by Jessica Critcher
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go a whole day without feeling angry about misogyny. That day is not today.
Of all the ridiculous things said at the Oscars, I find myself most upset at Seth MacFarlane’s “Boobs” song. It’s like a splinter in my heel: it hurts and I can’t stop picking at it. The fact that I’ve already been told, in the nicest way possible, to calm down about it ties the whole thing up in a nice, sexist bow.
Where do I even start?
MacFarlane sang about having seen several actresses’ breasts in films. That was the entire joke: “We saw your boobs. In that movie that we saw, we saw your boobs.” He then lists specific films in which actresses, most of them present, appeared topless, except for Jennifer Lawrence, of whom he says, “We haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs at all.”
Apparently those are the only two relevant categories for women at the academy awards: those whose breasts we have seen and enjoyed and those whose breasts we haven’t. Maybe that has something to do with why only one woman has ever won Best Director.
The cheeky, adolescent, boys-will-be-boys tone of the song is played off as if it’s supposed to be a compliment. Angelina Jolie’s breasts, MacFarlane says, “made us feel excited and alive.” But whether it’s a famous man with a microphone on television or a stranger yelling at us from a street corner, women are constantly reminded that our bodies are public property – not our own, but belonging to and existing for men.
Even grammatically, the phrase “We saw your boobs” is problematic. It makes viewers the subject of the sentence and ignores the fact that these women have any sort of agency, phrasing it instead as if viewers were peeping without these women’s consent.
But exposing one’s breasts on film isn’t unequivocally good, either. The double standard would never allow that. It is apparently possible to do this in too many films, as he reminded Kate Winslet, listing off several films in which she appears topless, adding “and whatever you’re shooting right now.”
There was also a cheap dig at Scarlett Johansson, saying we saw her boobs not on the big screen, but on our mobile phones. I couldn’t help but make the connection to women being blackmailed with naked photos on the internet, or the recent trend of revenge porn. He has seen their breasts, he can see them anytime he wants, and he doesn’t let us forget.
Another disturbing thing about this song is that the films listed are serious dramas for which many of the actresses were critically praised. Several of the breasts MacFarlane delights in having seen were exposed in the context of rape or assault in the films. Boys Don’t Cry in particular is about a trans man who is beaten, raped and murdered. I fail to find anything hilarious about that, whether or not we saw Hilary Swank topless.
Do breasts in that context make MacFarlane feel equally “excited and alive”? The subject matter of the films and the acting those women did was deemed totally irrelevant because they have breasts. Even a serious actress like Meryl Streep is not above pervy ridicule, because Seth MacFarlane saw her breasts in Silkwood, twenty years ago.
The first time I saw the song, I was horrified at the reactions the women seemed to have at being mentioned by name. Hollywood demands that these women show their breasts, and then ridicules them when they do.
A few people from the Uphold Patriarchy committee chimed in to point out that the performance (and the reactions) were pre-recorded, and it wasn’t “real” sexism, but all in good fun. (Seriously, why can’t you feminists ever have any fun?) The fact that this skit was pre-recorded doesn’t make any of my previous concerns less relevant. That actually makes things worse.
Seth MacFarlane, jackass that he may be, is not the problem here, but a gross symptom. He didn’t crash the otherwise respectful Oscars and steal the mic to make jokes about eating disorders and domestic violence. He was hired in advance and advertized as a reason to watch this program.
This skit was pre-recorded. Music was scored, rehearsals were held, a dance was choreographed. At some point during the planning for this elaborate opening number, someone could have decided that this wasn’t a good idea. But no one did.
In an ideal world this song would never have been suggested. In an ideal world, a 9-year-old girl would never have been called a cunt on Twitter during this awards show. In an ideal world I wouldn’t be so angry about all of this all the time. That ideal world is never going to exist if we keep tolerating this day after week after year. This has to change.
Join me in my outrage. Sign Bitch Media’s petition and add your own ideas for how The Oscars can be improved. And if you won’t be outraged along with me, at least stop telling me to calm down.