Anne Hathaway’s name is able to evoke wildly different reactions ranging from vitriolic dislike to nostalgia for watching Princess Diaries with your earliest friends. Anne Hathaway is one of the most successful actresses of the 2000s. She has been nominated for three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes, hosted the Academy Awards, and starred in my favorite romantic comedy, Bride Wars. I must admit, I am an unabashed fan of Anne Hathaway: there’s just something about her mix of quirk and professionalism that I find appealing. In spite of my bias, however, I acknowledge that Anne Hathaway seems to be one of the most hated actresses in Hollywood—or at least one of the most polarizing. Despite her widely acclaimed role in Les Misérables and her iconic role in The Devil Wears Prada, there’s just something about her that deeply irks people. I remember that when I first heard the term “Hathahaters”—a group of people who so passionately dislike Anne Hathaway that they named themselves—I was taken aback (points for creativity though). Look up #hathahater on Twitter and the results are shocking. Some of the milder statements included “I’m starting to hate Anne Hathaway w/o even a reason to! ;)” and “Wah wah wah I had to lose 25 pounds and cut my hair. I deserve an Oscar. NOT!!!.” These people quite effectively bullied Anne Hathaway out of the public eye.
Hathaway’s plight extends beyond the scope of Hollywood alone. The belittling of famous women in politics is nonstop; the political arena provides such a well-documented and stark illustration of how women’s accomplishments such as legislation seem to receive less press than their perceived personal foibles. There were many valid critiques of Hillary Clinton’s history as a politician and of the policies she proposed during the 2016 election, but her personality was constantly derided as robotic and unlikable, while numerous offensive and absurd conspiracy theories arose (think Pizzagate) about her. An article in Quartz magazine by Annalisa Merelli explains that the public believed that Hilary, “lacks charisma, something that is rooted in the many ways in which being a female candidate makes her, for some people, uncomfortable and confusing to deal with.”(This perceived dearth of charisma came to haunt Hathaway as well.) In this upcoming election cycle Elizabeth Warren has found herself faced with similar critiques for exclaiming on video, “Hold on a sec, I’m gonna get me a beer.” The response to this was visceral. People perceived Warren to be inauthentic. According to an article by Ben Zimmer in The Atlantic, “The image of ‘the multi-million-dollar Cambridge law professor poppin’ a brewski’ (in the words of one conservative columnist from the Boston Herald) was incongruous enough for many observers.” Honestly, I understand how Warren’s statement could come off as a bit spurious, but should it precipitate widespread hate online? No. In an article for The Washington Post, Katie Mettler recalls how after the questioning of then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Kamala Harris was deemed “hysterical” by a Trump campaign advisor. There are innumerable examples of female politicians being criticized for their personalities rather than their platforms and legislation. These cases serve to demonstrate that Hathaway’s experience is not unique to pop-culture figures, but rather penetrates all work environments and both the private and public spheres.
Right after winning her Oscar for the role as Fantine in Les Misérables, Hathaway vanished. Her prolific career ended almost instantaneously. For the last few years, she has only starred in a handful of movies. Hathaway herself said, “People needed a break from me.” Only now, with her return in the blockbuster Ocean’s 8 is Hathaway making a dramatic return to the public eye. I was intrigued and perplexed by this hatred. Was there a rational justification, or was it simply fun to have someone towards whom to direct hate? Last month, I set out on an investigation to find out what catalyzed this hatred. What was it about Anne Hathaway that people disliked so vehemently?
The first article I stumbled upon was so bizarre that I couldn’t help but indulge its arguments. In a 2013 article in Salon Magazine, Daniel D’Addario examines the science behind our society’s hatred for Anne Hathaway. That’s right: science. D’Addario turns to former Ohio State professor, Terry Pettijohn for answers. As Pettijohn explains, “‘When times are good we prefer actresses with rounder faces[…] They convey these ideas of fun and youth.’” Pettijohn continues to explain that Hathaway’s slim face shape is congruent with economically turbulent times and thus he infers, “[Hathaway] would be popular when times are more challenging.” D’Addario infers our abrupt rejection of Anne Hathaway implies that we, as a society, relate Anne Hathaway’s visage with the 2008 financial crisis. We associate her with widespread economic instability because she was everywhere in 2008, in blockbuster movies and countless advertisements. D’Addario proposes that ten years after the financial crisis, we do not want to be reminded of the strife and thus we avoid symbols (such as Hathaway) that invoke those painful memories I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that Anne Hathaway’s face might elicit images of the market crashing, the bailout of the Lehman Brothers, or the Dodd-Frank Act. But maybe there’s a kernel of truth to this theory. Actresses are some of the most high-profile figures in our entertainment-oriented society, so it would make sense that we associate a cultural figure with the events of their era. Andy Sachs, Hathaway’s character of in The Devil Wears Prada could conjure memories of the housing bubble; our mind tends to make connections between pop culture and the history that contextualizes it. Think Charlie Chaplin and the Great Depression. According to D’Addario, the Hathahaters just think of Anne Hathaway as the manifestation of paucity, the figurehead for turbulence. I think this interpretation is overly simplistic. I will not completely dismiss the notion that Anne Hathaway’s success is related to national turmoil, but this explanation is missing any mention of the sinister but ever-present shadow of institutionalized sexism.
Hathaway was at the peak of her career when she disappeared from Hollywood. She had just won an Oscar and had starred in the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Night Rises, her most lucrative film to date. It was during her Oscar award speech where she uttered the now infamous line, “It came true.” An article on Vox supposed that the sentence conjured up images of your high school’s notorious theatre kid. That boy or girl who just wouldn’t stop singing in the hallways and starred in all of the school’s productions. Someone so dedicated to theatre that it just kind of made you…hate them. Hathaway fits into this stereotype. She does not portray herself as having the nonchalant irreverence of Angelina Jolie or the faux-relatability of Amy Schumer. She is, simply put, not particularly cool. But that should not matter, should it? She is clearly talented, indisputably so. Why should it matter that the public eye doesn’t necessarily enjoy her perceived persona?
I think there is something about Hathaway’s explicit embrace of the title of actor that annoys people. It’s not controversial at all to boil all this hatred down to misogyny. It seems clear to me that this pop-culture take down was a negative reaction to a successful woman, largely seen as overly ambitious. I have seen multiple articles reference Hathaway’s perpetual smile and her saccharine desire to act. With the advent of “cancellation culture” it is particularly interesting to look at Hathaway’s case in retrospect. Unlike scores of celebrities, it doesn’t seem that Hathaway ever committed a grave offense or perpetuated some kind of problematic behavior. She is a special case, insofar as people seemingly “cancelled” her for her personality.
Hathaway is an example of how sexism manifests itself in picking apart the personalities of successful women while ignoring the triumphs of their careers. This begs the question: What do we want from our celebrities? Do we want them to be upstanding members of society—rigid professional exemplars—or do we want someone who oozes “relatability,” someone to get a beer with at your local bar? Or is celebrity simply a spectacle, someone who we can observe, laugh at and empathize with? Maybe, in the case of Anne Hathaway, it was never a judgement of talent but a voyeuristic experiment. We wanted to evaluate her character as if her life was another on-screen portrayal.
Countless men in Hollywood have committed acts far worse than simply being “bothersome” and have not come close to receiving the same vitriol as Hathaway. The #MeToo movement has made momentous strides in holding men accountable for their sexual harassment and assault in the workplace against women and men. Up to this point men’s careers have remained unaffected when they have literally committed crimes against women, whereas every aspect of a woman and her career is scrutinized. And even given the great strides of this particular moment, there are many prominent examples of men whose careers remain unfazed despite accusations of sexual misconduct. Casey Affleck won the Oscar for best actor after he was accused of sexual harassment by two women. Can you think of an example of when a man has had his career sidetracked for being perceived as “irritating”? What is more annoying than Noah Centineo, star of To All the Boys I Loved Before, posting countless Instagram videos proclaiming how quirky and romantic he is?
I believe the parallel, yet functionally antithetical, figure to Anne Hathaway is Jennifer Lawrence. Much like Hathaway, Lawrence abruptly found herself thrust into the spotlight of international celebrity after appearing in The Hunger Games. Lawrence was everywhere. She was in the hottest teen movie; she was appearing in smaller awards-ceremony-oriented films; she was the face of your favorite beauty line. She was an unavoidable phenomenon. Simultaneously, she could not have been more different. Lawrence was the girl next door, she was quirky, and she snorted and fell…a lot. Perhaps her shtick can be epitomized by her infamous declaration on the red carpet, “Where’s the pizza?” In her gruff bravado, Lawrence became the most “relatable” actor in Hollywood. Unlike Hathaway, Lawrence was seen as flawed, as someone who had just accidently stumbled into the world of Hollywood. Just think of their Oscar award speeches: while Hathaway came off as entitled, Lawrence fell on the way up the stairs and made time to crack a few jokes. The world fell in love with Lawrence. She became the highest paid female actor, and her career seemed like it couldn’t have been better. But, eventually, like Hathaway, Lawrence saw her star begin to fade. She began to appear in smaller more subversive films such as Mother! and Red Sparrow and proclaimed that she was going to “take the next year off.” Why? It was a combination of a gradual disillusionment with her brand of relatability—did she really always want pizza?—and that she committed a series of problematic acts. During an interview in 2016, Lawrence admitted to itching her body on holy rocks in Hawaii; Lawrence joked, “I, however, was in a wetsuit for this whole shoot – oh my god, they were so good for butt itching!”For the first time, Lawrence’s humor seemed to have gone a bit far: she had defiled land that was considered holy to native Hawaiians. Lawrence continued on to chide an international reporter for using his phone in order to read a question; Lawrence joked, “You can’t live your whole life behind your phone, bro…You can’t do that, you’ve got to live in the now.” These actions broke Lawrence’s façade, she could no longer be seen as the “cool” girl, she was branded as annoying and that brand could not be reversed.
There are valid reasons to dislike Jennifer Lawrence, truly. But it simply does not seem just when men are not held to this standard even slightly. In an article for the Huffington Post entitled “Jennifer Lawrence and the Problem with ‘It’ Girls,” Zeba Blay explains, “Male stars are afforded a kind of complexity that not even Lawrence, with all her power and privilege, gets to enjoy. They’re allowed to be assholes (see Tom Hardy) or super earnest to the point of obnoxiousness (see Joseph Gordon Levitt), or messy (see Robert Downey Jr.), or overexposed (see Chris Pratt).” This list concisely explains how men can make innumerable missteps and never have any attention paid to them. Yes, Lawrence has made veritable mistakes, but should her career suffer? I believe that Lawrence has offended enough that pushback is duly warranted. Nonetheless, my own judgment seems unfair given the knowledge that men rarely face the scrutiny that Lawrence has. Lawrence’s actions are not the catalyst for the criticisms she has faced, rather they acted as a removal of the shroud of her coolness and relatability. Thus, people are not attacking Lawrence for her indiscretions but rather are focusing on her no longer authentic charm. The tweets about Lawrence reflect those directed at Hathaway five years ago, they include, “Can I start a ‘I hate Jennifer Lawrence’ club” and “The Oscars are an annual reminder that I hate Jennifer Lawrence.” It is fair to chastise Lawrence for her offenses, but it is perpetuating the same sexism Hathaway faced to simply discredit her because of her performative personality.
Hathaway and Lawrence are polar opposites—the “theatre kid” and the “cool girl”—but their career trajectories reveal the ways in which public perception of actors shifts with gender. Of course, Hathaway’s and Lawrence’s experiences only shed light upon those of a small number of women in Hollywood. They reveal nothing about the experiences of women of color and queer women who face more intense pressure and scrutiny from the public eye. But Hathaway and Lawrence can begin a conversation about the fact that men in Hollywood do not have their personalities off screen picked apart by vulture-like critics.
Hathaway is okay. She is a wealthy woman and had the ability to fall back on this wealth when her career was sidetracked by the animus of Hathahaters. But many women do not have Hathaway’s fortune. This sexism extends to all workspaces and women who may find their career’s impacted by sexist appraisals of their personalities may not have anywhere to turn. Hathaway is a good example to use because the vitriol against her was so well documented; there are hundreds of articles about the criticisms she received. Hathaway is among countless women who must have their careers returned to them, along with their autonomy and their successes.