by Sarah Elliott
In a world full of Andy Sachs, we all want to be a Miranda Priestley – or do we? Hollywood doesn’t seem to think so. Powerful, rich, talented and independent: Miranda Priestley is the perfect woman on paper. So why is she, along with so many other strong women, demonised on Hollywood’s screens?
The publishing industry has been well documented in Hollywood blockbusters though many of these films are focused around a male protagonist; in the past ten years less than a third of films had a female protagonist. So why is it that women in publishing are either demons (The Devil Wears Prada and The Proposal) or unfulfilled ‘women’s’ writers (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Holiday)? According to these films, women work unhappily as journalists and find meaning through romance, or they forego romance, family and any ‘semblance of a life’ (The Proposal) in order to succeed. Reason? Hollywood was, and still is, a male dominated world: they write, direct, and they degrade women.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly is a ‘dragon lady’, ‘snow queen’ and the titular ‘devil’. She’s ‘not happy unless everyone is panicked, nauseous or suicidal.’ Though this seems justification for her cruel presentation, not everyone sees her in this vicious way; the million girls that ‘would kill for that job’ as her assistant say otherwise. She is ‘a legend’ and ‘her opinion is the only one that matters’. These are very different yet almost co-dependent sides of Miranda Priestley.
The Proposal’s Margaret Tate has a similar issue with nicknames: ‘it’, ‘witch’, ‘poisonous bitch’ and ‘Satan’s mistress’ to name a few and yet she is still ‘one of the most respected editors in town.’ Margaret is so committed to her job and her clients – who she calls ‘darling’ more than any love interest – she risks deportation!
So why are these women demonised? The long standing patriarchy is threatened by powerful women who fight tooth and nail for what they have. Bob Spaulding, an ex-employee of Margaret embodies the patriarchy’s jealous response to women in positions of power:
“You can’t fire me! You don’t think I see what you’re doing here? … Because you are threatened by me! And you are a monster! … Just because you have no semblance of a life outside of this office you think that you can treat all of us like your own personal slaves. You know what? I feel sorry for you. Because you know what you’re gonna have on your deathbed? Nothing and no one.”
There’s a significant detail here that separates men and women: men won’t have had to sacrifice nearly so much. Just like Anna Wintour, discussed here, these women are cold, ruthless, and allergic to “the full spectrum of human emotion” (Proposal) out of necessity; each of these women inspires girls to fight for what they deserve, and there’s nothing more angelic than that.