Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Female Celebrities Warp Our View of Real Women

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As celebrity narratives increasingly dominate the national imagination, Caryl Rivers says we should worry about the restrictive and often passive roles that women play in these tales.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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Caryl Rivers(WOMENSENEWS)--Are celebrity stories the new narrative of American life? Have the people we see on reality shows and "Entertainment Tonight" replaced characters created by novelists and filmmakers as the lives we most relate to?

Have Brangelina, Jon and Kate Gosselin and Tiger Woods taken the place of--among others--Jay Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Jo Marsh (Louisa May Alcott), Nick Adams (Ernest Hemmingway) and Beloved (Toni Morrison) as the characters we use to make sense of the American story?

That's the argument made by author and critic Neal Gabler in a recent Newsweek cover story. Celebrity narratives, he contends, are in fact a new art form that trumps traditional media, such as books, movies, plays and television shows. Today, in a fractured culture with many niche markets, celebrity is the major way in which we "create a fund of common experience around which we can form a national community."

If this is true, what are the consequences for women?

Celebrity narratives come in two basic forms--stories about famous folk or about those whose life events suddenly flame into media view. They are often tawdry tales, and men behaving badly feature prominently. But female celebrity tales, more often than not, are stories of victimization, abuse and betrayal. Or they are stories of women becoming famous for nothing, except perhaps for having a certain kind of appearance.

Male Celebrities Action-Oriented

Male celebrities are usually more active. Their actions may be disgusting, thuggish or tacky, but they are actions. Tiger Woods bedded comely young women while projecting the image of a wholesome family man. Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail while pursuing a female "soul mate" in Argentina; meanwhile his wife stayed home to take care of the kids. Rod Blagojevich tried to peddle Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder while he was governor of Illinois. And when it comes to stories, this is one race John Edwards may have won.

Female celebs rarely seem to be driving their own fates. Two of the recent ones got famous just because they could make babies.

"Octomom" Nadya Suleman delivered eight live infants, created by in vitro fertilization, even though she was unemployed and already the mother of six children. Suleman's own mother questioned her mental stability.

Kate Gosselin, the co-star of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight," got her reality show by delivering sextuplets while she already had a pair of children. Her fracturing marriage gave the show skyrocketing ratings--it was like watching a train wreck.

Victim stories are common among female celebrities. Recently, singer Rihanna got knocked around by her boyfriend Chris Brown, "One Day at a Time" television star Mackenzie Phillips wrote a book about how she was sexually molested by her father, musician John Phillips of the 1960s band the Mamas and the Papas, and actress Marlee Matlin told of the abuse she said to have suffered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, actor William Hurt.

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Great article! I am currently in production on a documentary that does exactly what you ask...

Shows women and girls doing cool, exciting, amazing, adventurous things! There are women out there doing cool stuff, there just isn't anyone out there filming it.

I got tired of wondering and decided to tackle the project myself. Starting in August I'm heading out with a small crew on a motorcycle tour to film empowered (but not boring) women throughout the USA and Canada.

We're featuring some amazing girls and interviewing some really interesting women. Check it out at or on facebook at

There's lots of ways interested people can support the project and help it be seen!

During a time when it is hard to find women portrayed as the heroes they can be, I felt it necessary to point out the TLC 10-episode documentary "Police Women of Broward County". These women have children and family lives, as well as demanding careers as police officers. As a young woman myself, I would prefer to watch these women any day, rather than some over-hyped "reality" show with spoiled, non-talented women. We need to stop glamorizing the pretty-but-useless types and give credit to the real women in the world who are worth admiring.