In “The Devil Wears Prada”, Anne Hathaway plays Andrea Sachs, a college graduate who lands a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), an incredibly powerful fashion magazine editor. In the beginning, it is easy to see that Andrea does not fit in with her coworkers or in the fashion industry in general. Everyone makes a point to acknowledge her difference and they all make her feel uncomfortable in the workplace. She is made fun of, called “fat” by her employer, and made to feel dreadful about herself. The other assistant in the office, Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt), makes no attempt to help her find her way. Andrea goes home to her boyfriend, complaining about her job. She decides to try to turn it around, enlisting the help of another coworker, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), to make her look presentable in the eyes of her boss. As the movie goes along, Andrea continues to make a good impression and tries to boost her career, alienating her friends and boyfriend in the process. She wants to have a great career, but it seems as though she has lost sight of what is really important. Miranda Priestly pushes Andrea’s boundaries and demands that she run ridiculous errand after ridiculous errand. Miranda puts work above all else, making her life as a mother seem to be lesser than her life as an editor.
The consumers of this text are supposed to see Miranda Priestly as cold and unwelcoming, extremely power, but a “bitch”, if you will. Andrea is warm and kind at first, slowly transforming into a “bitch”, but she makes the transition back into the happier version of herself. We see Miranda Priestly as a woman we would not want to be because she is obsessed with her job, leaving little to no time for her daughters and her life at home. Andrea gives up her big-time job with this fashion magazine to pursue her boyfriend and a life outside of a career, though she is seen interviewing at the New York Mirror towards the end of the film. The dominant reading says that women should be “Andreas” and avoid becoming “Mirandas”.
Why is this flawed?
One of the flaws of this reading is that it pits the idea of Miranda against the idea of Andrea. It is true that they are opposing forces in the film, but that does not make one of them better than the other. The dominant reading of the film makes Miranda seem like the “wrong” sort of woman and Andrea is the “right”. There is no reason why Miranda has to be a bad woman, but she has power, which is unacceptable, and she wields it in a way that is seen as wrong because she is a woman. Women in power are typically seen as “bitches” while men in power are “bosses”.
In her journey to get a job she actually wants, Andrea tosses aside reason and her friends to impress people who treat her poorly. She is a victim to her coworkers’ unwavering, judgmental, borderline-scopophiliac gazes. They judge her, tell her she is not good enough, and her boss has the audacity to call her “fat” to her face. She is constantly looked at, “[subjected]…to a controlling and curious gaze” (Mulvey 3) until she fits their standards. She dresses like them and she acts like them. She perpetuates the idea that if she wants to make it anywhere in life, she has to look and act like what is considered best.
Andrea wants to have a marvelous job and keep her boyfriend happy; by many people’s standards, she wants to “have it all”. This phrase is utterly useless. It means nothing. What is “it all”? Is there a singular “it all” that applies to everyone? Of course not. What Andrea Sachs wants is her own “it all”, which is different from Miranda Priestly’s “it all”, which is different from my own “it all”, and so on and so forth. There is this idea that women with jobs are trying to have “it all”, but this does not apply to men. Miranda Priestly has everything she wants; she is an important fashion magazine editor with twin daughters. Andrea Sachs wants to be happy with a career in journalism and maintain her relationships. They have different goals and neither set is better than the other is.
` I think it is also important to note that, while this is not a story that centers on men, it does rely on men to catalyst various aspects of the film. I like something this phrase from “Structuring a Language of Theory”: “in spite of ‘the enormous emphasis place on women as spectacle in the cinema…woman as woman is large absent’” (19). Despite having big aspirations, none of the women presented as main characters in the film are much more than two-dimensional. Emily Blunt’s character, Emily Charlton, is obsessed with losing weight and trying to impress her boss; she even goes so far as to get hit by a car while running errands for Miranda Priestly. Andrea, despite how she appears, does not want more than a job and a happy life. That is her focus; we do not get to see much behind Andrea’s actions. It is the same with Miranda. She has her daughters, but her work is most important to her. We do not get to see more of her character. Each woman is granted a few character traits and a couple of aspirations at most, but they do not get any real dimension.
How do I enjoy this?
The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t know anything beyond the dominant reading. It was just another good film with some of my favorite actors. I saw it again and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I enjoyed the film, but it just seemed off. I think a way for me to enjoy the movie more than the last time I watched it is to see that being a “Miranda” is not a bad thing. Why would it be bad to be highly motivated to be the best in your field? Yes, she may not be the nicest woman, but she had to have encountered a lot of opposition as she worked her way to the top. She didn’t get to be an impressive woman in the fashion industry by nice-ing her way to the position; no, she fought her way there and she deserves to be there.
This isn’t to say that being an “Andrea” is a bad thing either. She didn’t want that same type of glory that Miranda aspired to become. Andrea wants her own path, one with a job that she actually likes and with people who enjoy her company. Being told how to dress and how to act and who is or isn’t important to have in her life is not how Andrea wanted to live. Her choices are just as valid as Miranda’s. I think it is important to remember that you cannot turn either woman into a villain. They are equally valid, despite not being very three-dimensional. I think that, rather than being afraid of becoming a “Miranda”, I would like to try to incorporate aspects of her personality into my own life. I don’t want to be the type of woman who is afraid to push for what she wants. I do not want to be walked all over; I want to show that I am a powerful woman as well, so I think there is a lot to be learned from the “Miranda” types. Granted, I don’t plan on working in the fashion industry. I want to be a teacher, so I don’t have the same worries that I would if I were Miranda Priestly. However, that does not mean I can’t still empower myself to be the best version of me.