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Megan Fox: Sex Symbol, Mouthy Slut, Or Something Else Entirely?

Ladies, gentlemen: “Transformers” is not a movie about acting.

I know! It came as a surprise to me, too: I had always believed that “Transformers” aspired to be a sensitive exploration of the human psyche. As it turns out, however, it’s a movie about giant robots fighting each other.

So, no: “Transformers” is many things, but it is not a movie about acting. However, when its star Megan Fox said as much in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, it set off a firestorm of controversy, most of which can be summed up in the title of a post on the blog Zelda Lily (“Feminism in a Bra”): “Megan Fox Is An Ungrateful Bitch.”Hating Megan Fox has become a popular pastime, particularly on the internet. A Google search for “Megan Fox bitch” brings up 960,000 results; “Megan Fox slut” brings up 459,000. There’s an entire blog – F**kYouMeganFox.tumblr.com – on which the common complaints and foot-in-mouth interview quotes are endlessly rehashed, often with sparkling commentary along the lines of “stop talking … we like you better with your mouth shut.” Professional coverage has hardly been better: Ted Casablanca for “E! Online” speculated that she could either be a “raging, hypersexual bisexual,” a “slut,” (there’s that word again) or someone who “runs her mouth purely for attention.”

So, yes: everyone hates Megan Fox. Or, at least, they hate her when they’re not talking about how hot she is. A Google search for “Megan Fox boobs” brings up a chart-topping 1,190,000 hits. She’s done the Hollywood sex-object routine: she’s appeared in her underwear for FHM; she’s appeared in a bikini top for GQ; there’s a particularly memorable shot in the “Transformers 2″ preview in which she “fixes” a motorcycle by draping herself on top of it, hindquarters thrust up to heaven; and most of the professional critics who attended “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” skipped the plot altogether (I hear it’s about giant robots who fight each other) in favor of praising Megan Fox as the world’s most miraculous boner-dispensing device. She bounces! She writhes! She “fixes” motorcycles! Etcetera.

None of the above, however, is unusual. If she’d just done the sexy photos and the robot movies, she’d be indistinguishable from any otherMaxim-approved starlet – and she probably wouldn’t have her own hate blog. What bothers people about Megan Fox is that she talks about being a sex object.

“I’ve been typecast by some already — as a slut,” she told the Daily Star on Sunday, in an interview that was blogged all over, often with the standard “but you are a slut” commentary. Here’s another bit that was everywhere, from the Entertainment Weekly interview in which she slammed “Transformers”:

“I think all women in Hollywood are known as sex symbols. That’s what our purpose is in this business. You’re merchandised, you’re a product. You’re sold and it’s based on sex.”

A Google search for “Megan Fox feminist” brings up only 61,400 hits. This, despite the fact that she calls herself one.

Granted, not everything Fox says is smart. To the statement quoted above, she added, “I think women should be empowered by [being sold as sex objects], not degraded”: I’m still trying to figure out how that works. However, last time I checked, she was a movie star doing promotional interviews and not a Ph.D. candidate defending her thesis on feminist cinema, so it’s hard to work up any outrage. Her main crimes seem to consist of making a few eye-roll-worthy Intro to Women’s Studies statements about “empowerment,” yammering on about sex whenever she feels like it (and she feels like it a lot), and complaining too often about her job. At this point, I’m kind of uncertain as to whether we’re talking about Megan Fox or things that I did in college.

The Megan Fox furor is overblown, but it’s not unfamiliar. Sasha Grey, a porn star, made her mainstream film debut last year in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience”; she gave an interview to the AV Club in which she talked about Catherine Breillat, Method acting, and “Star Trek.” Commenters responded with remarks such as “she’s just meat,” and “you’re a masturbatory aid, Sasha Grey. Nothing more.” Similarly, although Diablo Cody may not be the best screenwriter ever to win an Oscar on her first try, the fact that topless photos (taken from her personal blog) “surfaced” directly after the win seems like a pretty blatant, ugly attempt to tear her down and establish her as just another ex-stripper.

This is what we do to women: tell them to be hot, sexy, sexual. We consistently define women’s worth around their bodies, around how attractive they are. Then, when a woman actually goes for it, and makes bank with her sexuality or her looks, we tell her that she can never be anything else. That she should have been a “good girl” all along. That, having played the game, she can never express an opinion about it: We like you better with your mouth shut.

What’s most disheartening about the Megan Fox coverage is that a lot of the harshest statements seem to come from women, and often, as in the case of Zelda Lily, in the name of “feminism.” It’s hard to tell exactly what feminism means these days, but I’m pretty sure telling women that they should be seen and not heard – saying that they can be “good,” non-sexual girls who are allowed to think, or sex objects who remain passive, vacant, and acquiescent – ain’t it.

Recently, it was rumored that Fox turned down a James Bond movie because her part wasn’t big enough and she didn’t want to play a love interest. It was presented as yet another example of Megan Fox being “arrogant” and “ungrateful” to the all-powerful film industry to which she apparently owes nothing but doe-eyed, fawning devotion. It also turned out to be untrue. But it says something about how we perceive Fox: Apparently, we hate her for playing sex objects, and we hate her for not playing sex objects. At this point, her only viable option for pleasing everyone would seem to be starring in an all-nude biopic of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

So, it’s unlikely that we’re going to stop talking about Megan Fox, Sex Symbol – or Megan Fox, Mouthy Slut – any time soon. Personally, as long as we’re doing that, I want Megan Fox to be one of the people talking.

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