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Double take: No, Variety’s Melissa McCarthy’s cover isn’t sexist.



Much has been made of comedic actress Melissa McCarthy’s plus-sized frame and how she is depicted. There was the backlash over her Elle cover, dubbed jacketgate, because she appeared in an over-sized coat, completely covered up.  Some argued it was an example of “fat-shaming,” though McCarthy later said that she picked out the coat herself.

And more recently, McCarthy, who has a new movie, “Tammy,” out in theaters, has talked about top designers refusing to make an Oscar dress for her, even though she is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.

And now the Variety cover.

My colleague Ruth Tam argues that the headline–“She’s Sleeping with Her Director”– is sexist because it trades on that old Hollywood idea of the starlet having to have sex with the director to get cast in a movie.  It professionalizes her husband, Ben Falcone, while sexualizing McCarthy, Tam argues.

I think the cover line does very different work, and is in line with the kind of bold comedy that McCarthy often does in her movies and her hilarious SNL skits, in which she often plays the sexual aggressor.

Rather than being sexist, the cover line actually works to expand commonly held and lazy ideas about what type of women can be subjects and objects of desire.

In Variety’s telling, the noxious stereotype of the Hollywood ingenue sleeping her way to the top is flipped on its head, with McCarthy as the star, and the image of her gripping her husband’s face makes him look like her boy toy. This is the kind of role reversal that McCarthy often attempts in her comedy as she tries to expand our ideas about what roles and space women that look like her can occupy.

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Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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