There are so many ways, big and small, that women are criticized or punished every day for simply living their lives in public. A new video narrated by Cynthia Nixon explores those impossible standards.
In the video, released by the magazine Girls Girls Girls, a steely-faced and utterly convincing Nixon reads a shortened version of writer Camille Rainville’s “Be A Lady They Said.”
“Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty,” Nixon recites, going through an agonizing list of the contradictory and often cruel messages women are told. “Be sexy. Be the cool girl. Don’t be like the other girls.”
The narration is paired with ominous, accelerating music and arresting images from movies, tabloids, news broadcasts, TV shows, advertisements, and the magazine’s own photography.
The idea of the “double bind” is something pioneering feminist Marilyn Frye explains as “ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people.”
It’s the old damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t: Frye argues that women are often faced with situations where every option they have will lead to some kind of punishment. For instance, from the video: “Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it.”
While the video is powerful, it’s not entirely clear how Girls Girls Girls — a magazine with the somewhat ambiguous message of “Bringing Back the Woman 👠” and returning to “a time when women in fashion were all about the polish, the luxury and the total fantasy” — is combatting those ideals.
Many of the images that could be seen as contributing to this impossible standard are from the their own magazine. Plus, the video’s director is a man.
It’s also worth thinking about the way these gendered expectations intersect with other forms of oppression: women of colour, and particularly Indigenous women, face a much higher risk of violence than white women, and are less likely to be believed when they report sexual assaults.
You might remember the magazine from a head-turning 2018 cover, which featured Canadian actress Rachel McAdams wearing Versace and diamonds, looking unsparingly at the camera, and wearing a breast pump that was partially filled with breast milk.
Photographer Claire Rothstein explained on Instagram that the striking photo was taken about six months after McAdams gave birth to a son.
However you feel about the magazine’s mission, though, the video is worth a watch.