In the Age of Trump, with celebrities clamoring to let you know exactly what they think about politics—to the pleasure of those who agree with them, and the derision of those who don’t—there is no shortage of material and analysis to be written about the opinions of those richer, more beautiful, and more talented than us mere mortals. Ultimately, we find ourselves revisiting the age-old wonder: why do we care what celebrities say about politics anyway?
While there are as many answers to this question as people asking it, there is usually a consistent calculus of three key components: our pre-determined political values, our level of admiration for said celebrity, and our perception of their authority.
These considerations typically distill themselves into one of two fairly predictable outcomes: “YAY WE AGREE YOU ARE THE QUEEN/KING #goals #slay ::praise hands emoji:: ::100 emoji:: ::dancing lady in red dress emoji::!!!” or “I DISAGREE WITH YOU AND YOU ARE STUPID AND OUT OF TOUCH YOU PRIVILEGED HOLLYWOOD BRAT, SHUT UP AND SHOW US YOUR TITS!!!”
This lack of nuance is precisely why the opinions of celebrities like model, actress and burgeoning activist Emily Ratajkowski do matter—because the intersection of fame and politics is one often bereft of moral consistency and conviction. To borrow from Cameron Crowe: the only true currency in this bankrupt world is how we stand up for people, even if we disagree with them.
Earlier this week, Ratajkowski posted a series of tweets upbraiding a then-unnamed New York Times reporter, later revealed via his own Twitter feed to be Jacob Bernstein, for telling Ratajkowski that FLOTUS Melania Trump “is a hooker”:
Bernstein, in his tweets addressing this issue, took full responsibility, and he did so in a sincere way. He was careless with his words, the Times correctly reprimanded him and Bernstein correctly apologized—proof that some rules of decorum have survived the turbulence disrupting our republic.
For her part, the first lady sent out a simple tweet acknowledging Ratajkowski for her support of other women:
As somebody who, in the past, wrongly thought Ratajkowski’s brand of activism was narrowly tailored to appeal to a predominantly liberal audience, I found her tweets thrilling and brave. This was a conversation she could have very simply shaken off, fallen asleep, and forgotten about the next morning. Instead, she woke up, continued to think about it, and chose to say something—even though she was sticking up for a woman married to a President who Ratajkowski herself marched in protest of in Los Angeles just over three weeks ago.
Never missing a beat, however, were writers who probably consider themselves activists, but are more fairly classified as politically-motivated sycophants, ready to throw Ratajkowski under the bus for daring to stand up for a woman without simultaneously victim-blaming her for her husband’s statements and policies.
Just 30 hours after praising Ratajkowski for invoking the influences and symbolism of Hillary Clinton and the suffragettes in her “On Message…Pink Power Suit” (which, by the way, was worn at the same event that the New York Times’ Bernstein told her “Melania is a hooker”), the politically and socially perspicacious team at Vogue were quick to use Bernstein telling Ratajkowski that “Melania is a hooker”—although they misreported it as Bernstein being “apparently overheard”—to undermine the First Lady and her use of the hashtag #PoweroftheFirstLady.
In a piece calling Mrs. Trump’s response to Ratajkowski’s tweets “a nice sentiment, but…more than a bit ironic coming from Mrs. Trump, a long distance First Lady who spends her weeks at the family penthouse in New York,” Vogue invokes a toxic brand of stay-at-home-mom-shaming. If you need further convincing that their criticism puts politics above principle, consider the shower of the love that former First Lady Michelle Obama expressed on Twitter for her husband, President Barack Obama, which Vogue posted just an hour before the aforementioned Melania piece. Furthermore, their ridicule of Mrs. Trump’s hashtag activism stands in stark contrast to the inarguably inspirational photo gallery celebrating the #BringBackOurGirls social media movement popularized by former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Even more insidious than Vogue’s enthusiasm for demonizing the victim is Slate’s willingness to minimize this “nontroversy” while excoriating Ratajkowski for having the audacity not to gaslight Mrs. Trump in the same breath as calling out Bernstein’s naked sexism:
“It’s not that she’s wrong, it’s more like … stop trying to educate me about feminism, @emrata. When defending Melania, why not also point out how much her husband’s administration’s policies stand to hurt women’s rights and safety?”
To be clear, this statement is the equivalent of saying that a woman’s autonomy and dignity cannot exist independently of her husband, that the two are inextricably linked. The very thing that feminism has spent over 100 years working against.
The writer is, of course, careful to stipulate that “we can all agree not to call [Mrs. Trump] a hooker without patting ourselves on the back for it”—how magnanimous of her—but is quick to assert her expert opinion that “it’s also not clear that calling [Bernstein’s sexism] out was the best use of Ratajkowski’s energies or platform.” Well, thank goodness we have the writers at Slate to educate Ratajkowski on what is and is not a good use of her platform consisting of nearly 1 million followers. Clearly, she needed the guidance, given her galling sympathy for the wife of our Republican President.
At the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep gave a speech that garnered a lot more attention and praise than Emily Ratajkowski’s tweets—to be fair, this is partly attributable to Streep’s legacy and the perceived prestige of the Golden Globe awards. However, there are key differences between Streep’s speech and Ratajkowski’s tweets: Streep spoke for 65 million people who voted in 2016—and, in the interest of balance, a few million more in our country who are disabled.
Though it may seem Ratajkowski was speaking for one person, the fact of the matter is that she was speaking for the 125 million women in America who can be slut shamed at any time for simply existing in a way that another person finds to be disagreeable or objectionable. Even more noteworthy is the explicit stand against moral relativism demonstrated by Ratajkowski in posting her recall of Bernstein’s comments, noting that “whatever your politics, it’s crucial to call this out for what it is: slut shaming.” She did so having taken a punishing level of online abuse in the past for expressing her opinions, and she did so in spite of the fact that the catalyst for her statement is part of a political establishment that she stands firmly against.
Meanwhile, for all the attention Streep garnered for her stand against Trump earlier this year, she’s the same person who, 14 years ago, gave a standing ovation to Roman Polanski, who at the age of 43—to use the delicate terms of his plea bargain—had unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl before fleeing the United States to actively avoid extradition for 39 years and counting.
We live in a world where it is easy to cherry-pick the information we consume, believe and share. To be in the public eye and to be the kind of person who has the backbone and conviction of character to speak out against something that is wrong—regardless of whether it conforms to partisan conveniences and loyalties—is important and worth talking about. Anybody who wants to improve their political party, our country, and our world should follow that lead.