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Following on from the interview with Helen Mirren in the latest issue of Bust, is this prime example of the kind of snide tone that some sections of the media seem to delight in taking when a woman in the public eye expresses a critical opinion. In this case, the apparent speaking out of turn related to Mirren talking about her objection to Parkinson’s focus and questions when she went on his show in 1975. The original text is taken from World Entertainment News (WENN). I’m not sure how long any of the articles using the text will be online for so here’s a slice of it for posterity:

The Queen star’s 1975 meeting with Michael Parkinson was one of her first chat show appearances – and his line of questioning left her shaken and upset.

But instead of showing the host how she felt, she turned the interview on him and made it a very awkward encounter.

And when Parkinson quizzed her about her “physical attributes” – referring to her breasts – the actress help up her hands and asked, “My fingers?”

What exactly is the writer’s point here? How was Mirren supposed to “show” how she felt? Does the writer have a problem with her not demonstrating how suitably shaken and upset she actually was (a problematic stance to take in itself)? Or is the sexism far more straightforward, with the lazy and arguably contradictory writing unintentionally exposing the author’s absolute unwillingness to give women a fucking break?*

There seems to be double bind going on here: a woman taking an interviewer to task is seen as “awkward” and inappropriate but the excuse to paradoxically cast her as somehow unassertive is seized upon.

In any case, I expect Mirren being more direct and actually saying “I find your questions very upsetting” would have led to her being framed as simply “oversensitive”. Instead, she committed the crimes of 1) being an apparently uppity lady who dared to “turn the interview” on Parky, 2) discussing it in an uppity feminist publication years later and 3) “showing off” her body in nude scenes and then not accepting whatever was thrown at her as a consequence.

I’ve not read the latest issue of Bust but I would say other quotes from the relevant article suggest Mirren discussed the Parkinson interview in the context of wider points she wanted to make. Or perhaps the interviewer from Bust had seen a clip of the interview and she was simply responding to their questions about it. Either way, I doubt very much if Mirren called up Bust to say she’s been crying herself to sleep thinking about Parky’s rudeness and would like to talk at length about the terrible experience in order to settle some career-hampering grudge she’s been harbouring over it ever since. (It’s probably worth mentioning here that it turns out WENN were actually taking their lead from the Daily Mail, who reported on Mirren’s apparent transgression last Monday. I’m not going to bother linking to this piece but suffice to say the Daily Mail seems to be responding to Bust’s interest in Mirren’s story by obtusely telling Mirren to shut-up and claiming “no-one cares” as if she had indeed burst into the Bust office and demanded to be given a platfrom.)

The thing that annoys me here is that WENN are meant to be a global news network where “the news gets the news”. This means a google of the story shows the piece in all its disdainful glory being uncritically reproduced in a wide range of media sources. I expect such snideness from the Daily Mail but -as far as I can tell- the WENN article is supposed to be a news report purely for information. This makes its barely concealed sexism pretty irritating to say the least.

Addendum: Many of the sources utilising the WENN story use a headline stating that Mirren is “still upset” and the piece itself is introduced with the words “Dame Helen Mirren is still sore about a 30-year-old TV interview, during which she was quizzed about her body and the nude scenes she showed it off in“. (I mention this now because I can see, after talking to Lynne about this, that the quote I used above could be read as supportive of Mirren’s tactics when taken alone!)

* I can’t find a name for the writer of the WENN article so I have no idea if it was written by a woman or a man. I would like to categorically state right here that the former would not alter my view of the writer’s attitude a jot. I say this to spare any passing anti-feminists and/or parties with vested interests the bother of gleefully informing us that the author is female as if it somehow negates the point I’m making. (Seriously, it happens.)

Photo by Capital M, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.