As seems to be the custom nowadays, I find myself watching telly with Twitter by my side. Last Wednesday, I settled in to watch Ugly Betty – which totes re-hit its stride just as they cancelled it – and watched as Betty met and eventually dated a very handsome playwright, Zachary Boule (Aaron Tveit). After their first kiss, someone tweeted:
“I’m sorry but there’s no way Betty could pull this guy – how does she keep getting all these hot guys?!”
A small, vaguely un-feminist part of me wondered the same thing.
Later, I read an interview Kira Cochrane did with Miranda Hart, writer and star of her eponymous BBC1 sitcom. Cochrane notes that for all of the character’s awkward clumsiness, she manages to attract quite a few hotties. She also notes the character’s ‘essential happiness’, describing her as “one of the few single women in pop culture ever to truly enjoy their own company”. Cochrane argues that it is this happiness which makes her so irresistible. She writes: “The object of her desire, sexy chef Gary, is clearly attracted to her too, and the most recent episode saw three men fighting over her…”
Like Betty, ‘Miranda’ (the quotes mark her as the character, not Ms Hart) is not conventionally pretty. She’s 6 ft 1, not terribly slender and is often afflicted with verbal diarrhoea, often while falling over/singing inappropriately/getting her trousers yanked down in public. Ugly Betty wears glasses and braces, is larger than a size 2 and has questionable fashion sense – but she’s also smart and confident about her abilities, if not her looks and sexual allure. The series has given her nothing but good-looking men (pre-magazine job boyfriend aside) as love interests. In the comments below another Miranda article, commenter videovitch wrote:
“… For me there’s one thing that jars, and that I think Hart is trying to have her cake and eat it: it’s all very well doing the aren’t I goofy, aren’t I left on the shelf, aren’t I hapless persona – but the laughably good looking guys who all fall at her feet somewhat undermine this. Before anyone points it out, I’m well aware that goofy comedy blokes have been writing themselves hot women for aeons (Simon Pegg in Spaced, ahem), so why not let Hart do the same? Fair enough I guess. But it does detract from the Miranda persona.”
Miranda says: “Someone might say to me – so, you’ve got the confidence to think that Michael Landes and Tom Ellis would go after you, and I go, no, that’s not how I see it. I just think: what do people want this character to find? They want her to win, and it’s also funny.” She adds: “And sometimes you do see that, a confident man going – Oh, she’s quite interesting, I’ve not had one of those before, I might try it, that’ll be an interesting notch…”
The common meme is that pretty people go out with pretty people, leaving the rest of the uggos to fight it out at the bottom of the pond. This isn’t strictly true – in the public eye, it’s not really that rare to see incredibly (conventionally) attractive women go out with men universally acknowledged to be ‘rough’. Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts; Salma Hayek and Francois Henri Pinault; Donald Trump and Melania Trump; Lembit Opik or Salman Rushdie and any one of the various lovelies they’ve been out with; me and a couple of exes… I kid. But you know.
It’s not news that society is more accepting of an ugly man who dates a pretty woman. People will talk about his wealth, his mind, his astonishing sexual prowess. More often than not, the pretty woman will end up looking like the ‘lucky’ one in the relationship. The reverse is true when we flip it – people will express their surprise when a plain Jane is out with a hunky guy. The same reasons as above are floated, but the tone is mocking rather than congratulatory as in the case of a man. So rather than her being good in bed, she’s branded some sort of bells and whistles sexual deviant. If she’s wealthy, then clearly she ‘bought’ him. And if she has a keen mind, then she’s ‘wily’ and must have tricked him into a relationship.
For all of the strides we’ve made in separating a woman’s body from her mind, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to defining a woman’s worth.
A friend of mine expressed an interesting opinion. In her view, we tend to be flummoxed by the sight of an average-looking woman with a gorgeous man because in this day and age, with all the pressure on women and their bodies, it seems odd rare to find a woman who hasn’t paid at least some attention to the way she looks. By contrast, when guys are plain, it’s no biggie, because the pressure to be beautiful hasn’t been placed on them. It’s all about expectation, you see.
DAMN YOU, PATRIARCHY.