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Photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler presenting at the Golden Globes Photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler presenting at the Golden Globes

Woody’s Women: Bodies of Color, White Feminism, and the Golden Globes

By Hannah Giorgis

Photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler presenting at the Golden Globes

Sunday night’s Golden Globes were a spectacle—and not just because Emma Thompson sauntered onstage with her heels in one hand and a martini in the other (more power to ya, girl).

The 71st Annual Golden Globes were more than just a celebration of talent in Hollywood—they were a poignant visual reminder of the reality that people of color are rarely accepted into the ranks of the industry. Though the awards shed light onto the novelty of well-written female characters, there were some gaping holes in its definition of “woman.” Indeed, the entire show heralded the virtue of white womanhood specifically, and not simply through its snubbing of wildly talented actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and Kerry Washington.

But something far more sinister was at play, tucked neatly into covert praises and veiled criticisms. From the first moments, co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler continued their streak of making comments about women of color that were insensitive jokes at best and violent rhetoric at worst.

Poehler, the outspoken feminist-leaning comedienne commented at the year’s end that she “didn’t want to talk about” SNL’s 6-year run without a single black female cast member. Indeed, Poehler is not the first white woman to explicitly reject the notion of using her own clout in an industry to create more space for women of color.

Similarly, Fey is not exempt from the white feminist tradition of Other-ing women of color while occupying space in the collective imagination for making “things better for women.” Fey’s best-selling comedic memoir Bossypants includes an entire passage in which she effectively blames women of color specifically for the fetishization of which they are victims. She goes on to lament her lack of romantic college prospects in a particularly shocking quote: “To get some play in Charlottesville, you had to be a Martha Jefferson or a Sally Hemings.

That Fey would even jokingly pine after the sort of “relationship” slave child Sally Hemings had with her master is not simply tacky; it trivializes the historical and contemporary rape of Black women by those who claim our “hypersexuality” alone constitutes consent—making it legally and socially impossible to rape us.

It is the same sort of “self-deprecating” white feminist drivel that makes “awkward” white stars “so relatable.” But relatable to whom? In Poehler’s and Fey’s white feminist world, people (specifically women) of color exist as the props for jokes, the blank landscape onto which their self-actualization can be drawn and redrawn as needed.

Need a way to make other (white) people realize you’re “down to earth”? Make fun of your own inability to pronounce “funny” names—it’s not racist if you’re making fun of yourself and only indirectly pointing out how weird those foreigners are, right? Want a chance to showcase how open-minded you are? Make a joke about having a child with Idris Elba—he’s British, so bonus points for choosing a respectable Black man!

But covertly using bodies of color (including the proverbial “Somali pirates” at whose expense Fey made a number of cracks) as comedic props is only one form of invalidating our humanity. There are many other ways to tell the world we exist only as objects and never subjects.

Later in the show, respected actress Diane Keaton spent much time lauding Woody Allen for his portrayal of phenomenal women in his films, with nary a mention of the fact that Allen molested his 7-year-old stepdaughter and later married another at 21 after a dubiously consensual love affair.

Both Allen’s estranged son and his longtime partner tweeted their horror with the accolade, corroborating the very public claims his stepdaughter made about the abuse she faced at the hands of her former adoptive stepfather.

But the show went on.

What are we to make of the fact that nearly every woman who has acted in one of Allen’s films is white—and that this staggering statistic is what allows him to garner praise for depicting nuanced, powerful female characters across the range of personality? More pointedly, how are we to negotiate this elevation of womanhood when it comes at the direct expense of both his white stepdaughter and his current wife, an Asian-American woman whose place at the intersections of womanhood and Orientalism makes her particularly vulnerable to white male power?

The rhetorical violence is twofold: not only does this make invisible or hypervisible every woman who does not fit Allen’s thin, white mold, but it also actively silences any woman who raises her voice to speak against the powerful man who has violated her. Again, it is no accident that the abuse narratives we most often silence are those of women of color—despite the fact that women of color are disproportionately likely to be victims of sexual violence.

We are unlikely to report those abuses when we witness even our white female counterparts’ allegations of assault swept under the red carpet. We are unlikely to report those acts when we are made the proverbial supporting actresses in the biographies of our own lives.

When we watch an awards show elevate “Woody’s women” all evening and relegate even the most talented of us to the margins, women of color receive the message that we are unworthy of occupying space on our own terms. Every joke made about our “weird” names or our “outrageous” bodies or our ability to “get play” with our white male rapists pushes us further into that dark corner called invisibility—while the women who laugh at the prospect of our degradation continue to receive praise.

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Hannah Giorgis

Ethiopian-American writer, organizer, artist, and awkward black girl trying to make sense of diaspora.

Catch up with me @habeshafemme.



pop culture


January 15, 2014

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