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Kate Winslet

 

I have written a guest blog for the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FWSA). This blog was originally published on 29th November 2013 at http://fwsablog.org.uk/2013/11/29/5×3-the-process-of-nicknaming-and-slut-shaming-for-celebrity-mothers/

 

When Kerry Katona announced she was pregnant with her fifth baby by the third father, many newspapers came to the same conclusion. That made her a “5×3”. Ulrika Jonsson was lucky enough to start this trend; when she had her fourth baby by the fourth father and was subsequently nicknamed “4×4” by the press. And Kate Winslet hit headlines when she announced she was pregnant with her third baby by the third father: cue “3×3”.

The subsequent attack on Winslet has been particularly acerbic, bordering on abuse. Judith Woods wrote a comment piece in The Telegraph which caused huge controversy, where Woods refuted Winslet’s lifestyle choices and asked “[w]hat her daughter, in particular, makes of Winslet’s revolving-door relationships can only be guessed at” (2013). Other than being almost inconceivably sexist for more reasons I can even count, this comment also inspires the question, ‘why is it any of your business?’

Woods is quick to judge Winslet’s choices for her children, as are other journalists for other female celebrities who have children by different fathers. But any form of comment on male celebrities who do the same is conspicuously absent. Kevin Costner has seven children from three separate relationships, but I don’t see articles brandishing the “7×3” stamp at him.

Female celebrities are judged more harshly than men for everything they do. We can see this through the reaction to Amanda Bynes’ recent breakdown, and Miley Cyrus’ issues at the VMA awards whilst Robin Thicke, singing along to his lyrics about rape, is apparently happily innocent. Milly Williamson summarised this when she wrote “the widespread scorn and derision directed at celebrities is aimed predominantly at a particular kind of female celebrity” (2010:118).

This consistent abuse and singling-out of female celebrities is not only damaging to them, but to womankind as a whole. It only exacerbates the oppression of women, and the fear of judgment for not conforming to sexist stereotypes. Winslet, and the other aforementioned women, do not adhere to socially subscribed ideals of the ‘ideal’ woman, who marries one man and stays with him forever. They are ‘other’, therefore ostracised and verbally abused.

Woods’ article, and the others shaming women with multiple children, prove one dichotomy: whilst men who act this way are ‘studs’, women are ‘sluts’. As Jessica Valenti wrote, “[i]f you have a vagina, chances are someone has called you a slut at least once in your life” (2008:14). The word ‘slut’ has become crass, verbal abuse, used with the aim of regulating women through “shame and humiliation” (Valenti, 2008:15). It is about “keeping sexuality under control, and an efficient way to do that is to deal with one person at a time” (Tollman in Ahearn, 2013). By shaming someone well known, such as Winslet, Katona and co, there is a clear message conveyed to girls everywhere: do the same thing, and you will be judged.

The role of the word ‘slut’ also works to make the woman in question appear unfeminine: they are portrayed as ‘other’ from the feminine norms. This then, in turn, makes the woman appear to be a bad mother, evidenced in Woods’ aforementioned comments about Winslet’s daughter. This accusation is no coincidence. Reproduction is so often seen as a woman’s ‘right of passage’: the pinnacle of their life’s dreams and desires. Just look at all the comments on women who choose work over children. Heartless, abnormal, unfeminine. All these insults work towards a shared goal: the regulation and control of women into ‘normal’ patterns of behaviour. A woman who is ‘doing’ motherhood wrong, who is performing as the ‘wrong’ kind of mother, is someone else who must be punished. In the opinion of many, motherhood and women go hand-in-hand: a woman who is not a ‘normal’ mother is, quite simply, not a real woman.

The regulation of women in this way makes women appear as passive entities – objects that we must judge and control in order to make them ‘right’. The very phrase “3×3” is a succinct example of this: Winslet has here been reduced to a number, her own name and identity has been removed, to be replaced with something impersonal. She has been further shamed by being reduced to her own sexual conduct: three sexual partners, three children as a byproduct. And this misdemeanor means she must be known forever in conjunction with it. It’s almost as though the punishment is public humiliation.

Jonsson and Winslet have both defended themselves from these jibes. However articulate and defensive their comments may be, however, both have distinctly apologetic undertones, something which is troubling in itself. Jonsson, after quite rightly claiming she was “vilified” purely because she was a woman, wrote “I should point out that having four children by four fathers was never part of some grand plan” (Jonsson, 2010). But why would she have to explain or defend herself to anyone? It’s her choice, whether it was a plan or not; why should she have to make special effort to mention it wasn’t a plan, and therefore isn’t necessarily what she wanted? Similarly, Winslet’s response to the jibes was to defend her own role as a mother. She said, in an interview with Harpers Bazaar, “They don’t go from pillar to post; they’re not flown here and there with nannies… my children live with me; that is it” (in Gardner and Proud, 2013). She then makes a comment remarkably similar to Jonsson’s: “I so wish that that wasn’t the case, that that hadn’t happened in my life, but it has. So I will make the best of it” (ibid). Here, Winslet too makes it known that she knows the situation isn’t ‘ideal’. They both take special care to acknowledge they hadn’t “planned” their lives this way, that it is not their fault they ended up that way. They are, in extension, acknowledging their own ‘defect’ and ‘failure’, and confirming that which the newspapers want others to know.

And so the process goes full-circle, with the women’s apologies normalising the process and confirming it as ‘acceptable’. I don’t think either of the women, or any others who are experiencing the same issues, have anything to apologise for. As long as they are providing good care for the children they do bring into the world, and they look after them and they are happy, why should it matter how many different men were involved in their conception? With so many poor children being physically and mentally abused in the world, one with a caring parent who just happens to have had multiple relationships is surely not the biggest issue. We should be congratulating Winslet on her latest pregnancy, not shaming her. As long as the children are happy, it no one else’s business.

 

Bibliography 

Ahearn, Gemma, (2013). Slut Shaming and the Anxiety of Excess. Plastic Dollheads [blog] (22 October). Available at <http://plasticdollheads.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/slut-shaming-the-anxiety-of-excess/&gt; [Accessed 25 October 2013]

Gardner, David and Proud, Amelia, 2013. Pregnant Kate Winslet insists her children are not affected by marriage splits. Daily Mail [online] (15 October). Available at <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2461620/Pregnant-Kate-Winslet-insists-children-affected-marriage-splits.html&gt; [Accessed 24 October 2013]

Jonsson, Ulrika, 2010. Ulrika Jonsson: Why am I derided for being a 4×4 mum when dads like Rod Stewart (7×5) are heroes? Daily Mail [online] (18 May). Available at <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1273402/Ulrika-Jonsson-Why-I-derided-4×4-mum-dads-like-Rod-Stewart-7×5-heroes.html&gt; [Accessed 24 October 2013]

Valenti, Jessica, (2008). He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. California: Seal Press

Williamson, Milly (2010). ‘Female celebrities and the media: the gendered denigration of the ‘ordinary’ celebrity’. Celebrity Studies, Vol. 1, (No. 1), pp. 118-120

Woods, Judith, 2013. Three babies by three fathers – will it be third time lucky for Calamity Kate Winslet? The Telegraph [online] (6 June). Available at <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/10100935/Three-babies-by-three-fathers-will-it-be-third-time-lucky-for-Calamity-Kate-Winslet.html&gt; [Accessed 25 October 2013]

 

 

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