Does Being A Woman Make A Difference?

Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron recently said that she is a director, not a woman director. “When you make a movie, there is not the remotest sense on a day to day basis that you are not exactly the same as anyone else who directs a movie.” But Abbie Cornish , who worked with Jane Campion in “Bright Star,” says, “I just notice, with a female director, there’s definitely more of a connection to the emotion and the feeling of a scene, and the physicality. They’re much more intimate on set.”

One director who is shaking up the world of gender differences is Kathryn Bigelow who directed “The Hurt Locker,” an action film with a lot of violence. She seems to prove what Ephron is saying. But Ephron herself has stuck primarily to “female” or “chick” movies like “Sleepless In Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.” So what is the real deal here?

There are obviously two schools of thought about this. One asserts that women bring something different to the table just because they’re women. The other school, typically attributed to Second Wave feminists, is that women and men are interchangeable. Ephron obviously holds the latter view.

But is she right? And does what she say hold true for all types of roles? Is a mother interchangeable with a father? A female firefighter with a male firefighter? A female politician with a male politician? A businesswoman with a businessman? An actress with an actor?

It’s always tricky to generalize about either sex. Not all men are stoic and uncommunicative. Not all women are emotional and relationship-oriented. But there are still some characteristics that are considered masculine or feminine. The problem lies in how those characteristics are cataloged. Are they positive or negative? If a man is strong, is a woman weak? If a man is aggressive is a woman passive?

Who said that gender characteristics have to be at opposite ends of the spectrum? Or that all men possess all “masculine” characteristics and all women possess all “feminine” characteristics?

Religions are particularly invested in believing that there are differences between the sexes. Islam, for instance, insists that the sexes are equal in value but not in temperament. Christianity and Judaism teach that woman was created to be man’s helpmate. Fundamentalists of any stripe tend to assign the woman to the home and the man to the outside world.

But are there real differences between the sexes or just differences in the way we perceive them? Men are defined by what they do and women by what they look like. Men who are ambitious and powerful are looked on positively while a woman who is the same is looked on negatively. Just think of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin and how differently they were treated by the media. Palin is definitely more of what our society thinks a woman should be like: younger, trim, pretty, maternal (five kids to Clinton’s one) and folksy. Clinton acts more like a high-powered business executive, plus she’s no longer young and definitely not fashionable.

One reason why it’s so hard to generalize about women is that it isn’t only the characteristics that they possess, but also the charactieristics that are assigned to them that define how womanly they are.So can women get away with doing men-like things as long as they are remain feminine? Look at Nancy Pelosi, the third most powerful woman in the Executive Branch of our government. She comes across, with her pearls and slew of grandchildren, as the ueber-grandma. Would she have attained the level she has if she were more like Bella Abzug, for example?

I realize that I’ve asked more questions here than I’ve answered. That’s because there is no definitive answer to this question. Are women born a certain way or are they shaped by society? Are the representative qualities for each sex biological or environmental? And does it make a difference how they operate in the world?

I think today’s feminists would say that it doesn’t matter. People should be treated as individuals and accepted for what they are. It’s not right to stereotype because we are all a mix of feminine and masculine characteristics. In other words, Nora Ephron is right–and she’s also wrong. It depends on the director.