Dakota Fanning reclines in a tiny pink dress, innocent look on her face, large phallic bottle of Lola Marc Jacobs perfume between her outstretched legs. I’ll give you a moment to calm the titillation you might be experiencing. Would it help if I said that she looks no older than 14? No? Interestingly enough, you might feel bad, but your loins don’t. Studies show that even if you look at pictures of monkeys having sex, blood flow to your nether regions will pick up at a high speed. Advertisers probably pinned this study up on their board and highlighted it several times over. And why not? If it gets you horny, you’re probably more than happy to buy the product. Or at least you will remember it, and the feeling it gave you.
Marc Jacobs also knows a thing or two about the fashion industry and its overuse of underage girls to showcase the latest designs and how this glorification of youthful, rail thin women has pervaded mainstream society, making us all a little teen crazy. The design team also knows about the multi-million dollar porn industry concentrated on teens, and our insatiable desire to remain young, youthful, full of giddy life. Cue the pink bubbly music and capricious sexuality. So if Marc Jacobs knows all this about what we want (and what we are told to want), then why is it such a shock that young talent such as Dakota are also willing to dish it out? Remember, she’s a brand as well. She’s her own brand. And in a competitive environment such as Hollywood, she needs to sell.
Time and time again, actresses in Hollywood state that the number of intelligent roles for women are scarce, if present at all. Instead, after the age of 16 (and that age barrier gets younger every few years) young girls are transformed into sexualized creatures, with the industry more intent on exploiting their image than their mind. Women are fillers, props, trophies in movies, and lead roles very rarely combine anything more than body, sex and some forgettable lines. Then, if you can play the game for long enough, you might earn a reputation as a credible actress. Kate Winslet. Meryl Streep. Julianne Moore. Angelina Jolie? And from there? After a ‘certain age’ (presumably Hollywood has the guidelines as to what this age might be, but I’m guessing whenever you stop looking like you could pass for, at the latest 30, you’re done. Or you’re botoxing, plastic surgerying and praying for a revival), as Meryl Streep found out: you might as well just read the ‘witch’ scripts and call it quits.
Indeed it would seem that only in foreign and independent film industries do ‘middle age’ to ‘older women’ have a role or even a consistent place in the cinema. Perhaps this is also because these industries focus more on stories, real life moments, recounts of events. Old people are real too. So are women. They are less of an afterthought, less of an add-on to compliment the always present lead, and white, male. Speaking of white, where are the women of color in those lead parts? If they’re not stereotypical ‘sassy’ Latinas or some variation of the angry over sexed black female, the sweet submissive Asian or Indian woman, I’m lost as to where these women are on our screens. Apparently, nowhere. One or two movies every few years set in foreign lands à la Slumdog do not count.
So now, understanding this concretized way in which Hollywood values youthful white sexualized female bodies, what is a young Dakota to do? Drop out altogether or work the system and start ‘owning’ her sexuality? Enter Dakota’s patriarchal bargain. A patriarchal bargain is a decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. So she takes the bargain and stays solidly in the system, attempting to exploit what she can while losing any kind of tactile rights or respect she should/could earn, and yet still tracking the years on her resume while she plays the game and more interesting roles might fall into her lap. Just play the game, and maybe you’ll get a prize. And the system stays exactly the same, favoring her body over her content and men over both.
Can she really be blamed? Is it up to her to change the system? Or is she bettering herself and her career by learning that the only way to beat it is to work within its confines? The patriarchal bargain does, however, come with a catch. Inevitably, at some point, actresses will be called out on the use of their sexuality to advance their brand. And in this age of tabloid hysteria, the repercussion will be wide, sweeping and glossified. If she survives this, she might come out on top. Part of the process indeed, as an actress, is to have your sexuality poked and prodded, exposed and abused. That you do it yourself is not the issue, as others will inevitably do it for you.
There is, of course, something to be said about starting a discussion about the issues that face Hollywood women today. And every few editions of Harpers Bazaar, someone will write a trail blazing editorial about women who are successful without having been naked in front of the camera. Its a new thing, something ferocious and strong. The actress will be given a bit of spotlight. But it will not spread like the wildfire we would hope for, but die, and quickly. And everything remains quite the same. Perhaps, should these growing actresses be happy with their little progresses and understand that using their feminine whiles to advance their careers can make them slightly more in command of the path they choose to lead? I’m not sure. Unfortunately, the choice has already been made for a large part of actresses today and they have no options but to relinquish their agency to the Hollywood structure. Most often, for those who choose not to, we will never hear about them again.
Looks like Dakota has made her choice. We’ll see what happens next.
Photo Credit: The Huffington Post