After a few weeks on our television screens, one thing is clear about Freeform’s new series, The Bold Type: it’s wonderfully obsessed with women supporting women. Kat Edison’s burgeoning bi-curiosity? Her friends are all for it. The pompadour-haired editrix at the top of Scarlet’s masthead? She couldn’t be further from the icy Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) of Devil Wears Prada fame. Kat (Aisha Dee) is even ready to let BFF Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) move into her apartment rent-free. The women of The Bold Type are unabashedly feminist. Yet, Tuesday night’s "No Feminism In The Champagne Room" reminded viewers that even the most staunch feminists can end up objectifying and judging the kinds of women they usually fight so hard to defend. I’m talking about Jane Sloane (Katie Stevens) and her Chrissy Teigen cryface-worthy response to profiling a stripper named Morgyn Stanley (Amber Goldfarb).
The problem with Jane’s story takes root at the very beginning of her project, as she looks at Morgyn through a very small, but admirable lens. As a writer, it seems to me Jane entered Morgyn’s place of business set to prove the stripper isn’t simply an anthropomorphized G-string desperate to cater to the male gaze. No, Morgyn is an intelligent woman who finds more joy in exotic dancing than more a "traditional" career. "I don’t know what I did to make Morgyn so mad at me," Jane tells co-worker Alex (Matt Ward), starting to read her article. "‘Strong. Sensual. Powerful. These are the adjectives describing the Wall Street banker in front of me. But as I continue watching, another adjective buries them all: free.'"
While this aim is commendable and necessary, Jane also misses out on seeing Morgyn as a fully fleshed-out human person who is more than merely an "iconic" feminist stripper. We know this because she doesn’t even learn the performer is also a mom until she hears about Morgyn's son through the grapevine. That fact alone could have added an entirely new dimension to the piece, but Jane missed out because she was looking at Morgyn through such a narrow lens.
Jane’s inadvertent objectification of Morgyn only gets worse when she’s sued by the dancer and comes face-to-face with her in a settlement meeting. During the legal proceedings, Morgyn gets Jane’s guard up by calling the journalist’s writing "amateur." When the stripper, who gave her Scarlet interview under the stipulation of anonymity, says Jane "exposed" her by giving away too many identifying details, the writer goes in for the kill, yelling at the performer, "You expose yourself on a nightly basis. You’re a stripper." Jane even scoffs to get her point across. Yes, Jane considers herself a passionate feminist, but when it comes down to it, she too can be driven by a sexist, condescending, and judgmental thought.
As someone who has visited a gentleman’s club or two — or four — in her day, I understand where Jane is coming from, even though I don’t endorse it. After watching strippers perform for a while, it’s easy to slip into objectifying these hard working women with an errant comment like Jane’s. If I’m being honest, I’ve questioned whether a dancer looked like a counterfeit Kylie Jenner before and critiqued performances, forgetting I will never have the abdominal fortitude to do a tenth of what a stripper achieves in an average night. But, it’s imperative to remember a stripper doesn’t owe anyone a single damn thing, including when she’s on the stage and most definitely when she’s off of it. Just because Morgyn chooses to expose parts of her body at her club for a paycheck, that doesn’t mean her audience can expect her to be cool with other forms of exposure, like outing her identity in a national publication, when she’s off the clock. That kind of disrespect isn’t okay because someone is a stripper. That kind of disrespect is actually just grounds for a lawsuit, which is why Morgyn is suing for defamation.
Interestingly, Jane isn’t the first pro-woman character to recently drag another lady for not falling into the usual sphere of educated, well-to-do femininity. While Jane takes a swipe at Morgyn for "exposing" herself every night despite her fancy former life as a banker, the ladies of Insecure take shots at recurring character Tasha (Dominique Perry) for her “around-the-way-girl-ness,” as my colleague Sesali Bowen put it. Issa Dee (Issa Rae) and her friends are women who dress up for charity galas and art shows. Tasha sports more lace-up bodysuits than Kim Kardashian and has a lace front wig that’s "doing the most," as Issa’s friend Tiffany DuBois (Amanda Seales) mocks. In fact, Kelli (Natasha Rothwell), hints Tasha must be a stripper based on how she presents herself on Instagram, joking, "She looks like she’s working at The Pyramid tonight." The jibe is actually a direct quote from the lyrics of Frank Ocean’s "Pyramids," which is about a literal exotic dancer who has to perform that evening. Despite their mockery of not-an-actual-stripper Tasha, we’re sure all of Issa’s friends would still say they’re generally against hating on women.
Neither Jane nor the ladies of Insecure should lost their feminist cards simply because they ended up shading a woman for being an actual stripper or having the supposed style of one. The important thing is recognizing how backwards their objectifying thoughts are, and then growing from there. For her part, Jane immediately regrets her digs at Morgyn and later fully apologizes for them, admitting, "I judged you. I did. I wrote about you being this incredible feminist because I truly believe that. And then I treated you like… [a stripper]. I’m sorry."
As Roxane Gay once detailed with 366 pages of a paperback book, we can all be bad feminists at times. All that matters is trying to be better the next day.
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