Sunday 24 July 2022

Nerd Church - The Devil Wears Double Standards

Warning: this post briefly discusses sexual assault and slut-shaming/victim blaming.


I recently read The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.

And while I largely enjoyed it, and it's really well written, I have Some Thoughts™ about the way it treats women - especially women with any type of ambition or aspirations.

'The Devil Wears Double Standards' with a red high heel shoe

The Devil Wears Prada is a book about Andy, who becomes an assistant to Miranda Priestly - boss b**ch in chief at fashion magazine 'Runway.'

Miranda is a living nightmare who seems to delight in making her assistants' lives hell.

Confession time... I haven't seen the film.

Well, I've seen like 10 minutes of the film - then I got bored and kind of... wandered off? I think I left the room, I can't remember - it was like a decade ago, and I haven't tried to watch it since.

If I saw it today I might love it, who knows? But as things stand, I have not seen it.

Will I still be using gratuitous amounts of GIFs from the movie? You bet.

Miranda Priestly: Groundbreaking
Via Giphy

The Era

This book was written in 2003 - and it shows.

Although, I'm not sure it was OK even back then for Andy's Indian roommates to be described as being indistinguishable from each other and, and I wish I was kidding, their cooking making everything in the apartment smell like curry.

Aside from that, we have a load of other casual problematic-ness, including but not limited to: a bunch of Homophobia, (including HIV/AIDs stigma,) casual Ableism, and slut-shaming after a potential sexual assault. Yes, really. 

None of these things are presented as bad. Yikes. Have we really come that far since 2003?

Miranda Priestly: By all means move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me
Via Giphy

The Expectation of Self-Sacrifice

Andy is portrayed as losing sight of what's important, and becoming someone she's not.

...Which would be fine if that was actually what she did in this book. It's not.

Andy taking notes
Via Giphy

Instead we have someone who can't always fit in family and social occasions because her job is demanding and her boss is terrible.

She does nothing wrong (aside from the aforementioned slut-shaming, which isn't framed as bad,) but her family and friends treat her like she's suddenly become selfish and heartless - and she feels they're right.

They're not right. 

She tries to fit them in, has made it totally clear that she has a career plan and that this period won't last forever, and even tries to arrange things herself - only to be blown off by their other obligations.

At every turn, the attitude seems to be that Andy is neglecting the needs of these grown-a** adults, to whom she does pay attention and is around for whenever she can be.

The 'right thing' is always the thing that makes Andy do the emotional labour for everyone else, while pushing her dreams further from reach.

The affect of her work on her health and well-being isn't given nearly as much air-time. 

The exploitation of workers by both her boss and the industry as a whole comes second to the insistance that Andy is simply not coming up to scratch as a girlfriend, sister, daughter, and friend.

And that's pretty f**ked up.

Especially considering...

The Massive Double Standard

Andy's boyfriend, Alex, is a condescending, moralising, pretentious, d**k.

...Who the book presents as some sort of selfless saint.

Nuh-uh, he's ditching you to hang out with his friends and then acting like it's your fault you never get to see each other? He's always got work commitments but heavily guilt-trips you when you have the same?

Red flags. All the red flags.

This is not Pinocchio and you are not Jiminy Cricket, Alex, so save the lectures on knowing that Andy will do 'the right thing' and throw her job down the cr**per immediately, and without hesitation, in order to deal with someone else's needs.

Save the 'knight in shining armor' act when you could've thrown the weird stranger out of the apartment before Andy got home from work, not after (I sh** you not.)

Save the discussions of how this job is turning Andy into someone you don't recognise, and instead why don't you ask her whether she's happy?

Or doesn't her happiness matter?

Alex continually puts his priorities and dreams before Andy, yet he is somehow perfect, and she is somehow defective, and a disappointment to her friends and family. 

Gotta love that double-standard, right?

Miranda Priestly: No, no, that wasn't a question
Via Giphy

The Boss B**ch

Miranda's a b**ch. She's the boss from hell.

And that, in itself, is OK.

- From a narrative standpoint! Not in real life 😅

She's our antagonist, and an example of horrible bosses everywhere - that's her narrative purpose.

What's not OK is that Miranda is the epitome of female ambition in this book - she's what Andy's on set to become if she continues on this dark path of... doing her horrible job adequately? Yeesh. 😬

Miranda Priestly: Everybody wants to be us
Via Giphy

Honestly, nothing Andy does in this book justifies the use of Miranda as some sort of cautionary tale that she must run from lest the worst happen and she also... becomes editor of a magazine?

Because there are no other ways in which Andy is following Miranda's lead - she is not exploitative, she is not a massive b**ch, and she does not expect everyone to fulfil her every wish and whim.

So placing Miranda in the position of Andy's possible future should she (dun-dun-dun) carry on on this wicked path of... working for someone who doesn't appreciate her... Makes. No. Sense.

More than that, the book fails to show Miranda as anything but The Big Bad - the disease, not merely a symptom of something bigger. 

She is The Problem here, not an inevitable product of the consumerism, profligacy, exploitation, elitism, and outright misogyny of the industry and systems she is working within.

Don't get me wrong - people like Miranda do exist, and their behaviour is awful. 

But here... it feels like it's easier to blame an individual Bad Woman than the structures which both put her in this position and allow her to abuse it.

The Massive Double Standard, Redux

Ironically, this book is in itself a victim of the double standard between men and women.

It usually gets classed as either 'chick lit' or 'women's fiction' - imaginary genres which in reality are descriptors uses to separate and trivialise books written by and about women.

Having read this, I have no doubt that if it was written by a man, about a male main character, it would be categorised as literary fiction.

'Literary fiction' is another imaginary genre (imho) - only this one is used to hype pretentious and/or artsy things. It's a genre dominated by men.

The Devil Wears Prada might be a book that I had problems with, but it is supremely well-written, engaging, and with real artistic merit - there is no reason for it to be treated as chick lit, over being treated as literary fiction.

You'd be surprised how much 'women's fiction'  this applies to.

Miranda Priestly: That's all.
Via Giphy

Have you read The Devil Wears Prada? Do you agree with my points?
Have you seen more than 10 minutes of the film? 😅
Talk to me! 😎💬

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  1. I've never read the book but I've seen the movie, it is one of my favourites, mostly because I just love Anne Hathaway. I definitely agree with your points on "women's fiction," verses "literary fiction." The story overall is a great exploration on class, fashion and a bit of insight into how people think Anna Wintour is in real life. And yeah, Andy's boyfriend is horrendous, and is not redeemable in the movie one bit.

    1. See, I was wondering if the movie would keep Alex like he was or make him a halfway decent person... *sigh* - he cancels plans and it's somehow noble, she cancels plans and it's selfish - I swear to God.

      And yes! Women's fiction v. literary fiction is So Annoying - neither of them are actual genres dammit, they're just used to gatekeep/belittle women!

  2. Never read the book, never seen the movie (I don't like movies), enjoyed the review 😂. Seriously...I had no idea. And I loved your point about what is considered "women's fiction" (why isn't there a corresponding "men's fiction"?) as opposed to "literary fiction" (oh, of course, that's why...).

    1. Ha, it's not so much a review as an outpouring of frustration - but I'm glad you enjoyed it! ;)

      Yes! I make a point now of thinking about what a book would be classed as if it was written by a man and/or about a male MC, vs written by a woman and/or about a female MC. It makes it pretty damn obvious!


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