A note to Hollywood: “maneater” and “sexual criminal” are not interchangeable terms

Have you seen the ads for the new movie Horrible Bosses? It looks like the kind of movie that should not have the word “horrible” in the title, because it might actually be a horrible movie, and you don’t want to make life quite that easy for critics who like punny headlines.

The movie stars Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman and a number of other white dudes who look so similar on the poster that for a second I thought it was just several shots of the same actor. (Seriously, Hollywood, there are lots of arguments for why comedy should be more diverse and a lot of them have to do with justice and fairness. But there’s also the reality that diversity in casting would at least help us to tell characters apart, if nothing else). It also stars Jennifer Aniston as one of the horrible bosses.

The trailer makes it pretty clear that Aniston’s character, Dr. Julia Harris, is a sexual predator. It shows her repeatedly sexually harassing her employee (which he recognizes as harassment, because he says to his friends, “at least your boss isn’t sexually harassing you”), as well as one of her patients.


Another trailer suggests that at some point in the movie, Harris takes off her employee’s clothes while he is unconscious, gets naked with him, and takes photos of them. So that’s probably sexual assault, with a side of blackmail.

And yet, the posters label this character a “maneater.”

The word “maneater” implies that a woman is sexually assertive, even aggressive, and that she seeks sex with little regard for the emotional well-being of her partners. Which is shitty behavior. But it’s not criminal. What Aniston’s character is apparently doing in this movie is a crime. She’s not a “maneater.” She is a woman who repeatedly sexually harasses her employees and her clients. She is a criminal. To conflate the two is misleading and dangerous.

The only reason it’s considered acceptable, and commercially viable, to make a feature-length punchline out of sexually criminal behavior is because it’s being done by a woman to a man. Which, as we all know, is hilarious, because women don’t ever harass or assault men – the idea that they would is just so topsy turvy that it is laugh-inducing. Except that women do sometimes harass and assault men – far less frequently than men harass and assault women, I’ll grant you. But it does happen, and it’s not funny.

I get sick of saying it, but I’ll keep saying it until people get it, and I don’t care if it makes me sound like a humourless feminist or a nag who can’t take a joke: sexual violence is never funny, regardless of who’s inflicting it and on whom.

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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