PRETTY WOMAN: Feminist Classic or Anti-Feminist?

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Pretty Woman released in 1990 was the highest grossing movie of that year bringing in close to half a billion dollars (1). Directed by Garry Marshall from a screenplay by Jeff F. Lawton the film was originally a raw portrayal of prostitution called 3000. Garry Marshall created instead a Romantic Comedy that is now considered a classic of the genre. It is universally adored for its’ ‘fairy-tale’ like qualities. But is Pretty Woman really a ‘fairy-tale?’.

Critics of the film believe it ‘whitewashes the realities of prostitution’ and glamorizes the profession. (2) In a paper by Mary Oates she states that Pretty Woman ‘makes an anti-feminist statement by objectifying women and perpetuating the notion that having a man is the ultimate happy ending.’ (3)

Rachael Johnson from Bitch Flicks and online Feminist page dedicated to reviewing film from a feminist standpoint believes ‘ideologically, Pretty Woman is a love-song to consumerism and capitalism.’ (4) Johnson goes on to say that the movie is also ‘both sleazy and conservative as well as ‘the representation of gender and sexuality in Pretty Woman is seedy and reactionary.’ (5)

It is ironic that the same site spawned the article; “Why Pretty Woman Should be Considered a Feminist Classic.” This article is written by Brigit McCone who guest wrote the piece. McCone directs short films and radio dramas and many of her arguments in the blog are thoughtful and relevant.

She writes:

I suspect that those who claim to be disturbed by Pretty Woman‘s ‘glamorizing’ of prostitution are actually more disturbed by these key assertions: that a prostitute is an individual, that prostitution is work comparable to other forms of labour and that abuse of a prostitute is the sole responsibility of the abuser. (6)

She goes on to write that Vivien (Julia Roberts) who plays the main character in the film dictates the terms of relationship with Edward (Richard Gere) on several occasions.

McCone writes:

Vivian displays her willingness to leave Edward and set boundaries on multiple occasions: when he embarrasses her by outing her sex worker status at a social gathering, she dictates the way she wishes to be treated; when he offers her the status of a mistress, she dictates the status of a full equal. Let us never forget that, when the prince rescues her, she rescues him right back. (7)

Oates does concede at the beginning of Pretty Woman, Vivien is feisty and a ‘strong willed heroine.’ (8) Johnson from Bitch Flicks makes no such concession. Oates goes onto say, ‘but she becomes a shadow of the woman she once was after trying to fit in as Edward’s arm candy. Vivian losing the personality traits that made her special because of a relationship is the exact opposite of the empowerment that feminism stands for.” (9)
The Romantic Comedy Pretty Woman can be read in a variety of ways. From Feminist classic in which ‘Disney accidentally spawned something far more challenging: a film in which prostitutes aren’t necessarily doomed, and men are individually responsible for their treatment of them.” (10) To a film that objectifies prostitutes and women in general and glamourizes the profession of a sex worker.

What are your thoughts?

References:

(6)(7)(10)McCone, Brigit, ‘Why Pretty Woman Should be Condsidered a Feminist Classic,’ https://www.btchflcks.com/2015/01/why-pretty-woman-should-be-considered-a-feminist-classic.html#.WyMhly97E6g (accessed June 15, 2018).
(3)(8) (9)Oates, Mary, ‘Analysis of the Reprepresentation of Women in Pretty Woman,’
https://maryoates.weebly.com/uploads/2/6/7/2/26726163/pretty_woman.pdf (accessed June 15, 2018).
(1)(2)Griggs, Brandon and Grinberg,Emanuella, “’Pretty Woman’ 25 yrs later: the good, the bad and the revenge shopping,” CNN Entertainment, https://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/21/entertainment/pretty-woman-movie-anniversary-feat/index.html (accessed June 15, 2018).
(4)(5)Johnson, Rachael, “The Sex Worker and The Corporate Raider: Dissecting ‘Pretty Woman’,”
Bitch Flicks,
https://www.btchflcks.com/2014/01/the-sex-worker-and-the-corporate-raider-dissecting-pretty-woman.html#.WyM2iS97E6i (accessed June 15, 2018)
Marshall, G. (Director). (1990). Pretty Woman [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Studio Home Entertainment.