The Devil Wears Prada and the Portrayal of Women.

By Signe.

Hello, Bad Book Bitches (or Beautiful Booklovers, if you don’t feel quite comfortable with our name yet).

I have the honour of posting the first ever book review on Bad Book Bitches (I’m forever grateful, Dzenana), and I have to admit that I’m equally existed and scared. I’m thrilled because it’s finally happening (we’re finally posting real content), but scared because I don’t know what’s going to happen and where this will take us. And so, this review is the culmination of weeks of hard work and meetings, immeasurable amounts of chai latte, discussions and frustrations as we’re finally ready to go live.

With this honour of being the first, I contemplated for a long time of what to post. The first is always the most anticipated (at least for me), and so, I wanted to choose a book with characters that most of us could identify with. I wrote a review of a great book that’s important to me, but re-read it and felt like something was not quite right. Not right now, at least. With this initial disappointment, I thought long and hard about which book to choose, and I kept returning to one title that formed me growing up. First, I displaced this thought because I thought it was too easy just to choose something that I’ve always loved, but then I realised that this is actually what Bad Book Bitches is about—honest reviews of books that we love. The chosen book is one that I’ve kept returning to: I’ve re-read the yellow pages, I’ve felt the pink cover and traced my fingers along the title The Devil Wears Prada ever since I was maybe thirteen years old. But most importantly, I’ve been inspired by the main protagonist, and I’ve always wanted to be her—Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway Magazine—even before I understood that her mean attitude was not a personality trait, but a tension between how we perceive men and females in chief positions.

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I’m not sure which is more famous: The movie version from 2006 starring Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt, or the book from 2003 written by Lauren Weisberger—a somewhat true tale of her time as a personal assistant to Vogue-boss-lady Anna Wintour.

The book opens with Andrea “Andy” “Ahn-drea” Sachs, a recent Brown University graduate who moves to New York City in the hopes of creating a career in publishing. She aspires to work for The New Yorker, but is nevertheless hired as Miranda Priestly’s personal assistant and doesn’t care about the superficial world of fashion. Much of the book is reserved for Miranda’s dragon-like attitude, her way-too-high expectations and how much Andy works to gain just a little bit of respect—but somehow always fails to. For example, Andy questions the choice of a “blue” item, and Miranda Priestly delivers, possibly, the best comeback ever written.

“… This … stuff? I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and select out—oh, I don’t, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? … And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic, casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.”

With this, the reader realises that “this stuff” is not just fashion or a piece of clothing, but part of making sense of the world. More importantly, “this stuff” represents how vital Miranda Priestly is, and what crucial world she plays in fictional New York City.

What I’ve always found to be interesting about this book is the portrayal of Miranda. On the one hand, she is cynical and not especially sympathetic towards her assistant. On the contrary, she is an extremely strong leader (I mean, come on, she runs Vogue … or, “Runway” I mean). Honestly, I think that Weisberger’s portrayal of Miranda as a dragon and witch is not fair. I find it ironic that women are still unable to be portrayed as leaders and therefore, the writer’s resort to less appealing characteristics. But maybe Weisberger did in fact what to comment on this societal issue by portraying Miranda as a cold-hearted woman. It’s interesting because when we look at the portrayal of men as leaders, they’re not cold-hearted, mean, evil or over-the-top demanding. Why is it that the female protagonist has to be portrayed like this?

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Throughout the book, Miranda demands that Andy picks up the right cup of coffee (obviously the right temperature as well). The right steak (that’s thrown out because Miranda didn’t feel like eating it anyways). That Andy’s always available (Miranda calls her whenever she wants or feels like it). And, of course, that Andy gets a copy of the newest Harry Potter book (not even published yet). And we see how Miranda (remember, female boss, the emperor of fashion capital) is still defined in relation to her husband, who wants a divorce. Miranda is diminishing—and I find this portrayal so wrong.

Weisberger actually had a chance of portraying a strong woman, but yet she fails to escape stereotypes and more importantly, men. Nevertheless, it’s still my favourite book because I’m aware of this issue of representation, and because I can recognise how strong Miranda is, and I think we should all strive to be her.

I find it difficult to rate this book because I’m ambivalent towards it. On one side, I love the characters and what they represent, but on other hand, I don’t particularly love how it’s written or what Weisberger focuses on. Therefore, I’ve landed on three stars because my overall impression was that I liked it.

***

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