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The media’s unrelenting fascination with and gleeful debasement of female celebrities whom they’ve deemed “bad girls” is at an all-time high.  As for “bad boy” behavior?  It’s understandable and allowable…even laudable.  Nothing short of truly bizarre behavior, a la Tom Cruise or Michael Richards, will garner anything remotely like the harsh treatment that befalls female celebrities for behaviors that should, in some cases, draw compassion rather than moralizing judgment.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some direct comparisons of similar “bad behavior” news reports on female and male celebrities.  For the sake of fairness (something in short supply in the media these days), I’ve tried to select articles from the same, or similar, publications.  It’s important to note that these are news items, not editorial pieces.

Drug Abuse:  Whitney Houston vs. Keith Richards
“Songbird Whitney Houston has become a half-toothless crack addict who hangs out in dangerous drug dens and sees ‘demons’ in fits of dope-induced paranoia, a new report claims.—New York Daily News, March 29, 2006


[Keith Richards’] prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol has been well documented, and would likely have destroyed anyone with a less amazing endurance level.—

Rehab Stints:  Britney Spears vs. Ben Affleck
“After weeks of wild partying and alarming behavior—capped by the night she shaved her head—the pop star [Britney Spears], with the support of family and friends, gets help ... only to make a hasty retreat.”—, 27 February 2007


“The ‘Pearl Harbor’ star [Ben Affleck], who turns 29 next week, “is committed to traveling a healthier road without alcohol,” his publicist announced Friday.—, 6 August 2001.

Deaths of Out-of-Control Celebs:  Anna Nicole Smith vs. SNL’s Chris Farley
“Anna Nicole Smith, the curvaceous blonde whose life played out as an extraordinary tabloid tale—Playboy centerfold, jeans model, bride of an octogenarian oil tycoon, reality-show subject, tragic mother—died Thursday after collapsing at a hotel. She was 39.”—, 8 February 2007.


“Comedian Chris Farley died accidentally from an overdose of cocaine and morphine, and his body showed no traces of alcohol, the Cook County Medical Examiner announced Friday.”—, 2 January 1998.

Wardrobe Malfunctioners:  Janet Jackson vs. Justin Timberlake
Headline:  Jackson’s Halftime Stunt Fuels Indecency Debate

“Some still questioned [Janet] Jackson’s intentions. After all, she does have an album coming out in the next two months, and what better way to kick off the publicity than with a Super Bowl stunt?”—, 2 February 2004.


“Although he said the breast-baring ‘wasn’t intentional’, [Justin] Timberlake didn’t sound apologetic after the show when he told Access Hollywood‘s Pat O’Brien at a party, ‘Hey man, we love giving you all something to talk about.’”—, 2 February 2004.

Parenting 101:  Britney (again) vs. Tommy Lee
“In the latest Britney Spears brouhaha, her 8-month-old son, Sean Preston, was spotted in the back of her convertible.

The problem: The car seat was facing front and, although she was apparently in compliance with California law, federal safety guidelines say that small babies should be placed in seats that face the rear. Now new allegations of bad parenting are again haunting the pop diva.”—, 17 May 2006.


“Rock drummer Tommy Lee has said a four-year-old boy drowned in his pool after being left ‘for a minute’. Authorities in Los Angeles have released details of an emergency call made by rock drummer Tommy Lee after the boy was found face down in a swimming pool at his home on Saturday.”— 19 June 19, 2001.

The examples are endless.  Just as the disparate media treatment of white and black victims of Hurricane Katrina was undeniable, the gender bias inherent in the coverage of female and male celebrity behavior has become alarmingly apparent. 

“Fair and balanced” reportage is supposed to be the journalistic standard, not a joke of a tagline for not only Fox News but scores of other media outlets as well.

In her "Vox Pop" column for PopMatters Meta voices her observations about pop culture, particularly as it intersects with our lives. She is endlessly fascinated by the myriad ways in which our pop culture choices reflect back on us -- our beliefs, our desires, our idiosyncrasies, our intellects. Wagner's published pieces include written commentaries, features, and profiles for Salon, Boston Globe Magazine, Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. You can visit her blog here. When she's not writing, Meta is molding young minds as an adjunct professor at Emerson College, where she teaches creative writing. She also developed and occasionally teaches a column-writing class at Grub Street, an independent writing center in Boston.

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