To persuade a straight, male audience to identify with a woman character

Meryl Streep made an important point in this 2012 interview on Fresh Air:

GROSS: You gave a terrific commencement address at Barnard in 2010. And one of things you talked about was that the hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight, male audience to identify with a woman character. It’s easier for women because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It’s hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in “Peter Pan,” whereas girls identify with Romeo and with Peter Pan. What led you to that conclusion?

STREEP: What let me to that was I have never – I mean, I watch movies. And I don’t care who is the protagonist, I feel what that guy is feeling. You know, if it’s Tom Cruise leaping over a building – I want to make it, you know? And I’m going to – yes, I made it. And yeah, so I get that. And I’ve grown up, well, partly because there weren’t great girls’ literature – Nancy Drew, maybe – but there weren’t things.

So there was Huck Finn and “Spin And Marty.” The boys characters were interesting, and you’ve – you lived through them when you’re watching it. You know, you don’t – you’re not aware of it, but you’re following the action of the film through the body of the protagonist, you know? You feel what he feels when he jumps, when he leaps, when he wins, when he loses. But it became obvious to me that men don’t live through the female characters.

GROSS: Do you think that women have that kind of double consciousness and men, like, boys…

STREEP: I think it has to do with…

GROSS: …Don’t make that leap?

STREEP: Well, it has to do with very deep things, you know, because it might be that imagining yourself as a girl is a diminishment. But it is something that when I made “The Devil Wears Prada,” it was the first time in my life, 30 years of making movies, that a man came up and said, I know how you felt. I know how you felt. I have a job like that. People don’t understand.

GROSS: It’s the first time?

STREEP: First time. First time. And they say lots of things. I think they – this is what I was trying to say in that speech. It’s very hard point to make because I guess it’s hard to wrap your head around it. But for men, the most – usually the favorite character that I’ve ever played is Linda in “The Deer Hunter.”

Without question, of the heterosexual men that I’ve spoken to over the years, that’s usually – they say, you know, my favorite thing you’ve ever done was Linda or Sophie. And they were a particular kind of very feminine, recessive kind of personality. They – so they fell in love with her, but they didn’t feel the story through her body. And it took to “The Devil Wears Prada” to play someone tough, who had to make hard decisions, who was running an organization, and sometimes that takes making tough decisions for a certain kind of man to empathize. That’s the word – empathize. Feel the story through her. And that’s the first time anybody has ever said that they felt that way.

Can confirm. Growing up I identified with a thousand male characters – and a thousand female ones too.

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