In February, during a snowstorm in New Hampshire, I had the honor of speaking at a Bernie Sanders rally. Having been politically minded throughout my life, I felt it only natural to support the candidate I believed in. The Internet, however, felt otherwise. After posting a picture of myself at the rally and a video of my speech about Bernie’s positions on equal pay, maternity leave, and economic inequality, I was trolled heavily. Commenters said I had “an excess of beauty and lack of brain” and told me to “shut up and show us your tits.” But I was also criticized in a very specific way— for seeking attention. They wrote me off as “a desperate attention whore,” saying I was taking part in the conversation only because everybody else was too.
I realized then that I’ve been called an attention whore so often that I had almost gotten used to it. And as women we are accused of seeking attention more than men are, whether for speaking out politically, as I did, for dressing a certain way, or for even posting a selfie. Our culture has a double standard that runs so deep, many women have actually built up an automatic defense—attempting to be a step ahead of potential critics by making sure we have “real” reasons for anything we say or do.
Often it’s men propelling these acts of sexism, but women discount one another too: Think about how many times you’ve heard a woman say about another woman, “Oh, she’s just doing that for attention.” We’ve internalized this trope. Our society tells women we can’t be, say, sexy and confident and opinionated about politics. This would allow us too much power. Instead our society asks us to declare and defend our motivations, which makes us second-guess them, all while men do what they please without question.
I see it all the time, particularly when my girlfriends are getting ready to go out. They encounter this moment when they think, I don’t want to look like I tried too hard. They don’t want to be seen as desperate or vain. But my guy friends don’t think twice about whether this shirt or that cologne will make them seem attention seeking. The truth is that both groups want to be noticed. Yet we view a man’s desire for attention as a natural instinct; with a woman, we label her a narcissist.
Look at pop culture: Mick Jagger is 73, and he still sometimes wears his shirt open and gyrates onstage. We understand that this is a part of his performance and artistic brand. Meanwhile, when Madonna, who is 58 and a revolutionary in that same kind of artistic sexuality, wears a sheer dress to the Met Gala, critics call her “a hot mess” who’s “desperate.” But isn’t she just making one of her signature political statements about female sexuality (and, incidentally, about our ageist, sexist culture too)? In any case, they are both performers who undoubtedly like attention. So why does Madonna get flak for it while Jagger is celebrated?
It’s absurd to think that desire for attention doesn’t drive both women and men. Why are women scrutinized for it more, then? And if a woman dresses up because she does want attention, male or otherwise, does that make her guilty of something? Or less “serious”? Our society doesn’t question men’s motivations for taking their shirt off, or shaving, or talking about politics—nor should it. Wanting attention is genderless. It’s human.
In August a young woman, Karina Vetrano, was raped and murdered while on a jog in Queens, New York. The New York Daily News published an article about “the brainy and beautiful victim,” including a selfie of Vetrano from her Instagram. One commenter said, “Poor girl yes. But she put herself out there like a Kardashian carbon copy.” Later he added, “If you’re going to be out there, be prepared for the attention, good and bad.” This is how far the attention accusation can go: It validates the idea that this woman’s actions—wearing makeup, posting selfies—might have contributed to her senseless murder. Would you have seen the same type of comment had the victim been male? Doubtful. Women should be allowed to be themselves and live the way they want to, just as Vetrano did.
The ideal feminist world shouldn’t be one where women suppress their human instincts for attention and desire. We shouldn’t be weighed down with the responsibility of explaining our every move. We shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting attention either. We don’t owe anyone an explanation. It’s not our responsibility to change the way we are seen—it’s society’s responsibility to change the way it sees us.
Photo Credit: Glamour
Originally published by Glamour