Meryl Streep Talks Sexism, Suffragettes, and Her Personal Motto

StreepMeryl Streep is not only the world’s most talented actor; she’s also an activist and a sage. Seriously, there is nothing this woman cannot speak eloquently on, and she does it with elegance, poise, and fire.

Streep has been known to lend her voice to social issues and fight the good fight. She funded a screenwriting lab for female writers over 40, petitioned Congress to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, and has publicly spoken out against gender bias. Meryl walks the walk, and she also talks the talk; her recent comments about sexism in Hollywood and her own personal motto fall right into line with her beliefs.

She and other illustrious Hollywood actresses share the belief that Hollywood is rooted in sexist practices that have gone on for too long; both the men and women of the industry should work their hardest to reverse these practices and promote equality in every aspect of the industry.

Streep told Time Out:

“Men should look at the world as if something is wrong when their voices predominate. They should feel it. People at agencies and studios, including the parent boards, might look around the table at the decision-making level and feel something is wrong if half their participants are not women. Because our tastes are different, what we value is different. Not better, different.”

If you think about it, this perspective and opinion makes total sense. Why should men be the only decisionmakers, creative forces, and storytellers in Hollywood? Their stories and perspectives are valid, but they should be more aware of the fact that women’s voices are just as valid, and that they aren’t being heard. Why should one group, based solely on gender, have all the power?

Streep says it’s up to the men to recognize when there’s inequality, a notion that echoes the He For She campaign established by UN Ambassador Emma Watson. Men, with the voices and clout, have the power to effect change and promote equality. It’s a responsibility, and a huge step toward equality.

Meryl Streep plays a suffragette in the aptly-titled movie Suffragette hitting theaters Oct. 23, and so she used that analogy to give advice to women who find themselves silenced and shamed when they try to speak out and effect change: Just like the suffragettes, “don’t give up or give in in the face of patronizing ridicule, amused disdain or being ignored.” Hear, hear.

Meryl’s 40 years in the industry have afforded her plenty of experience dealing with sexism and patronizing questions. For example, she gets asked why she chooses to play “strong women” and “blah blah blah.” (Her words!) She responded, “No man is ever asked: ‘You often play very strong men. Why?’ It would be an absurd question.”

So true. We already have seen the difference between male and female interview questions caricatured and parodied across the Internet (most notably the funny sketch starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart), but it’s painfully obvious that Meryl should not be asked why she chooses to play strong women, as if it were something strange, out of the ordinary, or groundbreaking.

Women are strong, like men. Is that so difficult to understand? That’s why Hollywood’s portrayal of women must change, so that no one is surprised when honest, nuanced female characters are portrayed onscreen. And so Meryl Streep, goddess incarnate, is never again asked such a patronizing question.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism directed at Meryl Streep and other women in Hollywood, like Patricia Arquette: that they face so little adversity, with their wealth and fame, compared to other women, but the truth is that these women have the voice to speak for the regular, non-famous women—that their voices are heard first and foremost, so their speech should not be curtailed. By fighting for equality in Hollywood, they’re simply calling more attention to a widespread social problem:

“We’re viewed as equals—but we’re still not there yet. . . . For the first time, we have the expectation that we can have a broad array of choices, that we could lead in almost any part of society. And yet we face resistance. We see that here at home in our government—in the House and the Senate. We see that in our boardrooms. We see that in Hollywood.”

Keep being our champion, Meryl. In the words of her own personal motto, “Do what you can.”

About The Author
Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.