Monday, August 24, 2009

pigeonholing the penis-less (part II)

the first of our responses to an earlier question I posed: in auditions, are female performers forced to make a choice between being pretty or funny? our first (anonymous) correspondent:

I can't really speak to "pretty vs. funny" but I do think there's a serious dichotomy present with any combination of qualities that creates three-dimensional women, i.e. "pretty & intelligent" or "pretty & strong" or "sympathetic & strong." And I think it is well worth mentioning that this exists as a problem not just for actresses - this exists for ALL women whatever their profession - it just may be brought into more frequent and higher visibility in the acting world. Maybe I'm just stereotyping the stereotypes, but QUICK! name a character in film or television that fits any of those categories. Now switch any single word in any pair to its opposite (pretty & ditzy/ugly & intelligent, pretty & weak/ugly & strong, harsh & strong, sympathetic & weak): I'll bet you'll find it a LOT easier to think of examples for those pairings. (And while you're at it, don't stop at Hollywood - literature is full of this, too - Hollywood didn't invent it - they just PERFECTED it.)

I take it back: I will speak to "pretty vs. funny:" If you look at funny as being laughable (as in laugh AT), then there's plenty of that out there (see "pretty & ditzy"). But IMHO, true humor (laugh WITH) requires wit and intelligence, which would be a subset of "pretty & intelligent" - so you see where that leaves us...

Having recently dyed my hair for a role (I'm a natural blonde who went brown), my life INSTANTLY changed. I was walking the same route every day, wearing the same clothes... the only thing that was different was my hair color. The daily commentary from the construction site near my work CEASED - and I mean ENTIRELY. I was invisible (thank goodness - it's enough to make me think about not going back). Women were nicer, whether it was standing on the train platform or shopping in a crowded environment. So again, it's not just Hollywood, either - but then I think the argument can be made that we've all been CONDITIONED by Hollywood to one degree or another...

I have literally been told during my career that I read "too smart" to play a bimbo (although being blonde and curvy, those were largely the roles that I was sent up for and occasionally cast in - that is, back when I was young enough even to be considered for the bimbo). You may OCCASIONALLY find a smart, blonde character in film or TV, but I can practically guarantee that you won't find a smart, blonde, curvy girl - she'll be stick-thin.

Finally in response to the "over 35" thing - Burson's statement is a fallacy from the start. In Hollywood terms, there IS NO SUCH THING as a woman who is considered both "beautiful" and "over 35" unless she became a star in her 20s (or maybe even earlier) and is managing to continue to NOT LOOK HER AGE. Conventional wisdom has it that if you don't make it there in your 20s, you're not going to make it (yes, I'm sure people can provide a few exceptions, but they will be FEW). So Hollywood, worshipping youth and beauty (or the surgical representations of it), has essentially destroyed their older base by drumming them out of the industry, and if they genuinely want it back they're going to have to do a bit of work. They're also going to need to shift their definition of beauty, which is basically to be without facial texture or any meat on your bones. Most women by their mid-30s have figured out that some battles are just not worth fighting, and trying to stay Hollywood-thin will RAVAGE a woman's face, not to mention her health. I'm sure that there are PLENTY of "talented, funny women over 35" out there - maybe even plenty that many of us would consider beautiful - they just may not be "Hollywood" beautiful.

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