Hannah Waddingham refusal to "show" her leg: Yes, it's about sexism, but it's also more than that

There's a distinctly human — and often sexist — issue with how we feel emboldened to address people

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published April 16, 2024 5:07PM (EDT)

Hannah Waddingham attends The Olivier Awards 2024 at The Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 2024 in London, England. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Hannah Waddingham attends The Olivier Awards 2024 at The Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 2024 in London, England. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Misogyny, like many other ills of the world, has unfortunately shown no signs of abating. From men punching arbitrary women on the streets of New York City, to powerful male figures slandering and defaming women for outing them as abusers, the issue that some men seem to have with women is a pervasive one. 

Take a recent interaction between actor Hannah Waddingham and a red-carpet photographer at the Olivier Awards in London, for example. The Emmy-winning "Ted Lasso" star, who was hosting the theater awards at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday for the second year in a row, swiftly upbraided a photographer for allegedly asking her to "show" her leg.

In a video that has since gone viral across the internet, the photographer's comment cannot be heard but Waddhingham's reproach rings loud and clear: “Oh my God, you’d never say that to a man, my friend.”

“Don’t be a d**k, otherwise I’ll move off," the actor, wearing a semi-sheer lilac gown adds, "Don’t say ‘show a little leg’. No.” As Waddingham began to walk away, some members of the surrounding crowd begin to cheer for her. “Have some manners," she says.

Numerous X/Twitter users took to the platform following the clip's circulation to weigh in. 

"Male photographer at Oliver Awards asking Hannah Waddingham to 'show leg' is lecherous stuff," one user wrote. "Men like this need their passes for these events to revoked. Women are not your objects to objectify and command to move as you see fit."

"The one thing we can all agree on is Hannah Waddingham's response to that pap? Right?" wrote another. 

Unfortunately, the objectification and sexualization of women — especially by people trying to service their own benefit, such as a slimy photographer trying to elicit a product entirely predicated on the desires of the male gaze — is a tale as old as time. 

Why are we even asking women these questions? Yes, this was a photographer and not a journalist, but surely a comment pertaining to her upcoming projects would have garnered not only a positive reaction but likely a wide-smile and confident pose.

Why is there a longstanding pattern in which women are consistently asked to address their womanhood, in a way that men are not? 

Certainly, a culture steeped in sexism plays a large role. But I'll indulge in a moment of playing devil's advocate. On the one hand, certain dresses — especially at red carpet-events — are structured to be displayed in certain poses. Plunging backless styles, diaphanous, ultra-sheer slips, a là '90s Kate Moss — and lest we forget Angelina Jolie's 2012 Academy Awards outfit of choice: a black velvet Atelier Versace dress with a thigh-high slit that propelled Jolie's right leg into internet stardom and the cultural canon. These styles encapsulate the term "statement piece," for good reason, as they are meant to showcase the beauty and artistry not only of the garment but also of its wearer. 

And yet, even though the "Game of Thrones" alum's dress did have a slit, her comments are still valid. As one X user, ostensibly responding to critics of Waddingham's sharp response, pointed out, it has "absolutely nothing to do with whether your legs can be seen or not."

"It's about the absolute FACT that no one has a right to demand anything of your body. #HannahWaddingham."

While some may make the valid argument that male celebrities often don suits — which are both more modest in style and typically less embellished than awards-worthy dresses — and therefore they aren't asked to expose parts of their anatomy, the dichotomy of what we expect from our female versus male stars is nonetheless stilted.

More than that, perhaps, is the issue underlying the humanity of it all. Feeling emboldened to address people however we please,— especially if it's done in a way that in a way that makes them uncomfortable — is not a collective trait we should continue to emulate. Rather than speaking in a manner that's devoid of inward reflection and critical thinking, a better approach would be to commit ourselves to the old proverbial saying, "Think before you speak."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Angelina Jolie Commentary Hannah Waddingham Misogyny Oliver Awards Red Carpet Sexism