Thursday 18 July 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'I don't care what Jennifer Lawrence wears if she's happy'

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

Did you see the recent controversy about Jennifer Lawrence's dress at a photocall for her latest movie? She was wearing a black, strappy, evening dress with a slit up the front so basically her arms, legs, back and chest were bare. It was a perfectly nice, evening dress that wasn't so skimpy that anyone would criticise it - but the furore was to do with the fact that she was wearing it while her four male co-stars were wearing coats and scarves and jumpers.

It was the difference between their attire and hers rather than the dress itself that drew the criticism.

The men were dressed for the obviously cold weather. She was clearly not. They were well covered up. She had a fair bit of skin exposed, including her thigh, and a lot of her breasts. "It highlighted the difference between how men and women are treated," said one group of feminists. "Don't tell women what they should wear," said another. And it struck me that women's bodies are becoming a battleground for feminists in the fight for equality. Grid girls being done away with at F1 races. Walk-on models being dropped from darts championships. J-Law getting it in the neck for her dress. It's a continuum. And women's bodies are where the battle lines are being drawn.

To be clear, I fell into the "Don't tell her what she can wear" camp. But I can see how the difference in how she was dressed and how much flesh she revealed, as compared to her co-stars illustrates a wider issue in how women are presented and perceived. But I think that putting ever more rules on what women can and can't do or can and can't wear isn't a move in the right direction.

But to be honest I'm not just interested in the pigeonholes that women are shoved into by society. I'm inclined to think that men are trapped by gender stereotypes too. The latest school shooting in America by a disaffected 19-year-old man, was cited by some as an example of toxic masculinity. The idea that some men are inherently aggressive and believe they are almost entitled to lash out at others.

But what if it isn't that? What if what it actually is, is men who are told they are - or they should be - better, tougher and stronger than everyone else but inherently they're not. And they know that and they feel like failures? In fact they've been set up to fail because society telling them they're more capable than they actually are makes them feel like frauds, losers, failures at their very core. And, indeed, the women those men come across - who've also been conditioned to believe that men should be omnipotent - see those men as failures too, simply because they aren't as capable or strong or as together as they've been led to believe men should be. So they view them as a disappointment. Which further feeds into those men's sense of failure.

But the reality is men aren't inherently emotionally stronger or more capable than women. And women aren't merely decorative beings who don't have intellect, character, worth far beyond a pretty smile or nice boobs.

Trapping both men and women in those deeply flawed, unsympathetic, gender stereotypes means large tracts of both sexes are left feeling inadequate. Perhaps if we acknowledged that we're not only men or women - we're firstly all just human. And in fact everything my 40-odd years on earth, talking to people of both genders, has taught me is we're more alike than we're different.

And if we better accepted that manhood and womanhood is a broad church and there's no one size fits all then perhaps the pressure to conform in terms of how we look or act would not be so strong and the sense of failure when we cannot look or act in a rigidly prescriptive way would not be so acute.

I don't care what Jennifer Lawrence wears if she's happy - even if why she's happy is because she believes her worth is tied up in her attractiveness to men.

I don't care if all men aren't strong and manly, especially if that means they can just be themselves without feeling bad about it.

Why the need to put everyone in a box?


Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk, weekdays 12-2

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