Hathahaters Part 2: The Female Phenomenon of Hating Women We Do Not Know

Last week I wrote an article about how hating Anne Hathaway is super in vogue right now.  She may have an Oscar, but she's also cultivated a base of detractors so vocal and notable that they've earned their own catchy monicker: "Hathahaters."  Indeed, the internet has been rampant with indictments of followed by defenses of, followed by indictments of the defenses of Hathaway in the weeks surrounding her first Oscar win.

In addition to the articles I discussed Sunday night,  CNN chronicled the backlash thusly:
Google "Anne Hathaway" and "hate," and the evidence is overwhelming. Link after link highlights the great American pastime (though it may actually be international, but more on that later) of being annoyed by the Oscar-winning actress. It's clear from the abundance of articles and negative comments that some people don't even want to see her face.
CNN then went on to interview a psychology professor who hypothesized that we hate Anne Hathaway because in an improving economic climate we want to see actresses with rounder faces, because...what? But as numerous as her detractors have been, Anne has received some credentialed media support. Anderson Cooper came to her defense on his show. The Huffington Post's Douglas Anthony Cooper stood up for Anne in a sarcastically-titled article, "Anne Hathaway: The Most Horrible Person Who's Ever Lived," where exposed the truth behind some unsourced anti-Anne comments attributed to co-celebrities and assaulted America's love affair with "awkward" beautiful movie star Jennifer Lawrence (Jennifer L"awk"rence?) reigning queen of the "Age of the Unpolished." Sasha Weiss of The New Yorker defended Anne's talent and her energy and her eagerness, saying "Would it really be so terrible to give her the applause that she craves?" Slate's Forrest Wickman called our hatred sexism and compared rampant criticism of Anne to the seeming dearth of criticism about Les Mis co-star Hugh Jackman. And always-excellent Ann Friedman at New York Magazine wrote almost exactly the post I'd planned to write called, "Why Do Women Hate Hathaway but Love Lawrence," with acuity and eloquence and alliteration and all. 

So, since Friedman perfectly covered that ground, I thought I'd talk a little bit about how all of this taps into the larger cultural willingness of women to hate other women we don't know.  To some extent this is true of all celebrities and politicians we all have lots of opinions about lots of people we've never met but I'm going to talk specifically about how it happens to women because I am one and it's my blog, and also because I feel that female-on-female hatred is more vociferous and more visceral.

Now, I'm not going to broach the whole "frenemies" concept that is to say, the uniquely female social conundrum of hating people that you know well and choose to spend your time with. What I want to talk about is our willingness to have extreme, negative opinions about women whom we've never met.  Last week, I admitted I felt the same annoyance with and dislike of Anne Hathaway that apparently the entire universe shares. There are some legitimate, objective observations from which this annoyance stems, and of course I'm "entitled to my opinion" (such a favorite privileged American phrase!), but when we step back and evaluate it: my judgment of Anne is derived entirely from short, stressful soundbites and a body of work that is, by definition, "acting."  That makes my opinion is pretty circumstantial and unfounded, right?


I've bee thinking about this because not long ago I was on the other side of this kind of obscure hatred-from-a-distance brand of contempt. Recently, though certainly not for the first time in my life, I was told by a well-meaning friend that a loose, casual acquaintance of mine absolutely despised me. This woman was a former schoolmate with whom I'd shared a few large lecture halls but never a conversation. We were classmates, not friends, and frankly I'd never given her much thought (maybe that's why she hates me?). But, without knowing it, I had apparently caused her to draw some intense, adverse conclusions about me, enough that when fed the innocuous question "what do you think about Alison?" she didn't mince words. 

Her disdain really, really bothered me.  I couldn't get over it, I couldn't shrug it off (obviously, as I'm writing this damn post about it now). I spent days mulling it over; I squeezed my eyes shut and tried desperately to picture any interaction we'd ever had to see what faux pas I'd committed to offend her. This was difficult because a) I don't think we interacted many times, b) I drink a lot, c) offensive things just tumble out of my mouth even when I'm sober, which, again d) is infrequent.  But the idea that someone I barely knew spent time thinking and talking and mocking and hating me really got under my skin.  I give the people who know me enough reason to dislike me; I don't need to worry about being hated by people I don't know.

So I tried to imagine that sad, pathetic, insulted, bewildered, self-doubting feeling on a blown-up scale, on a national level, where a random, mean girl didn't just make passive-aggressive comments to a mutual friend, but instead created a Twitter account parodying my nipples. Where instead of one girl rolling her eyes at my onslaught of unfunny facebook posts, it's thousands thousands of people uniting across social media under the banner of Alison-Abhorrers (I was going to do the alliteration with my last name but it starts with a "C" and the only angry "C" word I could think of was a really bad one.) It made me feel really guilty and really bad for Anne and every famous lady whose popularity peaks, then plummets, and whose every wardrobe slip and breakup is aired out for a world of tweeters to reduce down to judgments and abbreviated, misunderstood commentary. Why do we find the need to insult and advertise our dislike for people we don't know? Why do we care about them?

I suppose the simple answer is, "because other people bother us and annoy us and because we're allowed to." But at least part of the answer for famous people is a sort of crude "you're famous so you're asking for it." And this isn't a flippant, apologist's excuse; it's literally a legally-endorsed concept. In the law, if someone is considered a "public figure," that person can't sue for defamation the same way the rest of us can (they have to prove the person had "actual malice" against them, which ain't easy. Hence: tabloids). So, if you're famous or notable, people are pretty much legally allowed to badmouth you and gossip about you. It's the price of being well-known.

So, I guess it makes sense that Anne's skyrocketing fame would coincide with a spiraling public image.  And I'm guessing that Jennifer Lawrence's (who, for the record, I adore right along with everyone else) upswing will be met by an equal and opposite downswing just like Anne's did and Taylor Swift's did and Kristen Stewart's did and Miley Cyrus' did and every other so-famous-she's-everywhere female of the internet age.  And I'll continue to write scathing See You Next Tuesdays about people who do stuff that I, from my unfamous computer perch, find to be reprehensible and super annoying.  And at the end of the day, I guess the true balance is that they get to console themselves with their Oscars in their Mediterranean mansions and I get to post this on my Facebook and go back to work.

But, like, seriously...Kristen Stewart is awful, right?

Addendum: Read about how I got interviewed by Chinese Newsweek about Hathahaters here
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Erin
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March 6, 2013 at 2:15 PM delete

Kristen Stewart IS terrible. I feel like she's about to kill herself every time I see her in anything other than Twilight movies (which I actually haven't seen many of since Nick refuses to watch them). Back to my point - Kristen Stewart is awful.

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Amy
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March 8, 2013 at 2:47 PM delete

haha I agreed with this whole post... But mostly this-- KStew Sucks!! ;)

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