Back in the 1990s, the movie Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere with Gary Marshal in the director’s chair, created quite a bit of stirring among the feminist supporters of the country. This is because the movie effectively stereotyped women’s roles via its depiction of prostitutes, sexual treatment of women, as well as roles women are expected to portray in various social circles. The movie shows the viewers that the way women are treated is based upon their social standing or job occupation. The respectability quotient of a woman is scored not by her inner personality, but rather by how she is perceived on the physical aspect.
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Sarah L. Rasmusson discussed this topic extensively in her discussion thread entitled “Teaching Pretty Woman”, where she asks us to totally concentrate and analyze the first 15 minutes of the movie wherein streetwalker Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) works on transforming herself from the sensitive, small-town young woman, to the streetwise hooker who needs to swallow her personal principles in order to survive. She continues to explain that :
Most prominently, a good case can be made that the film is actually about gender-as-performance. Note the long beginning sequence where Julia Robert’s character is getting ready and puts on her wig, make-up, and then zips up her plastic/fake leather boots and fastens them with a safety pin. She is totally in drag. And, Richard Gere says so when they are both in his car and she is trying to negotiate a fee and he says, “No one who holds her boot up with a safety pin should charge that much.” She then proceeds to tell him how to drive his stick-shift sports car because he can’t. As a third waver, I think it is important not to re-pacify women by only talking about the representation of women.
One thing a viewer has to realize about the movie is that it tries to pigeonhole the female gender by portraying women as needy, incapable, and dependent people. Such a view stems from the centuries-long former dependence of women on men in order to achieve any semblance of success or ownership in life. Although women have somewhat changed that gender stereotype, there is still a long way to go before men become comfortable about treating women on equal footing when it comes to work and abilities issues. It is important to note that although Vivian tried her best to be accepted in the world of Edward Lewis, this remained impossible because she simply was “not in their class.”
The movie clearly portrays the two kinds of women that exist in today’s world. But, I find it hard to believe that majority of the women in the upper class got there only because of their influential male counterparts. That is a gender stereotyping meant to make women feel bad about themselves and condition them to accept that only men can achieve anything in life. Women are just along for the ride.
The real story behind the story of Pretty Woman lies in the fact that the movie forces the viewers to rethink their ideas pertaining to how women of different class rankings should be treated in modern society. After all, a woman is a woman regardless of how she makes her money and where she lives. Gender merely refers to sexual orientation. It does not dictate what abilities and accomplishments a person may have or not have in life.
Pretty Woman. Dir. Garry Marshall. Perf. Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Hector Elizondo. Touchstone Pictures, 1990.
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Rasmusson, Sarah. “Feminist critical analysis of Pretty Woman”. Teaching ‘Pretty Woman’. 2003. WMST-L. Web.