Yesterday, I received a message from a woman purporting to be the daughter of Candace Hilligoss, informing me that my article about her mother was full of “malicious lies” and telling me that I had an obligation to support other women. Now, she declined to tell me exactly what in my article was a lie, and while I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m mistaken about any details, everything there is something I believe to be true. Further, I believe I was fairly supportive of Hilligoss as an actress and specifically her performance in Carnival of Souls, which I believe to be a performance perfectly calculated for the character and plot.
All that said . . . do I, as a woman, have an obligation to be supportive of other women to the extent of approving of their acting even when it’s bad? Or is my obligation as a critic and essayist to the truth and my opinions? I firmly believe it to be the latter. While I don’t think I said anything bad about Hilligoss, it’s definitely true that I had rude things to say about Mama Rose in my article about June Havoc. Because if you can’t say snarky things about Mama Rose, who can you say snarky things about?
Obviously, no one ever says that men have an obligation to be supportive of other men. Women are expected to be supportive of other women because, let’s be real, they’re getting torn down by men often enough. There are a lot of other similar beliefs when it comes to things like varying ethnicities, sexualities, religious beliefs, and so forth. You support your own, because They are perfectly willing to tear you down, and you need to not let them. You stand together against them. This is, as far as it goes, admirable, but it can also let toxicity in.
Are you planning to defend a certain rapist because he rapes other men? He may be gay—though he spent literally decades denying it and only came out because he thought it might distract people from how toxic he is—but he does not deserve your support. No matter what minority group you’re part of, you can think of a member of it who doesn’t deserve your support. Possibly—nay, probably—even in your own life. And if you can’t say that people are bad, actually, when they are, when they are manifestly just The Worst, you lose your credibility when you say that any given person isn’t.
And on a much less important level, my being able to say I don’t like Meryl Streep’s acting makes it all the more relevant that I approve of Candace Hilligoss’s acting in Carnival of Souls. One is the hottest take that’s become a hill I’ll die on; the other should just be the consensus. Meryl Streep doesn’t need my defense, Gods know; she’s got enough defenders without me. Candace Hilligoss does not, and she should, because the movie falls apart without her. But my defense of her and her acting doesn’t mean as much if I blindly support all women because of their gender.