The strong women. The women who have it all. This is now the feminist ideal directly opposing the domesticated, passive damsel. The idea of becoming a stay-at-home mother has become less desirable with over 50,000 less women becoming stay-at-home mothers and instead entering the workforce. However, nowhere in this description does it allow for a wider idea of the modern day woman. Gender roles have become two extremes with many feminists favouring the former and it is in her desire for the latter that Kirsten Dunst was recently critiqued.

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Dunst shared her opinion on gender roles stating:

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” she says. “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…”

This comment in itself is likely to be controversial amongst feminists. It suggests a desire to return to traditional ideas of femininity and she associates that with staying at home, a definition that is highly problematic given that femininity now has a broader definition which encompasses ideals that cannot be considered traditional. Furthermore, she associates the idea of the “protector”, the dominant figure, with masculinity and this shows no consideration of fluid gender roles that have become more apparent within the twenty-first century. This may be the reason why this comment was ridiculed by websites such as The gloss who saw her views as “messed up” and “problematic bullshit”, whilst Jezebel went as far as calling Dunst just an “actress and blonde who looks good in clothes” as a way to dismiss her opinion, which is reminiscent of how certain patriarchal structures standardly dismiss women. But that is a debate for a later time.

It is these comments however where the true offence lies and not in Dunst’s, being evidence again of the type of feminist policing which is holding back the movement as a whole. The comments suggest because Dunst does not agree with the “strong, independent woman” stereotype that her opinions are invalid and thus incorrect. Yes, it is undeniable that in her comments there are problems which were discussed earlier in the article. But they raise points which need to be discussed more openly within feminist circles. The most glaring and obvious one is countering the “independent, strong woman” stereotype which is just as detrimental as the “damsel in distress” label.

The problem is that there is no balance between the two ideals. Nowadays, women find themselves striving to be these powerful, strong women instead of allowing themselves to be whole human beings who at some point or another desires to be rescued or looked after by their partner. Some may call this an anti-feminist statement, yet considering that feminism itself is a movement based on the desire to be treated equally, it must be allowed then for women to let go of being strong, and start being whole and interesting beings who can still be strong yet also vulnerable. It is only within this balance that women can be allowed to achieve their true potential, by having the freedom to be a human and not be suffocated by a stereotype often held up as a feminist ideal.

Furthermore, Dunst’s comments also served to reveal another issue challenged by feminism, this is the idea that “a man needs to be a man and a woman needs to be a woman”. Although her phrasing is problematic, in that it suggests that for a relationship to work a women should hold the passive role. It could be interpreted as saying that we as women should not try to fit ourselves into the masculine mould. This has been another persistent issue within feminism; the idea that being equal to men does not mean being identical to them. It means embracing our femininity whilst also having the respect given to men as an acknowledgement that we ourselves are also human beings with rights under the law.

Women themselves should not be as masculine as possible to try and succeed but must fight, and force the patriarchal structure to change in order to accommodate more women at the top, especially those who desire to have a career as well as a family.

Thus, it seems that Dunst’s comment despite raising some problematic ideas, still carries validity. Yet this may escape notice if one reads the furor in the articles commenting on her opinion. It is only if other feminist columnists and journalists actually considered the comment carefully and perhaps concentrated on the positives, that feminism as a movement would be able to actively progress instead of being denigrated for sharing an opinion that differs considerably from the established set of feminists rules. That in itself is feminism at its best.


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