People, especially women, really don’t like Anne Hathaway. This isn’t something that just started since Hathaway won her Oscar for Les Miserables last week–it’s been long festering.
I have friends who refuse to see movies because Hathaway is in them because they say she’s annoying, that her mouth is too big and she just plain irritates them. But no one can really ever give a concrete reason for the Hathaway hatred.
After the Oscars a slew of think pieces came out in defense of or against her, usually comparing her with the much-beloved Jennifer Lawrence. In these pieces, writers have confessed their personal Hathaway biases, analyzed why she annoys or also just try to defend her.
In Sasha Weiss’s piece on Hathaway for The New Yorker, Weiss comes to Hathaway’s defense and says that people don’t like her because she’s the happy girl archetype. We like our movie stars (and arguably our women) pouting and sullen, not high-energy and ambitious.
Now, look at Anne: she stands with her long arms at her sides, looking directly (even a little pleadingly) into the camera, her smile is toothy and takes up half of her face. It’s a look of unfettered excitement and openness, an expression of high-wattage joy that reminds me of none other than a nine-year-old-girl about to dig into a big slice of birthday cake. There’s generally only a small window of time when girls have that mien of utter at-homeness in the world–it gets snuffed out in many of them by age twelve or thirteen, when their glance turns inward, scrutinizing. Anne has somehow managed to retain that bright look, and many people would like to wipe it off her face.
As Weiss says that this “bright look” isn’t something that’s retained by women–it’s something that disappears once the female impersonator years hit. But that enthusiasm, that drive, that ambition is something that Hathaway has that reads to people as insincere, merely another act she’s putting on.
In contrast is Jennifer Lawrence, whose shot-taking, McDonald’s fry-eating, stage-tripping hasn’t only not been been critiqued by the media–it’s been celebrated. Lawrence is constantly described as ‘refreshing’ because of her unrehearsed sound bites and biting sarcasm. Lawrence has been constructed as the antidote to Hathaway because she reads as genuine and unrehearsed. But as Anne Helen Petersen writes, Lawrence fills another archetype of femininity–that of the ‘cool girl,’ which Petersen notes is best defined by this passage in Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl.
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
As Petersen continues (noting the misogyny that permeates the novel), she reminds us that this is how media works–we are fed these archetypes and then given “real people” to prove to us that these archetypes are fully based in reality.
What does it say that we love Lawrence’s “cool girl” and despise Hathaway’s (who by the way is a feminist and hosted the Women’s Media Center event several months ago) “happy girl?” A couple things. Lawrence is seen as chill, as never trying to hard–which we know can’t be entirely true. She’s a young actress who is starring in a major franchise and also doing passion projects. Lawrence is trying plenty hard and working her ass off.
But when we get a woman like Hathaway, who is enthusiastic about her work, poised and always committed to working hard and makes that apparent, she immediately comes off as active not passive. And as gross and unfortunate as it is to say in we know in our patriarchal society passivity is something people like in our women. Look at every criticism that has ever been lobbed at Hillary Clinton for her work and her looks.
Keep in mind, the more we pit and compare actresses like Hathaway and Lawrence, position them into these archetypes of femininity and complain about them–the more we box in ourselves and foster a community of female competitiveness which is the last thing we should be doing.
Maybe Hathaway bothers you. Maybe Lawrence does. But the sheer vitriol that it inspires (similar to Lena Dunham) helps none of us especially when both Hathaway and Lawrence are worth supporting.
Anne Hathaway: In Defense of the Happy Girl (The New Yorker)
Jennifer Lawrence as Gillian Flynn’s “Cool Girl”(Anne Helen Petersen)