Putting Sofia Vergara on a revolving pedestal was gut-wrenchingly insulting, but it wasn't sexist

The incident wasn’t about sex as much as it was about race

Share

I look at Sofia Vergara, star of Modern Family, and I am reminded of the classic screen sirens of the 1950s. She is Marylin Monroe repackaged. If anything, she is evidence of how little progress has been made in broadening our definitions of feminine allure. And therein lies my objection to what happened at Sunday night’s Emmys. As part of a segment on diversity in television, Bruce Rosenbloom – the CEO of the academy behind the television awards – invited her to stand on a revolving platform, while we applauded him and his ilk for finally allowing the non-white community on their screens.

It was as gut-wrenchingly insulting as the day Mattel dipped Barbie in brown paint and presented her as a mascot for black women.

“Our success is based on always giving viewers something compelling to look at,” Bruce chortled as onlookers were treated to a 360 degree view of Ms Vergara and her ‘how are you actually breathing in that?’ white gown as she was turned, kebab-style, on a pedestal.

Seconds later, Twitter predictably lost it, the usual ‘social media activists’ furiously typing their indignation at such a blatant display of ‘misogyny’. Ms Vergara later accused critics of the display of having an epic sense of humour failure, imploring them to see the incident in context and “lighten up a bit”.

I’m with Sofia, in that the backlash missed the point. While it’s understandable that some might find the spectacle of a woman standing on a rotating pedestal whilst the host encourages us all to have a little perv objectionable, it was a poignant metaphor for any television awards show. If you don’t enjoy seeing celebrities dressed in their finery braying “look at me, LOOK AT ME!”  whilst flicking their hair and sycophant-ing all over each other ad nauseum, then the Emmys, Oscars, Grammys etc are not the shows for you. I suggest perhaps instead flicking over to EastEnders, or a soothing nature documentary.

More important, however, is what preceded the “compelling to look at” quip. For Bruce Rosenbloom seemed to suggest that Ms Vergara’s acceptance into the echelons of the Hollywood A-list represents a gigantic leap forward in ethnic diversity. “Our Academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera“, he self-congratulated.

This comment was largely overlooked, so I can only assume that viewers found the notion of the second ever Latina actress to win an Emmy being presented as a token of successful ethnic diversity policy in television acceptable. This is despite the fact that Ms Vergara has long, blonde, straightened hair, pale skin and the sort of paradoxically slim-but-curvy figure which some women can only achieve through the judicious use of a surgeon’s knife.

At a glance she shares the same physical attributes as Barbie, yet she apparently represents the best hope ethnic minority women have for being included in social notions of what constitutes ‘compelling to look at’.

Fashion, beauty and media companies do this all the time and it drives me to distraction. The ‘plus size’ models who are in reality a size 10 or the ‘real women’ in adverts who just happen to look like models can have just as much of a negative impact on women’s self-esteem as their size 6, professional counterparts. Of course, history tells us that progress tends to happen at a snail’s pace. Yet I can’t help but feel that holding up an ethnic minority woman who has been forced to squish herself into a Caucasian approximation of what it means to be beautiful as evidence of ‘diversity’, then demanding that the public clap like seals being thrown tuna, is as daft as it is damaging.

Kneejerk ‘sexist!’ reactions to pop culture are inextricably embedded in Twitter’s universal timeline. Not only are they part of the reason feminism has a marketing problem (#WomenAgainstFeminism anyone?) but occasionally they prevent us from seeing the bigger picture. Yes, the film and television industry is still woefully inadequate in being capable of representing everything a woman can be. Yes, this must be changed. But this incident wasn’t about sex as much as it was about race and the prevailing fact that, in order to succeed, non-white people of all genders are still consistently being told they must shape themselves into a more acceptable (read: more Caucasian) form.

When a Colombian performer can accept an award without the Hollywood powers-that-be feeling the need to condescendingly draw attention to how MARVELLOUS it is that our society now graciously allows ‘those people’ onto stages and screens, that will represent real progress in ethnic diversity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week