by Latoya Peterson
At the Independent Spirit Awards, the writers apparently thought it would be hilarious for Paul Rudd to grab Eva Mendes’ breasts. In the video above, Mendes talks about how they had “this really funny bit” where Rudd would “grab her tits,” then shock the audience, then presumably say something funny to incite more laughter.
The video cuts back to Dawson firmly grabbing Paul Rudd’s crotch. However, note what else she is holding in this picture:
CNN transcribed her interview with Access Hollywood:
“He did this vice grip on her breast, and I was like, OK, it was funny for like a second. But then it kept going and going and going. And then the lights went down and the clip started rolling and he was still vice-gripping her! I was sitting there with my fork like, ‘If he doesn’t stop, I’m going to stab him with my fork.’”
Rudd didn’t remove his hand, so Dawson went into action.
“I got up there and I stabbed him with my fork,” she says. “He didn’t stop, so I was like, alright, I’m going to grab his package… I was like, I’m really sorry, Paul, I don’t mean to be offensive. But you’re kind of being offensive.”
Dawson kept a hold on the surprised actor until he let go of Mendes.
“I’m a women’s rights activist and I was getting a little tired that he was grabbing her onstage for half an hour. I was kind of getting over it,” Dawson later explained to “Access Hollywood.” “Why do men always get to cop the feel? Women get to cop a feel too! Just keep it equal opportunity.”
Following the lines of discussion around this has been a bit of an education in what people expect to see on their screens and how strange our conversations around feminism and women’s bodies can become.
It’s important to look at the full context here – from the clips that have been floating around, it would seem that (1) Dawson jumped on stage immediately and went straight for Rudd’s crotch (which does not explain the fork) and (2) Dawson felt entitled to grab a feel because it was “equal opportunity.”
But that’s not what happened. Rudd and Mendes were doing a bit where both parties consented to boob touching. So it went on for the duration of the joke. But Rudd kept going, even after the lights dropped on stage, taking the joke a bit beyond what was intended. That’s what makes it a feminist issue – while Mendes may have consented to Rudd putting his hands on her in the context of the joke, Rudd continued to do so. Dawson noted that she waited for him to remove his hand and it didn’t happen She also notes that before she went for his genitals, she stabbed him with a fork to make him stop — and he still didn’t let go.
This echoes a lot of the battles around sexual consent that are key in feminism – when does someone cross the line? In particular, it mirrors the question of withdrawing consent once given. The idea batted around in a few different comment sections was that since Mendes consented to the initial joke, Dawson was overreacting. However, just because Mendes consented to him grabbing her breast in the context of the joke does not mean she consented to anything after that, nor gave Paul Rudd access to her breasts until the end of time (or, in this case, until the end of the show.)
Since Mendes hasn’t yet spoken out after the awards, we don’t know what she was thinking or feeling. But Dawson felt like a line had been crossed, and took action.
However, over at Necole Bitchie’s blog, questions surfaced in the comments as to whether this was really a feminist act:
March 1, 2011 at 11:57 am
Call me crazy but I dont believe that being a womens’ rights activist means doing exactly the same type of degrading behavior to someone because they are doing it to you or another. I thought womens’ rights was about eradicating degrading behavior and educating people about equal and just treatment. How is it activism to simply repeat that degrading behavior? She thinks its going to teach him a lesson and show him how it feels but the reality is men dont seem to act degraded or ashamed by having a woman grab their packages.
If homegirl felt she was being degraded she would likely deal with it herself. Besides, in this instance it looks less womens rights activist and more “look at me, I’m doing something outrageous”. Whatever.
That reaction contains some pretty common myths about what activism is and is not. Activism is about education – but it is also about protest. Necole Bitchie did not include the full transcript of Dawson’s remarks, so this commenter might have missed the context for why Dawson ultimately grabbed Rudd. Dawson used two tactics – one that was violent and one that was a mirror of Rudd’s own actions. Interestingly enough, the action that had the direct impact Dawson was looking for was when she performed a similar action to Rudd’s – i.e. grabbing his crotch.
In addition, it was probably important for Dawson to stand up for her friend – often when we are in the midst of a tricky situation, it can be difficult to act. Again, we don’t know what Mendes was thinking this whole time, but she may have hesitated because she didn’t want to make a scene or disturb the proceedings. She might have been completely comfortable with Rudd’s prolonged contact; but she could have equally been horrified and did not know how to extract herself from the situation.
Dawson’s intervention also served a third purpose: to subvert the dominant paradigm with regards to how people treat women at Award shows, particularly in regard to the the bodies of brown women. Had Rosario Dawson not jumped on stage and grabbed Rudd, would we have even heard about the bit? And would that bit have been considered if Rudd was onstage with a white woman? I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of when white women have had their chest area exposed or groped for entertainment value on an award show stage, and I am coming up short. Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson back in 2004 at the Superbowl and Diana Ross reached out and touched Lil’ Kim at the 1999 VMAs, but that’s about all that comes to mind.
But when it comes to women (particularly brown women), bodies, and consent, even something as simple as a kiss becomes an interesting moment in seeing the difference how people react to different scenarios.
A few years ago, Adrien Brody ran onstage after winning the Oscar for The Pianist and tongue kissed Halle Berry, catching her off guard. She smiled afterward, though she was still shocked – check out the placement of his hands from :30-:39 in this clip. Doesn’t seem so bad, right? Now check out the difference between that kiss and the one that happened between Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry during another awards show in 1999 (:28 – :33):
The consenting kiss looks different doesn’t it?
So when we look at the Rudd-Mendes-Dawson event, it is a feminist success because it allowed Dawson to both stand up for her friend and publicly challenge a dominant idea that women’s bodies are sexually fair game as entertainment fodder.
BTW, Dawson’s full statement to Access Hollywood is worth watching, since she discusses the need to support indie films and how they differ from Hollywood films:
(Thanks to Allison and Nga! for the tip!)