In general, it is not advisable to stick women on pedestals.
Especially if you are only doing this to get a better view of their curves. And especially not a rotating pedestal — as happened to a very game Sofia Vergara on Monday night at the Emmys, prompting many shocked tweets of “Seriously, in 2014?”
On the one hand, she was clearly in on the bit, so it wasn’t that we were objectifying her without her consent. But it seemed like a waste of an actress whose gifts extend well beyond her physical assets, and felt pretty tone-deaf given that it is 2014.
In comedy, the bits that age least well are those that punch the wrong way. And the bits that aren’t jokes at all, just winks and nudges. I grew up as a big fan of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” and while much of it has aged just fine, some bits — like this, where the entire gag was pretty much that an under-dressed woman got to stand onstage as a prop and be ogled and groped — have aged miserably, to the point that they are just gross and offputting.
It’s not just a boys’ club any more. This doesn’t mean, as some seem to think, that there is a gaggle of irate feminists standing at the gate to all entertainment shouting, “NO FUN ANY MORE! NO FUN ANY MORE, FOR ANYONE!” It just means that jokes have to aim — not even necessarily higher, just wider. If the joke only makes the segment of the audience laugh that is sitting there in trilby hats (NOT fedoras) holding copies of “The Game” — that joke is just not good enough. It’s not unacceptable to admire the physical excellence of excellent physical specimens, but it does mean that there has to be some kind of twist. You have to be making something that is recognizably a joke.
But pedestals are troublesome in general. Woody Allen quipped that his problem was that “I tended to place my wife under a pedestal.” Even if you stay on the upper face, they’re tricky. Look at Beyoncé. If anyone can stand on a pedestal and still look good, it’s Queen Bey. But even as she’s been sharing the definition of feminism with us and standing in front of big lighted FEMINIST signs, everyone’s griping. There’s such a thing as a feminist pedestal, and once you’re up there, you get subjected to a parallel but different form of excess scrutiny. We aren’t staring at her curves — we’re squinting dubiously at all her stances. “Is that real?” we ask — not of her body, but of her attitudes. But who’s served by this? What’s the point of holding everyone to an impossible standard? We should want more people on our side. If Taylor Swift discovers that she’s been a feminist all along, that’s great! The more the merrier.
Maybe we should just ditch all the pedestals.
As self-identified ‘bad feminist’ Roxane Gay put it, “I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they [screw] it up. I regularly [screw] it up. Consider me already knocked off.”
Let’s consider everyone knocked off.