Monday, December 21, 2009

Being pretty

There was a little dust-up over at Piano World this weekend. Some idiot made a nasty comment about Angela Hewitt's Bach, several other people chimed in to either agree or disagree, and someone posted a picture of her for some reason. The first idiot then made an even nastier comment about her appearance.* The thread degenerated further (if that is even possible), and the forum moderator locked it so no one could post anything else on it.

Hewitt is a highly accomplished pianist who has recorded a serious body of work and sells out concert halls all over the world. She runs a music festival in Italy every summer, and I believe she teaches as well. She is also a very attractive woman with a lithe figure (she was once a ballet dancer), clear skin, nice hair, and a warm smile. Yet some little twerp, protected by the anonymity of the Internet had no hesitation about saying some vile things about her playing and her looks.

Men do often seem to feel free to criticize a woman's appearance as a way of keeping her in her place and reminding her that if she's not attractive, she's not worth much. I was actually told by a male teacher once (while he was criticizing the way I dressed -- when I was a 22-year-old poor student in jeans and T-shirts) that women need to look better than men because there is a double standard.

I've never (not once -- really!) seen or heard a male performer criticized for his looks or the way he dresses, but it happens to women all the time, and not just performers. Women reading this, you know what I'm talking about, don't you? If someone isn't saying we're fat, they're calling us ugly or saying we don't know how to dress.

Sure, appearance is part of performing, but only part. Playing an instrument is hard enough without having to worry about whether you will get arrested by the fashion police.

*I'm not repeating what he said in either case because I don't want there to be two Internet hits on it.


kennywood™ said...

I'm very glad you posted this. I WAS a member of the Piano World Forum until the thread you've mentioned was posted. What on earth, Angela Hewitt's looks have to do with her playing is beyond me. Personally, I think she's gorgeous!
I had an issue with the Forum in relation to Miss Hewitt, before this episode, actually. I'd dared to disagree with some comments left by a poster, and so, apparently, they took a look at my profile and grabbed my email address (my mistake for entering one I suppose), then ran it through Google. An entry I'd left in Miss Hewitt's online guestbook came up and they decided to post it in the forum. I took a lot of abuse for what I'd said in my guestbook entry (some going so far as to call me a stalker and some commenting that I should ask her out!) I had no idea where this person had even gotten the entry from when I first saw it, and I made the big mistake of questioning this person about it (and an even bigger mistake was making the statement that I know Miss Hewitt and I called her a friend). Needless to say, I took a ton more abuse after this and then the poster in question went so far as to send me an email with my full name, address, and phone number included! Talk about invasive behavior! (I really should state, here, that this individual was NOT the same one that started the thread condemning her Bach and bashing her looks). At any rate, I notified the Forum about what had happened and the thread was closed. I also decided it would be the last time I'd bother with the Forum (though, admittedly, I did go back some time later and continue reading through some of the postings and left a few comments). However, when I read the thread you've mentioned here, well, that was the last straw for me. I bit my tongue and didn't say anything, lest I be derided once again, but I did notify the Forum administration once again and went so far as to ask them to pull the thread altogether, since it's full of nothing but spite, bitterness and hurtful comments (all of which can be seen by anyone caring to take the time to look...and it's my hope that Miss Hewitt, herself, didn't see it). I asked that they close my account (which they did), but, of course, the thread is still there.
I cannot take this Forum seriously at all now, nor will I ever bother visiting again. It's one thing to have an opinion, but sometimes things are better left unsaid. Aside from the threads and post I've mentioned, I've noticed that the Forum doesn't seem to be much more than a bunch of regulars who do nothing more than read through each others' posts waiting to point out inaccuracies and just looking for something to disagree on. I think part of the problem is, obviously, ego..."I'm right, you're not."
I simply don't understand what looks have to do with one's abilities, or why, if someone doesn't find another pleasing to one's eye, a sense of inferiority seems to rear it's head and there's this ensuing attitude that says it's ok to attack another's appearance. I suppose, sadly, it's a male thing. After all, female pianists, so they say, just don't stack up against their male counterparts, right? Wrong.

Harriet said...

Thanks for the comment, kennywood. For some reason, these Internet arguments can cause a lot of hurt, even though there are maybe only a couple of truly obnoxious people involved. I try to avoid getting into any of these tiffs, myself. Most of the people who post at Piano World seem to be decent. The thread we're talking about here was definitely over the top, but a number of people wrote very good responses to the original poster's rudeness.

Sometimes I wonder if there's alcohol involved in some of these postings.

Betsy said...

We are damned for beauty, and damned for not being beautiful across all professions. The Washington Post today had an article (B4) on "Expect them to hate you because you're beautiful," in How a Woman Will Win, 6 Easy Steps to Madam President. Women bloggers have been threatened, intimidated, and stalked, simply for having an opinion. What can we do? Keep playing, keep blogging, keep exposing those who would shut us down.

Harriet said...

Is this the Betsy I know, or another Betsy?

In any case, yes, women are judged more harshly on almost every measure, except perhaps when it comes to being mothers -- then we are assumed to be naturals (though many of us aren't).

What bugs me the most is the casual sexism, the offhand put-down, the unspoken assumptions that are based on appearance. The blatant stuff you can address, but the mute judgments that assign you to some sort of second-class citizen status without informing you of the reason -- those are difficult, or even impossible, to call out.