Friday, February 26, 2010

Mean Girls?

In the new issue of Vogue magazine, actress/writer Tina Fey says that she received hate mail after she began parodying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live." "There are people who hate me because of that," she said, adding, "The weird thing is, when Darrell Hammond or will Ferrell or Dana Carvey did an impersonation of a president, no one assumed it was personal, but because Sarah Palin and I are both women and people think women are meaner to each other, everyone assumed it was personal."

Are women meaner to one another, really? Or does the culture, and media tropes, set them up to seem that way?

Consider the catfight coverage of Olympic skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who have been competitors since childhood. A Today show correspondent talked about the "icy conditions" emerging in their relationship after Mancuso complained about a "popularity contest" in news coverage about the U.S. ski team. Other media picked that up.

Then Mancuso was frustrated in her attempt to defend her 2006 gold medal after her downhill run was stopped while Vonn, who had crashed on her run, was struggling to get off the course. Mancuso had to wait for 13 skiers before getting another chance, and she didn't medal in that event. She was understandably upset.

Smelling blood, some journalists pounced, looking for cracks in the cameraderie. We ended up with speculation about lot more personal drama than there really was, according to later statements by Mancuso and other team members.

What is it about women doing on-point political parody, as Fey did, or skiing the races of their lives, as Vonn and Mancuso are, that suggests they are mean?

After figure skating titans Victor Plushenko and Evan Lysacek competed, Plushenko whined that a man who doesn't do a quadruple move (Lysacek doesn't) shouldn't win the gold (he did). But it was a one-day story, and no one suggested Plushenko was a meanie.

Looks to me as if assertive women still make a lot of people uncomfortable.

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