You are on page 1of 8

Cassandra Barboza

Barboza 1

Dr. Logan
LIT 4554
12-8-11
I Dont Know How She Does It and the Unrealistic Portrayal of a Working Mother

The recent film I Dont Know How She Does It portrays the successful female archetype
film industries claim as the real experience of women today. However, this claim proves
problematic for feminists who argue the universality of womens struggles with regards to
standpoint and privilege theories. Films are still not being made about the actual experiences of
real women. In the film, Kate Reddy, the protagonist is a finance executive with a husband and
two kids. The premise of the film is to show how difficult it is to be a mother and work in
corporate America and all the injustices that are involved. The connection that the audience is
supposed to make and feel with the protagonist is the notion that others understand what they
go through. But nonetheless this is a falsity that never occurs and the film trivializes the efforts
of actual women just the same as any other chick flick. Not only is the working mother
trivialized but also the colored woman, the older woman, and men as helpful helpmates in the
home.

What Ashley York believes the film industry wants to portray is a womans film that is No

Barboza 2
longer relegated to messages of self-sacrifice or affliction, or held hostage to love (and a male
star) or action-adventures that altogether deprive them of romantic possibilities, heroines of
womens blockbusters live out their fantasies in all respects and come out on top in each and
every case (York 11). Yet the notion of a woman that always wins is impossibly nave and
unrealistic. In reality most women realize that these films have no real connection to their lives,
even though the film industry wants them to believe that there is a relationship. In a study
done by Margaret Rowntree where they conducted a survey where women were asked Could
you say why you enjoy, hate or have mixed feelings towards chick lit or chick flicks or both? It
was found that most women were ambivalent towards the films and found them unrealistic.
What Rowntree concluded was that Regardless of whether representations are unrealistic as
most respondents claim, or more authentic than they recognise, what is more patent is an
ambivalent structure of feeling towards the genre. This finding leads us to speculate that the
genre may be out of step with the mood of the times or at least with women's desires and
daydreams for less conventional feminine representations (Rowntree N_A).

Amongst the main issues in the film there is the lack of understanding of privilege and the
differences between socioeconomic status and race. The protagonist is the typical, white,
upper-middle class woman portrayed in most major films. And even though this may not seem
like a big deal to some, it should be because as Anonymous states in her article More than 150
years after Sojourner Truth asked, "Ain't I a Woman?" women of color can still stagger away
from a video store, a newsstand stocked with women's magazines, or an evening of prime-time

Barboza 3
TV programming asking the same question. Although 25 percent of the population and 30
percent of moviegoers are people of color, women of color are lucky to get a film a year that
features them as a romantic subject (Anonymous 30-31). Kate is just another white woman
with privilege that does not take into consideration all that she has. An example of this is that
she agonizes over having her kids spend too much time with a nanny, yet there are no real
world tales of the difficulties of finding secure, safe, and affordable childcare. Kate is not forced
to deal with the issues most women really face when having to search for safe childcare that is
affordable and will not leave their child in harms way.

Another issue is the idea of sexuality. Kate Reddys age is never discussed but the actress
who portrays her, Sarah Jessica Parker, is currently forty six years old, which Rose Weitz would
still consider to be on the bottom half of the range of middle age. Nonetheless, she would fit
into Weitzs ideas that women in middle age are represented as asexual. Even though Kate does
want to participate with her husband in sexual activity and begins to defy the notion that older
women dont want to have sex she goes on to say that she unlike other women actually enjoys
having sex with her husband. When one moment she is a positive role model for the idea of the
sexual middle aged woman, the next moment she goes on to negate any good points of effort
to throw other women under the bus by again reinstating the stereotype. Kate Reddys age is a
condition that masculine heterosexuality interprets as being asexual. For most of our culture
sexuality is only associated with youth, once you pass a certain age you are of no value since
you no longer hold sexual appeal.

Barboza 4
Kates voice over is supposed to make her more likable and better able to relate to the
average woman but in actuality it does little to help her and is actually a mistake, as her
comment about women not wanting to have sex with their husbands highlights. As Hollinger
brings up When the voice-over is introduced in the beginning of a film as the possession of the
female protagonist who purportedly controls the narration of her own past, it is rarely
sustained. Instead, voices-over are more frequently detached from the female protagonist and
mobililzed as moments of aggression or attack exercised against her (Hollinger 34). The
moments of aggression or attack include things such as fate and circumstance. Instead of taking
it for the facts of life, Kate portrays her obstacles as destiny working against her or the eventual
happenings of her situation. Kate does not take responsibility for her own involvement in the
causes that lead to the final consequence.

Another issue is that not only is the portrayal of the main character Kate skewed but also
the portrayal of her supposed opposite and companion, her husband. Russell-Watts ideas
about Catherine Breillats films are not only accurate to Breillats work but also to other films
centered on women, Likewise, Catherine Breillats films are generally considered to be
involved in a project of exploring female sexuality, desire and subjectivity, where the women,
as principal characters, are set up as complex and interesting, as opposed to their onedimensional, cipher-like male counterparts. It is, by and large, the female characters whose
viewpoints, thoughts, feelings and opinions we are privy to, and, insofar as a process of

Barboza 5
identification can be seen to be in any way possible in Breillats films, it is with the women that
the spectator is most likely to develop such bonds. By contrast, the majority of her male
characters seem to be unsympathetic at best, uncaring, cruel, violent even murderous at
worst. However, what these men are not, it seems, is particularly engaging: their motives,
experiences, thoughts and feelings seem to be of little interest, whether to the female
character, director or spectator (Russell-Watts 71-72). Like Russell-Watts believes the men in
these films are rarely important, they seem to be there only to make the womans life more
difficult. This is how Kates husband is portrayed.
He is seen as being a good man but nonetheless not as effective as a woman because he does
not make lists (Kate is shown constantly making lists). In the finale he is redeemed and
portrayed as more caring because he promises to make ineffective lists, just as Kate does. As
Cohen would add Yet for all that the men in romantic comedies can evoke interest in their
material being, their existence is rarely central to the films. It is the women in their singularity,
their thickness, to appropriate an anthropological term, who capture our gaze (Cohen 81).

All in all I Dont Know How She Does It is another film in the long list of films that portrays
a weak characterization of the average women. But the greatest problem is the ambivalence of
the audience and the history that has lead to the genre. As Cohen says The other narrative
strand, and the one that I would go out of my way for, derives from the novelistic tradition
associated with Jane Austen, who launched the courtship plot in all its conventionalized glory.
Invariably there is a heroine of pluck and intelligence who, after a variety of fairly predictable

Barboza 6
misadventures and misunderstandings, is united with her soul mate at the end. In tone and
pacing, these stories are "light and bright and sparkling"the phrase that Austen used to
describe her most famous novel. Pride and Prejudice. One of the salient characteristics of that
novel's heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, was cheerfulness. She was cheerful even as she faced a
future of spinsterhood in the company of an impossibly enervating mother. With very few
exceptions, the heroines of cinematic romantic comedy have this quality as well. Claudette
Colbert, Jean Arthur, and Katharine Hepburn, and for that matter, Reese Witherspoon, Drew
Barrymore, and Sandra Bullock are cheerful in their roles and inspire viewers to approach life
with liveliness and zest (79). The problem is not only a film industry that is not in touch with
the reality of their audiences but also the contentment of an audience who watches these films
and notices their unrealistic plots but nonetheless continues watching them for the sake of
entertainment.

Works Cited

Anonymous. A Note on the Romantic Comedy Rights of Women. Iris 51 (Fall 2005): 30-31.
GenderWatch. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Barboza 7
Cohen, Paula Marantz. "What Have Clothes Got To Do With It?: Romantic Comedy And The
Female Gaze." Southwest Review 95.1/2 (2010): 78-88. Academic Search Premier.
Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Hollinger, Karen. "Listening To The Female Voice In The Woman's Film." Film Criticism 16.3
(1992): 34-52. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Rowntree, Margaret, Lia Bryant, and Nicole Moulding. Womens Emotional Experiences of
Chick Lit and Chick Flicks: An Ambivalent Audience. Outskirts 24 (2011): N_A 1.
GenderWatch. Web 4 Dec. 2011.

Russell-Watts, Lynsey. "Marginalized Males? Men, Masculinity And Catherine Breillat." Journal
For Cultural Research 14.1 (2010): 71-84. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Weitz, Rose. "Changing The Scripts: Midlife WomenS Sexuality In Contemporary U.S. Film."
Sexuality & Culture 14.1 (2010): 17-32. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.

Barboza 8

York, Ashley Elaine. "From Chick Flicks To Millennial Blockbusters: Spinning Female-Driven
Narratives Into Franchises." Journal Of Popular Culture 43.1 (2010): 3-25. Academic
Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011.