Meryl Streep: Straight Men Don't Live Through Female Characters

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Earlier this week, Terry Gross broadcast a provocative interview with Meryl Streep on her NPR program Fresh Air.

The interview was tied to Streep’s unprecedented 17th Oscar nomination for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. But Gross also used the opportunity to ask Streep about some insightful comments she made during her Commencement Address to the graduates of Barnard College in 2010.

First here are some excerpts from Streep’s Barnard speech:

The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It's easier for women because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It's hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in Peter Pan, whereas girls identify with Romeo and with Peter Pan…

They [men of my generation] professionally can’t hear us…



Now here are some excerpts from Streep’s conversation with Gross:

GROSS: ...I want to quote something else you said, and this was in the Barnard speech that you gave in 2010, that "The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It's easier for women because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It's hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in Peter Pan, whereas girls identify with Romeo and with Peter Pan." What led you to that conclusion?

STREEP: I watch movies and I don't care who is the protagonist, I feel what that guy is feeling. You know, if it's Tom Cruise leaping over a building I, I want to make it, you know? And I'm going to, yes, I made it. And yeah, so I get that.

And I've grown up, well, partly because there weren't great girls' literature. Nancy Drew maybe. But there weren't things. So there was Huck Finn and Spin and Marty. The boys' characters were interesting and you lived through them when you're watching it. You know, you're not aware of it but you're following the action of the film through the body of the protagonist.

You know, you feel what he feels when he jumps, when he leaps, when he wins, when he loses. And I think I just took it for granted that, you know, we can all do that. But it became obvious to me that men don't live through the female characters.


GROSS: Do you think that women have that kind of double consciousness and men, you think, like, boys... don't make that leap…

STREEP: Well, it has to do with very deep things, you know, because it might be that imagining yourself as a girl is a diminishment…But I don't know, I really think there's a difference between how men critics see things than how women tend to…

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