Rant by Amber
While it’s not universal and does not apply to all movies, Hollywood loves to stereotype women—particularly single women. Not that every lead female character that is single is a stereotype—there are many that are complex and interesting characters—but let’s face it: a lot of them are pretty stereotypical.
I realize that utilizing archetypes is part of Screenwriting 101, and that conflict and flawed characters are bases for good stories. My problem is that single female characters in Hollywood movies are often created to fit into unflattering stereotypes that have become frustratingly cliché. There’s the desperate hopeless romantic, the emotionally stunted commitment-phobe (usually a supporting role), the career-obsessed workaholic (think Sandra Bullock in The Proposal or Eva Mendes in Hitch), and the frumpy clueless girl who seems like a lost cause.
The last one is the category that bugs me the most—the one that paints single women as repulsive trolls. In this stereotype, the character is completely clueless and seemingly hopeless: the poor woman knows nothing about men, style, or even basic grooming (Never Been Kissed, Miss Congeniality, She’s All That). It’s hardly a new story. Pygmalion’s Eliza Doolittle* (see also My Fair Lady, the 1964 musical starring Audrey Hepburn) has become an archetype in Hollywood: a single and entirely un-alluring female is made over, re-trained, and transformed, and therefore becomes attractive to members of the opposite sex. The premise has been played out so many times in Hollywood movies that it has become somewhat cliché—and a little offensive to fully functioning single, adult women.
One of the worst offenders in the clueless-and-hopeless-single-woman category is Never Been Kissed. I actually enjoy the movie; it’s cute, it’s funny, it stars Drew Barrymore, and the male lead (Michael Vartan) provides quality on-screen eye candy—all components of an entertaining if predictable chick flick. Josie Gellar (Barrymore) is a 25-year-old copy editor at the Chicago Sun Times. She is educated, intelligent and professional—she also has no sense of style, has never darkened the door of a decent hair salon, and has no idea how to talk to or behave around attractive men. Needless to say, Josie is very single. Her life takes a turn when she takes an undercover writing assignment in order to move forward in her career. The problem is that Josie has to go back to high school—literally—and she didn’t do that great her first time around. Basically she undergoes the ugly-duckling-into-swan transformation and it all resolves in a happy ending. The change in her status from dork to Prom Queen is primarily due to Josie coming into her own and learning to be comfortable in her own skin. Great. But my problem is with the state of Josie when we meet her at the beginning of the movie. Would an intelligent and professional woman of twenty-five really be THAT clueless as to how to present herself? I mean it’s one thing to not understand that in high school—I think most people would look back on their teenage selves and shake their heads a bit (I know I do)—but to grow up, go to college, enter the professional environment of the newspaper business, and not understand the value of a tailored suit and a decent haircut seems incongruous. The additional Hollywood cliché that smart and/or academic women can’t be stylish, or at least know how to put on make-up, is also incredibly annoying; and it perpetuates the erroneous notion that smart women are unattractive.
Just because a woman is single does not mean she’s some sort of repellant monster. In the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary**, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) even calls this out—in a room full of “smug married couples.” One of the smug married women asks, “Why are there so many unmarried women in their thirties these days, Bridget?” Bridget responds, “Maybe because our entire bodies are covered in scales.” [Insert awkward silence here.] While Bridget Jones is hardly my favorite single woman character in the movies (she’s a bit of a mess), she has a point. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with women who are not married—we just haven’t found the right man yet.
Singleness was actually looked down upon in biblical times—status and legacy were established through one’s offspring, and therefore unmarried people were social pariahs and inferior citizens. Jesus, however, dignified the state of singleness and gave it a purpose. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 7), tells us the value in remaining single—which he admits is not for everyone. Married or single, we can follow His commands, loving God and loving others. Furthermore, as a Christian, singleness is not synonymous with being alone. Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
So don’t stereotype me, Hollywood. Just because a woman is single does not mean she is scaring the men away. She just hasn’t found the right one. And until she does, she’ll be just fine.
*The key difference is that in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is of the disenfranchised London poor—she does not have the means or opportunity to improve, educate, or take care of herself.
**I actually read Helen Fielding’s book this year, and it was hilarious and highly relatable (even more so than the movie, I thought).