AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women – January 1, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Feminist insists she isn’t one; the meaning of Brittany Murphy; why Sex and the City is a poor icon for women…

FEMINIST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT FEMINISM IS. West End theater producer Sonia Friedman is bringing the musical version of the film Legally Blonde to the British stage, but in an interview with the Telegraph, she reveals — presumably inadvertently — that she doesn’t really understand what she’s selling. After defending Blonde heroine Elle — “She shows that there’s nothing wrong with wearing pretty clothes and lipstick, while still being a strong woman,” a feminist statement if ever there was one — Friedman goes on to say:

I’m most definitely not a feminist. I’m just a woman doing a job.

That alone is a headscratcher, but Friedman goes on to voice an objection to how she is treated in her professional capacity that could be considered a core feminist concept:

I actually get annoyed when I’m described as ‘one of the top female producers’. I don’t want to be one of the top female producers, I want to be one of the top producers.

When a successful woman working in a field traditionally dominated by men, and selling a feminist product, can so misunderstand what feminism is that she can’t appreciate that she is, in fact, a feminist, and even actively expresses disdain for feminism, it’s little wonder that so many other people don’t understand it, either.

GIRL, INTERRUPTED. Hortense at Jezebel, in a retrospective on the short career of Brittany Murphy, hits on what may be the sad legacy of her public life — that Murphy was yet another woman that Hollywood didn’t know what to do with until she conformed to preconceived notions of what women are “supposed” to be:

It’s something we’ve watched in progress throughout this entire decade: young women who are held up as the next big thing (Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears) and then brushed aside or openly mocked after they no longer fit an expected mold. It is both a story of self-destruction and mass-destruction, the business of creating and destroying a star; sometimes it’s caused by internal forces, and sometimes its fed by the rest of the world.

Of course, it needn’t have taken Murphy’s death to highlight the fact that the early promise she showed in films like Clueless and Girl, Interrupted — a promise that was based on rejecting cookie-cutter depictions of young women — was lost in later stereotypical portraits of catty, idiotic women-children (Little Black Book, Uptown Girls, Just Married), the kind that dominated studio films in the 2000s. But it did. It’s beyond dishearting to think that a good way for a woman in Hollywood to express her individuality and humanity is by dying, but that does sadly appear to be the case for Murphy.

SEX AND SHOPPING = WOMAN OF THE DECADE? Naomi Wolf, one of the preeminent feminist thinkers of our day, has chosen Carrie Bradshaw, the central character of the television show Sex and the City, as one of the icons of the decade. From her piece in the Guardian:

It may seem ironic that the first female thinker in pop culture (not in books – books have had them since Doris Lessing) came to us with corkscrew curls and wacky cloth flowers in her hair, teetering on Manolos worn over Japanese-schoolgirl socks. But really, can you name a TV show or film prior to this that centred around a woman reflecting about her life and the world? Carrie, for better or worse, was our first pop-culture philosopher.

Yes, Wolf, it does indeed seem ironic that you, of all people, would consider it a major step forward for our society that a woman who obsessed about clothes and shoes became an icon worth highlighting. Carrie Bradshaw reinforces the worst stereotypes our culture ascribes to women — and indulges them fully by granting Carrie the financial wherewithal to embrace those materialistic stereotypes to the fullest (not that an even more financially endowed man couldn’t let her embrace them all the more) — and just because Carrie was “deep” enough to think about her own shallowness is hardly something worth celebrating.

Wolf also sees Carrie’s friends as iconic, in a positive way, too:

In TV or film, do you get to be a slut without comeuppance? Never. Yet there is Samantha, bawdy as the Wife of Bath, always cheerfully horny and materialistic, utterly without Calvinic redeeming qualities, living at last with her devoted younger boy toy in LA in the Sex and the City movie – finally leaving him because she is just not cut out to mix her driving, unmediated sexual energy with commitment. Did not thousands of young women eager to explore their sexuality, but scared of being labeled sluts by their peers, breathe a sigh of relief or even liberation watching Samantha down another tequila, unrepentantly ogle the sex god at the end of the bar, and get richer and more beautiful with age, with no STDs or furies pursuing her?

Perhaps Wolf lives in an alternate universe in which girls and women no longer get labeled “sluts.” We, however, do not live in that universe, and Sex and the City did nothing whatsoever to change that. Perhaps if the show did not treat Samantha as a comic aberration, she might be worth celebrating. But Samantha is not a role model, not even a fantasy one: she’s a punchline.

Perhaps the best indication of how farcical is Wolf’s choice of Sex and the City as iconic is where her essay appears: not in the Guardian’s Culture section, nor in the TV section, but in the Women section, which is a subset of the Life & Style section, which also features Fashion, Food, Home, Gardens, and Craft. Our society continues to see women’s concerns as nothing more significant than either the whims of fashion or the trifles of domesticity. And Sex and the City offered nothing to suggest that this is not, in fact, how things should be.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).