Sunday night, at the Golden Globes, Seth Rogen and Kate Beckinsale walked to the stage to present an award. Beckinsale looked stunning in a form-fitting Roberto Cavalli gown; Seth Rogen looked… well, like Seth Rogen. If all eyes were on Kate Beckinsale and her elegant composure, Rogen quickly stole the spotlight when he introduced himself: “Hello, I’m Seth Rogen, and I am currently trying to conceal a massive erection.”
At the apparently un-rehearsed joke made at the expense of her beauty and sexuality, Beckinsale looked shocked, and then laughed—perhaps out of nervousness or surprise. The audience made known their approval of the crude remark by laughing, whooping, and applauding. Beckinsale gamely attempted to complete her duties as presenter, but had a hard time with it as the laughter and hooting persevered throughout the segment. And she eventually succumbed to the laughter as well.
AN UNWANTED EMBRACE
Watching, I felt the same sense of mortification and anger that I experienced watching the Academy Awards in 2003 when Adrien Brody won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the holocaust drama The Pianist. Thrilled, the actor bounded to the stage where presenter Halle Berry waited for him with his trophy. (Berry had won the Best Actress Oscar the year prior for her raw, daring performance in Monster’s Ball.) Brody didn’t greet Berry with a hug or a kiss on the cheek; he forcefully grabbed her and bent her backwards with a fierce, prolonged kiss on the mouth. Had she wanted to wriggle away, it would have been difficult; Brody clutched the back of her head to enforce the embrace.
I was disgusted then. I was disgusted on Sunday watching Seth Rogen make his inexcusably disrespectful remark, successfully chipping away at Kate Beckinsale’s composure and making clear his feelings about her as an object of his desire—with the emphasis on object—as opposed to her stature as a woman, a mother, and a successful actress.
In any other professional setting, a man would be called out—hopefully—for such an inappropriate remark, just as he would—hopefully—be called out for bending a colleague backwards with an uninvited kiss on the mouth. But in both cases, these actors received applause and accolades. USA Today, in recounting the Brody-Berry embrace, called it a “swooningly smooth swoop-and-dip” and surmised that “many female TV watchers would still be fanning themselves over the impulsive act.” The Huffington Post listed the Seth Rogen remark under “Funniest Golden Globe Moments” and raved that “Seth Rogen stole the show.” The Internet and Twitterverse erupted with “LOL”s and “HAHA”s.
BEING A GOOD SPORT
So how did Halle Berry and Kate Beckinsale respond when put on the spot by, respectively, Adrien Brody and Seth Rogen? Halle Berry returned the embrace (not that she appeared to have much choice) and laughed. She was a “good sport.” What would have happened if she had objected? Most probably, she would have been accused of spoiling the moment, of sour grapes. After all, Brody had just won the Best Actor Oscar; this was “his night.” But what about Berry? As the Best Actress winner of the year prior, she was a prestigious presenter. What about her night? More importantly, what about her rights—her right to be treated as an accomplished woman and actress? For her part, Kate Beckinsale laughed at Rogen’s remark—whether it was out of nervousness or because she thought the comment was hilarious is not known. Again, what would have happened if she had objected or retorted with a remark that put Rogen in his place? My guess is that she would have been called “humorless” or even “bitchy.” Look what happened with Katherine Heigl, the star of the 2007 hit comedy Knocked Up, when she went up against the popular comic actor.
“HUMORLESS AND UPTIGHT”
In Knocked Up, Heigl’s character becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with Seth Rogen. Rogen is unfailingly good-humored and supportive, while Heigl suffers from explosive—and public—morning sickness, hormone-induced hysteria, and screaming fits; in one scene she throws Rogen out of her car in the middle of traffic; in another, she breaks up with him. Rogen’s only flaw in the movie appears to be failing to read the pregnancy tome What to Expect in its entirety (which he does at the end, coming through for his partner Heigl). In the hospital awaiting the birth of their child, Heigl tearfully apologizes to Rogen for treating him badly.
In 2008, Heigl dared to say in an interview with Vanity Fair that she thought Knocked Up was “a little sexist.” “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight,” she said. In an interview of their own a year later, Seth Rogen and director Judd Apatow were still angry; they mocked a movie of hers, The Ugly Truth, and claimed that Heigl must have just been “tired” when she made the comments. Apatow added that he was waiting for her to apologize. The uproar over Heigl slamming the movie that “made” her career was such that she had to “clarify” her statements and say to People that making the movie was “the best filming experience” of her career.
The message couldn’t be more clear: play ball with the male players in the industry, and be a good sport. Otherwise, you’re a bitch. That these men wouldn’t treat a renowned, august actress like Meryl Streep like this, or make fun of a respected male performer like Robert DeNiro, only emphasizes their lack of regard for actresses like Beckinsale, Berry, and Heigl. But it’s not their decision to make, whether these women are deserving of their respect, whether they’re “good sports” or “can’t take a joke.” Until all women—actresses and otherwise—are treated across the board with courtesy and respect, then it’s clear there’s a feminist battle still to be waged. And as long as the public responds to acts of disrespect and displays of objectification with laughter and affirmation, it’s also clear that we have our work cut out for us.
Luisa Colón is a mother and stepmother, as well as a writer who has written for New York Magazine, Glamour, Discovery Girls, and others. Luisa also has a blog, Pixie Forever, a site devoted to style, gossip, and the Pixie haircut.