July 2, 2008

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Meryl Streep

Two pieces on Meryl from the Guardian as Mamma Mia! is opening there this weekend. (I saw it last night, corny, hysterical and fun- fuller assessment to come)

She attributes the strong roles she's landed in the last decade to the rise of female executives such as Amy Pascal and Sherry Lansing. With male executives, she says, they don't employ older women 'because they don't want to see their first wife in a movie'. Super trouper of the silver screen (The Guardian)
But why did she accept the role? "It's a requirement of popular culture that you strike an ironic distance. This doesn't. It's a film about women and their whole experiences being hopeful and youthful and older and suffering the regrets that you have over a long life. It's visceral and I love that."
What happened to all those strong celluloid women? "It's a very big question," says Streep. "Women's real change in our society has been disruptive, but feels evolutionarily necessary. So now 60% of the kids in college are women. More than 50% of medical students are women. They're not at the top in government and business, but there is real change and I think that has terrified everybody. It's terrified men and it's terrified women." As a result, she thinks, "women have performed a compensatory step back". Streep starts imagining out loud what the women who have made that step back tell themselves. "'I won't be sexy if I'm this - even though I want to be paid an equal amount, I still want to appear sexy, I still want to appear fragile, so I'll lose weight.' That's my theory about what women are doing anyway."

How does this theory play out in Hollywood? "Before the war," says Streep, "there were strong women in cinema played by women like Barbara Stanwyck, Hepburn and Crawford, who were allowed to be strong and dominate movies because they were in no way a threat. In the real world, the characters they played were a fantasy. Basically, women were at home. When the second world war - in which women had been working and liked working - was over, in the 50s, suddenly there was Marilyn Monroe, Jill St John and Brigitte Bardot because women could not be seen as strong any more. And that was because, in the real world, it was no longer just a fantasy that there were strong women."

But why did the era of the 70s and 80s, when there were once more strong roles for women in Hollywood, come to an end? I can understand why men might be terrified of strong women, but why would women find them frightening too? "Because," says Streep, "women want to be with men." She starts to laugh and shrugs as if to say - it happens. "You're so slow!"

A legend lightens up (The Guardian)

photo: lahiquera.net