Expected Women's Roles.

by Meredith O’Brien


From playing fictional roles on the silver screen and on the intimate medium of television, to the bloodsport known as American politics, criticism of the women who assume those roles have felt abundant lately.


The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara, in a piece published this past week called “Shrew versus shrewd,” took one look at Katherine Heigl’s star turn in the new film The Ugly Truth and said that she didn’t understand why Heigl would want to leave her meaty, television role on Grey’s Anatomy -- where she’s a smart, up-from-her-bootstraps doctor who grew up in a trailer park and is now battling cancer -- for thin ones in romantic comedies as the damsel whose love life is in dire need of saving.


“Watching Katherine Heigl attempt to inject life into yet another cardboard cut-out of a controlling, manic working woman in The Ugly Truth, you have to wonder: For this she wants to leave television?” McNamara asked. “. . . There are more and better roles for women on one season of Brothers and Sisters and Big Love or Damages and Desperate Housewives than there will be in an entire year of Hollywood films. Roles that require depth and wisdom and boundless energy, that demand of their performers dramatic flexibility and exploration of character. Roles that don’t seem to punish them simply for being women.”


As examples of shallow leading women’s roles, McNamara pointed to Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, the women in He’s Just Not That Into You and Renee Zellweger in New in Town as actresses who “have all found themselves doing the Taming of the Shrew two-step without the benefit of Richard Burton or Shakespeare.”


Over on NPR, Linda Holmes called McNamara’s comparison flawed and argued that there are indeed substantive roles for women in today’s popular films, but you just have to know where to look. “[Glenn] Close’s Damages is not the equivalent of He’s Just Not That Into You, is what I’m saying,” Holmes wrote. “Well-written roles for women still exist in movies – just not usually in mainstream romantic comedies.” She singled out last year’s Doubt and Rachel Getting Married, which spawned Oscar nominations for their leading ladies, as having “stupendous roles for women.”