Ever notice how anger helps a man command a room, but it often has the opposite effect for women?
While the former comes off as passionate, the latter is often remembered as emotionally erratic, an outcome predictable enough to make any woman angry. (Can someone say vicious cycle?)
But there may be a way out, if a new book by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut is any indication. In Compelling People, the authors posit that what makes individuals captivating is their ability to communicate both strength and warmth, but they recognize that it's a fine balance—and that balancing act is trickier for women.
We often hear people refer to entertainment as threat-less, as in "It's just a movie," or "It's only a story." The bullets shot in blockbuster action movies are blanks, falls from buildings are all staged, and White House-destroying explosions are created only with pixels. Fantasy, not reality. On the other side of fictional narrative is its credibility—stories are supposed to "suspend disbelief" so that audiences can journey along with the tale presented. When it comes to portraying real people, many directors and writers will give interviews in which they insist the historical characters were researched down to the last eye blink and pinky movement. But for a writer, director, and actor to carve out the personality in question, they make a series of choices: which scenes in this person's life to present? Which known statements to recreate? Which relationships to highlight and which to leave absent from the screen? Even if the people in question were consulted for a particular retelling—which is not usually the case—there must remain a gap between the whole of their lives and the film version. In this case then, these films may say something about the era in which they were produced, as well as our cultural need for a particular representation.
The most boring exhibit I ever saw in any of the Washington, DC Smithsonian museums was, without a doubt, the gowns of the First Ladies. Oh, how I could not have cared less. But my mother preened over them like she'd just found some rare bird egg sitting under her window. Helen Taft? Grace Coolidge? Elizabeth Monroe? I didn't care about their dresses, and I certainly didn't know who they were as women. On top of that, weren't First Ladies just... housewives in a really nice house?
The leaders of the [women's suffrage] movement trembled on seeing a tall, gaunt black woman in a gray dress and white turban, surmounted with an uncouth sunbonnet, march deliberately into the church, walk with the air of a queen up the aisle, and take her seat upon the pulpit steps. A buzz of disapprobation was heard all over the house, and there fell on the listening ear, 'An abolition affair!" "Woman's rights and niggers!""I told you so!" "Go it, darkey!" . . Again and again, timorous and trembling ones came to me and said, with earnestness, "Don't let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause mixed up with abolition and niggers, and we shall be utterly denounced." My only answer was, "We shall see when the time comes."
--First-wave feminist Frances Gage, reflecting on the occasion of Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech