Hollywood Women Speak Up, Part 3: Katherine Heigl

Hollywood is one place where you can’t get away with saying the Emperor has no clothes, or in this case, the Emperor is a man – especially if you’re a woman.  Katherine Heigl attempted to make the slightest of comments about sexism in Hollywood and was trashed for it, given the label “difficult!” because she gave an opinion, which many consider to be true.

Below is the quote that started the brouhaha/beyotch hunt, from the January, 2008 Vanity Fair article, “Heigl’s Anatomy” by Leslie Bennetts:

“…Heigl is equally forthright about the movie that catapulted her onto the A-list. Many critics raved about Knocked Up, but quite a few discerned an underlying misogyny that made female characters into unappealing caricatures while romanticizing immature and irresponsible male behavior. Heigl counts herself among those who were perturbed.

‘It was a little sexist,’ she says. ‘It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.’”

So basically Ms. Heigl stated the theme of most Hollywood movies, wherein a HGG (Helluva Great Guy) gets a HYB (Hot Young Babe) who may also be a MB (Mean Beyotch).  Then life imitated art, and Ms. Heigl stated an opinion and was portrayed, this time in real life, as the HYB/MB.

Ms. Heigl, please write 1000 times:  “I promise to be yare.  I promise to be yare.  I promise to be yare.” (See The Philadelphia Story review of the movie where Ms. Hepburn is broken like a horse and promises to be “yare,” a sailing term meaning “easy to handle.”)  It won’t take away the “difficult” label, but if certain Hollywood men think you’ve learned enough subservience, they might let you have lunch in this town again.

But no.  A year and a half later, Ms. Heigl was on her press tour for her film, The Ugly Truth, and her old lovable, goofy, fun-loving co-star, Seth Rogen, ripped into her, while appearing with director Judd Apatow on Howard Stern:

Seth Rogen: “I gotta say, it’s not like we’re the only people she said some bats–tcrazy things about.  That’s kind of her bag now.”

So, according to one of Hollywood’s Comic Male Elite, if a woman states an opinion instead of being grateful, mute and yare, she is a BatShitCrazy Beyotch.  Interesting, because if it were reversed, people would be nodding in sympathy.  If there’s ever a director or actor working on a “woman’s movie,” he can go on and on about the emotions he had to deal with and PMS’ing innuendos, how great it was when a man showed up, etc, and folks will smile and say some verbal equivalent of “That’s one Helluva Great Guy (HGG)!”

I don’t fault Judd Apatow for making funny movies from a male point of view (POV), on account of he is a male, so that’s his POV.  I get that.  I would only hope that he’s aware that’s what it is – his POV and not The Truth.  Maybe he’s called Heigl out on her comments, but his response in the VF article was initially nicely self-deprecating: “I think, for all of us, making this movie was like when you get drunk and spurt out your deepest feelings and then the next day you have drunk remorse about what you said. We all feel very proud and a little embarrassed about what we’ve revealed about ourselves.” Fair enough.  But then seemed to go where I really hoped he wouldn’t go: “The movie is not meant to be romantic, it’s meant to be honest. Katie could not have been better, because she went there.”

If Apatow meant honest as in his truth, then fine.  If he mean honest as in The Truth, then he lost me.  Maybe it was honest to his POV, but not honest to some Great Reality out there that men look at and write about and film and put up on 20 foot screens and then call THE TRUTH.   And then, because the vast majority of movies are written and directed by men and so depict a male POV, a male Truth, that is the view we get, and many consider it The Truth.  So much so that when an actress tries to tell her truth, she gets trashed for it.

Bennetts noted in her VF article that “quite a few discerned an underlying misogyny…” For example, in Slate, Meghan O’Rourke begins:  “Back in June, this viewer laughed until she cried at Judd Apatow’s goofy comedy Knocked Up, but she also left the theater feeling … disconcerted. An informal poll of female friends revealed the same: They went, they laughed, they felt squeamish. So it came as only a small surprise that sunny Katherine Heigl recently told Vanity Fair that Knocked Up is “a little sexist…” O’Rourke speaks of the press seizing on Heigl’s comments, “perhaps sensing a Salem bitch hunt in the making.”

“Squeamish.”  Well, it’s a start.   Jeannette Catsoulis reflected on this in the opening of her New York Times review of Dedication (In a World of Heartbreak, He’s a Catch (Quirks a Plus), August 24, 2007):
“That weird exhalation you hear at the multiplex these days is the sound of female characters settling for less than they deserve. Following on the wildly successful antifeminist heels of “Knocked Up,” Hollywood is falling over itself to introduce beautiful, smart young women to useless, possibly brain-damaged young men. Regular bathers need not apply.”

And kudos to a male reviewer, David Denby of The New Yorker, for writing such a balanced review, A Fine Romance (July 23, 2007):
“…Apatow does the infantilism of the male bond better than anyone, but I’d be quite happy if I never saw another bong-gurgling slacker or male pack again. The society that produced the Katharine Hepburn and Carole Lombard movies has vanished; manners, in the sense of elegance, have disappeared. But manners as spiritual style are more important than ever, and Apatow has demonstrated that he knows this as well as anyone. So how can he not know that the key to making a great romantic comedy is to create heroines equal in wit to men? They don’t have to dress for dinner, but they should challenge the men intellectually and spiritually, rather than simply offering their bodies as a way of dragging the clods out of their adolescent stupor.”

Interesting that Bennetts’ Vanity Fair article drew such criticism for Heigl, because it is actually quite life-affirming for women.  It shows an intelligent, hard-working, forthright woman who speaks her mind.  Heigl speaks with much love for her mother, a once full-time housewife who has supported her daughter’s career and is now her business manager.

“She manages everything—finances, agents, lawyers, publicists, contacts with studios, producers, all of it,” says Katherine. “My mother is a great source of advice and wisdom and consolation for me. I kind of just want to do my job, and I need someone I can trust to handle all the rest of it. This is a woman who was a homemaker, making Martha Stewart recipes, but she learned fast. She didn’t care if she made any friends in this town. Her job was to protect me and to be very fierce in defending me… My mother was the only one who thought what I wanted was important. She is really smart and really savvy, and she refuses to make choices based on fear. This is a fear-dominated industry; it’s about rise and fall, and my mother refuses to be intimidated by that. This is all a game of chicken, and my mother is really good at chicken.”  When Heigl won her Emmy last September, she dedicated it to her mom, who attended the ceremony with her. “This is for you; this is because of you,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be here without you.”

Seems to me like an intelligent woman who has opinions and isn’t afraid to express them.  In some men’s point of view, that makes her “batshit crazy.”  To me, that makes her impressive as hell.

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