Pretty girls, and Bollywood starlets, get bullied, too

An Indian actress's career is threatened by accusations that she had sex with soldiers in Afghanistan.

Published May 23, 2008 6:28PM (EDT)

A recent study by a University of Alberta educational psychology Ph.D. student, Lindsey Leenaars, found it's not just the ugly kids and misfits who get bullied in high school. Sure, they're probably still more likely to get the bucket-of-pig's-blood treatment, but when it comes to "indirect" bullying -- "receiving hurtful anonymous notes, being socially excluded, or having rumors spread about them, including threats of physical harm" -- it turns out girls who describe themselves as attractive are 35 percent more likely to be victims. (Boys who think they're hot are less likely to be victims. Naturally.) And the same increased risk of indirect bullying applies to older teenagers who are sexually active -- evidently, "She's a slut!" whisper campaigns still haven't gone out of style.

I couldn't help thinking about that study when I read all the hullabaloo about Bollywood actress Tania Zaetta's "sex scandal," which apparently involved no actual sex. The deal is this: Someone -- we don't know who -- accused her of having sex with soldiers when she was in Afghanistan on a tour of Australian military bases last month. The accusation made it into government documents, which were then somehow leaked to the press. Zaetta vehemently insists it's all a load of horse pucky -- pointing out that her schedule would have made the trysts impossible even if she'd been so inclined, which she wasn't.

Singer Angry Anderson, whom some have fingered as the one who made the accusations in the first place, has gone on record as saying he doubts "very, very, very much" that it could have happened. And the Australian Defense Department has "apologized unreservedly" for the leak and launched a separate investigation into how it happened. The rumor never should have gotten out there, not least because it's very probably false.

But it did, and the damage is done. Zaetta's agent, Max Markson, estimates that the scandal will cost her a million dollars. "It's very serious. Sexual allegations even in this country are bad but [in India], it's abhorrent," he said. Many argue that he's being ridiculous, because Zaetta's career hasn't been terribly high-powered anyway, and she's getting loads of publicity from the scandal. But the Australian actress believes there is such a thing as bad publicity in her line of work: "Sex scandals -- rumored, alleged, bad Chinese whispers, whatever it is -- aren't taken lightly in a country like that," she told reporters.

Just like high school. You'd think that at some point, rumors about an adult having sex would cease to be interesting to anyone -- let alone reputation destroying -- but the hundreds of articles written about this today say you'd be wrong. Turns out pretty girls can be victims of "indirect bullying" even when they're all grown up.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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