This week focuses on the gendered politics of women’s voices in contemporary screen media, beginning today with an online example. Last October, the fashion magazine W shared a short video of Margot Robbie on their Instagram along with the following caption:
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response refers to a euphoric, tingling bodily sensation, one triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, such as the sounds of whispering (see Andersen 2015). Robbie’s video, and W’s framing of it, provides cautionary insights into the ways women’s voices can be eroticized in digital media.
After playing the overtly sexualized blonde bombshell in films like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Big Short (2015), Robbie has worked hard to prove herself as a ‘serious’ performer. Her talents have increasingly been recognized, as when she received multiple awards/nominations for her role in I, Tonya (2017). Yet Robbie took part in the W video segment without understanding what ASMR is. This makes the reference to ‘head orgasms’ in the Instagram caption particularly insidious. W’s description of the full video on YouTube links Margot’s performance of ASMR stimuli to her earlier, sexualized films performances, as when they urge listeners to “Bask in the 'clacks' of high heels from her breakout role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife,” or to “Embrace the sweet sound of a cork popping out of a bottle of champagne to remind you of her scene in 'The Big Short'.”
In the latter, Robbie (playing herself) is naked in a bath tub. In keeping with the film's ‘playful’ dramatizing of the US housing market crash, Robbie (speaking directly to the camera ) explains how subprime loans work. The overt sexism of the set-up verges on self-congratulatory: good luck listening to Robbie’s explanations while distracted by the spectacle of her wet, naked body. W’s approach with Robbie’s ASMR interview functions similarly. Building on Robbie’s bombshell persona – one that she herself downplays – it invites viewers to be (aurally) stimulated, this time with Robbie’s physical presence eroticized further by her ASMR-inducing voice.