1:11 pm - 07/31/2009

On Hollywood's Strong, Self-Hating Women

On Hollywood's Strong, Self-Hating Women

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One of the tricky things about pop culture is that you never know for sure whether it'll be ahead of the times or behind them. African-American music, for example, was a trailblazing force — it helped make black culture part of the mainstream decades before anyone dreamed we might ever have a president named Obama.

You can see the flip side of this in our current movies' treatment of women. When Hollywood isn't ignoring them altogether, it's usually putting them down, even in romantic comedies supposedly aimed at the female audience.

Nobody gets ruder treatment than career women, who are routinely portrayed as bossy, uptight and utterly without personal lives. What they need, we're supposed to think, is a man. But before they can get one, they must have a mortifying comeuppance.

In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays a boss from hell who's literally forced to kneel before her good-guy assistant. In the lousy new comedy The Ugly Truth, Kathryn Heigl plays a control-freak TV producer forced to hire a loutish commentator — that's Gerard Butler — who gives her a pair of vibrator panties. Predictably, it's the lewd beast who tames the brainy, high-powered beauty.

Of course, American movies have long had problems with career women. Rosalind Russell once estimated that she'd played 23 different versions of what she termed Alice in Careerland: strong working women who, deep down, actually wanted to be housewives.

Things were only slightly more enlightened in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Doris Day occupied the executive suite (on her way into bed with Rock Hudson). But if the sexual politics of such movies were old-fashioned — they were essentially in line with the official attitudes of their time — at least they weren't contemptuous.

All that changed with the women's movement. Although feminism has inarguably made society better, it also unleashed an ongoing psychic backlash. Even as women began attaining positions of power, Hollywood didn't reflect how this change actually entered our collective experience.

Instead, it began cooking up dark, paranoid fantasies about unwomanly women and pushy shrews.
It served up a parade of Prada-wearing devils: Sigourney Weaver's demonic executive in Working Girl, Tilda Swinton's brittle corporate shyster in Michael Clayton, and pretty much the whole career of Glenn Close, at least since she boiled that bunny in Fatal Attraction.

This drives me particularly crazy, because I've spent my whole life surrounded by strong career women. My mother ran a market-research company, and my sister is an international consultant. When I was a professor, my office-mate taught feminist theory. I've worked for female bosses at LA Weekly, Vogue and here at Fresh Air.

And here's what I've learned: Just like career men — now there's a term — every career woman has her own personal style. What they all have in common is that I've never seen any of them behave remotely like Weaver, Swinton, Close or Heigl.

Why, then, do they act this way on screen? You see, even as women gained more power in society, the movie audience was changing — the key demographic became adolescent males. And if there's one inescapable truth about teenage boys, it's that their exploding libidos are shot through with anxiety, especially a terror of powerful women. Their idea of a likable career woman is a good-hearted hooker, like Heather Graham's character in this summer's biggest comedy, The Hangover.

Sad to say, such laddish notions have actually been internalized by many powerful women in Hollywood. That's why I was happy to see several big reviews rebuke the women behind The Ugly Truth: Heigl, the three female screenwriters and Sony co-chair Amy Pascal, who greenlighted a picture that disdains a woman like herself. The movie makes such a worthy target not because it's so singularly awful — it isn't — but because its misogyny is so representative.

Now, if you asked Pascal, Heigl and the writers, I'm sure they'd say they were simply trying to make something that the audience likes. And perhaps they have: The movie had a big opening weekend.

Still, if things are to get better, it has to start with powerful women in Hollywood refusing to write, star in or finance films that wantonly disrespect women. Stepin Fetchit made movies that the audience liked, too, but that's not what anyone remembers him for.


Discuss. Laura Mulvey and the concept of castration anxiety welcome.
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donatello 31st-Jul-2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
I agree, but I liked The Proposal so I feel hypocritical.
lollapoe 31st-Jul-2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
I don't think you're hypocritical because of this - I don't mind seeing hookers onscreen or cunning women. I think what bothers the author and most of us is that they seem to be the only representation of women in mainstream movies these days, and perhaps that does reflect subconsciously the idea of women in general in our society.
misspinkkate 31st-Jul-2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
you liked it, for real?
waffle_party 31st-Jul-2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
im going into entertainment law, maybe ill get rich and powerful and CHANGE THE WORLD!!!


hey, a girl can dream :-)
blairbarella 31st-Jul-2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Ohhhhh, entertainment law. Where you going to school, boo?
waffle_party 31st-Jul-2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
UCLA bitches!
thebigquiet 31st-Jul-2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
So you mean you want to be a top lawyer until a man comes a long and melts your cold self-hating heart, right?
melomanesagesse 31st-Jul-2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Gurrl, I am jealous! I'm applying for next year for programs in entertainment law (just graduated, taking a gap year). UCLA is where I really wanna go :), but I might try for USC's new program.
talkaboutmoi 1st-Aug-2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
ohhkathleen 31st-Jul-2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Me too.
acidrain0789 31st-Jul-2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
seriously i am so sick of this shit
rampant_chaos8 31st-Jul-2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
So am I.
milkybrew 31st-Jul-2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
sick of what...
toaerythinness 31st-Jul-2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
how come?
astormatsea 31st-Jul-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
me fucking too
mindofthebeheld 31st-Jul-2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
What's the word for anti-feminist? W/e it is, my mom is one. Sometimes, I feel like burning all my bras in her kitchen.
rhapsodeeinblue 31st-Jul-2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
Sexist? Misogynist?
mindofthebeheld 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
Umm, not exactly. She thinks different genders were given different roles and now that we're fucking with it, ~the world's in a disaster.

She wants me to be successful, but she wants me to marry a man more successful than I so that we can have a ~happy marriage. It's impossible to be happy otherwise, according to her.
deftonedpiano 31st-Jul-2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
It is anti-feminist. There's a whole movement for it. A LOT of women are involved. It scares me.
laceleather 31st-Jul-2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
my mom kinda is too :/ except i dont think she realizes it. but she's convinced that i won't be happy unless i marry a man smarter than me, and once she even said "why change?" and im like uhhh do you still want to be in the kitchen?...and i dont think she minded.
suzycat 31st-Jul-2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Sarah Palin?
squishtoy 31st-Jul-2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Feminist readings are so downing.

luxe_cdg 31st-Jul-2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
wow why have i never heard a song of her before? this is awesome.
buffy_usa 31st-Jul-2009 06:30 pm (UTC)

seems like this belongs more on ontd_political tbh.

i go to movies for entertainment value and escapism.
pc elements are secondary.
bluetooth16 31st-Jul-2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
I posted it to ontd_political as soon as I saw your comment! Thanks for the idea!

Edited at 2009-07-31 06:54 pm (UTC)
somerset 1st-Aug-2009 12:16 am (UTC)
Ikr? I hate it when I read stuff that makes me think.
boomstick 31st-Jul-2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
They should make a movie of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Aunt Viv was FUCKING FIERCE.
rhapsodeeinblue 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
TBH that was the first thing I thought of when I read Fresh Air.
boomstick 31st-Jul-2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Pssh, no way. She was with Uncle Phil way before he had a penny.

ohhkathleen 31st-Jul-2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Aunt Viv was a gold digger
flowerings 31st-Jul-2009 07:46 pm (UTC)

Until they changed her actress. :|
dd_sp 31st-Jul-2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
One step forward, two steps back...
extrafinesugar 31st-Jul-2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
The Ugly Truth was so crude. Heigl must be pretty desperate for a movie career to take a script like that.

At least Knocked Up had an underlying pro-life pro-responsibility message behind it. The Ugly Truth was pointless.
beaute__exquise 31st-Jul-2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
I wonder how long until Katherine complains about that movie.
extrafinesugar 31st-Jul-2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
I think she already has dogged Knocked Up because it wasn't "empowering" or something.
shangri__la 1st-Aug-2009 05:01 am (UTC)
She won't, she produced the damn thing.

Edited at 2009-08-01 05:03 am (UTC)
celtic_thistle 31st-Jul-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
Ugh, anti-choice is not pro-responsibility. It's anti-woman.
shepherds 31st-Jul-2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
At least Knocked Up had an underlying pro-life pro-responsibility message behind it.

LOL pro-life. Because bringing two morons' seed into the world is responsible.
ninasis 31st-Jul-2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
You know, I would agree with you if they hadn't made her so fucking desperate to stay with Seth Rogen's character. He's a HUGE LOSER that she doesn't even like but because she was knocked up she toughed it out so she wouldn't be pregnant and single, boohoohoo. That isn't "pro-responsibility" - that's the same old trite punishing the chick for daring to open her legs, making her lie in her bed now that she's made it, blah blah bullshit that the anti-choice regime likes to preach.

I consider a woman who carefully weighs her options and then chooses to keep her pregnancy as being pro-choice. Pro-choice doesn't = pro-abortion. It means exactly what it says - having the right to make a choice.

The more realistic thing would have been for her to keep the baby and move on with her life as a single mother. If the dad stayed in the picture that would have been great, but forcing her to stay with him just for shits and giggles was stupid. (Actually the entire movie was beyond stupid, but that was particularly stupid.)
___sexandcandyx 1st-Aug-2009 12:24 am (UTC)
i actually wasn't impressed by the ugly truth overall... but i dont think it was as "sexist" as its made out to be. She landed the guy she thought she wanted by being perfect, but ended up with gerard's character by being her uptight self.
freeze_i_say 1st-Aug-2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
....because getting an abortion is anti-responsibilty?

fuck off prejean
boomstick 31st-Jul-2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
squishtoy 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
He greatly resembles Pennywise in that one. A pink, impotent Pennywise.
anakisa 31st-Jul-2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
omg i can see it
visceralvamp 31st-Jul-2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
I can't get over how much he looks like the Grinch. A pink Grinch.
sparklepixie 31st-Jul-2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
I've never laughed at someone crying but this is hilarious
acidillusion 31st-Jul-2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
his mouth is like.. upside down or something.
s7ilver 31st-Jul-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
He looks like the Sewer King from Hey Arnold. No really, if you ever saw him you know it's true.
bearsbeets 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
ngl, I saw the proposal and I liked it
baglady25 Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
bostongirl2003 Re: Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
I appreciate this gif (even if it is lessened by him wearing clothes). Thank you.
drawntoinsanity Re: Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
catherish312 Re: Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
help me out, what movie is that from? excuse me if this is a dumb question. i've seen Just My Luck, Blind Date, Princess Diaries 2 and Star Trek, and i can't imagine this scene in any of them... :/ maybe it's one i've yet to see? ;)
baglady25 Re: Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
It's one you haven't seen yet (and shouldn't see). It's called Confessions.
impeding Re: Don't disappoint me, ONTD31st-Jul-2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
he is so attractive
thethirdjournal 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
Hollywood is in the business to make money. If movies featuring business women who were happy, happy campers had huge opening weekends, that's what would be at the cineplex. Sadly, most movies that do are playing at arthouse theatres.

When women go see movies like He's Just Not That Into You in droves, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for how women are portrayed on the big screen.
buffy_usa 31st-Jul-2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
exactly. on that theme specifically,

i personally think movies are far more focused on resolving a plot with the only possible happy life = girl meets boy and falls in love and live happily ever after.

never are there movies where girl or boy thoroughly enjoy their single life and career and don't feel the need to mark their territory and spawn.

not saying that's me personally, just saying in general.

movies seems far more centered around resolving coupledom, than they focus 'hating on women in power'.
slutdrunkmystag 31st-Jul-2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
I don't know, I think that there are a lot of women out there who would love to see a romantic comedy that doesn't insult them... I know I would. Unfortunately there are so few.
the_rejection 31st-Jul-2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
Mamma Mia, Sex in the City? Both did a whoooole lot better than Hollywood people were expecting, and they all freaked out and there were even articles that amounted to "omg! women have money, and they spend it!" And yet producers and distributors still maintain that movies should appeal to men, because even when women do go to a movie, it's because the guy (as in, boyfriend/husband) is with her, and obviously he decides what movie they're going to see.

I'm not even kidding. Apparently no one in Hollywood knows teenage girls, or 30-45 year old women, who go to films in huge droves with each other.
rreminiscent 1st-Aug-2009 07:55 am (UTC)
please. I'M the one who chooses what my boyfriend and i see, hollywood. he should be happy he's spending time with me! although, my boyfriend likes sappy movies (i blame his mom) as well as the typical macho-man film, and i like action/sci-fi movies sometimes too, so it all works out.
somerset 1st-Aug-2009 12:23 am (UTC)
Actually no, life is a lot more complicated than that. But thanks for regurgitating the argument that someone else already made in the post that was just a variation on "the ends justify the means."
degele 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
it annoys me when people say "african american" because you can tell they're trying to be PC but usually they use it completely wrong.

ie: naomi campbell is fierce african american model!

lol no.
degele 31st-Jul-2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
and im not referring to the article, i'm just sayin'
rhapsodeeinblue 31st-Jul-2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
No IA. It's like, JUST SAY "BLACK." It's even easier to say/write than "African-American."
lickety_split 31st-Jul-2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
I love it when people call black people that aren't from America, African-Americans.
beaute__exquise 31st-Jul-2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
lol I always assume they wanted to say nigger but stopped just in time and said "african american is the pc term" I blame this thought process on Paul Mooney.
indy788 31st-Jul-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
mte. plus not all black people are african american anyway.
mindofthebeheld 31st-Jul-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
I think it's hilarious when people say 'African-Canadians.'

Like, wooow.
msclarequilty 31st-Jul-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
LOL this totally reminds me of The Venture Brothers when a villain asks Jefferson Twilight why he calls black vampires "Blackulas" instead of "African-American vampires". He says there are no African Americans in England so therefor they are blackulas.
rhomea 31st-Jul-2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
catherish312 31st-Jul-2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
me too but i also feel like i'm pressured to say it that way so i won't offend anyone...i guess i just try to avoid the term altogether lol. which isn't too difficult in completely white Vermont.

but yes, it isn't actually accurate unless the person was like, born in Africa. or something.
be_debonair 31st-Jul-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
isn't naomi...british?
megisthesex 31st-Jul-2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
my old roommate was black and grew up in the virgin islands. she once mentioned how she really didn't know anything about the civil war/slavery. this dude went crazy on her "how do you know know the history of your people?? blahblah". she fucking owned his ignorant ass about how NOT all black people were slaves once.
phnix_daft_mode 31st-Jul-2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Lmao. That remind me of a friend I had who was bitching about these black guys who were hitting on her and she was all like "These two African American guys were hollering at me." It just made me lol so hard. Imo, there's a time to use "black" and then they're times to use "African American." There's nothing wrong with the term "African American" but it obviously doesn't describe everyone who is of African descent.
cecilia_weasley 1st-Aug-2009 12:27 am (UTC)
ikr. I'm white and I just say Black or if I know where the model/actor's background is I say Kenyan for example or whatever. In fact it's better to say what country they're originally from, imho.
sonnete 1st-Aug-2009 12:58 am (UTC)

It's especially lolzy to me because my father was a naval commander and was stationed in South Africa for a while. One of his white friends that we know from there that moved here always likes to tell people that he's an African American, lol, I love him.
solitune 31st-Jul-2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
The Proposal was a travesty. The script just plain sucked.
misspinkkate 31st-Jul-2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
Totally. And it's too bad, they had a lot of good stars.
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