Let's Talk About the Hotness Double Standard on Netflix's 'Love,' Shall We?
There's a joke in Amy Schumer's HBO standup special where she talks about the improbability of Rosario Dawson, "arguably the most fuckable actress ever," being paired with professional schlub Kevin James in his 2011 movie Zookeeper.
"That movie is about talking animals. There's a beaver and a penguin who are friends and talk about opening a bed and breakfast, but that's not the most unrealistic part of that movie," Schumer says. "[Dawson] should get an Oscar for that fucking movie. Let's see Meryl [Streep] do that. I dare you, Meryl. Pretend like you're dying to have Kevin James' deep dick you."
I thought of that joke while watching the Netflix series Love, which centers on the budding relationship between Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust). Created by Rust, Lesley Arfin and Judd Apatow, Love presents Mickey and Gus as polar opposites: While Mickey is assertive, self-destructive and struggles with impulse control, Gus is timid and compliant and kinda dorky, a Nice Guy writ large.
But if we're talking differences between Mickey and Gus, it would be disingenuous to omit perhaps the most obvious one of all. In terms of conventional standards of attractiveness, they're not only not in the same league, they're not even playing the same sport. In fact, they're not even playing sports. Mickey is playing touch football while Gus is, I don't know, making a mug for his mom on a kiln in the arts-and-crafts cabin.
This is not intended to be cruel or judgmental, so much as it's an objective observation. Jacobs is blond and ivory-skinned and button-nosed and stalks around Los Angeles in a leotard and high-waisted jeans like something out of Dov Charney's masturbatory fantasies. Rust is wan and stringbean-limbed and looks like a boardwalk artist's caricature of Woody Allen.
And yet, Gus is somehow unspeakably attractive to every woman he encounters, from a comely bit player on the CW-esque supernatural TV show he works on (he's a tutor) to two college girls who try to rope him into a threesome in the very first episode. The fact that Gus backs out of the menage a trois after learning that the two are sisters does little to detract from the improbability of his situation.
Granted, attractiveness is not an objective measure, and it's certainly possible for two people like Gus and Mickey to find each other and fall in love in the real world. Yet the "nebbish loser lands the shiksa goddess" trope is so prevalent — especially in the Apatow oeuvre — that as Slate's Willa Paskin put it, "a little eye-candy reciprocity does not seem so much to ask."
From Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall, to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally to whatever gorgeous actress is playing Kevin James' mean wife who he's sick of having sex with, the conceit of pairing a hot lady with a schlubby man is the ultimate example of Hollywood wish fulfillment. Apatow himself is the guiltiest offender: From Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen to Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, his oeuvre is liberally dappled with slacker slobs/long-legged ice queen pairings.
In itself, the trope itself is relatively harmless; in fact, there's something almost cluelessly adorable about the transparency of formerly dorky dudes enacting their high school sexual fantasies. Yet, it's undeniably troubling that we rarely, if ever, see this trope reversed, i.e. a perfectly-average-looking woman dating a strapping, USDA-approved tenderloin of a man.
We rarely, if ever, see the female version of Kevin James whining about how her sexy broad-shouldered stockbroker husband won't sleep with her, even though these couples do exist and are perfectly happy together IRL. The closest we've ever come in the past five years is the episode of Girls where Lena Dunham sleeps with former Gap model Patrick Wilson, a scenario that struck critics as so improbable many wrote the episode off as an actual dream sequence.
It's so obvious that it almost goes without saying that in Hollywood, women are held to an impossibly high standard for youth and beauty, while men are not held to any standard at all; if someone swapped out Adam Sandler for a literal musk ox, no one would bat an eyelash so long as the musk ox hit his mark and didn't slobber on Brooklyn Decker during their love scenes. In an industry run almost exclusively by nerdy white men who perhaps grew up slobbering after the JV volleyball captain at their high school, the Gus/Mickey pairing makes total sense.
What is ultimately so offensive about the hot girl/nerdy guy trope is that by normalizing the idea that average-looking, nerdy men like Gus sleep with impossibly wasp-waisted women like Mickey on a regular basis, we perpetuate the notion that the average-looking Nice Guy can net the babe of his dreams simply by virtue of his Niceness.
It doesn't matter that Gus is weak-willed and dorky and not even particularly interesting. Because he is a Nice Guy, women like Mickey — complicated, smart, funny women with impulse control issues who can also wear the shit out of leotards — will immediately fall over themselves to make out with him.
In practice, of course, this is not the way the world works; women don't open their legs the second some blushing, stammering dorkus holds a car door open for them. Yet the idea that Nice Guys like Gus are entitled to some form of sexual reparation by virtue of their niceness is so insidious that it has been gradually instilled in men. One need only look at the r/Men'sRights subreddit, or at screengrabs of Tinder messages on Bye Felipe, to see the entitlement of the Nice Guy in action. When the Nice Guy is deprived of what he sees as the ultimate reward for his niceness, he gets frustrated. He gets mad. And in some cases, he can get violent.
Sexual attraction is a complex melange of hormones and emotions; there are no rules that dictate that a Mickey can't fall in love with a Gus, or that a Rosario Dawson doesn't want to be deep-dicked by a Kevin James. But in Hollywood, there are, apparently, rules that dictate that it can never be the other way around; that the female version of a Gus can't have sex with the male version of a Mickey, perhaps because it is the male versions of Gus who are making the rules and that's just not what they want to see, because gross. Niceness rarely wins homely girls hot boyfriends.
By the end of the series, Love reveals itself to be far more nuanced than the average Kevin James vehicle. Ultimately, it's a tale of two very different people whose careening paths manage to bounce against each other like metal balls inside a pinball machine, neither of whom are quite whom they appear to be: Mickey's quirks are a smokescreen for her tangled little ball of addictions and neuroses, while Nice Guy Gus proves that he's not exactly a morally upright individual.
Men who identify with Gus would do well to take that lesson into account. Because when men are taught that Niceness is a means to an end in itself, while women are taught that they have to look like Gillian Jacobs for a guy like Gus — much less someone even hotter — to even cast a second glance at them, that is a problem.