Would Bieber’s “Rough Week” Be Called A Meltdown If He Was A Girl?

The soft spin on his bad behavior might be evidence of an unfair double standard.

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After what everyone in the media has collectively decided to call “a rough week,” Justin Bieber made more headlines over the weekend, canceling a second-night show in Portugal — the public explanation for which has been “unforeseen circumstances,” though some reports cite low ticket sales.

In the grander scope of celebrity scandal, Bieber’s “rough week” was a relatively minor one: On the “worst birthday ever,” his friends were asked to leave/denied entrance to the club where he planned to celebrate; he fainted at a concert and took a shirtless hospital bed selfie; he was very late to a show; he wore a gas mask (again); he lashed out at the paparazzi. But celebrities have been made the center of obsessive hand-wringing over far less. So why aren’t we worrying yet?

Part of the reason Bieber’s eventful week seems somewhat tame for a person of his status and age is surely the relative distance and level-headedness with which this series of events has been reported. Most in the media have reacted to his successive mishaps with bemusement, delight, well wishes, and empathy; the “rough week” terminology is reflective of the fact that many view these events as things that happened to Bieber rather than things (apart from the fainting, most likely) he did. And that’s just as well, because he is a teenage boy who retweets his fans and faces an unimaginable amount of pressure to succeed perfectly as he learns — or tries to learn — to cope with unparalleled fame. I hope this week is better for him too.

But young female pop stars are rarely, if ever, afforded the same patience and goodwill.

In 2006, before shaving her head or checking into rehab, Britney Spears was photographed on a few occasions without underwear (link to story, SFW), and the outcry was overwhelming and immediate. (This 2006 MTV story indignantly calls Ms. Spears’ message to fans about the photographs “long overdue.”)

When a young female singer does something we deem unusual, we expect a confession — and a breakdown — to follow. Maybe it’s because we want these girls and women to be our idols and our best friends at the same time; maybe it’s because we hold them to a higher standard of pop purity and ascribe more sex-stereotypic emotion to their failure to meet it. If there is something going on in a female pop star’s personal life, we feel entitled to that information, whereas male pop singers like Bieber are freer to establish a bigger, cooler distance between themselves and their audience.

As of now, very little armchair psychology has been written about Justin Bieber’s atypical behavior, nor — as is frequently the case with female pop stars — has there been a significant and corresponding lament about his recent breakup from singer Selena Gomez as the source of his personal troubles. (There are those — see above shot — who still insist things would be better for Britney Spears had she and Justin Timberlake stayed together. This Huffington Post story starts: “It’s been 10 years since Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake ended their three-year romance and it was all downhill from there.”)

Bieber’s recent behavior isn’t inconsistent with what any reasonable person would expect of a millionaire 19-year-old boy and, all told, his public “missteps” have been quite minimal. But the patience and relative generosity with which these events have been covered — granting him the chances so many young women in similar spotlights are denied — matter, not just for Bieber’s sake, but also for the way they stand in stark contrast to the stories written about girls who “make trouble” while young, famous, and (conditionally) adored like him.

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