My essay will discuss the representation of women within the narratives of two films I chose, Pretty Woman (1990), Erin Brockovich (2000). I will be exploring how Vivian, Vivian’s main character, and Erin, as well as the supporting stars like Kit (Vivian’s prostitution best friend)and Theresa Dallavale. Additionally, I will be examining the portrayal of women in films as inferior sex. These representations often depend on cultural, education, and age. This is how Pretty Women, Erin Brockovich, and other aspects of the story are represented.
Based on a true story, Erin Brockovich (2000) was made. Erin is a single, unemployed mother who has been divorced twice and is trying to find work after her personal injuries lawsuit. Her lawyer Ed Masry helps her to find a job. Her provocative clothing and foul-mouthed manner make it difficult for anyone to take her seriously. When Erin begins to investigate a suspicious case involving Pacific Gas and Electric Company regarding pollution that has led to overwhelming illness in residents, attitudes change. The story is structured in five acts. Pretty Woman (1990), is the story of Vivian, who is a prostitute. Edward meets Vivian to make her a husband. Edward hires Vivian and they begin to get closer. They discover that they must overcome many obstacles to be together. It’s modern Cinderella. Pretty Woman follows the same narrative structure as Erin Brockovich.
Vivian and Erin are both strong women in the films. Both have strong identities. However, some would argue Vivian is depicted as a helpless women while Erin, on the other hand, is shown as an independent heroine who is hardworking and determined.
Erin is the underdog at the beginning of the film. This is a role that women often play in classic novels and melodramas.
Brockovich introduces herself to the audience, a single mother struggling and unsuccessfully looking for work. Shortly thereafter, Brockovich is injured when her car gets hit by another vehicle. Brockovich thus becomes a victim in the film’s opening five minutes. (Roth 2004: 54).
As Erin’s story unfolds, our attitudes change. We sympathize and feel sympathy for her story. Despite her offensive appearances, viewers still want her to succeed.
Many of her coworkers are offended by Erin’s provocative outfits. They are hostile to Erin and refuse to include her. They see Erin’s short skirts and low-cut tops as evidence that she is not capable of performing her job. Although she doesn’t wear the typical business attire, Erin looks more like a prostitute than a businesswoman. Elaine Roth claims that Brockovich’s female coworkers are ‘busybodies’ who criticize her unprofessional outfits in I Just Want to Be a Decent Citizen. (Roth 2004: p57)
This implies that women might be critical of their female coworkers, and may not support them based on how they dress. This is her negative portrayal of her business co-workers women because of her behavior towards them. This is clearly evident in the scene when Erin gets excluded from lunch because she “Is Not One of the Girls”.
Erin is dismissed by her work colleagues, as well as Theresa Dallavale who is the new Hinkley lawyer. Dallavalle is mocked in the film for not being able to understand the Hinkley residents. Erin, however, does. Dallavalle is distinguished from the Hinkley residents by her clothing. The residents are afraid of her suit and tie. Her clothing not only makes her feel disconnected but it also puts her in a disadvantageous class, making her unable exemplify downtrodden sympathy. People might see in Theresa’s criticism of Erin’s research that it has holes in it that Theresa is loyal to the working-mature domain.
She declares her symbolic allegiance to the white professional male world with her body and dress.
‘ Bordo (2003: p208)
Erin, throughout the film, rejects any such alliance. Erin’s clothing makes it easy for her to relate with these people. Erin uses the fact that she is a single mom to bond with the people. She uses her body as a tool to attract and manipulate the attention of men in order to obtain information.
“Brockovich’s relationship with Hinkley’s people is based not only on social class but also emotional connections. Dallavale, however remains an outsider of the upper-middle-class and well-educated upper-middle class. (Roth 2004: p57)
The stereotypical businesswoman is hated by the audience. Erin is portrayed as annoying and alienating. These working-class women are portrayed as a negative stereotype in the narrative.
“The film encourages its viewers not to like this working woman and portrays her as unmaternalized, asexual, and humorous. (Roth 2004: p57)
This contrasts with the formality and respect shown by all men, including lawyers and doctors. The films show a marked difference in how men are presented.
Pretty Woman can also be judged on the basis of clothing and class. Many people consider Vivian a dirty, rude and easy-going woman. Anderson agrees with my proposal.
“Vivian is a good person and has avoided the worst of her business, including drugs, pimps, abuse, and disease…she doesn’t cause the pain that is usually associated with a position like this” (Anderson 2001: 65).
Many see her as a person despite her beliefs. This is evident in the scene where she is trying on new clothes to become a princess. The scene depicts Vivian’s status as a prostitute. This is where the performance and conversation play an important role. She is treated with hostility by them. Vivian doesn’t want to be there and is asked by the sales associate to leave. They view her as lower-class, and feel they are superior to her. This scene portrays women very poorly. Both Vivian and Vivian see the film as a negative representation of working women. The sales associates are depicted in a cruel, upper-class way as women who are trying to exert their social status.
“Although emphatic cooperation may be possible between women from less favored classes, women are shown as willing to trample on each other as they climb the social ladder. (Greenberg, 1991)
Greenberg’s comments in the shopping scenes support the notion that the narrative is against women. They decide to support one another instead of working together to improve themselves. As she mocks the clerk in the store, we again see the woman against the women. It doesn’t matter how thrilling and triumphant it is to watch Vivian take revenge on the sales clerk, this narrative is telling us that women can be against each other and that we don’t need to keep our sisterhood bonds.
It portrays Vivian, a courageous and intelligent woman, as a hooker-happy girl. The film also portrays Kit as a prostitute, which is a bad thing. Kit is the bad guy in this story, because Vivian follows her down this path. Kit is unaware of the consequences of prostitution. Vivian is shown as a less attractive, unwise, and hardened slut. Kit is shown as a tough woman with low self-esteem. Kit refuses to accept the status of a prostitute. The film contains many symbols that show this. Anderson agrees with me when he mentions Winne The Pooh. Kit is a symbol of a young girl who cares deeply about her.
‘Conspicuous differences are evident in Kit de Luca’s image. Kit de Luca isn’t content with her profession, but she also uses drugs, sleeping with a Pooh bear. It is clear that Kit’s ‘little girl’ side is still fighting for her place among the streetwalkers. Contrary images such as this one are all over the film. (Anderson, 2001: p69)
Vivian, Kit and their sisterhood look out for each other. This is evident in the dialogue “Take Care of You”. This is an indication of protection between them.
These words are a simple way to describe Kit, who is otherwise portrayed as an uncaring person who spends rent money and uses drugs. Kelly however disagrees with Kit’s kindness. Kelly still considers Kit a heartless person in A Modern Cinderella. “Kit seems to not be a very kind friend. Vivian is forced to prostitution and she is told by Kit that Vivian is in love. Kit’s behavior is reckless and careless. (Kelly, 1994: p92)
Kelly said Kit is not the most friend, but I disagree with Kelly’s assertion that Kit doesn’t care about sisterhood and she does not care. We see Kit worrying when Vivian gets into trouble. She also supports Vivian’s decision to run away to Edward so she can finally leave her hooker lifestyle. We also see the genuine affection between them when they separate. They do show sisterhood in the film. Both characters show signs of love and care for each other. Kit’s narrative shifts and is better presented at the ending. Vivian is always supportive of Kit’s self-esteem. She encourages her ambitions and shows her respect. Kit finally earns the respect of the viewer when she decides to give up her life on the streets in favor of beauty school. Both films portray women’s power but are constantly shadowed and dominated by men. Karol Kelly claims that in A Modern Cinderella the men hold superior positions to the women.
Kelly’s thought is right on the money. Kelly can also be seen in the film as patriarchal dominance. Vivian is portrayed as weak and vulnerable in the plot, while her counterparts are strong and powerful. It is here that the men rescue Vivian most often in the story. This occurs many times. We see it in the scene that Vivian faces when she is having difficulty finding expensive clothes. Barney, the hotel manager saves Vivian. He makes her look like a princess and helps her buy a dress. Many believe he represents the characteristics of Vivian’s fairy godmother, as shown in Cinderella.
Barney Thompson, a hotel manager, or Edward, with his credit card, must save Vivian. Edward helps Vivian to escape Phil, her lawyer’s rape. She is also helped in this by Mr. Morse and the taxi driver. (Kelly, 1994: p90)
Kelly has shared many instances where Vivian had to be saved, and she also felt Vivian was a victim. In the above mentioned scenes, Kelly portrays Vivian as an insecure damsel in distress. The film’s narrative also shows that women are less powerful than the men. None of the female characters has authority.
“Edward is a male businessman who works with lawyers, bankers and executives. He is also a female telephone operator. Vivian provides services for women… The managers of the hotel and stores are men. Sales clerks are female. This illustrates the purpose of women working for superior men and is more valued. Even today, women are usually paid less than men (Iftkhar 2011, 2011).
While the Erin Brockovich film portrays women in stereotypical ways, it also shows men as the lawyer, doctor, and judge. While women are the underdog, Donna Jenson, a plaintiff, is the one who is strong, courageous, and determined to help her. The narrative portrays men as more powerful and in higher positions than women. Erin’s accident in her car is an example of this. Although the audience is aware that Erin’s car accident was caused by a white male doctor, the judge agree with him due to his gender, authority and gender. It is clear that the females are shown as weaker regardless of their social status.
“This fast sequence also reveals a class division central the film’s narrative and the film’s desire to align itself for disenfranchised citizens. The film’s second sequence begins with a car accident.
‘The rich cause the bodies and souls of the poor’. (Roth 2004, p54) Kurt Potter and Ed Masry are both doctors and judges. All of these men also have significant influence on Pretty
Women were more powerful than men. Erin’s story is different. All these men are wrong when Erin wins the Hinckley case, and is even promoted higher than other men. Vivian’s story is not changing. Vivian will forever be seen as weaker and less than Edward. This is illustrated in the closing scene, where Vivian gives her hopes and dreams of being a better person to Edward. Elizabeth Scala stated that this scene was disappointing for many feminists because it shows Vivian giving herself up to Edward. Edward climbs out from her window and all her previous beliefs, visions, potential and dreams are lost. Edward asks “So, Edward, how did he rescue her from the tower?” Vivian confidently answers, “She rescues Edward right away.” While this narrative’s intent has been appreciated by many, they are not accepting it. (Scala, 1999: p38)
We have seen that both films don’t portray women well. It shows that women need to be themselves before they are respected. This is why the men have to prove it, but the women don’t. The dominant male is represented as the inferior woman. We see Erin being more respected by her coworkers than Vivian over the years. The films become more sophisticated and portray women as stronger, more authoritative, and more powerful. But, how long will this last?