At one point or another, we’ve all said things we shouldn’t have. Whether you said your boss’s idea was dumb in a meeting or gave your friend your honest opinion about how she looked in an outfit, it happens. But there’s a big difference between telling Jen her dress is too tight and saying sh*t that’s actually bigoted or otherwise problematic. Seems like an easy concept to grasp, but some celebrities just don’t seem to get this. Case in point: J.K. Rowling. While she became a billionaire by creating the Wizarding World, she f*cks up a lot when it comes to things in the real world. Today, she’s in hot water for a tweet about an important UK legal decision, and it’s really not a good look for her.
Here’s the background: a woman named Maya Forstater, who worked at a poverty think-tank, was fired for a series of tweets questioning government plans to allow people to self-identify as whatever gender they chose. In one tweet, Forstater specifically stated that “men cannot change into women,” blatantly disregarding scientific opinion, along with the experiences of countless trans people. Forstater contested her firing at the Central London Employment Tribunal, but this week, they ruled against her. The judge called Forstater’s views “absolutist,” and said that they serve to create “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Basically, it’s almost 2020, and trans people aren’t going anywhere, sorry Maya.
What I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire, who are absolutely pro-science in other areas, and champion human rights & womens rights are tying themselves in knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women (because that might hurt mens feelings)
— Maya Forstater (@MForstater) September 30, 2018
In the wake of the decision, J.K. Rowling did what she always does, and tweeted something outlandish even though nobody asked. She tweeted her support for Forstater, claiming that the Tribunal is trying to “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real,” and using the hashtag #IStandWithMaya. As someone who took like, two gender studies classes in college, this tweet immediately made me cringe. Rowling doesn’t seem to understand the difference between sex and gender here—so, for the people in back, let’s take a look at the GLAAD definitions. Sex is “the classification of a person as male or female,” which is assigned at birth, “usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy.” Gender identity, however, is “a person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender,” and “for transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.” No one said sex isn’t real here, because the issue was never about sex. It was about gender and gender identity.
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
On top of being like, factually incorrect, with this statement, JK Rowling is dipping her toes into an area of feminism that’s hardcore problematic. In the wake of her tweet, she’s been labeled a TERF: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. This term, which was coined in 2008, describes a subset of feminists who have transphobic views, a main one being that trans women aren’t real women. While some women who have been called TERFs argue that the term is a slur, that’s probably because they’re not ready to talk about the fact that they believe in sh*tty, hurtful things.
Trans women are women.
Trans men are men.
Non-binary people are non-binary.
CC: JK Rowling.
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) December 19, 2019
After her latest tweet, J.K. has been called out on Twitter by thousands of people, including some of the top advocacy groups for LGBTQ issues. She’s yet to respond to the controversy, but hopefully she can take this as a learning opportunity and fix her transphobic views. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but it’s just kind of sad that J.K. Rowling sucks this much. Because she has created such beloved books and characters, it’s tempting to dismiss a comment like this as a misunderstanding, or a one-off tone-deaf moment, but that’s just not the case. She has sucked for a long time.
This latest issue is far from the only time J.K. Rowling’s behavior has raised questions. Perhaps most famously, many people have been upset by the decision to keep Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts movies after he was accused of physical and verbal abuse by his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Even Daniel Radcliffe questioned the decision, telling Entertainment Weekly, “I suppose the thing I was struck by was, we did have a guy who was reprimanded for weed on the [original Potter] film, essentially, so obviously what Johnny has been accused of is much greater than that.”
Rowling has also been accused of using her after-the-fact revelations about Harry Potter characters as a deflection of criticism that the books aren’t very inclusive, and it’s hard to argue with this. If Dumbledore was really gay all along, would it have killed her to mention it even once in seven books? Yeah, she should probably just stick to writing, and maybe include a little more diversity in her next book.
Of course, J.K. Rowling is far from the only celebrity who has made an uncomfortable habit of saying things they just shouldn’t. Here are a few of the most prolific sufferers of foot-in-mouth-syndrome—have fun cringing while you remember all these moments.
Honestly, where to even start with Lena Dunham? I loved Girls, and I think most people can agree she’s talented, but every time she opens her mouth I dread what she’s going to say. You know you officially have a problem when your Wikipedia page has a whole section titled “Controversies,” and Lena Dunham’s history of putting her foot in her mouth is a lot to take in. For today, we’ll just enjoy some of the highlights.
In 2014, Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl created controversy around a story about being sexually assaulted by a classmate at Oberlin College. The issue wasn’t with the story itself, rather the fact that the pseudonym she used for her abuser was…not a pseudonym at all. She described a guy named Barry in great detail, and then a real-life guy named Barry came forward, claiming that her description matched up a little too closely. Random House had to reprint the book with a clarification apologizing for the “confusion.”
That wasn’t the only controversy surrounding Dunham’s book. She got even more backlash for passages where she writes about interacting with her one-year-old sister in a sexual nature when she was seven, which many people labeled as predatory behavior. Dunham’s sister defended her, saying people should be able to make their own decisions “for themselves what has and has not been normal,” but yeah, this didn’t sound normal. Everyone from attorneys to child psychologists weighed in on the controversy, and it still weirds me out, even five years later.
And by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid's vagina, well, congrats to you.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) November 1, 2014
One of Lena Dunham’s most puzzling moments came in 2016, when she said publicly that she wishes she’d had an abortion. When speaking on a podcast about abortion rights and understanding women’s experiences, she said “I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.” Whatever your thoughts are about whether abortion is okay or not, wishing you had one, like, for the story seems incredibly strange.
In case you haven’t noticed, Scarlett Johansson is white. In fact, you could say that she’s very white. And despite being an incredibly talented actor, she’s not so talented when it comes to accepting her privilege and staying out of the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This has specifically been an issue with some roles she’s accepted in the past. She played an Asian woman in Ghost In The Shell, and was slated to play a transgender man in the movie Rub & Tug, before she left the project for unknown reasons. It would be nice to think that those reasons had something to do with her casting being problematic in the first place, but as recently as this summer, she’s stated that she doesn’t see the issue with her playing non-white, non-cis roles.
Definitely Scarlett johansson. Who else would even dare to play a tree?! https://t.co/rGZQiQzYV1
— V (@AllYouNeedIsATV) December 18, 2019
When speaking to As If magazine in July, she stated that “as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.” She got trolled online for the tree part, but the whole thing is rough, whatever way you look at it. She also said that the trend toward political correctness “needs to happen for various social reasons,” but that it makes her uncomfortable, because she feels “art should be free of restrictions.” Oh Scarlett, honey, no.
Nicki Minaj has been a polarizing figure throughout her career, and has a habit of feuding with basically every female rapper on the face of the earth. Whether you think the feuds are fun or exhausting, they’re not that problematic, for the most part. But Nicki’s track record when it comes to working with (and dating) known abusers is pretty bad.
Nicki has long collaborated with Chris Brown, and in 2018, lots of people got mad at her for working—and developing a close friendship—with rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. As you may have heard, this week he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for gang-related offenses, but this isn’t his first time being in trouble with the law. Back in 2015, he pleaded guilty to three felony counts of “use of a child in a sexual performance,” which is as gross as it sounds. Last year, Nicki publicly voiced her support for him, despite him pleading guilty to all the charges against him. But her friendship with 6ix9ine was not a one-off instance of Nicki supporting a sex offender.
Also last year, Nicki started dating Kenneth Petty, who happens to be a registered sex offender. He was convicted of attempted rape back in the 1990s, which seems like it would be a dealbreaker for most people, but Nicki clearly has no issue with it. In fact, she’s bashed people on social media for criticizing her relationship decisions, and she and Kenneth are still going strong and apparently married. Welp.
There are plenty of other celebs who have said their fair share of ill-advised things, but these are a few of the most egregious ones. Which celebrities have caused you to cringe the most over sh*t they’ve said? Is there anyone who’s overdue for a canceling? Lmk in the comments.
Images: jk_rowling, hrc, lenadunham, allyouneedisatv / Twitter; theshaderoom / Instagram