In today’s Guardian, Tanya Gold points out the misogyny inherent in the reaction to Susan Boyle, the by now infamous Scottish woman who has emerged as the favourite to win Britain’s Got Talent.
Susan got an incredibly hard time from audience and judges alike, and is now the subject of article after article expressing shock at the loveliness of her voice. Not just in Britain, but all intentionally. Hell, I live in America, and I saw being interviewed live on breakfast news this morning, asked a perky blonde news anchor via a satellite link where she finds her courage. Nobody’s asking the pretty, lithe young ones that. They’re just assumed to be gagging to show off. Since the original series’ of Popstars and Big Brother the default personality is exhibitionist.
And still, we’re all shocked. Surprised that she even has the courage to do it. Pleased, perhaps. But shocked. I was. Why?
Why are we so shocked when “ugly” women can do things, rather than sitting at home weeping and wishing they were somebody else? Men are allowed to be ugly and talented. Alan Sugar looks like a burst bag of flour. Gordon Ramsay has a dried-up riverbed for a face. Justin Lee Collins looks like Cousin It from The Addams Family. Graham Norton is a baboon in mascara. I could go on. But a woman has to have the bright, empty beauty of a toy – or get off the screen. We don’t want to look at you. Except on the news, where you can weep because some awful personal tragedy has befallen you.
As Gold goes on to say, this doesn’t happen in the same way to the male contestants:
I know what you will say. You will say that Paul Potts, the fat opera singer with the equally squashed face who won Britain’s Got Talent in 2007, had just as hard a time at his first audition. I looked it up on YouTube. He did not. “I wasn’t expecting that,” said Simon to Paul. “Neither was I,” said Amanda. “You have an incredible voice,” said Piers. And that was it.