To be like Meryl

A great friend sent me this wonderful speech by the most legendary Meryl Streep at a university commencement ceremony.  You really need to read it, and there’s a link here to the full text and the video. 

Some of my favourite sections are below.  I originally wrote this post around 4 weeks ago, so its timing relative to Julia’s ascent to the throne is purely coincidential.

Please don’t despair: my next set of posts will cover life in the Caribbean.  http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/05/meryl-streep

 

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If you have been touched by the success fairy, people think you know why. People think success breeds enlightenment and you are duty bound to spread it around like manure, fertilize those young minds, let them in on the secret, what is it that you know that no one else knows, the self examination begins, one looks inward, one opens an interior door. Cobwebs, black, the lights bulbs burned out, the airless dank refrigerator of an insanely over-scheduled, unexamined life that usually just gets take-out.

…Women, I feel I can say this authoritatively, especially at Barnard where they can’t hear us, what am I talking about? They professionally can’t hear us. Women are better at acting than men. Why? Because we have to be, if successfully convincing someone bigger than you are of something he doesn’t know is a survival skill, this is how women have survived through the millennia. Pretending is not just play. Pretending is imagined possibility. Pretending or acting is a very valuable life skill and we all do it. All the time, we don’t want to be caught doing it but nevertheless it’s part of the adaptations of our species, we change who we are to fit the exigencies of our time, and not just strategically, or to our own advantage, sometimes sympathetically, without our even knowing it for the betterment of the whole group.

…when I was nine, I remember taking my mother’s eyebrow pencil and carefully drawing lines all over my face, replicating the wrinkles that I had memorized on the face of my grandmother whom I adored and made my mother take my picture and I look at it now and of course, I look like myself now and my grandmother then. But I do really remember in my bones, how it was possible on that day to feel her age. I stooped, I felt weighted down but cheerful, you know I felt like her.

…Now as a measure of how the world has changed. The character [Streep has played] most men mention as their favorite. Miranda Priestly. The beleaguered totalitarian at the head of Runway magazine in Devil Wears Prada. To my mind this represents such an optimistic shift. They relate to Miranda. They wanted to date Linda [an insipid character Streep played early in her career]. They felt sorry for Linda but they feel like Miranda. They can relate to her issues, the high standards she sets for herself and others. The thanklessness of the leadership position. The “Nobody understands me” thing. The loneliness. They stand outside one character and they pity her and they kind of fall in love with her but they look through the eyes of this other character. This is a huge deal because as people in the movie business know the absolute hardest thing in the whole world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman protagonist to feel themselves embodied by her. This more than any other factor explains why we get the movies we get and the paucity of the roles where women drive the film. It’s much easier for the female audience because we were all grown up brought up identifying with male characters from Shakespeare to Salinger. We have less trouble following Hamlet’s dilemma viscerally or Romeo’s or Tybalt or Huck Finn or Peter Pan – I remember holding that sword up to Hook – I felt like him. But it is much much much harder for heterosexual boys to identify with Juliet or Desdemona, Wendy in Peter Pan or Joe in Little Women or the Little Mermaid or Pocohontas. why I don’t know, but it just is. there has always been a resistance to imaginatively assume a persona, if that persona is a she. But things are changing now and it’s in your generation we’re seeing this. Men are adapting… about time…they are adapting consciously and also without consciously and without realizing it for the better of the whole group. They are changing their deepest prejudices to regard as normal the things that their fathers would have found very very difficult and their grandfathers would have abhorred and the door to this emotional shift is empathy.

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