Does The Entertainment Industry Fuel Workplace Stereotypes?

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This week the tweets, newsletter and other posts have intensely focussed on gender equality in the workplace. So when writing the blog to go alongside our other platforms, I thought it would be interesting to analyse the way the entertainment industry can fuel stereotyping in the workplace. Two films, The Devil Wears Prada and The Intern, expose the lives of two high-flyers in the Fashion Industry. It is renowned for its high standards and cut-throat attitudes, making it a brutal area to work in, bearing in mind this is before we throw gender equality and stereotypes into the mix!

Meryl Streep’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada, as the Ice-Queen editor of a high flying New York fashion magazine won her a Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical’. Anne Hathaway stars as Andy Sachs, in the same film but as a contrasting character. She is fresh out of university and lands her first job as co-assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). The film goes on to portray the unrealistic standards of the fashion world and how physically critical it can be, of women in particular.

Miranda: Oh God. Get away from her, she’s useless. And unattractive. Ask for Ivan. (The Devil Wears Prada)

Miranda was supposedly based on Vogue’s Anna Wintour and fits the conventional style of the career-focussed magazine Editor in Chief. She evokes terror then awe throughout the film, and for the viewer there is most definitely a love/hate relationship towards this frustrated career woman. She is at times so patently unpleasant, we can only laugh…

Miranda: Is there some reason my coffee isn’t here? Has she gone to Rwanda for the beans?… Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning. (The Devil Wears Prada)

But at other times her Diva-esque comments can be so offensive… The quote below about a female paratrooper is absurd and makes Miranda sound ghastly. At one time women were only nurses for the military! And of course when someone is parachuting out of the sky, their last thought is of how they look… She wants the women featured to be “lovely” and “slendar”, another obsession in the film is dieting with other colleagues starving themselves ahead of Paris Fashion Week. These messages are wrong for women in all walks of life, irrespective of their job.

Miranda: I saw the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they’re all so deeply unattractive. Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? (The Devil Wears Prada)

Another film, again with Anne Hathaway in The Intern sees her play an entirely different role. She takes on the role of Jules Ostin, the company chief of ecommerce fashion company, “About the Fit”. Robert De Niro, plays Ben Whittaker, a 70 year old widower, who used to be an executive of a telephone directory company before he retired. He becomes bored of retired life, so enrols onto a senior citizen intern programme. “About the Fit” has also agreed to the same programme and as you can probably guess – Ben ends up working for Jules.

Ben: I’m Ben Whittaker. I’ve got an appointment with Miss Ostin.

Becky: I thought she was meeting with her new intern.

Ben: That’s me.

Becky: How old are you?

Ben: 70, you?

Becky: I’m 24. I know I look older. It’s the job. It ages you, which won’t be great in your case… Sorry. (The Intern)

This is a typical ageist comment made by a young girl in the office to Ben, he arrives in a suit with his briefcase ready for the day. Others in the office are wearing t-shirt and jeans, not because it is dress down day but that this is norm for them.

Jules: Don’t feel like you have to dress up.

Ben: I’m comfortable in a suit if it’s okay.

Jules: Old school

Ben: At least I’ll stand out.

Jules: I don’t think you’ll need a suit to do that. (The Intern)

As the most senior lady within this business Jules’ character takes a hands on management style to the point where in one shot she is riding a bike around the office to get around everyone and exercise at the same time. Next she is left completing her own tasks into the early hours of the morning with beer and pizza at her side (a contrast again to the dieting in The Devil Wears Prada). Her husband, Matt took a step back from his successful career to be a stay-at-home Dad to their daughter Paige so that Jules could really focus on “About the Fit”. Jules simply cannot juggle her busy work schedule and all the usual mothering duties, the other Mums at Paige’s school just do not understand…

Jules: It’s 2015, are we really still critical of working moms? (The Intern)

All being said, both films are entertaining and have comedy value. But are they really setting the right stereotypes for young girls growing up who aspire to be in the fashion industry, or any job in any industry? You decide.

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