The Oscars (or the Academy Awards, as they are formally known) took place on Monday, 28 March. In the days that followed, the internet has not had a moment to breathe. With the now-infamous Will Smith debacle, the memes have been endless and we have seen hot take after hot take on the matter.
But as the Oscars struggle to stay relevant in this increasingly digital landscape with A-listers taking a backseat to social media stars and internet personalities, it would seem that the show has seemingly had to concoct controversy after controversy to stay on people’s radar. Is this the reason why the show’s writers keep allowing jokes that would otherwise most definitely be left on the cutting room floor?
The Will Smith scenario has been talked about enough, we feel, and to all appearances the matter appears to be resolved. However, there was one other instance that we don’t believe received enough attention – co-host Regina Hall’s extended bit about tricking hot actors into joining her for a ‘Covid test’ backstage. Hall was one of three female comedians hosting that night, together with Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes.
The presenters’ initial jokes were solid, with easy but still amusing jabs, and all embracing a loose goofiness. However, Hall’s bit was about the calling up of ‘handsome,’ ‘single’ men and parading them before an audience, exclaiming that she would like to conduct a Covid test on them herself, with her tongue. The actors – Simu Liu, Bradley Cooper, Tyler Perry, and Timothee Chalamet – who came on stage as asked, looked bemused. Hall then proceeded to pat down Josh Brolin and Jason Mamoma, touching them on stage for ‘comedy’.
In poor taste?
We have to ask: what if the roles were flipped? If this was a male comedian patting down a female actor, there would be outrage, and yet, because it was a woman patting down a bunch of men, it’s okay?
Saritha Irugalbandara, social media analyst at Hashtag Generation and freelance consultant (SGBV and queer rights), shared her thoughts with Brunch, commenting on this incident involving Regina Hall. “It was gross and what we would call ‘in poor taste’. But really what it shows is the double standard that exists when it comes to sexual violence and harassment. We normalise the objectifying of men at the hands of women because it stems from this gendered idea that men are those who always want sex and women are something to be pursued,” she said, adding: “The thought exists that women can’t be sexually violent against men”.
She noted that when it came to this conversation on sexual violence and or harassment, it should always be about power. “Regina Hall in this instance was the person with the power; she is a famous actress and she is the Oscars host at the podium. And what happened was an abuse of that power,” said Saritha.
She also spoke of how female comedians had been handed a pass for the longest time to say problematic things and get away with it unscathed, especially when it comes to the body-shaming of men. “They have gotten away with distasteful jokes about penis size, circumcision, and their weight or hair, however if a male comedian were to make a joke about female genital mutilation, there would be a feminist uproar against it – and rightfully so. There are a lot of feminists who believe that when women body shame men it is not the same and there’s no reasoning behind this thinking,” Saritha said.
Was it funny to flip it?
We also reached out to activist and outspoken feminist Shanuki de Alwis, who said she believes that this is about respect, and if you want to be respected then you must give it back. “I don’t think it is funny to flip it. It is true that men may be held to a higher standard when it comes to making statements that objectify women more than women would if they were to do the same to men. This is part of the patriarchal framework we function within, when in fact as feminists what we talk about is equality and so this shouldn’t be normalised,” she said.
She also commented on this ‘take the power back’ sort of narrative that sometimes pops up with women becoming the aggressor. With regard to this, she said: “Taking the power back can be done in far less harmful ways and if this is how you take the power back, then you don’t really deserve it.”
Shanuki added to what Saritha highlighted about the gendered belief that men may enjoy it as opposed to women who feel victimised by it, stating that while certainly there may be men who enjoyed it, there were women who enjoyed it as well – those who find male attention of that nature to be a form of validation. But this is neither here nor there, she stated, adding that it is about respect and what one does after gaining consent from an individual is different to the general application of harmful ideologies and practices, which is an entirely different thing.
“Men have always been objectifying women and it has sadly become an accepted behaviour, but if a woman were to do it, she would be called names,” she noted, adding that “this should absolutely not be the case.”
Considering that this is an issue concerning both men and women, and especially personalities in media and the responsibilities they wield, we spoke to television show host, personality development and corporate etiquette trainer, and PR and media consultant Kumar de Silva, on whether there were different standards for men and women in this regard.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If one can do it, then so can the other. It is not that I am condoning objectifying any gender – female, male, or other – but we have to treat all humans in the same manner,” he said.
Kumar added that in his personality development and corporate etiquette training programmes, he always made it a point to draw attention to this disparity in the belief that society seems to harbour.
“When we talk about sexual harassment in workplaces, I always pose a question – consider one’s own mother. What about her? What about one’s wife, sister, daughter, fiancée, niece, girl cousin, etc.? Does one want them to be objectified, handled, rubbed against, and groped?” he asked. “We always need to think of the women in our lives, before we think of harassing others.”
Progress does not happen overnight and it is not an easy thing. It is important, however, to have these conversations so that we are able to look at this matter in an objective manner and decide for ourselves on what is right or wrong.
Regina Hall’s bit, as many may say, “is just a joke, it’s not that deep,” but maybe we should be asking if it is indeed that deep. It is, after all, happening on a global stage, via mainstream media, and being broadcasted to the world.
There has also been an important element of the conversation that hasn’t been touched on and that is the racial connotation of this particular incident. There are female comedians like Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman and many others who have made risqué ‘jokes’ at the expense of men and they have been given somewhat of a wide pass; however, Regina Hall is a black woman and there is a community behind her waiting to hold her accountable for her actions. It is a reality that because she is a black woman she may face worse scrutiny than her white counterparts.
For the time being, we would like to pass on the question to the reader: do you feel that, when it comes to men being objectified at the hands of women versus women being objectified at the hands of men, are they the same or are they incomparable?