It’s just as sexist to ask Joe Alwyn this question as it is Taylor Swift

Instead of being judged solely on his performance on-screen, the conversation keeps going back to who Alywn is in a relationship with

Emma Clarke
Tuesday 24 May 2022 21:53
<p>More and more frequently, we see men in the spotlight being subjected to similar treatment</p>

More and more frequently, we see men in the spotlight being subjected to similar treatment

Imagine pouring your heart and soul into a project and having your work reduced to your romantic connections. If you’re a woman, you probably don’t have to strain too hard to envisage this. You can probably conjure up the sense of embarrassment, frustration and dejection this causes quite easily.

From Dora Maar to Meghan Markle, women have long had to live in the shadows of their male partners and accept that their fame and talent isn’t enough; that should they deign to have a relationship of any kind with a man in the public eye or in a similiar line of work as them, they will forever be associated with their male counterparts, rather than recognised as professionals in their own right. But that doesn’t mean it’s just women who have to endure this.

More and more frequently, we see men in the spotlight being subjected to similar treatment. The most recent, blatant example of this is what Joe Alwyn is currently going through as he promotes Conversations with Friends – a new 12-part TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s debut novel.

Instead of being judged solely on his performance on-screen and how he tackled playing Nick from the much-loved book, the conversation keeps going back to who Alywn is in a relationship with, as if it has any bearing on his ability to act.

Just last week, after the BBC/Hulu series aired, clickbait headlines inevitably turned to “Taylor Swift’s reaction” to Alwyn’s “steamy” performance. Not only is it a disservice to Swift, as though she was expected to be anything but supportive of her long-term partner, it is a lazy and flimsy attempt to shift the narrative away from Alwyn and his accomplishments.

Now, having worked in the media for some time and having been responsible for many a headline, I can, to a degree, empathise with the limited amount of characters editors have to play with to convey the story, the need to optimise everything so it’s discoverable, and to get people to click on articles. And to say the blame lies purely in the laps of publishers is wrong – without the desire and demand for these stories, there would be no cause to write such pieces. It’s naive to believe otherwise.

There’ll also be those who will point out that to omit a key piece of information, like who he is in a relationship with, is... well, odd. And I would agree if the story was about the two of them. But when the focus is supposed to be on Alwyn’s work, it is careless and downright sexist to bring Swift into the equation.

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Last night, I attended a panel discussion on Conversations with Friends, where fans had the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with the stars and directors about the show. And for the most part, that was what happened. Only at the very end, when the mic was handed to the crowd, did one bright spark take it upon himself to ask Alwyn what it was like to be “Taylor Swift’s boyfriend”. Most of the audience, and indeed Alywn himself, shifted in their seats awkwardly, as they tried to register the complete gall of this guy.

Just as he had done with every previous question, Alwyn held his own and answered eloquently, reminding the questioner that, actually, he’s an actor and has always been an actor. But the fact that he even had to defend his career and talent is simply abhorrent. If the question had been posed to a female actor, all hell would have (quite rightly) broken loose.

No one’s accomplishments should be diminished in this way. Reducing a professional to the appendage of who they’re involved with is unnecessarily cruel and the only possible objective of it is to undermine and belittle. Joe Alywn is more than his relationship.

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