It’s always disappointing when the people we admire reveal things about themselves that jars with our view of them. Be it casual sexism, racism, transphobia or any of the other aggressive forms of discrimination that prevent us from establishing a society that is wholly equal, knowing that our heroes are fallible in the areas that matter to us most feels almost like a betrayal.
Such was the feeling I had in late October when I read reports that Rashida Jones had published tweets that appeared to channel all the slut-shaming, girl-on-girl crime that exhausts me on a routine basis. Jones - who plays ‘beautiful, powerful, talented, brilliant musk ox’ Ann Perkins on NBC’s Parks and Recreation - wrote:
“This week's celeb news takeaway: She who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores”
Rashida Jones's Glamour op-ed.
It wasn’t long before the accusations began rolling in. Jones was whorephobic, misogynist and sexist. She was a slut-shamer who hated sex workers and judged other women. She had let us all down in a monumental way by parrotting views that can’t be read as anything other than the ignorant lampooning of a portion of women who face severe discrimination simply because of the work they choose to do.
In a three dimensional view that acknowledges essentially progressive people can have problematic stances on individual issues, it’s probably not fair or productive to reduce Jones to the stock character of Ignorant Misogynist Woman.
We all have opinions (some of which remain unspoken) that might collide with the general political frameworks we try to live by. But leaving aside the moralistic summation of the ‘celeb news takeaway’ (and its failure to explore exactly how and why women of pop cultural influence might be participating in it in this way), Jones used a public forum to create a clear distinction between the supposedly ‘decent’ women who exist as role models, and that subsection of female society who betray feminist values by devaluing themselves through the selling of sex - i.e. ‘whores’.
It was a cheap and nasty shot, and it’s sadly in keeping with the view that self-sexualisation by its very nature undermines the women involved and exposes them as mindless participants with no agency or informed intent.
It’s telling and ironic that in the same series of tweets, Jones also implored young women to ‘Sure, be SEXY but leave something to the imagination.’ Such a view is nothing short of mindless participation in the expectation that women partly exist to fuel fantasy in an external viewer. Why do women have to answer to anybody when it comes to their dress code and behaviour, provided that behaviour is causing nobody any harm?
For her part, Jones was shocked by the response. Writing in this month’s Glamour, she says, “I'm not gonna lie. The fact that I was accused of "slut-shaming," being anti-woman, and judging women's sex lives crushed me. I consider myself a feminist. I would never point a finger at a woman for her actual sexual behavior, and I think all women have the right to express their desires. But I will look at women with influence—millionaire women who use their "sexiness" to make money—and ask some questions. There is a difference, a key one, between "shaming" and "holding someone accountable."”
The internet can be an exhausting place, particularly for someone invested in creating social change. I’m often asked how I deal with ‘the haters’, and I know the enquirer is only thinking of those people situated on the opposite end of the political spectrum to me. The truth is, the most disheartening and upsetting messages can come from people ostensibly on the same side.
Such is the nature of political passion that we can end up holding supposed allies to a higher standard than we would people whose views we have already accepted will never align with our own.
But that doesn’t mean that Jones doesn’t have a responsibility to seriously address the complaints and backlash she received. There are some interesting points dotted throughout her Glamour piece, particularly in regards to the oversaturation of a very specific kind of sexual expression dominating the pop industry today and its ultimate dislike of feminine diversity.
But these points are lost in the repeated refusal to acknowledge how and why her unfavourable invoking of the word ‘whores’ might be isolating and oppressive in its own way. As Hermione Stranger wrote on Jezebel’s GroupThink, “Her tweets did not contain criticism of patriarchal institutions; they contained criticism of the women who don't overthrow those institutions. Once again, women are to blame for their own oppression. We just can't win, can we?
We cannot progress beyond women’s liberation if we insist on stepping over the bodies of other women to further ourselves. Rashida Jones may very well be invested in the futures of young pop starlets and the little girls who look up to them, but there are better ways to approach that than to perpetuate the notion of good and bad women as a means of comparison. ‘Whores’ deserve to be protected from inequality and misogyny as much as any woman, regardless of what you may personally think about the act of exchanging sex for money.
In Glamour, Jones reminds these pop stars that they’re role models whether they like it or not, and as such have a responsibility to model behaviour that empowers and protects other women. If Rashida Jones is really intent on defending women against misogyny and oppression - and I believe that she probably is - then it’s perhaps time for her to realise that the same is true of herself.