Lowering the Double Standard


Lisa Robertson, the young woman at the centre of the international-headline-grabbing ‘sex with Ralph Fiennes in an airplane toilet’ scandal, did a rather creditable job on 60 Minutes. I expected a weeping and humiliated young woman begging for sympathy. Instead, she was an articulate and confident person who had clearly had a very good time.

Despite 60 Minutes‘s best efforts — including a jaw dropping piece of tit-cam while Lisa buttoned up her Qantas uniform — she only came close to tears once, when she related how Fiennes’s initial insistence on denying the event ever took place had made her feel abandoned and alone.

While I accept that a tryst in an aircraft loo by an on-duty flight attendant is a sackable offence, I find it hard to see what she really did wrong. I can’t promise you I would have passed up the chance to bed the star of my dreams — Liam Neeson in my case at the same age — while single.

Yes, they should have used a condom particularly as Fiennes was off to lecture Indians on safe sex. And when 60 Minutes suggested she might be pregnant, Robertson was clearly nonplussed. But, as the absence of a condom couldn’t possibly be known by anyone else at the time, I still can’t help wondering about the Qantas staff member who reported the event. If they’d kept their mouth shut, who’d have been worse off? No passengers were aware of the liaison, and the two adults involved had a fine time.

Instead, a pleasant young woman has lost her job and has had to put up with a lot of salacious and rather creepy publicity. I hope she’s made a lot of money out of selling her story, and at least they’ll always have Mumbai.

I have less sympathy for Fiennes whose rather effete public image has probably gained a frisson of much needed macho from the encounter and I predict that, if anything, his marketability will go up.

But what is refreshing about Lisa Robertson is that, despite all attempts by the media, she refuses to be ashamed. She enjoyed herself and she isn’t going to play the hypocrite.

While the pressure on Robertson from a prurient media has been intense, it will also be transient. She is already fading into obscurity. The same cannot be said of those current darlings/demons of women’s celebrity magazines: Britney, Lindsay, Paris, and Nicole. The nasty delight the public has taken in their very public meltdowns, pubic and breast wardrobe malfunctions, head shavings, car accidents, stays in rehab, battles with anorexia and a bewildering parade of husbands, boyfriends and children, sell millions of magazines on a weekly basis.

How we delight in seeing young women brought low! How comforting it is to see these famous and successful young females fall flat on their collective pretty faces! Schadenfreude, truth be told, is a gift to women’s magazines. (The wages of sin increase the wages of many an editor.) Such publications build these young women up, knock them down, and then after a suitable period of suffering take the moral high ground by offering them sympathy and understanding; until next time.

Young male stars, even those clearly battling similar demons, rarely experience the same intensity of exposure or salacious criticism. The pursed lip and wagging finger school of journalism is rarely aimed quite so gleefully at them.

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

What really makes me see red, however, is when feminism is blamed for the trials and tribulations of these young women, as Miranda Devine did in her recent SMH column.  Soon, I expect to see an article by a Miranda-esque pundit blaming the growing gap between male and female wages on feminism. Something along the lines that we should have known when we asked for equal pay that we wouldn’t get it and so our current disappointment is feminism’s fault for building up unrealistic expectations.

That seems to be the line of argument about these young women and their determination to behave the way young men have for centuries. These pundits seem to say that girls just can’t have fun like boys can, and feminists should never have told them they could.

There’s nothing new about the behaviour of the so-called ‘ladettes’. Way back in the 1920s, the ‘it’ girl of silent movies, Clara Bow, had her career ruined when it was rumoured she had sex with an entire football team. The difference now is not that young, beautiful celebrities of both genders find it impossible to resist the smorgasbord of indulgences suddenly thrust in front of them rather, it’s that we’re more honest about it.

We may be more honest but we still don’t approve.

Women are still not supposed to be sexually aggressive. They are meant to be victims. We are meant to judge them as either pathetic, sad losers or brazen harlots. Either way, they’re meant to feel bad. But that’s not feminism, that’s the age-old double standard.

Worse: Britney, Lindsay, and Nicole (Richie, not Kidman) like so many women, are victims of their own internalisation of this double standard. They accept society’s judgement upon them and tragically cast themselves as whores.

That’s why Lisa Robertson is so refreshing, she does not accept such judgment, she is not ashamed.

And there is another young woman who appears not to care how we judge her. She is the ladette most loved and admired by teenage girls and most hated and despised by the rest of us.

Paris Hilton is the only one of the young women named above who has not been to rehab, who has not collapsed into drug addiction or eating disorders, or made any supposed cries for help (though, has anyone wondered if Britney’s head shaving might be a gesture of defiance rather than despair?).

Paris has had her fair share of public humiliation — the famous sex tape, for example — but she has never dignified it with either apology or comment. (And apparently, when Paris sued the man who released the tape, she didn’t sue for damages, but for half the profits. You go, girl!) Famous for being famous, she sails through every scandal with precisely the same bland expression on her face. She is either very stupid or very, very smart, and I am beginning to suspect the latter.

Unlike Britney, Nicole or Lindsay, Paris doesn’t give a damn what you and I think. She is going to live her life just the way she wants to, thank you very much, and she’s already making quite a lot of money doing so. It helps that she’s heiress to a fortune though that didn’t make Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke, or Christina Onassis safe from our disapproval in their day.

No, it is just possible that Lisa Robertson and Paris Hilton are two of the first examples of genuine post-feminist princesses who simply do not recognise the double standard we carry around with us. If they want to wear no knickers, or have sex with someone in an airline loo, they will, and the devil take what we think.

Maybe the teenage girls who worship Paris are not so stupid after all and it’s not her behaviour that earns their admiration, it’s her attitude.

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