“Sexism” in the Sweet realm – a big fat follow-up post

Two ballet dancers posed togetherLast week, I blogged about Alastair Macaulay, the New York Times dance critic who, in his review of the New York City Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, said some insulting and uncalled for things about the size of two principal dancers. Of Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle, Macaulay said that Ringer “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many,” and that Angle, “seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.”

It was a really bitchy, cruel thing to say, and apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Macaulay received a lot of mail about that review and so, in the weekend Times, he wrote an article defending it. In that article, he calls people who defended Ringer without defending Angle sexist:

Notably, the fuss has been about Ms. Ringer’s appearance. No one took issue with what might be considered a much more severe criticism, that the two danced “without adult depth or complexity.” And though I was much harder on Mr. Angle’s appearance, scarcely a reader objected. When I described Nilas Martins as “portly” in The New York Times and Mark Morris as “obese” in the Times Literary Supplement, those remarks were also greeted with silence. Fat, apparently, is not so much a feminist issue as a sexist one. Sauce for the goose? Scandal. Sauce for the gander? No problem.

Actually, the reason people were more outraged by Macaulay’s criticism of Ringer is that Ringer has publicly talked about having anorexia. And while the existence of “Bridalplasty” and the Teva stiletto might suggest otherwise, there is still enough humanity in the world for people to realize that calling a recovering anorexic fat in the pages of the New York Times is a cruel and hurtful thing to do. This is not about sexism; it’s about basic human decency.

Secondly, Nilas Martins is not portly, and Mark Morris is not, by any stretch of the imagination, obese. It’s generally not a good idea, when people call you an ass, to defend yourself by listing other times when you acted like an ass.

Just when I thought Macaulay couldn’t miss the point any more, he added this:

My own history makes me intimately aware of what it is like to have a physique considerably less ideal than any of those I have mentioned. Acute asthma in childhood gave me a chest deformity that often made me miserable into my adolescence. (It was ameliorated by major thoracic surgery at age 20.) On my doctor’s advice, I lost 20 pounds last year.

Oh, now I get it. Voluntarily losing weight on doctor’s advice is just as hard, you see, as having a psychological condition that claims more lives than any other mental illness does. And being a dance critic, someone who sits in the theater, in the dark, totally exposes you to the kind of critique and scrutiny of your body as dancing in a leotard and tights in front of a thousand people at Lincoln Center does.

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: Macaulay’s comments about Angle were bitchy and uncalled-for. Given her history, his comments about Ringer, regardless of her gender, were cruel.

Want a professional dancer’s perspective on Macaulay’s comments, since I’m merely a professionally snarky person with dance training? Read this post, from City Ballet principal dancer Ashley Bouder, and this post, from corps de ballet dancer Devin Alberda.

Photo of Ringer and Angle via The New York Times

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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