“I Was A Misogynist”: Lessons from Jameela Jamil’s Red Table Talk

Areeshya Thevamanohar is a third year Politics student at King’s. Growing up in Malaysia, and then moving to London, she hopes to keep exploring the interchangeable relationship between gender and societal norms.

[Featured Image: An image of Jameela Jamil. Source.]

“I was project unlearn. I was a bitter, twisted, angry woman” said Jameela Jamil. In a raw conversation, the actress, radio presenter, model, writer and activist joined the web television talk show called ‘Red Table Talk’, hosted by actress Jada Smith. The show itself has tackled an array of personal issues and topics with various guests, but this one in particular had me nodding along throughout. In covering feminism, mental health and misogyny, here are some of the key takeaways from their chat. 

The discussion commenced quite intensely on the topic of mental health and suicide. Jameela spoke about how eight years ago she had tried to commit suicide after having a nervous breakdown. It was after this that she began to try figuring out her trauma. “I had all these different things that I had been told my whole life that should make me happy and I was so unhappy, so lonely, so miserable.” She said after seeking help, she realised she had severe depression caused by repressed rage. “I was a very well behaved young woman who was trying to fit in this box that was too small for me. So I decided to just get rid of my filter. I decided to not hold anything in again.” 

Jameela said she believes we become numb when we have repressed rage because there is a dishonesty in it. “You are not only lying to yourself but you’re lying to everyone that you’re okay when you’re not. I think that creates a kind of moat almost for who you really are and who you’re projecting yourself as. And in that space is where the numbness lies because you are existing outside of your own body.” She also suggests that media portrayal of depression as sad music, sitting in bed with ice cream, creates confusion about the various ways such sadness can take form. In her case she remained high functioning. Yet, she was losing respect for herself and for her own life. 

Childhood trauma also overlaps with mental health. Jameela explained that she was abused as a child and also was the only person who wasn’t suffering from psychosis or mental illness at the time, so she grew up smug thinking, “Well I’m fine, I’m the strong one. I’m stoic. I developed this weird pride around how unfazed I am.” 

She pointed  to the culture factor as well, “I’m also from England and we like to stiff up the lip and hold everything inside. We consider that to be very valiant and honourable.” Jada agreed saying they felt that way among the Black community. It’s the expectation to be able to just endure whatever and act like nothing happened. She believes one should never feel ashamed for seeking help for a mental health problem. It should be no different from seeking help for a sore throat. Everyone is carrying some sort of trauma. You don’t have to be fresh home from a warzone to have PTSD for instance. “I think because we only look to very big, dramatic moments as markers for what trauma can be caused by, a lot of people miss the signs” she added. 

Yet there is a degree of intersectionality between gender and mental health. Jameela emphasises the importance of everything coming back to yourself and cleaning your own home first. “It is an act of rebellion to love yourself and to be content.” She said as women we are trained to be deeply concerned with being likeable, affectionate enough and smiling all the time. “We have so many expectations of how we’re supposed to present ourselves. We have so much homework to do. You’re never supposed to age, you’re supposed to stay thin for the rest of your life, you’re supposed to always be on your best behaviour, always be in a good mood, always be sexy, always be what every individual with different needs wants you to be all at the same time.” She reaffirmed that men are not given this extra homework to do which poses an important question; how are we as women ever going to catch up as a gender if we have all of this extra homework? 

As for her best advice on protecting one’s mental health in regards to body image, Jameela believes in practicing self defence for the mind. “If you feel bad thoughts about yourself from looking at someone’s page, it’s okay to block, mute, delete, repeat.” She mentioned a little experiment she did where she followed all of her favourite women’s magazines and her boyfriend’s favourite magazines too. “It was devastating to see the difference between how he’s being nurtured and nourished all the time and mine was all just to make me look thinner and younger.” 

As for addressing the misogynist in ourselves, Jameela recalled being bullied at school by girls and the not so great relationships she has had with the women in her family. “I would speak disparagingly about women and I thought women were always drama. I had all this rage and I would project it at women.” There has been documented proof of her slutshaming. For instance she had tweeted “Not to be outdone by Beyonce, Miley Cyrus fingers herself in low budget video for her now (not very good) single, Adore You. *rolls eyes*” and “Miley Cyrus giving all of Liam’s clothes to charity was clever. Maybe that’s where all her clothes went too..?” Jameela explained that she was in pain and thought she was doing feminism. When Jameela was 22, she was sexually assaulted on a first date. Too afraid to confront her rapist, she instead channelled her anger at all women who sexualised themselves because she blamed them for why men had always sexualised her since she was a child. Despite her feeling ashamed, she said it is important to hold yourself accountable for the fact that whatever happened to you, it can explain what you did, but it doesn’t excuse you doing it. 

In trying to reclaim herself, Jameela said she is trying to show that a woman can get cast off and come back. This leaves some room for debate about ‘cancel culture’. She said it is important to differentiate between ‘cancel culture’ and ‘call out culture’. She believes in the latter as it’s helped her learn to be a better person tremendously. “It makes me a better person when I am piled onto and called out by people online.” She believes women reserve the right to mess up, come back and do better. When a woman gets ‘cancelled’ she is expected to disappear, and she usually cancels herself, Jameela added. “We always remove ourselves when we think everyone doesn’t like us and we’ve messed up.” 

Jameela asserted “I would like to be proof that human beings can redeem themselves.” We should all be able to do the same, regardless of gender. 

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