The Happy, Exclusive Sorority Of Backlash-Proof Actresses


Over the weekend, Hortense wrote about the inevitable backlash that takes place when a female star gets big. Which got us wondering: which women are backlash-proof? And why?

First, what do we mean by immune to “backlash”? In this instance, we’re talking specifically about someone so generally well-liked in the public mind that people either never have, or seem unlikely to, turn on them. And by “people,” of course, we mean the general public — the same body who collectively damned Katherine Heigl, dismissed Megan Fox, and generally contribute to our impression of said star.

An unscientific list of those lucky actresses who are immune to the turning tides of public opinion:

  • Drew Barrymore
  • Judi Dench
  • Maggie Smith
  • Meryl Streep
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Rachel McAdams
  • Amy Poehler

Sandra Bullock, nowadays, may be inviolate, but six months ago her rom-com choices were the stuff of quotidian mockery. Julia Roberts lost her untouchable status when she and Moder got together. Even Tina Fey, who you think would be immune, had a wave. And while Angelina Jolie does seem to have teflon quality, she can hardly be called universally beloved.

So, looking at the above list, the women in question seem to have a few things in common. They have either led “blameless” lives, Mary-style, or they’ve suffered, repeneted, Oprah’d, and turned things around in classic Magdalene fashion. Or, they’re just old enough that we give it to them on the strength of the work – or patronize them by not actually knowing or caring much about their lives.

Even for these good-girls, their places in our hearts are not inviolate. They might make a stupid remark. Rachel McAdams might make a bad film choice. Maybe Cate Blanchett will leave her husband. Any of these things is enough, when it’s a woman in the public eye. The British press turned on Kate Winslet when she cried too much; suddenly everyone over here seemed to have seen enough of Taylor Swift and declared the honeymoon unceremoniously over. Certain figures – okay, Tilda Swinton – may just make iconoclasm their “thing,” but even then, that’s rarely universally beloved. I’m not saying this fickleness doesn’t have its up-side – we all seem to be reasonably disinterested in Katy Perry hate, at the moment – but it’s gotta be exhausting.

And, no, we’re not as hard on men. This is what I think of as the “Harlequin Paradox.” It’s common knowledge in romance-writing circles that a hero can be flawed, troubled, even have a couple of dimensions to him. The heroine, on the other hand, had better be a saint, because anything beyond a little garden-variety sassiness makes her “unlikable.” If we did a list of blacklash-proof men in the public eye, it would be littered with broken relationships, ridiculous antics, offensive quotes, and terrible albums. I mean, think how far Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise had to go to alienate us! Maybe because they didn’t have to be “girls next door” in the first place.

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