Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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by Inkoo Kang
January 14, 2014 2:30 PM
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Thanks to Emma Thompson's biggest fan Meryl Streep, we now know that the Saving Mr. Banks star cares about what she's contributing to pop culture at large, both as an actress and a writer. 

In light of that revelation, it's hard not to wonder how many of Thompson's peers can also look beyond the neverending competition for individual roles to consider the media landscape at large, especially its various injustices. 

Thanks to his appearance on Ellen to promote Don Jon, his directorial debut, we now know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has given Hollywood sexism a thought or two. Echoing the Representation Project's video on how women were treated in 2013, JGL told Ellen how his mother instilled in him a critical eye toward media images and narratives: 

"That was something that my mom would always point out to my brother and me, that our culture does often portray women especially... like objects. For example, we would always watch Lakers games as a family, but my mom would always point out every time the cheerleaders come on, 'Okay, so look, here's the story that gets told: The men get to be the heroic skilled athletes and the women just get to be pretty.' She didn't mean any offense to any individual woman who was working as a cheerleader, but she wanted me and my brother to be aware of it because we see these images on TV, in the movies, and on magazines all the time. And if you don't stop and think about it, it just sort of seeps into your brain and that becomes the way you perceive reality." 

The influence of media on gender and interpersonal relationships was the topic of Don Jon, in which Gordon-Levitt stars as twentysomething porn addict alongside Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore. Don Jon had its retrograde aspects, too; as the male character, Gordon-Levitt's character is primarily obsessed with sex, while Johansson's character has skewed ideas about romance, as if men aren't also influenced by media narratives about love and women about sex. 

But it's great that someone as embedded in the studio system film culture like Gordon-Levitt is willing to lead public discussions about media distortions and perceptions. Calling himself a "feminist, absolutely," he told DeGeneres, "It's worth paying attention to the roles that are dictated to us and that we don't have to fit into those roles. We can be anybody we wanna be."

Watch Gordon-Levitt's appearance on Ellen here.
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1 Comment

  • Linn D. | January 14, 2014 3:11 PMReply

    For the record, I found "Don Jon" to be a feminist perspective of women. For example, Julianne Moore's character was very in charge of her sexuality and deciding who she wanted to be, not just based on getting a man to like her. I thought the film did a great job of asking questions about our sexuality, our expectations - men and women.

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