The Sydney Sweeney ‘Scandal’ Is a Classic Case Of Hollywood Slut-Shaming
For as long as Hollywood has been making movies, film stars have fallen in love, or lust, on set. And, let’s be honest, we’re here for it. We’re glued to those A-list romances just as closely as the films themselves—imagining secret trysts in trailers and looking for signs of real-life passion spilling over into on-screen interactions. Was the hand he had around her waist just that bit too low? Did she gaze at him for a moment too long? It allows us to imagine that the sort of fairytale we see in films might just be the stuff of real life, too.
And why shouldn’t we be obsessed with celebrity hook-ups? After all, they involve sex between ridiculously attractive and rich people, allow us to hunt for clues on social media and, if we’re really lucky, involve the “scandal” of one or both actors cheating on their partners. Five stars, bring on the sequel.
Except for the fact that all that gossip and all those “incriminating” photographs are almost always accompanied by a shedload of slut-shaming. Take Glen Powell (who played the hot douchebag in Top Gun: Maverick) and Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney, the latest pair to provide the grist for the romance rumor mill. The two have been filming a new rom-com, Anyone But You, in Australia and dared to look smiley and relaxed in each other’s company, hence the internet (and myriad mainstream media outlets) have naturally concluded that the pair must be sleeping together.
Of course, there’s no way for us to know whether they’re actually romantically involved or not, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating that this is the reason why Powell has (reportedly) split from his girlfriend, Gigi Paris, or losing their minds over the fact that Sweeney was (briefly) seen without her engagement ring. What we can be sure of, though, is that a tidal wave of misogynistic abuse has crashed down on Sweeney’s head, while Powell’s reputation remains relatively unscathed.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen over and over again. Take Elizabeth Taylor, a pioneering woman in the film industry, who, in addition to winning a Best Actress Oscar, was a revered philanthropist and AIDS activist. And yet we are mainly reminded about how many husbands she had and her 1963 affair with Richard Burton, for which she undoubtedly bore the brunt of the public’s rage. As news of their romance leaked from the Cleopatra set, Taylor was painted as a nymphomaniac, rejected by Hollywood, and even accused of “erotic vagrancy” by the Vatican, which suggested that her children should be removed from her care.
Sixty years later, have attitudes changed that much? Sweeney might not think so, having been called a homewrecker and all manner of things I’d rather not repeat here in recent weeks. A viral video that shows her performing a backbend while on a sofa with Powell has been produced as evidence of her loose morals. As for what’s being said about Powell? Not a lot and the whole (unsubstantiated) thing is already being referred to as “the Sydney Sweeney scandal”–shorthand for: it’s all her fault.
It’s almost as if we want an excuse to chastise women. I’m sure Olivia Wilde would agree, having been derided after getting together with Harry Styles, who starred in her film Don’t Worry Darling. The director was forced to block the comments on her Instagram profile following a deluge of insults accusing her of neglecting her children in favor of Styles, calling her a “leech” and declaring that she should be ashamed of herself. Nude pictures, purportedly of Wilde (though never confirmed), were posted online as proof that she was a “whore”.
Lily James, too, was the subject of a torrent of abuse in 2020 after photographs emerged of her seemingly kissing her The Pursuit of Love co-star Dominic West. Of course, infidelity isn’t great behavior. But it speaks volumes that an on-set romance can derail everything for an actress – even if she’s single and it’s her male lover who’s married–while he emerges largely unscathed. “This is a straightforward case of double standards–a woman getting the backlash, while the man, despite being married, isn’t under anywhere near the same amount of scrutiny,” one of her friends told a tabloid.
The examples go on and on. Kristen Stewart cited slut-shaming as the reason she was dropped from the Snow White franchise after being pictured kissing its director, Rupert Sanders, in 2012. Yes, she was in a high-profile relationship with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, but she was also just 22, while Sanders was 41, married with two children, and in a position of authority on set. “Can you believe that Kristen Stewart cheated? Let us know what you think,” asked one magazine at the time, with Fox News calling her a “homewrecker”. On the tenth anniversary of the photographs emerging, they went viral again—and saw Stewart rebranded as a villain once more.
Clearly, we haven’t made as much progress as we thought. We are impossibly quick to believe the worst of women—to use any perceived transgression on set to undermine their professionalism and call into question their ability to control their emotions and impulses. We fire them from blockbuster franchises to protect profits—and the reputations of their male costars. We turn promo trails for their feature films into tabloid fodder, while we rehabilitate the reputations of famous men accused of raping or abusing women. When you think about it that way, Hollywood romances are about as far from a fairytale as it’s possible to get.
BFF? The Truth About Female Friendship by Claire Cohen is out now. This article was originally published in British Vogue.
Originally Appeared on Glamour