A curious phenomenon has been clocked on social media and it’s called being 'woman'd'. The term, coined by culture writer Rayne Fisher-Quann, describes the moment when "everyone stops liking a woman at the same time". Examples include Millie Bobby Brown, who was lauded as a shining young talent before becoming a source of contempt for many people online. Rupi Kaur, the poet whose work was once impossible to miss on your Instagram feed, has been woman’d, with her work now considered cringe, naive and oversimplistic. Noughties romcom fave Anne Hathaway was woman’d, too, for being 'pretentious', which paved the way for her triumphant comeback looks at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Being woman’d is not to be confused with openly accepting the role of villain. These women aren’t like Christine Quinn, antagonist of Selling Sunset, who accepts her reputation and decides to feed into it for her own financial and social gain. Nor have these women been forever hated but misunderstood by the public, like Courtney Stodden (they/them), who found themself a figure of contempt after marrying 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison when they were just 16. Instead, being woman’d is the very particular rise and fall of a female star: when someone we once loved becomes someone we love to hate.
It also isn’t the same as being cancelled. It's not like people are watching with bated breath for these people to slip up, or even calling them out on actual bad behaviour; instead, they're inventing reasons to no longer like them. It might be that your fave female celebrity has a particularly annoying walk, or starts being criticised for the way they dress, or their activism has gone from feeling empowering to performative. En masse, people may start taking issue with the way said celebrity holds themselves in interviews, or the shade of lipstick she wears. Just like the ick can ruin a relationship, being woman’d usually stems from a small, inconsequential action that becomes increasingly unbearable to the public.
The precise moment when the tide begins to turn on a female public figure is often hard to pinpoint. But you’ve probably seen someone being woman’d in real time. You may have even participated in the act yourself or, if you’re particularly unlucky, fallen victim to it personally. Women with any kind of following aren’t allowed to exist online or in the public eye without being scrutinised. A recent study released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) concluded that there is an "epidemic of misogynist abuse" taking place in the direct message requests of high-profile women. One day you can be universally loved, with thousands of stan accounts and fan edits circling around TikTok For You Pages. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re finished. Pulled apart through tweets and re-stitched together as an object of hatred by the people who were once obsessed with you. In the world of social media, in which people treat fandom as a full-time job and are constantly finding ways to either uplift or ruin celebrities, there is no in-between. You’re either adored or destroyed.
The power of being woman'd would be nowhere near as devastating if the majority of us weren't utterly obsessed with being liked.
The power of being woman’d would be nowhere near as devastating if the majority of us weren’t utterly obsessed with being liked. Over the past decade, our feminist politics have shifted to focus on acceptability rather than outright equality. 'Authentic' posts from feminist influencers urge acceptance and awareness of those with mental health issues without ever pushing for more structural resources that would actually change lives. Without realising, many of us settle for a lack of structural inclusion in the workforce in favour of magazine covers and clothing campaigns featuring people of colour front and centre. Acceptability, and likeability, serves as a convenient veneer that ignores deep-rooted issues within our social justice movements.
The push towards likeability has ensured that women are often only taken seriously if they present themselves in the most palatable way possible. This has led to a collective fear of being woman’d, which, paired with an obsession with being accepted, not only harms celebrities but sets a dangerous precedent for women all over: stay in line, behave in the 'right' way – or risk being ignored forever.
Nearly everything social media users are expected and encouraged to do in the online realm is to help position us as women who are deserving of being liked, something that in recent years has become conflated with being respected. On platforms like Instagram you feel like you have to share your healthy meals, your wholesome trips to the park with friends, your 'clean girl' beauty regime. It seems we never reached the point where we can accept that a woman may not behave in ways we like but still respect her for being good at her job, or wearing nice clothes, or having an enviable routine. Now, judgement is everyone's business.
Young women follow people deemed to be living 'good' lives, enabling the rise of wellness, new beauty standards and a backwards set of rules to live by under the guise of 'living your best life'. Much of our lives online, ironically, are spent curating the perfect feed in which we come across as our most authentic selves. In this framework you can accept marginalised people but only if they’re unthreatening enough to be deemed likeable under the patriarchy. Fat people are often applauded for making skinny people feel better about themselves; disabled people are viewed as brave and inspirational rather than three-dimensional human beings. I know this from the way my fatness, chronic illness and class status is read online – acceptable only if consumed voyeuristically and read as empowering.
Not everyone has the luxury of being woman’d. To be torn down for something innocuous implies that you have to be a vision of modern perfection – skinny, white, cisgender, beautiful, rich – to begin with. The fact that young women have restructured the idea of the perfect woman to be a part of feminism, rather than actively working against it, leaves us all in a bind. Those of us who will never be deemed likeable by society, who can’t (or won’t) beg for acceptance via sponsored juice cleanses and #OOTD posts are made to understand that our opinions are unimportant. For those who can perform the perfect picture of femininity, their relevance is a ticking time bomb.
As the phenomenon becomes more powerful, we must question why the fear of being disliked is so all-encompassing in the first place. In a world that can still find the smallest reason to hate us, being woman’d is one of the worst things you can be. But until we grapple with our own desire to be liked and accepted within a system that is intent on creating monsters of us all, the game will always be rigged and being woman’d will remain a depressing inevitability.