard you would a man. Women who are labeled by the debasing title of “bitch” should wear it as a badge of pride. It means you have entered the competitive sphere and penetrated the bubble of masculinity that shields it. To succumb to the idea that this title is anything more than temporary will inhibit the natural progression from bitch to broad.