The May issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK has Kirsten Dunst on the cover, but her style probably isn’t what’s going to draw readers.
The controversy surrounding Dunst’s comments on gender roles in the article has already spread to social media. Thousands of different voices are chiming in and adding their opinions. However, a lot of the commentary is not so much an opinion on Dunst’s comments as it is on feminist responses.
It’s true that in her interview Dunst is quoted as saying:
“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued. We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking—it’s a valuable thing my mom created.”
What’s the problem with that? Trick question, there isn’t one. Feminism is about choice, and if women choose to stay at home, nurture, be the mother, cook—that’s entirely up to them. Contrary to popular and painfully uninformed belief, you can still be feminine and be a feminist.
The problem is her immediate follow-up:
“And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s how relationships work.”
Where to even begin? First of all, the heteronormativity of the statement is problematic; not every relationship has a man and a woman, let alone every successful relationship. Secondly, saying “you need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman” in order to make a relationship succeed only puts more pressure on maintaining traditional gender roles. There is a disturbing connotation surrounding the words “man” and “woman” as Dunst uses them: the man is the knight in shining armor, the woman is his damsel in distress. Problematic? Absolutely. These images put men and women into very small, rigid boxes of what they “can” or “can’t” be based on outdated gender norms.
Offhand comments such as these help to cement restrictive gender roles into the social consciousness and make it difficult for women and men to break out of them.
There is nothing wrong with Dunst’s comments about femininity. Wanting to stay at home and nurture your children is not a crime as long as it’s a choice that you have made.
What is wrong, however, is the assumption that all relationships fall under a single category and into a uniform box.