Why The Double Standard When Describing Men and Women?

by Fenella Johnson

“Mama said, “You’re a pretty girl, what’s in your head, it doesn’t matter” 
                                                                                                                     "Pretty Hurts"- Beyonce

Top Gear is on television. The vicious blue flowers in the Australian outback are wilting in the heat, the sweat stained shirt James May is wearing is stuck to his skin, but beside him Jeremy Clarkson stands resplendent. His shirt is sweaty and stained too, and it is stretched around his stomach, which is comically round: like a child with a football stuffed up their shirt pretending to be pregnant. It’s not as if his target demographic - middle aged men and teenage boys - particularly care: they tend to be more interested in what the cars pack around the middle than the male presenters. But if Clarkson was a woman do you think he'd still have a job? Trick question: being above 50, as Clarkson is, means that she'd have lost it already. That’s too old for a woman.

On the Daily Mail online (they did have an article titled "Jeremy Clarkson Packs a Paunch at a Family Lunch", so fair play to them), there is an article entitled something along the lines of "Beyonce (33) shows her beautiful curves and make-up free face in New York!"

Could you imagine her husband Jay Z getting such a headline written about him? Beyonce -who is a woman -gets an article on her looks, Jay Z on his business. Beyonce has sold as many copies of albums as Jay Z; she is arguably more influential in the mainstream than he is at the moment. She is a pop star, a massively famous one. So why does Beyonce get "pretty" and Jay Z "successful"?

Why does Beyonce have to be pretty, anyhow ?The woman's got such a fantastic voice that if she gained 15 stone and wore a paper bag over her head, I’d still pay iTunes £12.99 for her new album. But without her prettiness, Beyonce is not enough; she’s not a proper pop star, she gets snide articles written about her instead. Beyonce has to be pretty because she is a woman and her body is the media's and ours-she is public property. Is Jay Z? No, his body is adamantly his own.  You’re supposed to want to be as successful as Jay Z-you’re supposed to want to look like Beyonce.

Think of the adjectives used to describe female celebrities:"beautiful, gorgeous, and pretty" and then as an afterthought, successful. Think of the adjectives used to describe male celebrities:"successful, talented, funny" and then, as an afterthought, handsome. And it's not just celebrities: other adjectives are women only: have you ever met a "working dad"? Try replacing Beyonce in the headline with Jeremy. It’s a bit creepy: why do I care about or want to know about Jeremy's legs?

And yet I've become immune to the same sort of headline when it's about a woman because there are so many. Oh, it's just another article about Katy Perry's face or Rihanna's figure or Jennifer Lawrence's clothes, I think to myself and continue scrolling down Facebook .The idea is that, as a woman, you have to be talented and pretty to be successful-as a man, you can just be talented- or- just a man.

We’re fed from such a young age this idea-that to be successful a woman has to be pretty as well, and meek and demure-because even if she's the boss, she still has to be nice and well dressed. We justify the idea that it's okay to attack celebrities over their appearances because they're celebrities and they earn billions an hour and they’re probably off somewhere in Hollywood and don’t particularly care but, through this constant criticism of the famous, we're taught it's okay to criticise woman on their appearances. It’s all a bit superficial. Why can't a woman just be a woman? Why can't she just be successful-never mind her looks? Shouldn’t it be more about ability?

Back in the Australian outback, Jeremy Clarkson finishes a beer. Grey faced and perspiring, he heads to bed. The shadows chase each other round the fire. A punch line to a dull joke emerges.

Fenella Johnson or Frank Johnson –does it or should it matter?