The Portrayal of Career-Oriented Women in 'The Devil Wears Prada'

By: Aanjalin Iruthayanathan


The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favourite films to analyze! I find it a lot easier to discuss fictional literary works and films compared to real life situations. Storytelling is a fantastic way to “meet” different types of people who may be in situations that we may never find ourselves in our lifetime. The Devil Wears Prada introduces us to three working women who approach their work, life and work-life balance in distinct ways. After re-reading my own film analyses, I realized that I am more intrigued by characters than the actual plot. Therefore I decided the best way to discuss this film would be to delve deeper into how we may be able to relate to and learn from these (semi-fictional) women from 2006. (I say semi-fictional since there is speculation that the book of the same title was loosely based on the author, Lauren Weisberger‘s experience of working at Vogue).


Miranda Priestly


Miranda Priestly, played by the extremely talented Meryl Streep, is easily the most iconic boss out there. Would I want to work for her? Probably not… But, if I could ignore my guilty conscience telling me that I was a terrible boss, I definitely would love to be her. I especially love that she wasn’t given the characteristic of being a “bad mother” as a consequence of being extremely successful professionally.


Have you ever watched, listened to or read the interview of a woman who is successful in her career who is married and/or has kids? Yes? Well, have you noticed that a recurring question asked to women that is never asked to men is “How do you manage your career and your family life?”


Notice the casual sexism? Despite our advancement as a society, the one thing we are yet to let go of completely are traditional gender roles. We have been unconsciously trained to traditionally associate women with “family-oriented” roles and men with “business-oriented” roles. Women are automatically expected to be the ones “managing” their families. While many people do adopt these roles, it is unfair for interviews and society as a whole to assume that women should and must cater to these gender norms. Just like basic cooking is an asset for everyone, regardless of gender, because we need to eat to survive, maintaining a work-life balance should be a common goal for those who wish to lead a healthy life.


Also, I love how Miranda is a relatively older woman. Ageism is quite prevalent at the workplace, especially towards women. I rarely see older women rocking their grey or white hair, for example. While men are allowed to age naturally, women (especially those in the media) are expected to put extra effort and money into looking “young.” I hope that older women are given more powerful roles in mainstream media and allowed to live their lives without the enormous pressure of conforming to ridiculous beauty standards.


Andrea Sachs (a.k.a. Andy)


I don’t want to get into extensive character descriptions but my favourite aspect of Andy’s character is her confidence! She is aware of her self-worth and talent and doesn’t let people tell her otherwise. As someone who often struggles with imposter’s syndrome, I strive to be that confident.


Time for some critiques starting with why the “you’ve changed” trope is extremely problematic. I’m honestly not sure if this is a common trope because I’ve only seen it in Mean Girls and The Devil Wear Prada, but why would you villainize someone for changing…? I hate to break it to you, but people change because that’s how they grow! You lose friends, make new friends and you may even find a new passion and quit your job or change your field of study. That’s perfectly normal! In The Devil Wears Prada Andy’s boyfriend is irritated that Andy has changed the way she dresses, is “suddenly” interested in fashion, and devotes more of her time towards her job. In reality, you are allowed to change your goals, your dream job does not need to be set in stone. As you explore different industries by taking various courses or exploring new jobs, you may decide to change your goals and that is perfectly fine! I still think Andy should’ve broken up with her (unsupportive) boyfriend and continued her job… I would advise against having any sort of relationship with people who guilt-trip you into making decisions that are convenient for them. (Maybe one day I’ll get to screen write for a reboot/ modern-day adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada and make all these changes, fingers crossed!)



Emily Charlton


Technically, Emily was considered to be more of a supporting character in this film. However, if The Devil Wears Prada was rebooted in the current decade, Emily would certainly be a more relatable main character than Andy, for both students and working women alike. Even back in 2006 she was on board with “hustle culture” — working 24 x7 while simultaneously neglecting her mental and physical health. In today's fast paced world, a lot of people, including myself, have gotten caught in the storm of toxic productivity where every minute that is not spent on work is a waste. Ultimately, Emily’s imbalanced lifestyle causes her to topple over and she ends up gravely injured and also loses out on the job opportunity she was working towards.


As a brief PSA to anyone reading this article, please remember that:


health >>>> work/school/extracurriculars.


Always remember that you are a person first! Listen to your body when it tells you that you’re overworking and take breaks. Set boundaries with your employers and implement breaks within your routine! Burnout is very real and difficult to recover from.


Some of the More Dated Elements of the Film


The Devil Wears Prada will always be one of my favourite women-centric films as I love its representation of three distinct working women. However, having released in 2006, it is far from perfect and has plenty of tropes for us to critique. It is scattered with casual sexism, body-shaming, a (slightly) toxic romantic relationship and of course a white-centric perspective.


Unfortunately the film does abide by unrealistic body standards where women are expected to be extremely thin. Thankfully, the fashion world has evolved since 2004, and campaigns like “Dove Love Your Body” promote a broader range of body types. Nevertheless, body standards still exist (especially within the fashion industry) so I will likely write a separate piece on this topic soon :)



References:


Finerman, Wendy, and Aline Brosh McKenna. The Devil Wears Prada. 20th Century Fox, 2006.



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