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Hey, Remember When Peter Kavinsky Was Every Feminist’s Internet Boyfriend?

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

7 mins read

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Okay, maybe not every feminist, but there was definitely a wide swath of the internet that became temporarily obsessed with Peter Kavinsky—and Noah Centineo, the now-23-year-old actor who portrays him—after watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the 2018 Netflix adaptation of Jenny Han’s YA novel of the same name. And since its sequel, P.S. I Still Love You dropped on Feb. 12, I’ve noticed those conversations happening again.

Tbh, I get it. I too was one of the feminists who found themselves a tiny bit obsessed with Peter when TATBILB first dropped. After watching my timeline explode with positive reviews and, okay, straight-up thirsty tweets about the character and the actor, I watched it. (Twice, actually, which is noteworthy only because I am not the best at watching the TV shows and movies that everyone is talking about even one time.) I was definitely not the only one; while Netflix doesn’t share viewing metrics for individual titles, in its Q3 earnings report, the company revealed that the movie was one of its “most viewed original films ever with strong repeat viewing.” My fandom didn’t end there, though. I followed Noah and the actual star of the movie, Lana Condor, on Instagram. I watched a truly embarrassing number of fan-made videos about their characters’ romance set to acoustic covers of indie pop love songs. I idly wondered if the two actors would maybe get together IRL. (They would not; they’re both dating other people, which is totally fine.)

It was kind of a lot, but in retrospect not that surprising. There were plenty of reasons to like the movie. First, the premise was fun: artsy baking aficionado Lara Jean writes love letters to former crushes to help herself get over them, and one day her little sister mails them out, leading to a faux boyfriend-turned-real boyfriend situation with popular jock Peter Kavinsky. There was also a lot of eye candy; both Apartment Therapy and Teen Vogue did get the look-style stories on Lara Jean’s “messy but whimsical” bedroom, and she also had a killer wardrobe, something that remains consistent in P.S. I Still Love You.

And also… Peter Kavinsky.

I have been thinking about why this attractive white dude captured my timeline’s (and fine, my) attention the way he did for a while, and I’ve narrowed it down to three things. First, and forgive me for stating the obvious here, but… he’s conventionally attractive. He’s tall, his face is symmetrical, he has a lot of muscles. More importantly, though, the character had all those qualities in addition to emotional intelligence. He wasn’t thrown by feelings! He was nice to Lara Jean’s sister! His version of masculinity is just… softer than what we’ve seen from teen heartthrobs before and my little feminist heart was into it. (I’m aware that the bar is literally on the floor here.)

Aaaand, there’s also this one other thing, which I’m a little embarrassed to admit. Maybe this is specific to being a woman of colour who grew up in a very white city, but it was also powerful to see a young WOC ‘get’ the hot, sporty guy. This is not to say that white men are in any way more desirable than men of colour. But there was a profound lack of representation on TV and in movies when I was growing up and that led to two complementary consequences. On one hand, I internalized—and have had to actively unlearn—some messed up messages about who’s attractive. I started noticing boys existed in the 90s, when the cute boys at my school and all the teen heartthrobs in Teen Bop were white, lanky and usually had a floppy mushroom cut. (See: JTT, Devon Sawa, Rider Strong, Leonardo DiCaprio, and so on.) So, guess what I thought was hot? I also rarely saw that archetypal hot guy ever deem someone who looked like me (or even just someone who wasn’t white) attractive in return, so when that happened in TATBILB, it did feel a little bit like vindication.

But, at the same time, I feel a little bit weird about the conversation some women have been having about Peter K., and by extension Noah Centineo. I distinctly remember multiple tweets on my very feminist-heavy Twitter feed about pausing the first movie to Google the actor, just to make sure it was legal to lust over him. Later that month, someone apparently leaked his nudes (well, a video of someone that looks a lot like him masturbating), which my feed was pretty delighted about. And this week, in what’s usually a really thoughtful Facebook group that I’m part of, that video popped up again—and no one seemed to worry about the implications of watching.

I’m obviously fine with appreciating someone’s face/body. There is objectively nothing wrong with sex or masturbation. AND YET, doesn’t taking part in the leaked nude ecosystem seem at odds with feminist values? We certainly didn’t have any difficulty understanding how violating the “Fappening” was for the female celebrities whose iClouds were hacked and nudes leaked back in 2014, right?

Maybe there’s something vindicating about reversing a dynamic that has made so many of us uncomfortable, the same way it felt a little bit vindicating for me to see a young WOC be ‘chosen’ by a white guy. But both of those things require us to buy into a problematic premise that isn’t actually good for any of the races or genders involved.

This is not to say that I’m over the concept of an internet boyfriend. I haven’t actually watched P.S. I Still Love You yet—to the surprise of approximately no one who knows me, sigh—but when I do, I’m sure I’ll continue feeling the same way about Peter K. That is, I’ll still think he’s hot and I’ll probably wish he was 35, in Toronto and uh, not fictional. But we can for sure appreciate someone’s attractiveness without objectifying them, so… I’m going to keep that in mind, too.

Thanks for reading—and let me know what you think!

—Stacy

And Did You Hear About…

Esquire’s excellent profile of Macaulay Culkin, who seems to be doing really well.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s also excellent op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter about Snoop Dogg’s verbal attack on Gayle King. Snoop was outraged after Gayle asked WNBA player Lisa Leslie about the 2003 rape allegations against Kobe Bryant. He called her a bitch and his followers made death threats against her. Abdul-Jabbar says, “when a man calls a woman a bitch because she does something he doesn’t like, he is nourishing the already rampant misogyny in society. But when a black man does it, he is perpetuating negative stereotypes about how black men perceive and treat women. That is harmful to the entire African-American community.” The piece was published after Snoop posted a video apology for his behaviour, but I think the point still stands. It’s definitely worth reading.

That tiny and adorable dancing pup.

Jalaiah Harmon, the 14-year-old Atlanta girl who created the most popular dance on TikTok, but hasn’t received the credit—or the followers, brand deals or connections that other creators of viral content have received. It’s “eyebrows on fleek” all over again.

Natalie Portman’s response to critics—Rose McGowan among them—who called her slacktivist. The critique was that, while she embroidered her Oscar outfit with the names of female directors who didn’t get nominated for any awards this year, her production company hasn’t actually worked with many female directors. I thought her response was thoughtful and fair.

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