​greta gerwig decries “straightjacket” of likeability

The Frances Ha actor calls out the requirement for female characters – and all women – to be likeable.

by Charlotte Gush
23 June 2015, 11:43pm

Actor Greta Gerwig has condemned the requirement that female characters in films must be "likeable". She adds that it isn't just an issue for film characters, but for all women, describing it as a "straightjacket limiting life".

"I don't understand it!" Gerwig told HuffPo, while discussing her new film Eden. "Of course, I live in this culture and I think likeability is not just an issue for characters, it's an issue for women in general," she says, adding that, "It can be a real straightjacket limiting life. It can feel like you're operating outside of social norms when that's your highest value: to be liked. I think it's really tricky."

Having made her name playing mumblecore characters like Frances Ha, a contrast to the cookie-cutter model of the glamorous leading lady, Gerwig describes how it affects her in the real world as well as on-screen. "Even now, when I'm talking to you or doing an interview, I'm aware of coming off a certain way or not wanting to be too strident or say something too 'out there,' because of the potential for it to be taken out of context and become a pillory for me," she says. Gerwig acknowledges that men can face the same kind of scrutiny, but emphasises that, "it's true moreso for women. Especially if they're artists, writers or creators of characters, it's at a pitch and a level that is somehow much more than what is directed at men."

Gerwig echoes the sentiments of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who recently advised women to "forget about likeability" in a speech at the Girls Write Now Awards in New York. Ngozi Adichie argued that the desire to be inoffensive and to please ingrained in women and girls by gender stereotypes is preventing them from telling their stories truthfully: "Society teaches young girls... that likeability is an essential part of you... that you're supposed to hold back sometimes, pull back, don't quite say, don't be too pushy, because you have to be likeable. And I say that's bullshit."

Gerwig adds her voice to a growing list of female Hollywood stars calling out sexism in the film industry. Maggie Gyllenhaal recently revealed that she was rejected for being "too old" at 37 to play the love interest of a 55-year old man; Anna Kendrick explained that female roles were cast second, to fit around the men; Carey Mulligan criticised the lack of interesting roles for women; and Kristen Stewart concluded that "Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It's crazy. It's so offensive it's crazy."


Text Charlotte Gush.
Still from Frances Ha.

Greta Gerwig