December 28, 1997 in City

Pregnant Pause Reflects On Hollywood

Maureen Dowd New York Times
 

We had an exciting victory last week in that neglected area of feminist law: vixens’ rights.

Hunter Tylo became an unlikely civil rights heroine when a Los Angeles jury awarded the 34-year-old actress nearly $5 million for distress caused when she was dismissed from a role as a husband-stealing siren on “Melrose Place” after she became pregnant. Patricia Ireland, the president of NOW, hailed it as “a good breakthrough case.”

Tylo took to the ramparts of Tinseltown to strike a blow so that slender temptresses could continue to tempt once they were no longer slender. Vamps of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your waistlines!

Although the case pressed all the right feminist hot buttons, it doesn’t really have a wide application. The $5 million is simply an unexpected college fund for Hunter Tylo’s brood.

How many women, after all, are applying for the job description of vixen? Once you get beyond Aaron Spelling seductresses and Hooters waitresses, the market dwindles pretty quickly. And how many women, once in their final trimester, want to continue in their vixen careers?

This could be the smallest class-action suit in history. Maybe just Demi Moore and Tylo. Her argument was extremely narrow. She asserted that women who can be pregnant without looking pregnant, and who can remain unbelievably gorgeous, sexy and thin throughout pregnancy, should be allowed to play sexpots. She was not arguing that women who retain water when pregnant should be allowed to play sexpots.

Besides, it is always silly to use Hollywood as a precedent for law that applies to ordinary Americans. The case of the eponymous Hunter was perfect for the capital of illusion, collagen and silicone, a city where nothing moves when women jog.

It wasn’t hard for the ravishing, raven-haired beauty, as the tabloids called her, to convince a jury that she would have been a plausible trollop, even with a convex silhouette. This eight-month-pregnant mother of two looked better in the tight miniskirts she wore to court than most of the women in America.

Now it might seem peculiar for an actress who wanted to join the cast of such an utterly exploitative show to wrap herself in the mantle of political correctness. Feminist heroines generally do not seek employment with Aaron Spelling, the jiggle king, the man whose contribution to American culture was the guarantee that one of Charlie’s Angels would end up in a wet T-shirt each week.

Spelling might have had a point when he argued that if you hire someone to play the whore, you are not hiring someone to play the Madonna.

But he lost the high ground, such as it was, when he let Heather Locklear play her unpregnant vixen while pregnant, using camera angles and discreetly swathed leopard-print sheets to hide her condition.

Considering the fact that he has made billions in the lowest-common-denominator trade, Spelling seems curiously out of touch. Why didn’t he just write a tacky pregnant role into the Tylo story line that featured a tacky unpregnant role?

Having brought sexual transgression into our living rooms, the King of Schlock seems curiously unaware of the commercial power of unwanted pregnancy on prime time.

Still, count me with Tylo. And not just because you want a happy ending for an actress from “The Bold and the Beautiful” who married an actor from “The Young and the Restless.” It is gratifying to see the cheesy, grasping men who run Hollywood get socked for firing a woman within minutes of her revealing that she’s pregnant.

For decades women were afraid to tell their employers they were pregnant, for fear of retribution, and it is always worth reiterating that pregnancy discrimination is wrong.

Stories about Tylo harked back to the unsuccessful suit of Christine Craft, the Kansas City newswoman who sued Metromedia, charging that she had been demoted because she was losing her looks.

But it’s hard to believe that this decision will change anything in an industry that is ever more obsessed with appearances. It’s not going to change the reality that most women in soap operas - and even news divisions - look as if they had stepped out of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

TV is always going to want its women younger, thinner, prettier and banal.

xxxx

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