Voices: We are all Ashley Graham: the joyless task of dealing with men like Hugh Grant
We are all Ashley Graham. Well, you are if you’re a woman, anyway. Why? Because we have all had the arduous, joyless task of dealing with men like Hugh Grant.
I say this not as a Hugh Grant hater – I have no Love Actually or Bridget Jones beef to pick with him – but on the basis of his excruciating red carpet interview at the Oscars last night.
Grant was every bored, entitled man who can’t be bothered not to show it, despite the eyewatering gift of being there at the Oscars, on the red carpet in the first place. I can’t be the only one who wanted to shout, “how dare you” (or, to be slightly more Richard Curtis about it, “how very dare you”). But really, how dare he?
Someone wants to tell Grant to remind his unnamed “tailor” (and if “what are you wearing tonight” isn’t the easiest and most predictable question to answer at an event like that, then I don’t know where he thought he was going, but it certainly wasn’t the Oscars) to check his privilege. It seems the waistband’s a bit tight.
As one US-based commentator put it: “Someone who loves Hugh Grant should tell him that he’s allowed to skip red carpet interviews if he hates them so much. For a man who seemed like such a pouty little s***, he sure did make a choice to stand there and hold his own mic.”
Yet despite his refusal to play the game, or even to be polite, in steps Graham... elegant, eloquent, irrepressibly peppy – and she has to keep the chat going, even as it feels like we’re all going to die from cringe. And good for her. It takes skill and grace to remain calm in the face of such rude detachment (bordering on hostility) – and it’s something us women recognise all too well.
I’ve had some terrible interviews in my time. I won’t name names; but suffice to say those which truly bombed were the ones which weren’t conducted in good faith.
And I don’t mean from my side (as journalists all we’re trying to do is get the best and most interesting perspective from our subject; something which will bring nuance and surprise to the reader) – but the people you interview who act like they’re doing you a massive favour to be there? It’s painful and awkward and never results in a piece either side can be proud of.
I once interviewed a soap star who was so savagely bored of doing the media rounds that she fixed me with a cold stare and refused to answer a single question, despite her own PR team setting it up; I’ve spoken to cultural greats who have been spiky to the point of being downright rude and who’ve screamed down the phone; I’ve spent hours fawning over famous faces just to get a good quote when I may just as well have been crushing a stone between my fingers to try and eke out a single drop of blood.
Yet dealing with this kind of difficult man doesn’t just happen in the niche world of celebrity interaction, but in everyday life – to varying degrees of irritation and risk.
Societal conditioning has transformed women (albeit not exclusively women) into people-pleasers; impressed upon us the weight and responsibility of looking after other people’s feelings. We are emotional gatekeepers, expected to soothe and nurture and protect: not just on the red carpet, but at the school gate, in the home and in the office.
If you speak to any woman who’s been on a first date you’ll likely hear horror stories of waiting two hours for the other person to ask her a question. We are masters at filling an awkward silence (or never letting it become awkward to begin with); in massaging egos to ensure nobody gets angry or upset.
Much of the time, it’s out of a basic need for safety. This kind of behaviour is learned from girlhood out of necessity, and is confirmed in every future interaction every single time a man enters our personal space and carries an aura of danger about him. We ask ourselves one key question when faced with a man we don’t know: “Am I safe?”
Don’t believe me? Ask any woman how she reacts when (and it is when, not if) a man approaches her on public transport, or in the street, or when she’s reading a book, or listening to music through headphones, or when she is simply minding her own business and wants to be left alone.
Ask any woman how she handles a man when he insists on joining her (or a group of women) at a table at a bar; or when someone tells her to “smile, it might not happen”; or demands her name or her number or her relationship status (“are you single?”) without being invited into the conversation. Even if we don’t want him to stick around, the chances of us saying so, so baldly and explicitly, are slim to none.
Why? Because of an intrinsic sense of needing to keep a man calm; to keep him happy. The old adage by Margaret Atwood has never felt so glaring: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
I’m not saying Hugh Grant is one of these “bad” men. At all. But his attitude stinks – and is symptomatic of entitlement; an entitlement that displays itself uniquely within the male-female dynamic. There’s a power imbalance, there’s ego, there’s control and there’s a certain degree of fear.
If he so desperately didn’t want to be on the red carpet, Grant should have done us all a favour and walked off.