What if strong, successful females were not cast as domineering bitches? A review of The Proposal

I watched The Proposal last night. Though I am a Sandra Bullock fan, I was less than impressed. Particularly irksome from a feminist point of view was the tired perpetuation of the notion that powerful women are domineering bitches.

To be successful, the movie indicates, Bullock’s character (Margaret Tate) has become a cold-hearted control freak whose employees fear and loathe her in equal quantity. Of course she is single, family less, and friendless because women who care about their career obviously can’t care about anything else.

Early in the film, her employees send around “it’s here” instant messages, warning that Margaret is about to enter the building. Tellingly, she is an “it” rather than a subject – like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, she is demonized into an inhumane she-monster. Later, as she leaves her office, another warning is sent that “the witch is on her broom.”

Why is it that cruel male bosses are not similarly depicted? When they are horrid, they are most often mocked as humorous buffoons rather than depicted as vile (think 9 to 5). They are not called “it” or warlocks, or, as Bullock’s character is, “satan’s mistress.” Moreover, there is no suggestion that their male gender contributes to their horribleness. In contrast, female bosses bitchiness is often linked to their “failed” femininity – they are not doing what their “supposed to” – not cooking, cleaning, wiving, mothering, nurturing…

In The Proposal, Margaret is “saved” by the boy-faced Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) who schools her about love, family, and proper femininity. Once she forces him into a deal to marry her to avoid deportation back to Canada, he quickly loses his simpering employee stance and turns the tables (and starts to “wear the pants” in the relationship). He makes her kneel before him on the ground, mocks her inability to navigate a boat ladder in heels, and blackmails her into giving him a promotion. As pointed out here, this story would never fly if the roles were reversed…

The film explicitly pokes fun at feminists when Andrew explains to his mom and grandmother that he is not helping Margaret navigate her heavy suitcase because “she’s a feminist.” Here, in a double-jibe, the movie insinuates women really are incapable of hefting their own suitcases while also perpetuating the notion that ALL feminism is about is who will open the door or carry the bags…

At the start of the film Margaret is dismayed at the sight of her aging face in the mirror. As the film continues, she is presented nude in many scenes – and though her body meets the thin, firm ideals of U.S. culture, she is markedly ashamed of her body and constantly instructs Andrew “don’t look at me.”

Margaret is ridiculous in her crippling high heels and teeny lingerie in the rugged Alaska setting that is home to the Paxton family empire. This good-ole slice of USA is ruled by a domineering dad who mocks Andrew for having a female boss (furthering the anti-feminist undercurrents of the film that suggests we need to go back to “the good old days” when men were bosses and women stayed in their place). The mom (Mary Steenburgen) and grandma (Betty White) have no leadership in this male empire, rather, they dodder around smiling, delivering food, and being oh-so-excited about the pending wedding. They, like Andrew’s x-girlfriend (who works in a “properly feminine” profession – teaching), are used to depict positive femininity in contrast to Margaret’s ball-breaker aura.

As if the stereotypical depiction of smart successful women AS bitches who NEED a good man (and a good fuck) to save them were not enough, the film also trades in racial stereotypes.  Oscar Nunez (of The Office) plays Ramone, a heavily accented, highly stereotyped Latino who works as a stripper, a grocery clerk, and an inept catering employee – yeah, because Latnino’s always have multiple low-paying jobs which they suck at. Ugh.

This movie is yet more proof that a female director and a strong female lead do not a feminist-friendly movie make…

17 thoughts on “What if strong, successful females were not cast as domineering bitches? A review of The Proposal”

  1. Professor, it is really important that us strong (bitchy) women are rescued by love (men) in order to learn how to do femininity.

    I haven’t seen this film, but I doubt I will. I tend to prefer zombie, post-apocalyptic (etc) films (which have their own host of problems!)

    Have you seen Avatar yet? So many great aspects (Michelle Rodriguez, pretty scenery, an acknowledgment of colonialism) and SO many problems. I will write about it if I have anything to say beyond this post which sums up a lot of what I have to say: http://www.bluecorncomics.com/2009/12/white-guilt-in-avatar.htm

    Interestingly, I have seen a LOT of defensiveness come out with this film. (Not surprising.) Which is perhaps why I am in a less than charitable (and very blunt!) mood🙂

    1. Monika,
      Ha!
      I have not seen Avatar yet but hope to! I will wait to read the post you link to until after I see it!
      Happy new year!

    1. Didn’t mean to make you sad! Or are you sad by the way said work is displayed in the film? Ramone’s character mocks the hard work of such a job, spending his time flirting with Margaret and doing quasi-stripper moves…

  2. Why is it that feminists honestly expect all movies starring women to be these superfeminist-indoctrination BS pieces?

    I’m sorry, welcome to the real world. Out here, there aren’t any magical, universally-beloved, feminist superwomen.

    So I can’t figure why you have trouble accepting that there aren’t infinite amounts of them in film.

    Even more, when real life feminists (just look around at the blogs), are, in fact, gross, inhumane, self-aggrandizing “ball breakers”, as it were, why object to them being portrayed that way in film, when they seem to have no problem screaming from the internet rooftops how much they hate men and think women are superior?

    Even worse is when your type complains about women in movies that aren’t this super-independent magic feminist. You act as though NO “real woman” would ever…etc, thus calling on the “no true scotsman” logical fallacy.

    Bleh.

    Debates are places for logic, not unrestrained emotional spillover.

    1. Uh,
      “Your type”?!?! Do you always use this inflammatory language? How far does that get you in your call for logical debates?

      1. You refer to “my type” as “gross, inhumane, self-aggrandizing “ball breakers”” who “have no problem screaming from the internet rooftops how much they hate men and think women are superior” and you don’t see that as inflammatory?
        If you read this blog, you would know I love men, and all humans, and do not think women superior — the stance of the majority of feminists. Do you not think feminists have fathers, brothers, sons, lovers whom they love? Hating patriarchy is different to hating men.

    1. I might agree but define “men” and define “bitch”.
      Necessary question, women who get treated with abuse are always bitches?
      Define also soft spoken women, is it some “feminine stereotype” (same goes when women ask for a “masculine guy”)?

  3. Yes the shit we have to endure with this female bossiness. We should launch collective grievances, sue these types of women. They should be dismpowered and reduced to being barefoot, pregnant and around the cooking pot. They have drawn “First Blood”. Thats why they so jeleous of Asian and women who knows there place and giving men the respect they deserve. Boycott feminist women, dont date or marry them. They hate men period. They seek to destroy and enslave men. they immature. Fight them with your dying breathe. Be a real man ostracise a feminist.

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