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Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 11:53 UK

Does this picture make you angry?

Heather Mills

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Whether it's Heather Mills or Kerry Katona, the celebrities that ordinary people vilify seem disproportionately to be female. Why?

hate, v. 1. trans. To hold in very strong dislike; to detest; to bear malice to

Hate's a strong word, but how many people in Britain who ever read a newspaper can honestly say they've never applied the word to a celebrity - celebrities in most cases that they've never met.

From Queen of the Jungle to Tabloid Folk Devil: Kerry Katona as 'White Trash Mother'
Academic paper on celebrity

And if you've honestly racked your brains and come up with a list of the celebrities you "bear malice to", how many of them are female?

In a survey this week, by Marketing magazine the respondents' top five most loved celebrities were men - Paul McCartney, Lewis Hamilton, Gary Lineker, Simon Cowell and David Beckham. Of the five most hated, the top four were women - Heather Mills, Amy Winehouse, Victoria Beckham and Kerry Katona.

Heather Mills is probably the easiest dealt with. Many people's main gripe with celebrity is that it offers those without talents a chance to find material wealth through manipulation. For the tabloid media at least, Mills fits the bill.

But it's a bit harder to fathom the rest of the list. Why are these women seen to be so loathsome?

Hamilton and Winehouse
1. Heather Mills - 28.3%
2. Amy Winehouse - 11.4%
3. Victoria Beckham - 10.2%
4. Kerry Katona - 10%
5. Simon Cowell - 4.6%

1. Paul McCartney - 14.9%
2. Lewis Hamilton - 11.2%
3. Gary Lineker - 11.2%
4. Simon Cowell - 9.7%
5. David Beckham - 9.4%
Source: Brands We Love and Brands We Hate, Marketing magazine

The phenomenon is to be tackled in an upcoming gathering of academics entitled Going Cheap?: Female Celebrity in the Tabloid, Reality and Scandal Genres, organised by Prof Diane Negra at the University of East Anglia on 25 June.

Among the speakers will be Aberdeen University academic Alan Dodd on the subject Just Too Much? Heather Mills and Celebrity Transgression.

In an abstract, he writes: "Her emotional stances on press intrusion and the specifics of her divorce battle, not to mention her defiant drenching of McCartney's lawyer, facilitates her categorisation as the traditional hysteric, with the resultant labelling of Mills as an attention seeker encountering established cultural prejudice concerning 'unfeminine' behaviour."

Another talk is entitled From Queen of the Jungle to Tabloid Folk Devil: Kerry Katona as 'White Trash Mother'. Katona has gone from being a figure positively associated with down-to-earth qualities to lurid tabloid tales of drug use as well as drinking and smoking while pregnant.

Ms Negra thinks we do hold female celebrities to different standards than their male counterparts.

Ambitious women

"There has been a conspicuous trend in the last five years towards the production of negatively-valued women in the public sphere. People respond to the pleasures of hating these kinds of figures.

"There is incredible ambivalence in a post-feminist culture towards women in the public sphere."

In a nutshell, despite years of equal opportunities, the media - and the people who watch and read - prefer the stay-at-home mother over a woman who lives her life in public, particularly one who is overtly ambitious or successful in making money. There is great satisfaction among many people in seeing them humbled, Ms Negra suggests.

Celebrities including Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Rumer Willis, Mischa Barton and Kerry Katona are routinely condemned for their perceived excessive lifestyles in terms of their disregard for the apparent rules of femininity through extreme diets or weight gain, drug abuse, supposed lack of fashion sense/style, and an 'unfeminine' need for fame and attention
Kirsty Fairclough
Salford University

But anyone who thinks it is mainly men who are doing the hating of female celebrities is barking up the wrong tree.

"We are missing a big part of the picture if we think misogyny is the exclusive preserve of men," says Ms Negra.

Advertising expert Hamish Pringle, author of Celebrity Sells, says men and women typically have very different attitudes to the images of celebrities they encounter.

"[Some women] seem to be incredibly competitive with each other and find it hard to give credit to each other. With male celebrities a lot of men might aspire to be like them or may aspire to be with them."

But the split is not one that Ms Negra accepts. Even the idea of having negative feelings towards celebrity is viewed by many as an innately female quality.

"Men are less verbal about those reactions - they see that those reactions are seen to be feminised."

For Dr John Maltby, senior lecture in psychology at Leicester University and an expert on "celebrity interest", there is a very real motivation for trashing celebrities, particularly in group situations.

Watercooler moments

"If you have a negative attitude towards somebody; if you make downwards comparisons; if you say I'm better; that helps you raise your self-esteem. If a group is able to say we wouldn't behave like that celebrity it enhances that group's standing."

The celebrities help fulfil a role that would have been occupied by over-the-fence gossip when friendship groups were more settled in small geographical areas.

"It's the watercooler moment, talking and being with your friends," says Dr Maltby. "The celebrity becomes a reference point. If you look to communities in the 1970s there were always local heroes, local celebrities."

And the media gives every consumer plenty of chances to latch on to these reference points, as rarely a day passes without condemnation of a celebrity. The mainstays of the tabloid press have now been supplemented by a wealth of material in the new media.

In another abstract for the upcoming conference, Salford University's Kirsty Fairclough writes: "Celebrities including Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Rumer Willis, Mischa Barton and Kerry Katona are routinely condemned for their perceived excessive lifestyles in terms of their disregard for the apparent rules of femininity through extreme diets or weight gain, drug abuse, supposed lack of fashion sense/style, and an 'unfeminine' need for fame and attention."

But the hunger for the humbled female celebrity may be waning, Ms Negra suggests, with recent signs that some tabloid readers are unhappy with the way Britney Spears has been treated.

"It has become so ubiquitous - it is possible that we are reaching saturation point."

Below is a selection of your comments.

I've always found it pretty weird that anybody can have strong feeling towards somebody who is completely unaware of their existence. I don't think they're particularly worse than the average chav, just that they've got airtime. And the media does love to build them up and smash them down. Isn't life a bit too short for concentrating on irrelevant people? Shouldn't we be thinking about our own behaviour and that of the ordinary folks around us? Personally I find that a lot more interesting. Don't know why it's the female "stars" that get the most flak. I guess that for all our fine talk of gender equality, we still find something particularly odious about a loudmouthed WOMAN with loose morals. We should condemn the male slags a bit more often, then maybe the women will stop this inane copycat behaviour that passes for feminism these days.
arthur priest, leicester, UK

There is no need for academics to ponder this. It's perfectly straightforward. Women are generally catty about other women, rarely men. It's a function of the primordial instinct whereby women fight to get the best mate. They see another woman, in a position of power, become jealous and seek to usurp her. These day's the usurping is done by bitchiness and gossip.
James Rigby, Wickford, Essex

I think the use of the word "hate" is too strong here. Lots of celebrities are profoundly irritating - I'm irritated by people like Kerry Katona because her way of speaking grates on me - but that's not the same as hating them. Possibly female celebrities are more irritating than male for some reason. We over use the idea of hate, though, and so when something truly worthy of hate comes along, like not letting aid into Burma, we don't have strong enough words for it.
Helen, London

I can understand why people like Kerry Katona Heather Mills and Jordan are loathed as they contribute nothing but crap but not Amy Winehouse. This girl is so talented it's unbelievable. Yes she has a drug problem but so have lots of other people. Loose yourself in her music and it doesn't matter what drugs she takes the talent is there but what can be said of the others its highly unlikely to be lost in anything they contribute apart from silicone.
Bernie Muresan, Newry, Northern Ireland.

A very interesting read. I would agree that the media bashing of Britney Spears has been over the top and feel she should be left alone.
Tamsin, Suffolk

The difference between the men and the women is clear for all to see. The men are famous for their success in the fields of music and sport. The women are famous for falling out of nightclubs drunk and in various states of undress. No wonder they are despised.
Dave , Grays, Essex

A good article. It is correct to identify that it is mostly women who are passing judgment on other women, most men do not care. This gets missed in these days where Political Correctness dictates what we are allowed to think, and we all assume that all the ills of the world are down to white, heterosexual, middle-class MALES.
Barry James, Little Leigh, Cheshire

I have little or no interest in any so called 'celebrities', however, I am inexplicably drawn to pay attention to Mylene Klass, who once upon a time was in a pop band. For whatever reason I loath this girl, her cheesy grin seems to be ever present - the kind of celebrity that will turn up for the opening of an envelope. Can anyone explain to me why she deserves to exist in the public eye?
Guy Baxendale, London

I have no hesitations in using the word 'hate' when discussing celebrities such as Heather Mills, Kerry Katona, Paris Hilton and Amy Winehouse (not to mention Jade Goodey as well). I find these people completely and utterly offensive. I very much hope they soon disappear from our TV screens and newspapers. But that's the real problem isn't it. It's the TV shows and the drossy (not glossy) C-list magazines such as Heat, Gossip and Now that pander to these people. If the TV shows stopped beaming their OTT, self absorbed, selfish, untalented and over-inflated egos to our living rooms, and the magazines stopped obsessively writing about all what they eat, do, go and wear, we wouldn't have to deal with it. Maybe media, which enhances fame, is to blame.
Dean, Harlow

What are these people actually for? Chantelle Houghton (and I depress myself by knowing her name) seems to me to be the nadir of celebrity culture, in that, thanks to "Celebrity" Big Brother, she is actually famous for not being famous. Still, fortunately it's a long time since she was on television, so with any luck she's been sent back into obscurity.
Pete, London, UK

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