The Maligning of Women in Entertainment

Mia Pisani, Lifestyle Editor


“The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears” has gained popularity and sparked conversations about the treatment of women stars compared to their male counterparts. Women in Hollywood, much like Britney Spears, have constantly faced mistreatment and been villainized.

  • Britney Spears

Britney Spears rose to fame in the 90s, and as the Washington Post wrote, “During the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, when young women’s sexual desires were being discussed in public at once frankly, pruriently and scornfully.” The paparazzi would harass young women for details of their personal lives, for example, they asked Spears if she was a virgin. She responded she was waiting until marriage, which was then cut to Justin Timberlake alleging he had “gotten in her pants.” He was then congratulated on screen. 

Spears was constantly mocked and harassed, and then shamed for reacting to the constant berating. She was pushed to tears on camera after Diane Sawyer called her a “bad mother” for driving away from relentless paparazzi with her son on her lap. Eventually, Spears cracked under the pressure, shaving her head then bashing one of the paparazzi’s cars with an umbrella. “But it was a good night for us, because it was a money shot,” said the owner of the car. She was later hospitalized and has since been held under a conservatorship by her father, James Spears. Recently more information has been exposed about Spears’ situation, leading to the “Free Britney Movement,” advocating for the end of her conservatorship. Throughout her fame and mistreatment, Spears was painted as crazy and villainous for responding to the pressure and abuse from the paparazzi and media around her. 

  • Taylor Swift

“Taylor, I’m really happy for you. Imma let you finish but…” Kanye West said as he grabbed the mic from 19 year old Taylor Swift to announce how much better and deserving Beyonce’s music video was. He apologized, but in 2013, four years later, said he does not regret it. In 2016, West released his song “Famous” claiming he made Taylor Swift famous. When receiving her Grammy later that year, Swift responded by saying “I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments and fame.” Kim Kardashian, the then-wife of West, later exposed a phone call claiming Swift approved the lyrics. Later, Swift fired back saying she never did and that the phone call provided no evidence of her approval of the lyrics. Swift still faces harassment from social media users, magazines and television hosts surrounding the incident. 

Swift has also been shamed for writing numerous songs about her breakups and relationships-  the same thing many male artists, such as Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and others, do. She has been called a “snake” and a “whore,” while her male counterparts receive nearly no backlash. John Mayer, at 32, dated and manipulated 19 year old Swift, and after the breakup, Swift was the one facing backlash for expressing her emotions through her song “Dear John.” 

  • Lindsay Lohan

“Aren’t you supposed to be in rehab?” David Letterman asked twenty-six year old Lindsay Lohan as the audience laughed in the background. He continued berating her with questions, asking what they were rehabilitating and what was “on their list.” To which Lohan responded “You can’t make a joke out of it. That’s so mean.” She criticized him saying none of these questions were mentioned before the interview. Letterman continued making fun of her as the audience laughed along. 

Lohan’s mental health was severely impacted from being in the spotlight from a young age. She turned to drugs and was in and out of rehab and jail for years. “And from then on, the press were on me all the time,” Lohan said in an interview with Piers Morgan. “It was the first time I’d taken drugs. I was out in a club with people I shouldn’t have been with, and took cocaine, and got in the car. It was so stupid.” The press publicized her substance abuse and mental health issues and constantly shamed her, yet the first time she attended rehab was for dealing with trauma from a movie shoot. Lohan has spoken about the stigma surrounding substance abuse, after experiencing the negative effects of shaming those facing addiction firsthand.  “Substance abuse is a disease, which unfortunately doesn’t go away overnight. I am working hard to overcome it and am taking positive steps.” 

  • Janet Jackson

When performing at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson’s costume. Broadcasts immediately cut to commercials or stopped displaying the halftime show, but the half-second Jackson was exposed to viewers,  became one of the biggest controversies of the 2000s. People claimed it was a publicity stunt and fully blamed Jackson for the “indecent exposure.” Timberlake originally responded by saying “Hey man, we love giving you something to talk about.” He later apologized. But yet again, Jackson was made out to be the villain. CBS forced her to make a public apology, and her career was severely impacted. CBS, MTV and its radio station group Infinity Broadcasting all blacklisted Jackson’s singles and music videos. The Grammys also canceled her scheduled performance due to the scandal. After all the shaming and consequences Jackson faced, Timberlake was barely scolded. 

As we reflect on the villainization of women in the early 2000s, it’s important to continue holding the media accountable.