The Golden Globes’ sister act subverted the conversations that take place about celebrity women

1000Sunday night was Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s last Golden Globes, or so they’ve claimed, and they seemed intent on skating right up to the edge with this last co-hosting gig. The feminist edge, that is.

We got jokes comparing George Clooney’s receipt of a lifetime achievement award in comparison to his wife Amal Almuddin’s achievements (spoiler: she wins at life); the two hours Steve Carrell has to spend in the makeup chair compared to the three it took Tina Fey “to prepare for my role as a human woman”; and a joke about Boyhood’s bravery – by Hollywood standards – in featuring a woman over 40 in such a pivotal role, noting that such things are possible “as long as you get hired when you’re under 40” (it took 12 years to make).

Fey and Poehler confessed to their audience that the secret to their “50-year friendship” was the fact that they are never interested in the same man. Their proof: a game of “Would you rather?” in which Fey and Poehler named pairs of male celebrities (most of whom frequently appear on “World’s Sexiest” lists) and then, in their answers, explained exactly how and why they’d rather, “Firth for a polite amount of time.”

It was a brilliant bit of comedy, a dagger cloaked in cotton candy: by engaging in an act that would have been so egregiously offensive had the genders been switched, Fey and Poehler were subverting the conversations take place about women in the public eye every day. They happen so effortlessly and casually that they hardly even register, yet alone raise an eyebrow. Raise your hand if you’ve ever shook your head disapprovingly at a “Who Wore It Best” spread. Now a show of hands for any time you’ve ever seen such a feature ever showcase two identically tux-clad men.

Their bit was made all the more relevant during the presentation of the first award of the night, when the actor Jeremy Renner said of co-presenter Jennifer Lopez, “You got the globes, too”, eyeing her breasts unabashedly and salaciously. Renner’s words and actions were inappropriate in the extreme. Worse, he clearly implied that Lopez chose, after all, to wear a dress in which her breasts were prominently displayed. It was the awards show equivalent of any man anywhere who has ever insisted that any woman anywhere was clearly “asking for it.”

But Poehler and Fey’s opener had already set the tone: whether you choose to like it or listen to it, women will continue to speak. And speak boldly, as Amy Poehler did when she joked that in Into the Woods, “Cinderella ran away from her prince, Rapunzel was thrown from a tower…and Sleeping Beauty just thought she was getting coffee with Bill Cosby.” Fey then put on a quick Cosby impersonation: “I put the pills in the people! The people did not want the pills in them!” Poehler raised the ante with her slightly better likeness: “I put the pills in the hoagie!”

Gasps and awkward silence greeted this bit. That’s rare for the Globes where the attendees are notoriously liquored-up for the duration of the program. But Poehler and Fey sailed on anyway, like a Trojan horse sent straight into the heart of the patriarchal citadel of Hollywood. They didn’t care if anyone, anywhere took any issue with them publicly expressing their feelings about a topic dark, haunting, depressing and controversial.

The wins that followed their opening act suggested, too, that more than just jokes can have an impact.

The proof of a slow revolution continued to pile up all night: Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda jeering at the absurdity of the Best Actor in a Comedy award (“We can put to rest that negative stereotype that men just aren’t funny,” added Tomlin); to Maggie Gyllenhall noting in her acceptance speech for her performance in the miniseries The Honorable Woman that women are finally being able to play complicated, multi-faceted characters – flawed and striving and achieving and failing – instead of just “strong” ones; to Patricia Arquette and Julianne Moore’s proving via their wins that turning forty doesn’t have to signal the end of a woman’s career. The women of this year’s Golden Globes insisted on being seen and heard.

And it wasn’t just in the jokes: Joanne Froggatt won for her performance as Anna Bates on Downtown Abbey and said, during her acceptance speech in response to a letter she had received from a rape survivor after her character’s controversial rape scene this past year, “I heard you and I hope saying this so publicly in some way means you feel the world hears you.”

Then the break-out star of Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez, won for her performance on the show. Her win was intersectionality at its finest, which she acknowledged in her speech: “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”

“This award is dedicated to the memory of Leelah Alcorn and too many trans people who die too young”, Transparent creator Jill Soloway said while accepting on behalf of her cast and crew. “And it’s dedicated to you, my trans parent, my moppa. You’re watching at home right now. I just want to thank you for coming out because in doing so you made a break for freedom, you told your truth, you taught me how to tell my truth and make this show. And maybe we’re going to be able to teach the world something about authenticity and truth and love. To love.”

To all those who fear that feminism – and identifying as a feminist – is rooted in some kind of vicious, brutal hatred that aims to seek and destroy men, Soloway’s speech was a perfect antidote, representative of last night’s broadcast message about women in Hollywood as a whole. All voices matter. And when all voices can be heard, there can be more love, more work, more truth. And yes, even more money and more profit for the studios so afraid that letting these voices be heard will ruin their bottom line.

The revolution may not happen overnight, but if these women have anything to say about it, it will most certainly continue to be televised.

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