One of the most depressing passages in Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece (on female actresses and Hollywood comedies).
This is disgusting, but I think there might be some messed up psychological truth to it. Or not. Here’s the part I do understand: how am I supposed to relate to Zooey Deschanel, Katharine Heigl, Jessica Biel, Mila Kunis or Kate Hudson in a romantic comedy? It’s impossible in my insecure lady head that they would have the same problems with finding love that I do because I know for a fact that my guy friends would kill to date them. If I see them play a character down on her luck or who is insecure, I find something relatable in them. I’m not saying I like this, but that I know why it’s done. It’s also done in successful action films. Watch Red Letter Media’s The Phantom Menace review on youtube. A protagonist usually starts out as someone down on his luck. The icky thing about this rom com standard is that the girl isn’t just down on her luck, she is forcefully degraded.
But then you have to ask yourself, isn’t the real problem that girls are raised within our society to be insecure? To be willfully degraded? To allow that we are fat/dumb/not good enough/only worth how adorable we are? And to allow that Hollywood actresses look, dress and act like paradigms of womanhood that we can never be? Most of these actresses are completely unrelatable off-screen because as far as we know they haven’t gone through simple human experiences like…awkward teen years. We know because we SAW THEM ON TV AND IN MOVIES when they were teens. They also have never had to worry about health insurance or student loans or car payments or shitty part-time jobs. Unless they open up about suffering a personal tragedy or depression, they seemingly have no weaknesses.
But that said, old Hollywood actresses like Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and Audrey Hepburn were far more glamorous off-screen than our modern day starlets. I don’t remember them “stripped of dignity” at the start of My Man Godfrey, It Happened One Night, Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story or Roman Holiday. Were they down on their luck? Yes. Were they misunderstood by others around them? Hells yes. But they didn’t have to be whimpering, defeated examples of ladyhood in order to be liked. They were likable because they kept their spirits up despite their setbacks. They were adorable because they were fully fleshed characters who fought back. When their families and friends wrote them off as being silly and hapless or stubborn and bitchy, they didn’t change themselves to fit in. When they got the fussy end of the lollipop, they swigged a bit of gin, plucked the ukelele, cracked a joke and hatched a plan for success. When they felt trapped by their world’s and stripped of their rights, they escaped and found their own destiny.
So really, if you want to make a woman—or a man—likable, show them down on their luck. But also show that they can overcome these obstacles. If you are really writing fully-fleshed out female characters, then guess what? That’s going to happen naturally.
And this became way longer than the original three sentences I had intended….