Friday, November 6, 2009
Pretty Woman catapulted Julia Roberts from actress to superstar. The film debuted in 1990, yet is still featured on television networks all over the country. When it premiered, it was the latest in the Cinderella story line. But this time Cinderella is a prostitute working the streets of Los Angles when Richard Gere’s character, a rich, successful corporate raider, “rescues” her to be his paid escort for the time he is in L.A. The film grossed over one hundred seventy eight million dollars in the US alone and that does not include revenues from the video rental and television sales market. Roberts’ body is stunning but sleazily dressed until somehow Gere’s character decides to transform her into his princess. But he never lets you know his thinking about how he will integrate a high school dropout hooker into his upper crust life.
There is one scene that is embedded in my memory. Roberts’ character, Vivian, is attempting to earn her keep by making sexual moves on the Gere character. She asks him which color and flavor condom he would like her to put on him. While the viewer does not see Vivian perform oral sex, you get the picture that the act has been consummated—that she performs and he receives. After all, she is a prostitute. Could this be another stepping stone in the path that would lead middle level girls in years ahead to engage in oral sex in their school buildings, on their school buses and at preteen and teen parties? After all it worked for Julia as Vivian and didn’t she look great!
On their website The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools writes, “It’s a standard fairy tale scenario: The damsel in distress is rescued by a knight in shining armor.” That’s fine for childhood storytelling, but the primary lesson of recent US multinational bank predatory lending taught us all that financial literacy is a much better means of achieving a happily-ever-after ending. “If she’d had her own money, Cinderella wouldn’t have been sweeping floors, and she would have bought her own shoes!” And no doubt, Julia’s character would not be selling her body on the streets of Los Angeles.
To dream about being a princess is easy. To build a secure future requires personal and social responsibility. It is simply untruthful to tell girls and women that they do not have to take initiative in assuring that their basic needs will be met. Every social fabric of American life has changed. Each girl and woman must hold herself accountable in doing as much as she can to create the life that she imagines for herself on the one hand, and,at least,to maintain a life that includes safety, security and a social fabric on the other. Women, who develop their capabilities to a higher level by taking more risks and making more sacrifices, should reap the financial benefits we have come to expect from men who do the same. To continue paying woman,at best,eighty cents on the dollar is unacceptable. What can women do about current wage and institutional practices held in place by gender bias and discrimination? What would happen if every woman now earning her living as a waitress in the food industry stopped working for thirty days? Answer: First, a lot of name calling followed by higher wages!