A Spoonful of Sugar Won’t Help Emily Blunt Swallow Unlikable Gender Descriptors

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For the most part, I enjoyed Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, though it does go a little — shall we say — off the rails. It’s a quick and easy read, but there are an awful lot of terrible assumptions written and inferred about main character, Rachel, played by Emily Blunt in the upcoming movie adaptation. I won’t get into any spoilers, though in an interview with THR, Blunt does speak of the general perceptions we apply to women like Rachel; about the assumptions and judgements of women that aren’t applied to men’s behavior in the same circumstances. Of course, these are things most women already know and have borne for decades, but, happily, we’ve reached the moment where smiling and swallowing are passé … so buck up, boys.

With so many movies, women are held to what a man considers a feminine ideal. You have to be pretty. You have to be ‘likable,’ which is my least favorite bloody word in the industry. Rachel isn’t ‘likable.’ What does that mean? To be witty and pretty and hold it together and be there for the guy? And he can just be a total drip?

Amen, sister. In the same piece, author Hawkins talks about comments that Blunt is “too beautiful” to play Rachel. “The thing about Rachel is her self-loathing, about what she feels about herself, and Emily really brought that out in the way she carries herself. All that damage is visible.”

Later in the piece, Blunt remarks on how, even when discussing drunk people, we break down descriptors by gender, never mind our attitudes about being sexual.

A woman is a drunk, a whore, whereas the guy’s like a partyer, a player. I’ve been around both women who drink too much and guys who drink too much and it’s just as ugly on the guys. It makes me crazy. I don’t think that women should be seen as any less sexual than a guy. And maybe she doesn’t want to settle down, and that’s OK. And maybe she doesn’t want a kid, and that’s OK. And she’s just happy playing the field. There’s so much judgment with women.

Some people might not see it as a big deal to make these observations, but, when big name actors use their time with the press to shine a light on our casually accepted gender (and racial) biases, it can make a difference. Make something snap in one person’s brain, that person carries it into her world and passes on a different attitude, and these ridiculous assumptions can start to be set aside. We can all be dicks, we can all be bitches, and we can all be people with wants, desires, and differences that have nothing to do with our outward appearances. So, thanks, Emily Blunt. I promise to never find you likable again; I’ll simply adore you from afar.

The Girl on the Train also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Haley Bennett, Édgar Ramírez, Laura Prepon, and Lisa Kudrow (amusingly, as Monica). It hits theaters October 7th.

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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  • Nadiney

    I just want to be one of her friends. Just hang out with her. She’s so cool.

  • emmalita

    Oh my god, yes! I’m so tired of women being held to a feminine ideal while men get to be a drip and the hero.

  • Berry

    I have so many thoughts on this whole likability/unlikability issue. Sometimes the problem with female characters isn’t that they’re not likable, it’s that they’re hateful in the most boring, cliched way imaginable (Sarah Marshall). Sometimes the text is screaming at me to dislike a female character, at which point I almost always start liking them out of spite, practically as self-defense (Sansa Stark, my love, I’m looking at you). And sometimes the most heinous bitches are just so interesting it’s impossible to not be compelled by stories, and that’s way better than just feeling something as mild and common place as like towards them (Amy from Gone Girl, even though I didn’t think that much of the book, Scarlet O’Hara and Jessica Jones spring to mind). And sometimes it’s just fun to hate a well drawn female villain (Cersei, Umbridge).

    On the other hand, the female characters designed specifically to be liked, the cool girls, the manic pixie dream girls, the angels in the house, the endless parade of badass tomboys whose main defining characteristic is that they don’t want to be feminine in any way… They can be interesting too, and I can grow to love them, but they’re not my first choice.

    So in conclusion, it’s as not as important to make sure everyone will like your female character as it is to try to draw multifaceted, interesting characters. It’s even better if you can bring yourself to write something with more than one or two women, and have all your women be interesting and likable or unlikable in their own ways. And if you have to boldly go where many have gone before, at least try to do it with some kind of new twist.

    This has been your mid-morning rant. Over and out.