Recently, a quote from Reese Witherspoon has been making its rounds on the good ole’ interwebs. During an interview, she was discussing her job as an actress and revealed the question she most hates reading in a script when considering a role, “What do we do now?” It seems like an innocent question, but when coupled with the barriers and type-casts that women in Hollywood face, you have fuel for a much-needed fire.
Ask yourself, how many times you’ve heard a male lead ask this question. Very few, if at all. Why? Because it’s the male lead’s role to be in control and know what to do in any given scenario. He must be reliable to be the hero, to save the day. So, following this logic, why should it make us cringe when we hear this question coming from the female lead? I’m glad you asked:
1. It implies a lack of power.
Women all around the world find themselves in situations on a daily basis that require immediate action. Situations where they don’t have the assistance of a ruggedly handsome and clever counterpart and yet they still seem to be able to manage. I understand that everyone has their particular strengths, as well as weaknesses. However, in the real world, I don’t see a lack of initiative in women to take charge in both common and/or high-stress scenarios. So, why is this a typical characteristic for female leads in movies?
2. It implies a lack of logic.
Well, maybe the issue isn’t that women don’t take initiative or lack the power to act. Maybe the dilemma is that they aren’t smart enough to know what to do. Right, like women aren’t kicking ass and taking names in ALL spheres of society these days. So, she can be an entrepreneur, artist, teacher, CEO, scientist or engineer, but all those beautiful brains and common sense seem to magically vanish in strange moments. Moments, where the male lead just so happens to get his chance to shine as the evident superior of the two. “Please, let me lead you, since you can’t lead yourself.” Yeah, last I checked, this was not a real thing and intelligence is not a trait exclusively assigned to either sex.
3. It implies a lack of independence.
I get that in character relationships there is a give and take. When I took an acting class, once upon a time, I was told to always say “yes” to the direction your scene partner wants to go, particularly in Improv, because if you say no you may be pushing your scene into a dead end. It just seems to me that in Hollywood there is a lot more give on one side and a whole lot of taking on the other.
Men are permitted to be independent 100% of the time, whereas women are permitted 40%-70%, depending on the type of role. The reasoning behind this is the same issue real life women face as well. Men want to feel needed and if a woman comes across too independent, like she doesn’t need a man, then it somehow nullifies the man’s role.
A female heroine that is self-sufficient may not have a need for a male hero, which begs the deeper question, what’s wrong with that? Well, if there is no point to a male counterpart in a movie then that would mean the entire film would rest on the shoulders of a woman. Does Hollywood have faith in women to carry an entire film solo? Rarely, though it is increasing.
I’ve heard it’s a question of profitability, which is a shame to think that a movie would be disqualified by the general public solely based on the gender of the main character. Perhaps it’s not the general public. Perhaps it’s the type of roles that are written for women, roles that ask irritating questions like, “What do we do now?”
4. It’s a demeaning ruse.
I was watching Jurassic World for the third time and it occurred to me that I had a bone to pick with the way the heroine of the film was written. Why is it that a woman cannot be intelligent and self-sufficient without also being uppity and rigid? Men can be both and still be laid back and well–adjusted.
Furthermore, it seemed like the plot of the movie was cleverly written to aid in bringing our female lead down a peg or two. She ended up being wrong and surprise, surprise the male lead was right. This fact created the need for him and her dependence on him. So, after being brought low and realizing what’s truly important in life, family and love (WARNING: Gender role rearing Its ugly head) she strolls up to her man, opens up her mouth and asks, “What do we do now?”
Wait, you’re telling me that a woman capable of running a multi-billion dollar theme park and making it to the end of the film alive, especially after letting loose a T-rex, has no clue what to do next? How about, get your ass on the next ferry heading away from slaughter island? No, she wasn’t asking in earnest, it was a ruse. What she really wanted to know is, “So, are we like a couple now or whatever?” to which he rightly responds with the cheesiest one liner, “Stick together, for survival purposes,” leaving him the cool guy and her the swooning admirer following his lead. Ugh, give me a break! Can we not do better than this?
All these reasons point to one role for a woman in Hollywood, damsel in distress; and I, for one, think that women have more to offer than that.
If you’re interested in knowing just how often this question gets asked in movies and TV, watch the following video: