Hijacking Megan Fox’s Experience to Fit a Sexualization Narrative Dehumanizes Her
Internet outrage has steadily increased in the past 24 hours regarding a Jimmy Kimmel Live clip from 2009 in which actress Megan Fox is recounting her audition experience with Hollywood director Michael Bay. Fox says Bay recorded her dancing under a waterfall in a bikini and high heels when she was 15 for Bad Boys II, outrage over which then unearthed a report from 2009 that alleges Fox was asked to wash Bay’s car as part of another audition for Transformers. This has turned into people on social media calling Bay “creepy” and “a predator,” while projecting a heavily-disdained sexualization narrative onto Fox’s professional experience in the early aughts.
In response to the outrage on her behalf, Fox put out a statement on social media that sought to dispel the “sinister shadow that doesn’t really … belong” in this case. “Please hear me when I thank you for your support. But these specific instances were inconsequential in a long and arduous journey along which I have endured some genuinely harrowing experiences in a ruthlessly misogynistic industry,” she wrote. “But when it comes to my direct experiences with Michael [Bay], and Steven [Spielberg] for that matter, I was never assaulted or preyed upon in what I felt was a sexual manner.”
In this case, the issue essentially galloped out of hand before anybody even asked Fox what she had felt at the time, or thought about these audition experiences. The outrage was exercised on her behalf, but it didn’t take into account whether Fox herself was outraged at all. In this process, people angry with her sexualization reduced her to a conduit for a sexualization discussion that she has made clear doesn’t apply to her. For the person being victimized in such instances, such as Fox in this case, this type of internet hijacking robs them of their agency, leaving mainstream perceptions about their own experience dictated by random people on the Internet.
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This is not to say there was no sexualization on that set, or that Michael Bay isn’t rumored to be creepy, because he is. We also need to have discussions about how movie industries sexualize young women; we could even do it by analyzing Megan Fox movies. But these overarching discussions on social media about sexist culture in society hardly ever center the person perceived to be the victim, and largely ignores what they want, think, or need. These discussions also only crop up on social media when an incident blows up, and people can clearly demarcate a victim and perpetrator. On one hand, it requires whoever’s been cast as the victim — often a celebrity — to lay bare their vulnerabilities for people to pick on, analyze and interpret (often incorrectly). On the other, in rushing to pin the blame onto the perpetrator, people ensure the shelf life of the issue remains dependent upon their absolution, which sooner or later always arrives. And so every internet outrage cycle starts at either a celebrity peg or a sensationalized piece of news, often dying out within days as the matter gets cleared up by any of the parties involved, leaving the feminist media mags to hypothesize about larger societal issues into the void.
It begs the questions: why do we need celebrity pegs in order to talk about societal ills we have seen constantly repeated, both in pop culture and in patriarchal societies around the world? Why do we constantly need a well-publicized victim to start discussions on an issue — don’t we have enough of those already?
The short internet outrage and news cycles hardly ever give us opportunities to start and sustain longer, more nuanced conversations about sexism and the various ways in which it manifests. Aside from clear-cut cases of sexual abuse, there’s hardly ever a scenario, especially when dealing with more subtle manifestations of rape culture such as the sexualization of young women, in which a singular person can be blamed. The solution is not to do it in frustrated bursts, even though oftentimes it feels like the only way an issue can get traction or exposure. The solution is to constantly talk about it, weaving in different experiences and complicated perspectives that cannot be implicated in a single tweet.
Exposure to issues of sexism, rape culture, and abuse cannot solely be the domain of fringe feminist publications, nor can they rely on any one celebrity’s bad experience. It needs to be a constant in all spheres — from the media we consume to the work we do and the ways in which we educate ourselves and others, both in and out of educational institutions. We need to normalize critiquing or wanting to change a social ill without needing to make someone the face of it.