Margaret Valenti writes on the sexualization of young women in the film and media industries exemplified by the recent reexamination of Megan Fox’s career.
Almost every woman, and many gender-non-conforming individuals, trans individuals, and men, though at a lesser rate, will have a story to tell about their over-sexualization by older men at a young age. Jerry Sandusky, R-Kelly, Kevin Spacey, and Jeffery Epstein are a few of the big names people think of when the sexualization of children comes up. It can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. These stories are not surprising because they are a part of collective pain, a burden that women especially know all too well.
When Megan Fox first auditioned for leading roles in Bad Boys II and Transformers, her director, Michael Bay had her wash his car in a bikini in order to get the initial role. To make matters worse, he filmed it.
The media and film industries often feed into this collective pain, reinforcing harmful stereotypes, a Bombshell situation where female employees must perform sexual favors to move up, or need to show off their bodies in certain ways to be successful. As a recent example demonstrates, the sexualization of Megan Fox, an actress who started in the industry at the age of fifteen, is under an immense amount of scrutiny once again. When she first auditioned for leading roles in Bad Boys II and Transformers, her director, Michael Bay had her wash his car in a bikini in order to get the initial role. To make matters worse, he filmed it.
When she appeared on Kimmel in 2009, Megan Fox discussed Michael Bay’s inappropriate behavior and described an instance where he made fifteen-year-old Fox stands under a waterfall in a bikini in Bad Boys II. Kimmel replied that the situation was “perfectly wholesome”, in a joking manner, and that Bay’s mind is a “microcosm of how all our minds work — but some of us have the decency to repress those thoughts.” Kimmel’s response to Megan Fox’s recounting of the event sparked criticism online, his audience laughed at the time when Megan detailed the interaction.
This was not a one-off situation and continued throughout Fox’s career. The next time it happened she was sixteen years old and her character’s role in Two and a Half Men was the teenage girl who was “too sexy for her age”, an unfortunately common theme. Two of the mid-age characters desired her in a truly disturbing fashion throughout her run on the series.
Chelsea Davison: The patriarchy itself grooms girls by saying our value is based on our sexiness.
“Often girls will be like ‘I was flattered’ & only later realize how inappropriate it was. I was 100% that way. The patriarchy itself grooms girls by saying our value is based on our sexiness and as teens, EVERYONE is desperate to be worthy”, wrote writer Chelsea Davison. While her words are not about Megan Fox, they hint at a stereotype that society pushes upon women, creating toxic male-female and female-female relationships.
A decade ago, Megan Fox spoke out against Michael Bay, but women did not fall in line to support her. She received harsh criticism from Bay and anonymous members of the Transformers crew, among others, when she spoke out about Bay’s behavior, comparing him to Napoleon and Hitler. The three anonymous crew members wrote a letter, and misogynistic and insulting does not begin to describe how the letter reads.
These crew members wrote, “Michael found this shy, inexperienced girl, plucked her out of total obscurity thus giving her the biggest shot of any young actresses’ life. He told everyone around to just trust him on his choice. He granted her the starring role in Transformers, a franchise that forever changed her life; she became one of the most googled and ogled women on earth. She was famous! . . . Megan says that Transformers was an unsafe set? Come on Megan, we know it is a bit more strenuous then the playground at the trailer park, but you don’t insult one of the very best stunt and physical effects teams in the business! Not one person got hurt! . . . Megan really is a thankless, classless, graceless, and shall we say unfriendly bitch. It’s sad how fame can twist people, and even sadder that young girls look up to her. If only they knew who they’re really looking up to.”
The biggest problem is that no one supported Ms. Fox’s side of the story, or adequately condemned the letter, which is no longer on Michael Bay’s website where it was over a decade ago. I remember the narratives surrounding Megan Fox as a child growing up in the 2000s, people called her a “slut”. Only during the rise of the #MeToo era did she get any support or adequate apologies. She did not retell her stories during the rise of #MeToo, she did not have to, anyone can go back and watch the interviews and the press.
For Entertainment Tonight in 2019, Megan discussed the psychological effects of the typecasting and the role of the media, and women, in destroying her narrative.
“It wasn’t just that movie [Jennifer’s Body], it was every day of my life, all the time, with every project worked on and every producer I worked with. It preceded a breaking point for me. I think I had a genuine psychological breakdown . . . I didn’t want to be seen, I didn’t want to have to take a photo, do a magazine, walk a carpet, I didn’t want to be seen in public at all because of the fear, and the belief, and the absolute certainty that I was going to be mocked, or spat at, or someone was going to yell at me, or people would stone me or savage me just for being out. . . . so I went through a very dark moment after that”, Fox explained in 2019, ten years after the release of the film Jennifer’s Body.
Natalie Portman: I understood very quickly, even as a thirteen-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort.
“I feel like I was sort of out and in front of the #MeToo movement before the #MeToo movement happened, I was speaking out and saying, 'Hey, these things are happening to me and they're not OK,’ . . . And everyone was like, 'Oh well, f**k you. We don't care, you deserve it.' Because everybody talked about how you looked or how you dressed or the jokes you made . . . What is supporting other females if there is only certain ones of us we support? If I have to be an academic or have to be non-threatening to you in some way? Why can't I be a part of the group as well?”
In response to her being out of the spotlight in recent years, she said “it's like, I have given birth, I have gestated and given birth to three children. I stared in a movie that opened world wide, number one — twice! I was on a critically acclaimed sitcom. I f**king executive produced and created a show about archaeological controversies! How much more f**king productive does a f**king women need to be? F**k you!”
It is not hard to realize why Fox remained silent during the rise of the #MeToo movement. She already made her point a decade before, met largely with criticism. Megan Fox is done explaining herself, and repeating her point into a void of people who made up their mind about her years ago. At the time, criticism was more likely than support for women in her situation. Companies fired women instead of taking their stories, the abuse and harassment they face, seriously. The U.S. culture progressed since then, and thanks to the #MeToo movement that progress occurred more rapidly.
Due to the #MeToo movement, actress Natalie Portman was finally able to share her story and detailed an “environment of sexual terrorism”. Her first-ever piece of fan mail was a rape fantasy. A local radio show had a countdown to her eighteenth birthday when she would finally be “of age” to sleep with.
What if society listened to Megan Fox sooner, and took her seriously?
“I understood very quickly, even as a thirteen-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort,” Portman said at the Women’s March in Los Angeles in 2018. Portman and Fox certainly are not the only two women with stories, but they are two of the most prominent in the film industry. It took twenty-four years, from when Portman was thirteen until 2018, for her to feel safe enough to share her story with the world.
The men who commit these heinous acts should be accountable for their actions instead of enjoying success at the expense of their victims. What if society listened to Megan Fox sooner, and took her seriously? What if the world took women’s voices, especially young women’s voices, seriously a decade ago? Perhaps, the stigma of sexualization would fall on the shoulders of the men who commit these atrocities instead of their victims. Thanks to movements like #MeToo, despite its vast limitations, many young women today have the ability to enact this type of change because their voices are powerful and these men face consequences for their actions.
UPDATE: In her Instagram response, Fox wrote: “While I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support, I do feel I need to clarify some of the details as they have been lost in the retelling of the events and cast a sinister shadow that doesn’t really, in my opinion, belong. At least not where it’s currently being projected...”
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