@MarciaBelsky on ‘Headless Women of Hollywood’ and Calling Out Sexism Online
Marcia Belsky is a formidable, feminist force. You may recognize her work online in fighting Facebook’s institutional sexism or the Headless Women of Hollywood movement, which she started in April 2016 and just resurfaced this week. In addition to being an activist, Belsky is also a multitalented comedian who writes and performs regularly around New York. She hosts a popular podcast with Rae Sanni called Misandry with Marcia and Rae, and she just finished a run of Handmaid’s Tale: The Musical, with sold-out shows at Union Hall and The Bell House, alongside Melissa Stokoski. Around town, Belsky performs standup and is in a feminist comedy band called Free the Mind.
This week, I interviewed Belsky about her Headless Women tweet, which went viral, along with some of her other hilarious tweets.
I’ve been seeing Headless Women of Hollywood everywhere this week. How did it start?
I re-posted this tweet for Women’s History Month and it went viral. The internet let Headless Women of Hollywood go viral twice (once in 2016 and once now), which I did not know was even legally allowed.
— Marcia Belsky (@MarciaBelsky) March 12, 2018
Do you remember the moment you realized that headless women in Hollywood was a recurring phenomenon? What happened?
A college professor, a sociologist named Robert Goldman, showed us this trope one day. And once you see it, you begin to recognize it everywhere because otherwise it just blends into our daily background of images. In a way, we’re numb to women’s bodies being used as landscape. I would point out certain posters or ads, individually and out of context, to my friends and explain this “headless woman” theory, and they were like “Oh… okay, yeah I guess I can see that? Have never noticed that, but… maybe?” So then, after seeing this ad on the subway, I decided to look through movie and TV archives to see how many I could find. I think seeing them all compiled like that made people go, “Whoa. Okay, this is a thing.”
Since April 2016, when you first launched the project, have you noticed any difference in the level of sexism in movie posters, or has it largely remained the same?
A lot of people have been asking me this. It’s interesting. I can’t really know for sure. I look through these three specific archives every once in a while, and I like to think that perhaps I saw less — that word [about Headless Hollywood] got out. I know a friend who said they changed a poster at work because he thought of my project. So, any awareness brought to people in mainstream entertainment or advertising about the male gaze gives me hope that, in some areas at least, we can improve this unexamined but persistent disservice to women.
What do you hope the impact of Headless Hollywood will be? Who, ideally, do you want it to reach?
My goal was to make these images stand out because part of what is dehumanizing about this trope is how we are completely numb to it. Hollywood is still a boys’ club.
The ones who don’t want to change, don’t want to change. Advertising is never going to think, “How do we better society?” unless they are hired to make a commercial for a charity. Men in these industries, and others who are equally invested in maintaining the status quo, are not going to change their priorities willingly. However, there are always people who genuinely do want to do the right thing. And increasingly, people stepping into those roles have [gained] a social consciousness from these conversations and critiques becoming more mainstream, or because they are personally interested in the conversation. So, my hope is that as the social consciousness changes, we can actively correct how female sexuality is marketed and who it is marketed for. And in the meantime, laugh about it.
For more info on the Headless Hollywood movement, check out the coverage in this week’s Glamour. Keep scrolling to read on about Marcia’s funny tweets!
“My daddy Pennsylvania,
momma from Pennsylvania,
You mix that Pennsyl with a Vania I am from Pennylvaniaaaa” pic.twitter.com/uJZ2K9fJX7
— Marcia Belsky (@MarciaBelsky) August 25, 2017
I always thought it was funny that Taylor Swift was a country singer who is actually from Pennsylvania. This tweet going viral showed me a deep ocean Twitter I had never discovered, with people from every corner in my mentions. My favorite was one girl who just replied “her Mom is from Missouri.”
What was the best (or worst, or most bizarre — take your pick here) Twitter response you ever got from a stranger?
My favorite ever is this dude tweeting at me “@MarciaBelsky why do you hate men?” and then retweeting himself and asking me that again when I ignored him. I swear, I have never laughed so much. I don’t know why that was so funny to me, but I just love the idea that he was like, “Huh… She must have missed this…”
Woman: I cured cancer
Headlines: Meet Our New Girl Crush Who Just “Crushed” Cancer For Good
— Marcia Belsky (@MarciaBelsky) March 20, 2017
These headlines drive me insane. A woman can go to space or separate conjoined twins and the news will market it like, “Ooo looky what wittle bitty science wuvving Breanna did!”
Why do you tweet? What do you hope to get out of it?
I hope to get out of it four million dollars or a writing job. I will take either. At first, I think I started tweeting because of comedy. I wanted to show people I could be funny wherever anyone else was being funny, whether that’s at a sad open mic or its online equivalent, Twitter. I’m a wordy bitch who is not concise when she speaks, so at first I was like, “Can I even be funny in 140 characters?” But then I started to enjoy it. It’s nice as a comic because we are all pretty insecure when it comes down to it. So, if I panic like, “Oh I didn’t do a show tonight,” “I didn’t write anything,” or “Have I ever told a joke in my life?” I can procrastinate on Twitter and be in my bed and still get validation from people that I am funny!
Everyone’s so obsessed w the Obama official portraits but please do not sleep on Kellyanne’s pic.twitter.com/bvBNUjyOoj
— Marcia Belsky (@MarciaBelsky) February 12, 2018
I tweeted this the day the Obamas’ official portraits came out because I had it saved in my phone for some reason, and I laughed so much thinking about Kellyanne sauntering in to proudly hanging it in the White House.
What does your newsfeed look like? Is it mostly comedy or other content as well?
Nowadays, my newsfeed is mostly very dark stuff but stuff I want to be following and feel I should know. I do like political stuff. And now when I get a real goofy laugh on my timeline that’s based on nothing, it is just very rewarding. So, a mix of silly people who I love and serious people.
Before playing devil’s advocate remind yourself “I am an unpaid intern for Satan”
— Marcia Belsky (@MarciaBelsky) December 28, 2016
I really need people to please stop sucking the devil’s dick, it’s embarrassing. And nothing is more boring to me than people being contrary just for the sake of it.
Karen Chee is a is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.