The actress Kirsten Dunst shared some thoughts about femininity and relationships in the May issue of the U.K. edition of Harper’s Bazaar. As is now standard when women celebrities voice more-traditional opinions on such topics, Dunst’s views were immediately met with mockery and derision on feminist blogs and Twitter.
“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” she told the fashion magazine. “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.”
The star of Interview with the Vampire and the Spider-Man franchise continued: “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.”
Under the headline “Kirsten Dunst Thinks Ladies in Relationships Should Wife the F*** Out,” a Jezebel blogger wrote that Dunst, an “actress and blonde who looks good in clothes,” is “not paid to write gender theory so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s kind of dumb about it.”
Granted, if Kirsten Dunst were a paid gender-theory writer, she would probably not have expressed the sentiments she did. She is speaking from her own experience of life and culture, without the benefit of insights gleaned from blogging about feminism for a living.
This is clear from the language Dunst used. “I feel like . . .” is the way members of her generation signal that they are about to offer a tentative and subjective opinion. Dunst expresses appreciation for the work that her stay-at-home mother did and makes the obvious observation that such work is sometimes undervalued in our culture.
Undervalued, and often misrepresented. The writer Ariane Sommer, in reaction to Dunst’s comments, told Fox News that “people nowadays have to make a living and simply can’t afford the luxury of spending the entire day at home.”
Actually, for many families, it makes economic sense for a parent to provide full-time child care rather than paying someone else to do it, given the cost of day care, transportation, and taxes on additional family income. Most stay-at-home mothers are middle-class; they are not indulging in a “luxury.” As the New York Times has reported, Census Bureau data show that “65 percent of married women who stay home with children under 18 years old live in households that earn less than $75,000 a year.”
In any case, Dunst did not say, “Women should know their place is in the home,” as one blog headline claimed. She actually said, “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money.”
About romantic relationships, Dunst was more categorical. Some critics interpreted the statement that “you need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman” for a relationship to work as being disparaging of gays. The theory here is that this claim is exclusively applicable to heterosexual couples. By that standard pretty much all relationship advice offered in women’s magazines is insulting to gay people.
Where Dunst really hit a nerve was in touching on a dynamic that has bedeviled modern women: how to reconcile their desire for an equal partnership with their desire to maintain gender differences in their relationships. Anyone who doubts this is a live issue — at least for upper-middle-class educated women — needs to take a look at the pages of The Atlantic and the New York Times, or contemplate the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey sold 50 million copies in this country.
Dunst is just as qualified to offer an opinion on that subject as anyone who thinks she’s insufficiently schooled in gender theory.