Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of old movies. Well, I guess they’re not that old, but I’ve been watching movies I’ve watched before. The Devil Wears Prada is a movie that came out in 2006. I was in 8th grade at the time. I watched it and I remember the general story line, but I didn’t get it, really. It was just a movie about a girl who got a job as a secretary at some fashion magazine, and her boss is a “dragon lady” slash “ice woman” that orders her to do ridiculously difficult tasks like getting the unpublished manuscript for Harry Potter.
As I watched this movie again, I found myself falling into Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly. She is a prime example of a successful business woman. She is the editor-in-chief of Runway, a high-end fashion magazine. She requires 2 personal assistants and has a husband and twin girls. Without watching the movie, you would think “Wow, now that’s more like it! A strong career woman flourishing in her area of interest, fashion, while trying to balance her family life. If portrayed skillfully, this will set a great example for women to break through the mysterious ‘glass ceiling’.”
How does the movie portray her instead? As a lonely heartless woman who is cursed and overpowered by her career.
During the scene where Miranda breaks down from a second divorce, she mentions her concerns over how this news will affect her daughters. For a short moment, the audience is finally able to see a more humane side of her. In her state of sadness and bare face, it was as if her polished exterior had been removed. Even the main character, Andy, is taken back and feels sympathetic for the boss that drives her to desperation. Within seconds Miranda snaps back to work-mode after displaying a flicker of loneliness. Earlier, the movie shows a glimpse of Miranda’s home life where she is in an argument with her second husband before the divorce. One line I remember the husband saying was “I was waiting for over an hour… I knew what everybody was thinking, there he is waiting for her again”. They were clearly arguing about how Miranda is so busy with work that her family commitments become neglected. What kind of message do these scenes send out?
If I am to be frank, this is the primary message I got: If you want to be a successful business woman, this is what you need to give up. It cannot be helped. Love? Family? You do not have time for those. You do not have the ability to balance everything. Furthermore, men hate it! They hate waiting for ‘you’. Men hate that you are more successful than them.
By successful, I mean at the very top financially, economically, and socially. I do not mean successful in your own personal subjective terms. In Andy’s case, she has no desire to become top of the fashion industry chain. Her vision of success is becoming a journalist at a publishing firm. Maybe this is why at the end of the movie she is able to find a balance between her love life and her work life.
One of the last scenes in the movie is with Miranda and Andy in the car after Miranda chooses to betray an old colleague in order to keep her position at Runway. Miranda tells Andy that she believes they are similar people, hinting at the possibility that Andy can take over Runway and live a life similar to her own. Andy denies that they are similar people because she would not be able to make such a heartless decision to a friend. Miranda shines light on the fact that Andy has already committed a similar decision to her co-worker by taking her spot as the first assistant and coming to Paris with her. Andy denies again and says she “didn’t have a choice”.
“No, no, you chose. You chose to get ahead. You want this life. Those choices are necessary.”
“But what if this isn’t what I want? I mean what if I don’t wanna live the way you live?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”
And then Andy gets out of the car and quits.
If Andy is supposed to be a younger version of Miranda, then her decision on quitting is interesting because it signifies a different future. Andy sees the life Miranda lives. She sees her successes and she admires her accomplishments, but she also sees her empty personal life. In the end, Andy ultimately chooses a more balanced work-love life over undisputed career success. Miranda’s soft smile at the end of the movie when she sees Andy after her resignation makes me wonder what was going through her mind. If she saw herself in Andy, then did Andy’s final decision represent a life she could have lived herself? One with more friendship, family, and love? And did she think that decision is a “better” one?
But then Miranda snaps out of her smiling scene and tells the driver to go, as if to move on from that fork in the road of life choices.
In a scene where she defends Miranda for the first time, Andy says “Okay, she’s tough, but if Miranda were a man no one would notice anything about her except how great she is at her job”. Which again, brings us back to the idea of the “glass ceiling”. With traditional social norms constructing the foundations of society, I wonder if it is ever possible for women to stand as strongly and successfully as men in the workplace without being judged for neglecting family duties. After all, it is the mother who is expected to care for the children and the house. Although these norms have been slowly altering over the years, it is still much harder for people to accept a woman choosing work over family versus if it was a man. Consequently, women choose not to take on higher positions or relocate or taking on more responsibilities.
Isn’t this what The Devil Wears Prada is all about? It’s all about choices. The choices you make show what kind of a person you are and what kind of a person you want to be.