Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Megan Fox: A feminist defense

Trigger warning for violence against women and transphobic language.

My usual source for celebrity gossip is Oh No They Didn't on LiveJournal (aka ONTD). I like it because the gossip is comprehensive and the original content is democratic - it comes from users rather than one source. Sometimes the community is impressive (they came together and banded against Chris Brown in the wake of Rhianna) and sometimes the comments are sexist and disappointing.

Megan Fox is often posted on over at ONTD because, well, she says a lot of shit, and some of it's easy to make fun of. I'm not going to defend quotes like this:
Golden Globes, January 2009: "I am pretty sure I'm a doppelgänger for Alan Alda. I'm a tranny. I'm a man."
Esquire, May 2009: "I have no question in my mind about being bisexual. But I'm also a hypocrite: I would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that I'd never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man."
Before I move on to discussing ONTD's treatment of her, let's discuss Fox. I think she's interesting.

Fox trades on her body and sexuality to gain roles, and also claims the title of feminist. I'd even qualify Fox as a feminist based on my definition - she may be problematic, but she's critical of the system of oppression which she works within, recognizes that sexism exists, and speaks out against it. Yes, she wields her body in a problematic way - but everyone has a right to their own body. Fox has been consistently critical of the system that makes her a sex symbol:
You also said that when you go to Hollywood parties you feel like chum to these creepy older guys…

I notice them circling me and deciding what their plan of attack is going to be, and I think that’s because I have this image of this little sex kitten — this oversexed wild child. So they think that I’m ready to throw down. And so everybody wants to try and, like, get in there. And I’m actually not that way at all.
Not that her comments aren't sometimes problematic:
You’ve only done a couple of movies, so you’re still mostly known as a sex symbol rather than an actress.

It doesn’t bother me. I don’t know why someone would complain about that. That just means that the bar has been set pretty low. People don’t expect me to do anything that’s worth watching. So I can only be an overachiever. I think all women in Hollywood are known as sex symbols. That’s what our purpose is in this business. You’re merchandised, you’re a product. You’re sold and it’s based on sex. But that’s okay. I think women should be empowered by that, not degraded.

My problem in the quote above comes in the use of the plural - "our purpose", "all women". If that's the role that Fox takes on, and that's the role she's comfortable with, great. I'm not going to deny her her agency in that, and the fact that it is conscious is significant. However, that's not a fair expectation for other women. It's not empowering to all women, and erases the feelings of other ambitious women who are not.

If Fox were placing this in the context of her own actions, this would definitely be feminist. She's ambitious, and is willing to use her body in ways that others wouldn't to get what she wants: to become famous, to be powerful. We all have different way of negotiating in this world, and if she feels empowered and not degraded, awesome. It's also awesome that she is calling the system on its use of women rather than dismissing it or ignoring it. In another interview, she compares acting to sex work without shame, and in a way that's critical of the industry - which is astute if not necessarily universally applicable, and something others wouldn't say:

GQ, June 2009: "When you think about it [actors are] kind of prostitutes. Other people are paying to watch us kissing someone, touching someone...It's really kind of gross."
I'm not trying to offer a blanket defense of her commentary or actions - I'm sure she's made a lot of mistakes and gross comments, though, and I think we should hold her responsible for them. Feel free to do so in the comments - I'm not going to jump to her defense when she uses slurs like tranny, or makes weird homophobic comments about. But she's loudmouthed and critical and cognizant of the system in which she exists, and there's not a lot of actresses with a platform like hers willing to offer such challenges.

Back to the point. Megan Fox Media Blackout Day is today, and the sexism of that event has been covered by others. In response, ONTD is having a Megan Fox appreciation day, but even that is dripping with sexism:

Personally, I hate the way she's constantly dissing women, and yet claims to be such a feminist. If she'd just stay quiet and look pretty I wouldn't mind her.

Insightful and not loaded with sexism at all!

And as an entry in Rape is hilarious:

She looks like she was gang-raped by Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers

So basically, the OP has taken a full agent female villain and made her into the victim of gang rape for the purposes of humor. Rad.

Megan Fox isn't a paragon of feminism, but she is often subject to a lot of sexism, and she deserves defense on those counts as much as she deserves to be held responsible when she sucks.

Recommended reading: Megan Fox: Sex Symbol, Mouthy Slut, or Something Else Entirely? by the excellent Sady of Tiger Beatdown


  1. You make a lot of good points!

    She's spunky and I like her. She reminds me a lot of Rose McGowan, who, while reaching for something a little less inane, is intelligent, interesting, and multi-faceted, despite generally being seen as a sex object.

  2. You make a lot of really good points, like faye said!

    I have my issues with Megan Fox. But as you point out, she does speak up against the sexism instead of just falling into it. And she definitely has the right to do what she wants with her body. Maybe the problem that I have with her is the roles that she generally has (like in Transformers) and the use of her body to get ahead. I don't think she should have to do that. But that has more to do with Hollywood as an industry that with her. I guess she does know what she wants and how to accomplish that and she goes after it.

    So bravo. You made me rethink a little bit of my position on Megan Fox.

  3. I have no problem with the way Megan Fox markets herself or the roles she chooses, and I appreciate her blunt criticism of the sexism in her industry, but I can't get over the biphobia.

    Considering all the bisexual erasure in pop culture, and when bisexuals are visible they're smeared and stereotyped, I found Fox's comments to be unacceptable. She is definitely not helping bisexual women's public image when she says ignorant shit like that. Especially right after coming out as bisexual herself! I mean really, WTF. Please don't kick your sisters while they're down!

  4. Like I said, her comments are frequently problematic.

  5. i think when she says "our role in this business" she is referring to the way hollywood as a whole sees and treats women, how women are placed, marketed and promoted.

    and hollywood is an inherently sexually-driven place. it's very much about what you look like. there is no getting around that -- it's film. if it was theater, it would be different.


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