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Sympathy for the she-devil: On Women Bosses


It's nice to see some evolving going in Hollywood vis a vis portrayals of women in power.

There's a scene near the beginning of "The Devil Wears Prada," the movie version of Lauren Weisberger's novel about the degradations she suffered as assistant to Vogue editor (and reputed Boss From Hell) Anna Wintour, that signals this movie is fashioned from a finer grade of fabric than its literary source. Weisberger's stand-in character, the I'm-too-brainy-for-this-job Andy Sachs, sniggers derisively while the Wintour character, Miranda Priestley, imperiously decides between two seemingly identical belts for a fashion shoot.

Miranda, played by a silver-coiffed Meryl Streep, levels her gaze at her frowzy lackey (Anne Hathaway) and delivers a calm, magnificent monologue about the fashion industry. In a matter of seasons, she explains, a particular shade of blue trickles from her office to magazine pages to couture collections, moving down the fashion food chain until the hue is all the rage in plain-Jane department stores and outlying retail outlets, finally winding up in "some tragic Casual Corner bargain bin," the very bin out of which a holier-than-thou shopper like Andy has fished the blue sweater she's wearing. Andy may find her boss's attention to accessories beneath her but she should understand that on her back she sports a garment that would not have existed save for the decisions made in this very office, by the very person she's sneering at.

There are several remarkable things about this speech, including the almost unseemly pleasure Streep takes in delivering it, and the fact that no such scene takes place in Weisberger's book. But the most enchanting thing about it, at least at the screening I recently attended, was the murmur of a cheer that passed through the audience. It certainly rumbled in me, as I realized that instead of watching a cheap cardboard cutout of a standard-issue virago boss, I was watching an aggressive (and admittedly unpleasant) female superior who was also worth cheering for.

Even my companion, a 22-year-old colleague who spent most of the movie curled in fetal agony over the film's injustices toward the recently graduated, turned to me with wide eyes and a big smile on her face. "Wow," she whispered, as Streep finished explaining her profession to her assistant, "that was awesome." Asked later how she felt about the whole movie, my colleague said, "I identified with the girl, but I was still on Meryl's side." She has some high-profile company. On Wednesday, New York Times' devil in a red dress Maureen Dowd wrote that she was surprised to find herself feeling sympathy for a character described as "a notorious sadist, and not in a good way."

Salon.com Life | Sympathy for the she-devil
Jacqueline Keeler
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