On June 23 of this year, Canadian writer and activist Rayne Fisher-Quann tweeted a warning that Ottessa Moshfegh, the writer who became famous around the world after the 2018 publication of her book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, was about to be “woman’d.”
Fisher-Quann defines woman’d, a term she coined herself, as a situation in which everyone stops liking a certain woman at the same time and starts to criticize her, especially on the internet. In a subsequent article for i-D magazine, the writer expanded on her concept. She explained that the online fame of high-profile women often has a very specific life cycle, in which they are elevated and then destroyed. Fisher-Quann observes that this process has been repeated time and again with different female celebrities.
Ottessa moshfegh is on the verge of getting woman’d I can feel it (woman’d is what I call it when everyone stops liking a woman at the same time)
It all starts with a woman’s rise to success. She could be a singer, an actress or any other public figure: a politician, writer, film director, etc. At first, the newcomer appears young and refreshing, and her image is profitable. Her face on a magazine cover increases the number of copies sold, a post about her on social media receives far more “likes” than any other, and she is compared to stars of the past: the new Audrey Hepburn, the heir to Amy Winehouse… Her fan base expands exponentially, spurred on by the media. Everything she does or says – from a funny video on TikTok to the book she has on her nightstand – is well received and helps cement her fame.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when that changes, but inevitably something happens at some point, usually at the height of the star’s popularity. Maybe she inadvertently makes a mistake, like not greeting a child waiting for her at the door of her concert (probably because she doesn’t even see him), or she posts an unfunny joke on Instagram. It could be that someone on social media points out that she walks funny, or that she’s experienced mental health problems, or simply that “she was way cooler when she wasn’t THAT famous.”
That’s when people start to turn their backs on the woman and criticize her for no clear reason. The media, which had previously praised her, reports that people on social media now hate her. To illustrate her drop in popularity, they publish a selection of the wittiest tweets directed at her, which further amplifies the criticism. The former star has just fallen from grace; put differently, she has just been woman’d.
If this does not permanently end her stardom, maybe after some time has gone by, a documentary about her career will rekindle her former fans’ love for her, or nostalgia will overpower everything else, and she will make a triumphant comeback.
By now, many readers will have identified several examples of women who have gone through this process. Britney Spears’s rise to fame and subsequent destruction (and later comeback) is perhaps one of the best examples of this phenomenon, but there are many more.
Thanks to films such as The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway was one of Hollywood’s most adored actresses during the first decade of the 2000s. But one day, after receiving a slew of awards for her role as Fantine in Les Misérables (2012), people started to criticize the actress for things like sounding too fake in her Oscar acceptance speech and for saying that she cried when she saw herself on screen. The vitriol started as a whisper, then it exploded, went global and even led to a hashtag: #Hathahate. In 2013, The New York Times published an article titled “Do We Really Hate Anne Hathaway?” In the piece, the actress’s haters said that they loathed her for “being so perfect that she’s not a normal person” and called her “insufferable” for calculating her every move. Then, after being deprived of her erstwhile fans’ love for a time, Hathaway’s spectacular appearance at the Cannes Film Festival last May brought her back into the good graces of the media and fans alike.
Millie Bobby Brown, who became a precocious international star at the age of 12 with her role as Eleven in the series Stranger Things, is another example. As a child, she appeared on magazine covers and was hypersexualized in the media. Social media users began to hate her when she was only 14 years old. They attributed homophobic tweets to her that she had not written, while a growing number of YouTubers started uploading content that criticized her for no good reason. They said she posted too many videos of herself singing while driving, that she was “cringe,” and that she had made too much money too fast. Simply put, it seemed that hating Millie Bobby Brown had gone viral.
Fisher-Quann’s article includes an important caveat: being woman’d differs from being criticized. Any woman who is a public figure can receive well-reasoned negative criticism without it posing a problem from a feminist perspective. Indeed, women deserve to have their work evaluated by the same standards as any other artist, regardless of their gender. The problem is that rational critiques are often used to justify visceral and unwarranted criticism. An essential element of being woman’d is that one is never judged reasonably.
In Fisher-Quann’s initial tweet, bad reviews of Ottessa Moshfegh’s new work, Lapvona, seemed to give rise to the sense that “if this thoughtful article reviews it, the smart thing to do must be to hate it.” In Moshfegh’s case, a legitimate critique caused baseless contempt. Any writer can publish a bad book, but that should not arouse general hatred for the author as an individual.
Thus, being woman’d results from a trap that’s nearly impossible for women to avoid. In addition, the intensity and endurance of the hate on social media and the demands for high-profile women to achieve unattainable perfection makes it even more likely for that to happen.
Hatred directed toward women is an epidemic on social media
We are so accustomed to successful female performers and professionals being subjected to hate and harassment on social media that it seems inevitable. The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) conducted a study titledHidden Hate: How Instagram Fails to Acton 9 in 10 Reports of Misogyny in DMsin which it analyzed thousands of direct messages received by five well-known women on Instagram: actress Amber Heard, TV host Rachel Riley, activist Jamie Klingler, journalist Bryony Gordon and creator of the South Asian culture magazine Burnt Roti, Sharan Dhaliwal.
In total, 8,717 direct messages were examined. One in 15 violated Instagram’s rules prohibiting misogyny, homophobia, racism, nudity or sexual activity, graphic violence and threats of violence. Even worse, in 90% of the cases, Instagram did nothing to prevent or punish those posts.
An impossible standard to reach
In addition to the brutal hatred women face on social media, a special form of dehumanization prompts us to believe that female icons are perfect, almost divine women who can do no wrong, but at some point, they stop being faultless.
For that reason, many famous women have chosen to reveal their imperfections before they are knocked off their pedestals. Doing that is both shocking and unnecessary. After all, humans have never been known as perfect creatures. The fact that women feel like they have to admit that they will make mistakes in the future is as ridiculous: it’s like having to confess that they sometimes eat or go to the bathroom.
Women as objects of consumption
The main reason for such robust online vitriol toward famous women is unsurprising. Through “womanization,” they become objects of consumption to serve an industry that takes advantage of them: first of their success and then of the contempt directed at them.
In the past, such falls from grace sold millions of newspapers and magazines; they filled hours upon hours of television, which viewers around the world happily devoured. With the advent of the internet, such women now appear in gossip blogs and digital publications. Finally, they reach social media, where the ads mean big profits for massive multinational corporations such as Meta, Google and Twitter.
Until somebody acts, women who stand out in any field will always run the risk of being woman’d, locked in a horrible fantasy from which it is difficult to escape. Their real merits and flaws won’t matter much. They will have no choice but to wait for possible redemption to come one day.
The Danish shipping giant Maersk held meetings with Denmark’s tax and maritime authorities to advise them on how best to shield the shipping industry from the OECD’s global minimum tax deal, according to a Danish media report.
Published: 8 February 2023 16:21 CET
The revelations, reported by broadcaster DR, come as the company on Wednesday reported record profits of 203 billion kroner, on which it paid just 3 percent in tax.
They are particularly damaging to the company because of the claim last year from Maersk’s then CEO Søren Skou that his company was open to paying more tax, so long as it was through a global agreement via the OECD, precisely the sort of agreement the company was behind the scenes trying to exclude itself from.
“It seems as if Maersk is playing a double game,” Lars Koch from the poverty charity Oxfam, told DR after he was presented with the evidence.
“We can see from the access to documents the number of meetings and close and confidential dialogue”, he added. “Here they agree and inform each other about what Denmark should argue in these international negotiations on a tax agreement and they work actively to safeguard Maersk’s interests by exempting the shipping companies.”
The broadcaster report was based on internal documents obtained from the Ministry of Taxation and the Danish Maritime Authority.
The documents show that in June 2020, representatives of the company held a meeting with the Ministry of Taxation in which they they discussed strategies on excluding shipping from the OECD agreement on minimum tax.
Soon afterwards, the industry lobby group Danish Shipping (Danske Rederier), where Maersk plays a leading role, wrote to the Ministry of Taxation and the Danish Maritime Authority warning that the OECD proposal “creates considerable uncertainty in our hinterland”.
Then in June 2021, a representative from the Danish Maritime Authority thanked Danish Shipping for supplying it with arguments it could use to push for shipping to be excluded, saying, “it was extremely well done. A thousand thanks for your efforts.”
Finally, when shipping was exempted from the OECD agreement in July 2021, a representative from Danish Shipping thanked the Danish Maritime Authority for “the orientation and for being aware of the special challenges of shipping”.
Mette Mellemgaard Jakobsen, Maersk’s head of tax, admitted that her company had tried to influence the process.
“We were specifically concerned about how these rules would be implemented, and we had a concrete concern that it would create an increased distortion of competition,” she told DR.
“For us, it is absolutely crucial that we are not put at a disadvantage compared to other shipping companies around the world. That is why global agreements are the most important thing for us.”
Rasmus Corlin Christensen, a researcher in international tax at Copenhagen Business School, said that Maersk’s double game was quite “striking”.
“On the one hand, you support and work for global solutions, the shipping industry included. But at the same time you can see that, at least when it comes to the global reforms that have been discussed in recent years, they did not want the shipping industry to be covered.”
Contemporary TV fiction does not shy away from polarizing topics. From the capitalist nightmare of Severance (2022) to the mental health issues of Euphoria(2019,) shows increasingly incorporate social debates into their plot lines in response to a growing interest. Gone are the years of the 1990s escapism of Friends and The Office’s controversial canned laughter. Now, for a show to succeed, it must actively participate in the cultural conversation.
This trend is particularly reflected in awards like the Golden Globes, which recently recognized socially engaged productions such as Abbott Elementary or The Bear. Despite this progress, most of these shows haven’t yet broken one of the last taboos in fiction: the lack of body diversity and representation of fat characters.
Anti-fatness is an accepted, widespread discrimination – tiny airplane seats, body-related comments – and fat people remain culturally marginalized. Society “doesn’t like talking to fat people, looking at fat people, believing fat people [and] listening to fat people,” says Lyla Byers, a researcher at Virginia Tech. “We would really prefer for fat people not to exist in public.”
As a result, obese people can suffer serious health consequences. “When I was a child, I suffered medical violence; I was very thin but a pediatrician put me on 18,000 diets,” says Spanish actress Laura Galán Montijano, who starred in the award-winning Piggy (2022). “She was obsessed with my weight, she used to weigh me every week.”
Even some medical terms like “obesity” or “overweight” are problematic, based on a non-inclusive metric: the body mass index (BMI). “BMI was never meant to be used to measure individual health,“ says Byers. “It’s way too simple a measurement for way too complex an issue,” adds Jennifer Graves, author of Framing Fat, a book that challenges the dominant weight discourses. “There are still significant civil rights issues that fat people face in terms of lack of protection against discrimination in the medical system.”
Laziness, stupidity, gluttony or having low sexual capital are some of the concepts associated with fat people, according to Jeanine Gailey, a sociology professor at Texas Christian University. “The cultural messaging is that fat is the worst thing one can be,” Gailey says. These stigmas are internalized by producers, who fail to include diverse perspectives. “When [women] are not desirable according to beauty standards, we’re not featured on screen,” says Montijano.
And, when fiction does introduce fat characters, they are often reduced to old-school stereotypes, from the bullied girl of Debby Ryan’s Insatiable (2018) to the idiotic, slothful Homer Simpson. “Many people in society watch these shows or these movies, internalize these portrayals and believe these things about fat people,” says Ariane Prohaska, a researcher at the University of Alabama. “It leads us to treat fat people differently and to treat ourselves differently, in a way that makes us believe that we have to constantly be improving our bodies.”
Reducing obese people to caricatures especially affects traditionally marginalized minority groups, such as women, people of color and the LGBTQI+ community. “Body size intersects with other dimensions of oppression,” says Prohaska. “So, women of color, particularly Black women, face a lot of stigma.” Big Shirley, a recurring character on the television show Martin, is a classic example of a problematic portrayal of fat Black women on TV, as is America Ferrera’s character on Ugly Betty.
Fat white women have managed to diversify their roles in American fiction thanks to the work of actresses like Melissa McCarthy or Lena Dunham. But “Hollywood Fatness” is not representative of the US a whole. Chrissy Metz, for example, said in 2016 that as part of her This is Us contract, where she played a woman struggling with eating habits, she had to lose weight. Later, however, she retracted her comments. “Gatekeepers, the people who are behind the scenes deciding what stories Americans are going to buy, tend to be white, wealthy and male,” says Virgie Tovar, a writer and expert on body discrimination. “This creates a cycle of the same kinds of stories being told over and over again.”
When it comes to queer men, fiction narrowly focuses on the body cult that characterizes part of the community through masculine, beefy characters such as those in Élite (2018,) Smiley (2022) or in the last season of American Horror Story. “It really is paradoxical that the diversity the LGBTQI+ community demands is not practiced within it,” says Roberto Enríquez, critic and creator of Queer You Are (2021.)
In the show, Enríquez self-fictionalizes his own youth through Gabriel Sánchez and Carlos González, who embody the double discrimination the director has suffered because of his sexual orientation and his body. “I was clear that, if I was going to do the show, I was going to do it my own way,” says Enríquez. “They had to be fat characters because that was the story I was telling, how they face life with those bodies, how they face rejection and desire.” In an interview for ICON, Sánchez spoke of the danger of stereotyping fat people. “If you’re fat, they make you do fat things. ‘I fall down and break the chair because I’m fat; I’m fat and I eat four pastries in 10 minutes.’ The fat guy always has scenes where he is binge-eating.”
If LGBTQI+ stories are still disruptive, triggering far-right censure, those that incorporate artists with non-normative bodies, away from the imposed canon and with plots beyond those of physical obsession, have an even greater subversive impact. “Queer bodies and fat bodies are seen as excessive, so when you have queer fat bodies, they are doubly destabilizing,” says Jason Whitesel, a sociologist at Illinois State University and author of Fat Gay Men, which examines fat stigma within gay male communities. “Most of our shows are put together by people who think the queer community is best represented by thin or muscular people.”
Even though fat suits are still employed by the entertainment industry, fiction has progressed from the rather cringeworthy “Fat Monica” episode of Friends. In The Girls at the Back (2022,) Mariona Terés plays Leo, a millennial woman who plans a trip with her friends after one is diagnosed with cancer. Terés, with a leading, cliché-free role, believes that many things have changed in recent years, albeit slowly. “We are seeing different bodies on screen, but we have to keep changing the clichés,” she says. “The next step is a fat woman playing a sexy character, in a romantic relationship with someone, and normalizing that her body is beautiful, that she can eat whatever she wants and fuck whoever she wants.”
Besides expanding the narrative complexity of fat characters, fiction must increase their range of roles away from one-dimensional supporting characters haunted by their physical appearance.
“What I hope is that diversity is broadened in all senses,” says Carlota Pereda, director of Piggy. Without financial support from production companies, projects with leading fat characters will struggle to be developed. “When you’re looking for funding, some people won’t support you because they consider it a personal project just because you’ve put a non-normative character in the leading role.”
Although fiction lags behind a society that is largely critical of negative representations of fat characters in productions like The Whale, the industry will eventually accept that non-Hollywood bodies exist and deserve to be represented, with complex storylines and free from humiliating fat suits. “I do think we’re going to see more and more diverse people on screen,” says Terés. “It’s a slow road, but we’ll get to the other side.”
The brinksmanship has won plaudits from some who argue that by holding out, the German leader managed to get the United States to reverse its stance and send Abrams tanks — bringing about a bigger win for Ukraine.
But other analysts warn the weeks of delay may have left a deeper mark on Scholz’s international reputation, while also hurting Kyiv’s chances against Russian troops on the battlefield.
“The SPD chancellor has achieved one of his biggest aims: delivering battle tanks only in step with the Americans,” wrote Die Zeit weekly.
Rather, he repeatedly underlined that it was and is “right that we did not let ourselves be pushed into this but that we rely on and also continue on close cooperation”.
It was perhaps not a coincidence that Scholz’s announcement came after public opinion shifted slightl in favour of sending tanks, with 46 percent for and 41 percent against on January 19.
Directly addressing fears of Germans, who have favoured treading lightly around conflict zones since World War II, Scholz pointedly said he would ensure that any support for Ukraine would be provided “without the risks for our country growing in the wrong direction”.
Asked later on ZDF public television whether his hesitation had led to a “loss of trust” among allies, Scholz rejected the criticism.
“Everyone knows we are making a big contribution, also compared to other countries, in terms of support for Ukraine — not only financially and with humanitarian aid but also with weapons.”
But some analysts said his concern for domestic politics may have cost Ukraine on the frontlines.
In the meantime, “several months” had been lost in the defence of Ukraine, while Scholz was “more concerned with domestic politics” and an issue he did not see as a “big vote winner”, Chatham House analyst John Lough told AFP.
Fears that moving too rashly would lead to an escalation in the war were exaggerated, too. Even without tank deliveries, “the Russians have escalated anyway”, for example by targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine, Lough said.
Amid the ruckus, particularly with neighbouring Poland accusing Scholz of dithering, analysts point to the damage done to Germany’s reputation.
Bild daily piled on the pressure at home, accusing Scholz of cowardice. But a day later, a high-profile defence ministers’ meeting of Ukraine allies last Friday still failed to break the deadlock on tanks.
The delay was “embarrassing for the German government”, said Lough.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) comments on the Russian attack on Ukraine during a press conference at the Chancellery on February 24th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
Sudha David-Wilp, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office, said moving in lock-step with the United States gave Scholz the “political cover he needed” to say “yes” to German tank deliveries.
But his short-term win was not “necessarily good for Germany because it has lost a lot of trust” with key partners, David-Wilp said.
The way the tank drama played out “clearly shows that the US needs to play a leadership role in Europe” and its security, while German leadership remained “elusive”, she said.
Yet, for all the apparent damage to Scholz, there might be a winner.
The unexpected US tank commitment means that officials in Ukraine have “all kinds of different kit now”, David-Wilp added.