Friday, April 25, 2008

Third-Wave Feminism and Pretty Woman

Kate Gaskill

Pretty Woman staring Julia Roberts is a classic film that is the modern day Cinderella story where the poor girl’s life changes and becomes the beautiful rich young lady. Pretty Woman portrays several themes that are similar to those of third-wave feminists. In the film, Julia Roberts plays the prostitute Vivian Ward. Vivian is bought for a week by a rich business man, Edward Lewis, for everything but the usual, sex. Third wave feminist interpret gender and sexuality as a central subject to their ideology. This paper will illustrate that Julia Roberts’ character is a portrait of a third-wave feminism ideology.

Feminism can be defined as a social movement with political and cultural aims that focus on the equality and empowerment of women. More specifically, third-wave feminism focuses on encouraging young women to assert and empower themselves. According to an article by Kevin Merriman, which analyzes and summarizes the article The Women’s Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism, third-wave feminism is a more recent, and broad look into the inequalities of today’s social network, as well as the injustices found pertaining to sex and gender. Sex and sexuality are staple themes of the third-wave. Third wavers still hold values that compare with those of earlier feminists; they understand that even though they may have slightly different views the main goal stays the same. They still strive for the goal, as the article Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, “equality, and of supporting one another in [the] efforts to gain the power to make our own choices.” However, third-wave feminists approach feminism as a much looser and individualistic term. As Carolyn Bronstein states in her book Representing the Third-Wave: Mainstream Print Media, “Third-Wave feminists see themselves as more inclusive and flexible in their approach to race, class, sexual orientation, and ideology.”

Third-Wave feminism holds that women can simply have sex for pleasure. They understand that it is not necessarily accepted in today’s society and time that sex is simply an activity of pleasure and that many women and young ladies are looked down upon for their decision to take part in sexual activities without the idea or reproduction. This wave of feminism also seeks to rid society of its violence towards women, regardless of class, race, status, or occupation. Another aspect of third-wave feminism is to free women and adolescent girls from verbal abuse. This abuse ranges from demeaning name calling and terms, sexual harassment, and sexual bashing. Third-wave feminism stands on the idea that all women have the freedom to make any priorities they so wish and to control themselves, their lives, and their bodies in any manner they see fit.

In the movie, Pretty Woman, Roberts’ character faces many situations and scenarios that would upset and go against third-wave feminists. Many ways in which Roberts’ character, Vivian, responds to these situations shows a very third-wave view on women’s equality, sexual activity, and empowerment.

In the film, the lawyer, Philip Stuckey, exemplified how men demean women. In a particular scene he tried to sleep with Vivian just because he previously realized that she was a prostitute and thought it was okay to try to sleep with her simply due to her occupation and the negative view he as well as many in his circle viewed prostitutes. Even though Vivian was a prostitute, this did not give Philip Stuckey power over her. Vivian did not allow Phillip to have any power or superiority in this situation. She refused to give in and allow him to take advantage of her sexually. When Phillip was not allowed to get his way or control over Vivian he began to get violent. This is when Edward Lewis, played by Richard Gere, came in to the room and situation. He fought for Vivian, forcing the lawyer out of the room. By doing this Edward is standing up for Roberts’ character. He is giving Vivian’s stance validation and support. By supporting and encouraging her position and refusal to sleep with Stuckley he is enabling Roberts to continue to control her own life and body.

Another scene in which Julia Roberts’ character empowers herself is when she goes to the club to visit her friend, and fellow prostitute. In this scenario she is entering a very racy district even though she has found an economic and financial boom through Richard Gere’s character she is still going to visit a friend, regardless of her friend’s occupation or financial status. In this scene, Roberts’ character is stepping into a situation where her friend’s occupation, Roberts’ old occupation, is looked down upon. Most women in the new circle Vivian has been thrown into would demean and dehumanize the status and occupation of her friend. However, even though she was currently living amongst the wealthier woman who would never associate with people of that lower status, Roberts’ character was breaking the mold and visiting her friend no matter what her occupation or status may have been.

A final situation in which the ideology of feminism in the third-wave is shown is close to the end of the movie when Gere’s character is talking about leaving and the end of the week. He is stating that he would like to see her again, and that next time he gets a chance, he will call her, and he will spend time with her, when he has the time. Instead of Vivian having the power to determine when or if they spend future time, weeks, or evenings together he is taking the control out of her hands and making the decisions for her. Without using his words he is telling her that her opinion in the situation has no importance and even though he enjoyed the past days and evenings he is now going to decide the fun is over and he will let her know if he is interested in any more fun in the future. Gere’s character makes the statement that he has never treated Vivan like a prostitute. As he walks away she states “you just did”. Without even realizing what he was doing he dehumanized her because she is a woman, because she was a prostitute, and because he wanted the control of the situation. In his eyes he had not hit her or verbally abused her or purposely reminded her of her occupation or status, however, by subtle gestures and implications he made her feel cheap and disposable in the decision making process of her own body and future engagements.

Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian Ward, in the film Pretty Woman shows ideologies of third-wave feminism through her life as a prostitute. Through the eyes of the people in the wealthy circle she was a prostitute who was of less importance and had less power then them. With the help of Richard Gere’s character, Edward Lewis, she grew as a woman and showed that women have the power and control of their own body and actions. Vivian got to see both sides’ views on people of different statuses and learned from them to grow into an even stronger woman who respects her self and does not allow any one to disrespect her or her body. Roberts’ character and the movie Pretty Woman are good representations of third-wave feminism ideology.

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