The Proposal/ Wikimedia Commons

Do you relate to Hollywood’s 21st century career woman?

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As a final year student, I have the terrifying prospect of choosing a career constantly on my mind. Warwick is a very career-oriented university and most people seem fairly engaged in discussing their future, so this seems like a normal thing with which to preoccupy yourself. However, when thinking about films, which we often use as inspiration for reflecting on our lives, I don’t think we get the best impression of career-minded women. It’s not that men have an amazing deal, often being portrayed as incompetent or in intense competition, but when you consider that women entering the workforce is still a fairly recent phenomenon with the image of the fifties housewife still informing the 21st century, it’s an even more undesirable depiction.

In 2009 romantic comedy The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays Margaret Tate who terrifies her assistant, played by Ryan Reynolds, finally forcing him to marry her in order to avoid deportation to Canada. While the plot sounds absolutely ridiculous but I was won over by the bickering and charm of the two characters developing into a loving relationship. Bullock’s role as pushy, publishing editor could be harmless in isolation, but this stereotype of the domineering shrew, overly dedicated to her job, is problematic. Of course, Tate shouldn’t have broken the law, but unsurprisingly, it’s a man that has to teach her to relax and Margaret’s obsession with work could be read as a kind of inner brokenness as an orphan rather than what is perceived as passion in a man.

It seems to be a bizarre either-or situation, that a woman can’t be both sexy and in control.

This is repeated in The Ugly Truth, with also focuses on ‘chilling out’ to get the guy. The crass Gerard Butler teaches the uptight Katherine Heigl how to appear more sexually attractive by being carefree, less critical and eating phallic-shaped foods. While the film goes onto critique his logic and his own issues, it’s interesting to see how these women are often perceived as somehow frigid, because of their intense focus on work. It seems to be a bizarre either-or situation, that a woman can’t be both sexy and in control.   This shows a lack of understanding of the realities of 21st century women; films may have women on screen, but there is still a clear lack of female influence behind the camera. For women today, it can still seem a choice between a successful career or marriage and children – especially with the Presidential hopeful, Donald Drumpf, still spouting nonsense that pregnancy is an “inconvenience” for employers.

The problem that still persists is that the same, tired images and female stereotypes are continually perpetuated … but we just don’t see corresponding male stereotypes employed in the same way

It’s notably Bullock’s other classic Miss Congeniality, as well as Reese Witherspoon’s amazing Legally Blonde that attempt to break this stereotype. Both Bullock and Witherspoon play contrasting roles in their respective films: one is an unkempt, undervalued FBI agent; the other is a blonde sorority girl turned brilliant law student. While male love interests are present in both films, it is female friendship that empowers these women and permit them to keep their core values and personalities. This is also seen in the more recent Bad Moms, Mila Kunis balances her young, hip job with an absent husband and sweet, but complicated children. The film provides a more nuanced portrayal by showing Kunis to be very patient and good at her job, in spite of a younger, lazier boss who takes advantage of her strengths. Films like these show that depictions of the 21st century career woman are improving. However, the problem that still persists is that the same, tired images and female stereotypes are continually perpetuated by the film industry and come so easily to mind, but we just don’t see corresponding male stereotypes employed in the same way; ultimately indicating how Hollywood and the movie business still has a long way to go.


 

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