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Nardos Haile

Jonah Hill's soft boy misogyny

Jonah Hill is Hollywood's resident nice guy. From his infamous roles in "Superbad," "21 Jump Street," and eventually Oscar-nominated "Wolf of Wall Street," Hill has a reputation for playing loserish, seedy funny guys — but Hill's fictional life on screen may be bleeding its way into his real life.  

The internet blew up last Saturday Sarah Brady, a semi-pro surfer and Hill's ex-girlfriend, started posting a slew of screenshots to her Instagram stories of private conversations between herself and a person who appears to be Hill. In these posts, Brady accuses Hill, whom she dated in 2021, of emotional abuse and the weaponization of therapy-speak. The pair only dated for a year but Brady described Hill as "a misogynistic narcissist" and an "emotionally abusive partner." Hill still has not responded to the allegations.

Online outrage and discourse specifically stemmed from one of the screenshots that detailed a "boundaries list" that Hill allegedly sent Brady for her to follow, which is essentially a list of his deal breakers:

Plain and simple

If you need:
- surfing with men
- boundaryless inappropriate friendships with men
- to model
- to post pictures of yourself in a bathing suit

- to post sexual photos
- friendships with women who are in unstable places from your wild recent past beyond getting a lunch or coffee or something respectful

I am not the right partner for you.

According to the list, the issue Hill found most problematic was Brady's Instagram posts of surfing while in bathing suits, several of which Hill told her to take down because he believed they were too sexual. Brady also said that it was absurd that a man, who was interested in her because of her profession, expected her to delete photos of her surfing in athletic clothing. The photos in question were posted before they had met. 

The actor has a role to play and he's played it well over the last few years.

Hill seemingly began dating Brady fully aware of her professional career and interactions with men in professional settings before he took issue and shamed her for "surfing with men" and wearing bathing suits with thongs.

Brady also claimed that Hill's anger and controlling behavior hindered her career opportunities. She said "[He] ruined my day producing a [photo]shoot for Seea," a swimsuit brand Brady has been working with. She alleged that he also "made me turn down jobs for other brands."

And this is a perfect example of soft boy misogyny because its insidiousness is incredibly nonchalant but still piercing. It is a hindrance to women's personal and professional lives and as casually these demands or instances of control are thrown around – the impact is that it slowly chips away at someone's sense of self. It chips and chips until the person doesn't remember they are a full-fledged person outside of the control their "gentle" or "emotionally available" partner is trying to exert onto them.   

The image that Brady paints of Hill is a stark contrast to the persona Hill has built. The actor has a role to play and he's played it well over the last few years. Let's take a look at his performance: he has called out paparazzi and press for scrutinizing him for his weight, asked his millions of Instagram followers to no longer make pointed comments about his body and created his own clothing brand where 3 percent of its sales are donated to mental health initiatives. He's a good guy, he promises you, and we believe him.

Hill's chronic Nice Guy Syndrome inevitably binds him to expectations the public will demand him to meet. He is one of the very few men in the industry that is transparent about his struggles with mental illness and how it has affected his body image. He even directed a critically acclaimed documentary "Stutz" about his therapy process and the intimate life and backstory of his renowned Hollywood therapist, Phil Stutz. It's entirely shot in black and white to fit the subject's seriousness, conveying that Hill is deeply committed to his role as a mental health advocate.

But out of these mental health forays comes the internet's biggest beef with Hill: his weaponization of therapy-speak and process. In one of Brady's multiple stories she said, "I too struggle with mental health but I do not use it to control [people] like he did to me." 

In the onslaught of texts between Hill and Brady, he said, "I have been as vulnerable as possible and I'm telling you I am needing you to step up to the plate." 

Soft boy misogyny convinces us that its perpetrators are just like us because they themselves are human too.

Someone like Hill has learned the emotional vocabulary of therapy-speak because he has been in therapy for years. Using words like "vulnerable," "stepping up to the plate" and "boundaries" to soften the blow of his demands puts the onus on Brady to correct her behavior. It paints Brady as a difficult person because she's selfish and doesn't consider her partner's "vulnerabilities" and "boundaries." In turn, this discounts that his needs are an attack on her agency to work with men, wear a bathing suit to surf or move in her life and the world without shame.

Soft boy misogyny convinces us that its perpetrators are just like us because they themselves are human too. They make mistakes but they seemingly take "accountability" and apologize. They are different from other men because they are in therapy – they do the work and they recognize the roles misogyny occupies in gendered dynamics. They quote Angela Davis. They are self-proclaimed feminists who went to the 2017 Women's March. And that's the bait — it's pretty convincing to hook onto.

The Hill/Brady situation mimics another very public falling out between actress and internet darling Keke Palmer and boyfriend Darius Jackson. Last week, Palmer went to see Usher perform at his Las Vegas residency. Jackson, who is also the father of their new infant, tweeted a video of Usher singing to Palmer with this comment, "It's the outfit tho. You a mom."

Of course, Jackson's tweet fired up public backlash. Rarely does every corner of the internet unite to drag someone but it did for Palmer's defense. Firstly, why did her boyfriend publicly call her out? Secondly, why was Palmer's motherhood called into question over an outfit? The consensus was that Jackson publicly scrutinized and slut-shamed his partner because of the fragility of his ego and masculinity and potential emasculation. And yes, Brady, also noted the similarities of her situation to Palmer's on Instagram. 

After the widespread condemnation, Jackson tweeted again: "This is my family & representation. I have standards & morals to what I believe."

There it is, the moldy core of misogynist men's arguments for control and domination: traditional family values. Palmer's and Brady's situations ring so eerily similar because they are not exclusive to famous women or their A-list celeb partners because even the rich and famous aren't immune to the traditional patriarchal demands that present themselves in cis heterosexual relationships – nobody is. In both cases, the partners of both women attempted to strip them of their agency and shame them for their individuality whether it be wearing a bathing suit while doing their job or wearing a sheer black dress at an Usher concert. The same individuality, independence and self-resiliency that their partners were attracted to in the first place. 

Good old-fashioned misogyny takes form in a plethora of different shapes but the one thing that remains crystal clear is its intent to stifle and muzzle the agency of women with the choices they make in regard to what they wear, who they interact with and what they do with their daily lives. Soft boy misogyny may be a more subtle version of the systemic effects of overt patriarchal dominance in our society – it is certainly the easiest to digest. It convinces us the nice guy doing the misogyny is harmless because they're different – they're emotionally fluent. But it's just rebranding the same misogyny feminism was created to tackle during the liberation movement in the '60s and '70s. At what point does soft boy misogyny pull back the curtain and reveal itself as the monster it's so hellbent on disguising?

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