Vintage Helen Mirren Doesn’t Have Time for Your Sexist Crap

by Chad Taylor

In a recently re-surfaced video from 1975, the Oscar winner shuts down a television presenter’s sexist line of questioning.


Recognize: While there are plenty of strong, bright, younger celebrities—take Ellen Page, for example, or Maisie Williams—who are fighting the good fight for feminism and equality all year round, they are all carrying on a cause that was started decades ago by the badass women who came before them. Like Helen Mirren.

Mirren has long been a warrior against the status quo, whether by wearing a bikini after age 60 like it was NBD (because it should be NBD) or by speaking out against the taboo of childless women. But as a rediscovered video illustrates, Mirren has been doing this for a lot longer.


A video from a 1975 interview on British television show Parkinson features a disgruntled Helen Mirren deflecting a series of questions that are both laughably sexist and sadly familiar.


The interview starts with Parkinson introducing Mirren by reading quotes about her body, calling her “the sex queen of the Royal Shakespeare Company” and “an amorous boa constrictor,” and complimenting her on her ability to project “sluttish eroticism.” Parkinson goes on to preface his third question to Mirren by saying “you are—in quote—a ‘serious actress’,” actually making air quotes. Mirren laughs, replying “In quotes? What do you mean, ‘in quotes’? How dare you.”


He digs himself even deeper into a hole of sexism, with the next question:


“Do you find,” Parkinson asks, “that what could best be described as ‘your equipment’ hinders you in that pursuit?”


Um, excuse me?! Hold up. The interviewer is speaking very specifically about Mirren’s breasts. At the time, this incredibly talented woman was a member of England’s Royal Shakespeare Company, and also, you know, a person. To her credit, Mirren refuses to let the statement stand—and the exchange that follows is worth playing on loop.


.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

A clearly nonplussed Mirren responds: “I’d like you to explain what you mean by ‘my equipment’ in great detail.”


And Mirren only gets better from there.


When the exchange finishes after nearly 30 gloriously uncomfortable seconds, Mirren gives the final twist of the knife, saying she forgot the question, and makes him repeat it. The interviewer finally gets frustrated Mirren’s refusal to play along.


.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }


The whole thing is epic but looking at the current sexism rampant around women in entertainment, nothing in this 40-year-old interview will surprise you.


It’s depressingly similar to Scarlett Johansson being asked if she wears underwear underneath her Black Widow costume in the Avengers films. Or, in the lead up to the Suicide Squad movie, Margot Robbie being subjected to a creepy, uncomfortable Vanity Fair profile written by a writer with a long and depressing history of objectifying his female subjects. Women being asked horrible questions that have nothing to do with their work is a time-honored tradition for press junkets; something that Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg lampooned on Funny or Die as the pair were promoting American Ultra


Women’s sexuality is constantly thrust to the forefront of any discussion, though, regardless of topic. With one tweet, 17-year-old Catrin Williams pointed out that sexist comments have nothing with how a woman acts, dresses, or behaves and arguing otherwise only succeeds in blaming the victim. By telling women to behave or dress in a way to avoid unwanted attention, society takes responsibility away from perpetrators and perpetuates the problem.


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re Helen Mirren or a teenager on Twitter: if you’re a woman, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of sexist comments. That’s why it’s so important to applaud and champion women of all generations who speak out against sexism and celebrate women’s equality.