What We Can Learn From Kirsten Dunst's Gender Role Comments Karen Belz

I have a special place in my heart for Kirsten Dunst. Not only has she been the star of a few of my favorite films (and yes, I’m counting the legendary Bring It On) but she seems like a pretty down-to-earth gal off camera. Unfortunately, my girl Kirsten angered quite a few people over a few comments in the May issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK regarding gender roles.

“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,” Kirsten said. “And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work…”

Yikes. While I understand that celebrities sit down with reporters and say things and those things are often taken out of context to seem more outrageous, and also that Kirsten’s specific upbringing worked for her, stating these views seems fairly extreme. If she’s indirectly telling me that in order for my marriage to succeed I need to be in the kitchen, well, the world would disagree as I can’t handle anything greater than a Hot Pocket. While some women thrive in a stay-at-home mom role, many don’t. For a ton of women, having a career is incredibly important. And if they choose the working path, it doesn’t mean that they can’t also be fantastic mothers. I’m sure each and every one of you can point out a strong, successful woman in her life who manages absolutely everything, with little complaint.

Kirsten also identified male and female roles strongly and in a way we’re not used to hearing in 2014. And that’s the biggest problem here: the absolutes and the labels in her statement. Men and women obviously come in all shapes, sizes, and mindsets. A male doesn’t need to be brawny to be successful in a relationship – nor does he need to bring in the big bucks to be a supportive partner. Also? He doesn’t need to be in a relationship with a woman. I bet Kirsten knows all this, and I bet these are the opinions she holds for herself and that she’s not, actually, as the outraged Internet would suggest (many, many bloggers have called Kirsten out for her comments) going out and telling her friends that they have to wait for knights in shining armor and then stay at home with kids and that is the only way the world could work.

But it’s still easy to get upset – especially since Kirsten has been in the business long enough to know how quickly press can spread, how her words can, and will be, taken to heart by people ’round the world. 

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  1. So many of these comments are made by actresses who have barely any formal education. I used to be an actor, and now that I’m in graduate school for a non-art degree, I have to say that there are so many brilliant women who never get interviewed. Kirsten Dunst is very talented, but that is her opinion, and she is also in a very male-dominated industry.

  2. That is her personal opinion. You can’t knock someone for sharing what they believe or where they stand on family issues. She may not favor the popular idea of how men and women are supposed to be (or not be), but she has the right to her opinion, whether others agree with her or not.
    I don’t think she needs to retract what she said or feel bad about it. You may not agree with her ideal, but at the same time she’s not asking you to.

  3. Maybe she is pointing out that feminine and masculine roles are being re-written and not for the better. Women who choose to stay home don’t do so because hot pockets are all they can handle, FYI. I respect the love and commitment and self sacrifice they give to nurture their families. But that bond is the foundation of human society, and shouldn’t be devalued. And yes, who wouldn’t want a real man?

  4. It is true that there should be a balance of masculine and feminine energy in our world, balance makes for harmony. It is also true that because of the submissive role women have played in the past, many modern women choose to tap into their masculine energy more frequently than their feminine in every day life. Which is a shame… Our feminine side entails much more than homemaking abilities. They don’t say “the goddess within” for nothin’.

    • AMEN Martha! I think our world has become so obsessed with masculine energy and seeing the feminine as weak that we’ve forgotten how incredibly powerful, intuitive, and wonderful our feminine energy is. I think there is a place for M/F energy in different moments of our life but when I come home from work, I was to kick off my assertiveness and let the soft, sensual, and nurturing side of me come out. I want my future man to take care of that side and bring it out in me too! #GoddessPower

  5. As an older person, I understand Kirsten Dunst’s comments while the writer of the article does not. She is not saying that every woman has to be a homemaker. She is saying that gender roles (especially for women) are becoming a lost art. I have heard some men say that women wearing pants practically all the time, and being really career oriented, changes them, and they are less feminine in their attitudes, speech, and appearance, and that this is less attractive. Some women don’t want doors opened for them, nor do they even expect it (“thank you very much I can do it myself!”). Thus many men don’t understand anymore what it means to really value women nor how to be a gentleman. Many women have become somewhat hardened and mouthy, trying to proved that they can keep up with some of the worst men. I realize that many women now have to work. But we pay a price when neither parent is home and a child outside of school has time to kill; then both parents are tired, so it is often convenience and fast food for dinner (which often causes weight gain), and parents are too tired to be involved in their kids’ lives in a quality manner. I am not speaking of every parent of course, but the trend is there. I have spoken to different teachers and there are many parents that don’t care very much, either because they are too tired, or are too dysfunctional to care. Something has been lost in society, and Ms. Dunst is aware of that.

  6. Wrote a blog post with my opinion on the matter.

    http://www.thehaleyscomet.com

  7. I respect her for saying that, as it’s clearly her opinion and she never said it should work like that for everybody. If someone can share their opinion about more ‘modern’ families then surely she can say what she did without everyone up in arms over it. I happen to agree with her anyway but it certainly didn’t seem like she was making a blanket statement.

  8. Although Ms. Dunst is entitled to her opinion, I found it a bit troubling on so many different levels. I appreciate that she was speaking from the wistful perspective of an idealized childhood but couldn’t disagree more on the aspect of what makes relationships work. Perhaps through a Heterosexist lens, a “man “having to be a “man” and a “woman” being a “woman” or the ideal of “feminized” is what makes those relationships tick. I find it confounding. In my reality, that doesn’t translate. The ideal we strive for as a “nontraditional” couple is two people in a mutually supportive coupling, Interdependent, not codependent.. Although I may play the role of Knight to my Queen, its reserved for playing , not real life. Kirsten s views is typical of over privileged Caucasian females. . They seem to forget the cultural and sociopolitical, historical oppression of traditionalist gender roles and how women had to struggle to break free from those stereotypes in order to EXPAND their roles in society. The sacrifices of the women who came before , to ensure the freedom of women coming after, seem s to be ignored. The disconnect is astounding. The reality for most females in this current society is females get the short end of the stick. In our traditional roles as caretakers, many women drop out of the workforce, to care for families, whether its ailing elderly parents , children or husbands. That comes at an economic cost. Most fulltime employed women still only make 79cents to every mans dollar. Many women sacrifice financial stability by dropping out of the workforce, because they ARE the nurturers. That “role” is still a societal and familial expectation In a heterosexual marriage, a woman can opt to take her husbands benefits when he passes since, typically men make more money and she will have bigger allotments. That’s really not an option for gay couples who are still fighting for marriage rights. My SSN survivor benefits may not go to my partner or our child since we are not in legitimate roles, according to society’s standards. Kisrten Dunst has the luxury of dropping out, having babies, staying in the kitchen , catering to her knight. As an accomplished, highly paid actress, she has this luxury, simply because other women before her blazed that trail to give a new generation of women more options than they had. Freedom of choice is a lot different than being given a role and being expected to stay there. Just ask Malalla Yousafzai, the girl shot by the Taliban because she dared to strive to be educated. The reality for most young women I know is they are in the role of single moms, struggling to better their situation through work and education to make a better life for themselves and their child, since their” Knights” were in reality deadbeats. Most people don’t make million dollar paychecks and the reality for most couples I know is BOTH people work to support their children. That’s todays economic reality. the traditional model of stay at home wife is archaic, inefficient and financially unsustainable . What happens when the “Knight” gets bored and leaves the stay at home wife? I know women who’ve had to reinvent themselves and get a career going for survival. I salute those women who made that transition stayed strong through their struggles. Now that is Empowered. A woman’s femininity is not solely defined by being stuck in the kitchen catering to her Knights whims. Just as masculinity is not solely isn’t defined by fostering codependent relationship dynamics. Clearly , Kirsten misses the mark. . As a public persona, she has the right to express her opinions of a limited world view, however, she also should be using her public platform to express herself responsibly. My main critique is perhaps Kirsten should step out of her insular privileged bubble and really take a look at the reality for most women and non traditional couples. Another example, As a financially practical arrangement, what about the MAN staying home and being the family nurturer, since his wife makes more money and can support the family. Does that make him any LESS masculine? Or Her any LESS feminine? Of course not. I know a couple like that and their relationship works very well. That’s another example of mutually supportive interdependent relationship dynamic. not within the confines of “tradition” That’s the ideal we hope to foster in our child. I would be very disappointed if she did not explore all her potential and world of possibilities before settling down to be someone’s wife. Young females today really need to cultivate practical marketable skills that will serve them before the marriage and after. Lest they be left without any way to support themselves if the marriage ends. That’s why its important to see yourself as your own person and be accomplished outside of the home, and not as an extension of someone else. . Kirten Dunst IS self defined already, which is why she has the luxury of longing for traditional roles. She can afford it.

  9. Not offended at all. It’s nice to see someone upholding and talking about traditional gender roles. It’s not for everyone, but it is for some. It’s what I do, and I’ve never been happier. I don’t work outside the home, and I don’t have children…and it sucks that just because I don’t have a job, people look down on me for being a stay-at-home wife. When people here I don’t work they ask, well what do you do all day?? Yup, I cook, clean, and other traditional housewifey things every day and according to society right now I am less of a person because of it. (I also basically do whatever else I please.) How twisted is that?? Now instead of being oppressed by men traditional women are being oppressed by more “modern” women. My husband definitely helps out around the house when I need it, and loves to cook! To me, there is something wonderful and empowering to say to my husband, look I trust you to take care of me, and I want to embrace your masculine role to allow me to embrace my version of a feminine role. We are also far from rich! As incomes go, my husband isn’t bringing home the expensive bacon, but because we’ve chosen to live this way, we have adapted our lifestyle to make that possible. I honestly wouldn’t trade it for a job. I have been much happier being a homemaker than any other job has ever made me,

    • *hear — ewwww spelling errors due to autocorrect.

      • I agree. It’s upsetting when women try to make other women feel badly about being in more traditional roles. I don’t really understand why anyone, man or woman, gay or straight, would be offended by what Kirsten said anyhow. It isn’t like she’s telling everyone that’s how it has to be and to kill everyone off or something drastic. She is saying what she thinks and feels and what is working best for her, and not only is she entitled to that, I commend her for speaking up. And commend you for doing what works best for your family, despite the looks and comments you may get. Good for you!

  10. Hmm, yeah I don’t have an issue with her statement at all. I actually have more respect for her. Many others have said the opposite and a lot are okay with that {even if plenty oppose}, so what difference does it make now that she’s saying all this? We shouldn’t be offended, we should just nod our heads and celebrate the fact that another woman has spoken up about what she believes. Bravo, Kristen! ‘Cause really? Being offended by her statement is like being offended that someone values, say, an unborn human more than a pet. It made sense, it was an opinion, and again, bravo! There was really nothing to be offended about.

  11. If the point of this article was to open up a dialogue about something a celebrity said in a magazine, congratulations, the article succeeded! However, I find it confusing and slightly upsetting the author implies to have an opposite belief to what Dunst has on the topic of gender roles and femininity, yet does not 100% commit to this statement. It was frustrating reading an article as wishy-washy as this one. As for my opinion, I am not offended by what Dunst said. Like many other commentators before me have asked, hasn’t feminism given women an equal voice in society, thus allowing us to voice our opinions and beliefs freely? Shouldn’t we be supporting each other rather than breaking each other down and insulting those who live differently? If one woman lives a ‘more feminine’ life than others, it is her decision, and really shouldn’t be open to criticism. Rather than criticizing each other for wanting to do this rather than doing that, whichever way your beliefs flow, let’s enrich our society by positively supporting each other as humans. Thanks for getting the dialogue going, I guess.

    • I appreciate the comment, Laura. I know this article is pretty neutral, but I tried to tend to both sides of the coin. Other bloggers were very harsh about the issue, and my goal was to represent it, while loosely including my own thoughts. I do think Kirsten may have crossed a line with a few of her points, but I’m not losing sleep about them whatsoever. In general, I did want to start a conversation about the topic, and I’m really glad that so many readers have shared their opinions. It’s honestly been really enlightening to get feedback.

      Karen Belz | 4/11/2014 06:04 pm
  12. She’s entitled to her own opinion.
    In the world of human connection and relationships, there are so many dynamics- possibilities of what the relationship could be. I don’t think it’s fair to enforce one style of relationship on people. That’s absurd.
    She says what she thinks, and she’s more than welcome to adhere to those beliefs in her own life and relationships.
    I have my own beliefsm and ways in which I choose to have relationships.
    It’s not like she said, “Hey, according to x, y, z, YOU MUST live and love in this specific way, no deviations.”

    No, I’m not offended. Why would I be?
    My own personal opinion is that this is just an initial reaction to a statement made and taken (possibly out of context) by a person who has not really, truly thought it through.

  13. I’m not offended, she’s entitled to her opinion. I grew up in a household much like that, I went the opposite way in my belief’s etc. but I understand it. Like I said, she has a right to her opinion.

  14. Some women embrace objectification and use it to their advantage (cough, strippers, cough) by taking advantage of the weaknesses of drunk, dumb men. But just because strippers have the last laugh doesn’t mean they aren’t stigmatized. It’s a double standard. Sexual inequality is the most obvious thing happening right now.

  15. There are many sexism issues that deserve negation, but Kirsten’s traditionalism isn’t one of them. The most obvious sexist issue in society is objectification—In modern society, especially in the media, a woman’s value is her physical beauty and nothing more. THAT is what we should be fighting against. I get attention from men because of the way I look, I get chatted up by strangers—For no other reason than because I’m considered ‘pretty’ and sexually attractive to men. This is the stuff that effs women over. (For example, every magazine and every TV show makes me cringe with its horrible sexism, coming not only from men but from women too. Brainwashing runs deep, folks.) We need to teach young girls that beauty is NOT their worth or their value. As cliche as it sounds, being a good person on the inside is all that matters.

  16. Kirsten touches on a return to femininity and embracing one’s own femininity that I truly appreciate. I despise the “modern, empowered” ideal of a woman because I know it’s a lie. Women are oppressed everyday. Society tricks us into thinking that going out and working a 9-5 job will make us equal to men. No. It won’t. One’s career isn’t inherent to one’s worth. We are worthy and equal to men because we are HUMAN BEINGS, not because we can do everything a man can do.

    Kirsten said relationships work because a man is a man and a woman is a woman. I agree with her. Why do I have to “prove” that I am equal to a man by becoming more masculine, by denying my own femininity? How is that feminist? I have maternal instincts and caring-for-people instincts that a man may or may not necessarily have. I am innately independent, but that coexists with my femininity. Who I am is very feminine, and like Kirsten said, I need a knight in shining armor, too. That’s who I am. I’m not going to not be myself

    Relationships thrive on differences. I feel very feminine, and I don’t think it’s wrong that I want to be with a traditionally masculine man. Men and women are DIFFERENT. Equal, but different. Why would I want to be with someone who was exactly the same as me? How could I be attracted to that person? If I wanted that, I would be a lesbian. Opposites attract — Sexually, biologically, and interpersonally. Men and women, with their individual masculinity and femininity, give the other person what they are lacking.

    Kirsten is accurate and I agree with her statements. This article negating her views is an embarrassment to the feminist cause. If feminism is going to move forward, it needs to start identifying REAL sexist problems in society. Otherwise, its like a hamster on a hamster wheel, going absolutely nowhere.

  17. I personally don’t think she was suggesting that that’s the way things HAVE to be. It’s simply how she views the world and she is entitled to that opinion just like everyone else. I share her sentiments that sometimes a man has to be a man and a woman has to be a woman. Now, that is where you decide exactly what that entails. I don’t believe just because a woman is being a woman that she isn’t allowed to have her own job, points of views, etc. it just means that (for me) I can’t always handle things with the same efficiency as my male counterpart and that is when I can lean on him for support and vice-versa, because relationships are partnerships where you strengths and weaknesses work together. That being said, if a woman wants to stay home and run her household that is admirable and she should receive the same praise as a woman in the work force. We shouldn’t equate everything to gender because then we alienate women for being women, regardless of the overall goal. What Kirsten said was only offensive if you don’t broaden your idea of gender roles past “doormat vs. wonder woman”.

  18. What she said isn’t offensive at all. Society has gone so far in the direction of political correctness and gender equality and feminism that now, many women feel judged or like their contribution is worth less if the choose to stay at home at raise children instead of get a job. Kirsten isn’t saying that every woman needs to stay at home and conform to gender “stereotypes”. She’s saying that if a woman chooses to value the things of home over a paycheck, that should be a respectable, appreciated choice. My mom was vice president of a company, and, while she did a great job raising me, her first priority was to her work. I am going to make a different choice when I have children, because I’ve realized how valuable a mom’s time and contribution to the family and to society is. Does that mean my husband has to bring home the bacon? Yes, and that’s an idea that was really uncomfortable to me for a long time. It’s just recently that I’ve started to realize that because feminism has been pushed so hard for so long, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and now women feel like they are less if they choose not to be a paycheck-earner. And for the record: I’m not a great cook. Kirsten wasn’t saying you need to be just cause you’re female.

    • “”Society has gone so far in the direction of political correctness and gender equality and feminism that now, many women feel judged or like their contribution is worth less if the choose to stay at home at raise children instead of get a job. ”

      Oh please. What you’ve said is a blanket statement. It sounds like a talking point of Concerned Women for America/GOP. You have no proof to support this particular statement and your perception of our society does not make it fact.

  19. I’m not offended and I agree with her statement that SOMETIMES a man should be a “man” and a woman a “woman.” Key word is sometimes. I do feel some people are taking it out of context. I think she means that SOMETIMES, a relationship can work where the man plays the conventional masculine character and the woman, the feminine. I also agree that femininity is now undervalued. It’s like what Zooey Deschanel said, “I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?”

  20. What she said isn’t offensive,. Everyone has different opinions and we also have the freedom to share those opinions. I doubt she said that thinking people would be offended, she was just choosing to share her view point. You choose to be offended.

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