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Society Loves a Weak Woman

Why do we so enjoy watching women fail?


We love to celebrate female accomplishments; women’s work in “breaking down” barriers in this patriarchal world. But despite all the media frenzy, one calamitous truth remains: society loves a weaker woman.

 

Having a Kardashian-Jenner as the youngest “self made” billionaire gracing the Forbes cover, or awarding women “for the first time” in categories exclusively dominated by men, social media explodes in excitement at these performative moments. Female successes are often celebrated so strongly because they’re painted as a success that is outside the norm of what happens (or what should happen).

 

The world’s most influential singers such as Madonna or Taylor Swift are constantly criticised for their actions outside of their work. Instead of a trendsetter, she’s a “hot mess”; instead of exposing patriarchal double standards, she’s a complainer who is already successful enough; instead of prioritising her safety, she’s causing an inconvenient scene. And because age, fragility, era, and looks are so further scrutinised when it’s a female figure under the public eye, we expect women’s re-invention to be constant.

 

As Ms Swift wrote, “women love hunting witches too.” Women face criticism and doubt for their every action from men — and, more devastatingly, from women too. Perhaps it’s because women feel more inclined to advocate for what they feel is right in social issues and situations, while men don’t feel inclined to hold their own accountable.

 

And despite the roaring success of, and audiences reached by, the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, misogynistic jokes were still made, and awards were given to the men who had advocated for such feminism. It’s not to say the winners were not warranted their success; but rather that the women who constructed, felt, and enacted these roles were deprived of the very celebration they were advocating for.

 

The failure of women is perhaps the most capitalised-upon narrative — certainly the most watched. In 2007, the media scrutinised and publicised the breakdown of Britney Spears; but once she sought help the focus switched to the next female celebrity’s breakdown. During Britney’s 2021 quest for legal self-emancipation, however, the world supported her with #FreeBritney and even protests — when years prior her private mental issues had been plastered across the front page of every tabloid in the world.

 

We see celebrities such as Beyonce — an artist celebrated for her Blackness, and the waves she has made for Black women in pop and R&B music — brutally criticised for her 2016 Formation Superbowl performance. Aside from the message she was sending with her performance, people felt she was inappropriate for not acting within the acceptable norms of a female artist. In the most subliminal of ways, we tell women: break barriers, but not all of them; be a strong woman, but not so much that people will listen. It’s okay to misbehave in the public eye as long as there’s a profitable narrative to be made of it.

 

The ugly truth is that watching women fail entertains us. It gives us a character to pity and remark upon, picking apart every flaw because our assumption is that a “good” woman should be perfect. And if she isn’t, she is someone who needs saving — because that is what a weak woman needs. We don’t assume this of men, because a flawed man exists in our assumptions of normality — they are perceived as more human. It’s not to say that celebrities encompass or represent the reality of social reactions towards all women. However, their nature as the most celebrated and talented artists of our generation makes their patriarchal confines all the more stringent — as well as making the double standards thrown at them all the more evident.

 

Our society finds itself in a contentious moment. The decision to allocate resources, commitment, and social support for the women who are deliberately attempting to break down gender barriers and to create social spaces for those marginalised across a multitude of career fields, is ours. Unfortunately, celebrating women for their accomplishments, their achievements, and their progress is simply not enough. It’s time we advocate for their success as simply the result of their power and talent, rather than asking them to rationalise again and again what they have earned.


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