Open letter to Kirsten Dunst

Dear Kirsten,

Take this only as a testament to your ability to become your characters, but I always forget how much I like you. You’re in so many of my favorite films, and I feel like we grew up together because of it. I wanted to BE you as Lux in The Virgin Suicides…so much so that I spent my first and only Homecoming dance in the grassy football field behind the gym, and I still have a bag with some dried clippings.

The rest of your filmography reads like an inventory of my DVD collection: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (“life-changing” isn’t an understatement), Interview with the Vampire, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Jumanji, Bring It On, Little Women (seen as a very impressionable seven-year-old with confusing crushes on Claire Danes and Winona Ryder), Wag the Dog, Marie Antoinette, The Cat’s Meow (seen in a gorgeous 1920s theater, so it felt like time traveling)… I could go on, but I won’t. And I’m genuinely excited to see you back in the spotlight a little bit. Looking at your face sends me right back to high school (to the best parts of high school, when I was fixated on silver-screen dreams and crafting screenplays with characters I wanted you to play).

That’s why I was so disappointed when you recently made some skin-crawling generalizations that disrespect the great women who fought for your rights and who lay the framework for women like Sofia Coppola to come along and shape your career into something magical and iconic. In your cover interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK, you claimed this:

I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued. … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work…

Then you wax poetic about spending forever with your best friend Molly and your many, many cats, and I can totally get on board with that, but it’s too little too late.

The thing is, the white knight is not a fantasy that was crafted by women.  It’s not a romantic notion.  Sure, everyone’s sexual preferences and fantasies are up to them. (I know the difference between S&M and abusive relationships. In fact, I take offense to ignorant claims that link the two of them… and books like 50 Shades of Grey that seem to think they’re one and the same, glorifying abusive and submissive dynamics that oppress and objectify women for male gain.)

But long before you were born, the women of the 1950s were busy fighting against the “nuclear family” myth. That’s right… are you aware that your picture-perfect image of 1950s romance is a construct?  It’s fiction now, and it was fiction then too.  It was a dangerous paradigm that made women resort to substance abuse, kept millions closeted and emphasized consumerism and materialism over all else.  The “nuclear family” of today — that archetype that “family values” types like to protect so close-mindedly — didn’t even exist 100 years ago.  And in some of the happiest, healthiest communities on this planet, they still don’t.

And who wants to be a damsel in distress?  DISTRESS?!

Kaiser at Celebitchy said it best:

Not every woman needs a knight in shining armor to bring home the bacon. Not every woman wants to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And it’s asinine for Kiki to generalize about “that’s why relationships work,” as if there aren’t millions of people who don’t have that kind of relationship and they still manage to have functioning families and relationships.

Relationships don’t work because of power imbalances and inequality.  Many, many relationships continue because of those, but that’s not to say they’re healthy, or they shouldn’t have ended a long time ago.

I can’t blame you for overgeneralizing if I make generalizations myself, so I won’t claim that no woman can truly be happy in a submissive role.  I do believe that many of the women who believe this — Candace Cameron, anyone? — have been indoctrinated into said beliefs, and if they’re content to accept their lot, that’s fine with me.  But I resent the fact that they espouse these dynamics as healthy and desirable.

Yes, I hear my own hypocrisy loud and clear. When celebrities are asked about something political and they respond, so many jump to hate them for telling us what to do. But I get how press works, and I know that the spotlight is invaluable when it comes to spreading awareness.

It’s just that you echo so many young women who are completely oblivious about the real implications of strict gender roles… and the real definition of feminism.

After you contributed some of the most full-fleshed female characters to modern cinema, I guess I just expected a little bit better. I hope your next serious relationship is with someone who finds your strength and independence attractive, and who can empower you without feeling less powerful himself.

Yours anyway,

Brittney

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