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Women, not doormats - Silverhill's Lair
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Women, not doormats
Adam and I watched Death at a Funeral again last night. Aside from being a very funny movie, it also has a female character who's willing to stand up for herself.

Her dad hates her boyfriend. If this were a typical Hollywood female, she would:
a) sneak around behind her father's back, or
b) concoct an elaborate plot designed to change her father's mind and make him appreciate the boyfriend, or
c) break it off with the boyfriend because she just can't disappoint her father like that.

Instead, she tells her father that she loves her boyfriend and is not going to apologize for it. She unwaveringly says dad had better get used to it because she's with her boyfriend to stay. The one time she tells a lie, she does it for the right reasons. And she tells it simply and confidently — instead of the wibbling, overly complicated lies told by typical Hollywood females.

It's most noticeable in romantic comedies, though these qualities appear in other genres as well. Why are women in Hollywood movies such pushovers? She'll be a doctor, lawyer, CEO. She's a strong, intelligent woman. Oh, but she's also nice, which means she'll never say no.

SISTER-or-BFF: I need you to babysit for me on Saturday night.
FEMALE STAR: (freakishly unwilling to say she has a date) I can't. I have a ... dentist appointment.
SISTER-or-BFF: On Saturday?
SISTER-or-BFF: At 8 p.m.?
SISTER-or-BFF: Well, I'm sure they can reschedule you. I really need you to do this.
FEMALE STAR: ... Okay.
SISTER-or-BFF: Thanks! I knew I could dump on you at the last minute. Byeee!
FEMALE STAR: (on phone to Male Star) Remember how we had an elegant, intimate, adult dinner planned for Saturday night? How would you feel about spaghettios with a precocious, adorable 4-year-old and a wiser-than-her-years 8-year-old? I can promise lots of wacky high jinks and food-related mishaps that will ironically bring us closer together.

SISTER-or-BFF: Would you possibly be available to babysit my kids on Saturday night?
REAL WOMAN: You know I'd love to, but I actually have a date on Saturday night!
SISTER-or-BFF: Ooh, congratulations! I guess now I'll have to face the real-world dilemma of either hiring a babysitter or taking care of my kids myself.

That's not to say that real women can never be pushovers or that real women are cold-hearted and always say no. But c'mon, is a woman who's willing to stand up for herself that hard to write?

The somewhat-recent 27 Dresses was filled with the main character hiding her true feelings and gamely doing whatever anybody asked her to do. Ironically, though, it was a less egregious example because they did treat it as a bit of a character flaw.

What I can't understand is what they did in a post-Sorkin episode of The West Wing. Donna doesn't have a place to stay, so she arranges to stay at CJ's. Immediately after they make this arrangement, Josh tells Donna she should stay with him and Danny says he wants CJ to spend the night at his place. These are both previously established strong, modern, independent women! But instead of taking the easy, logical step of telling the truth to the other woman, they choose to suffer in silence.

I read a story about Susan Egan, the original Belle on Broadway, back when Beauty and the Beast was opening on Broadway. For the scene where Belle runs away and is attacked by wolves, she told the writers she didn't think Belle would go back on her word so casually, she must have been really terrified to be compelled to run away. So the writers changed it for her!

That's the kind of thing we should see more of!


3 comments or Leave a comment
alicornmoon From: alicornmoon Date: July 30th, 2009 03:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't say no and I'm real :P
From: phoenica Date: July 30th, 2009 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)
anadamous From: anadamous Date: July 30th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Nice post! I also feel a great deal of frustration watching this trope over and over again. Using bad writing to reinforce destructive stereotypes is pretty awful...
3 comments or Leave a comment