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Women Who Would Have Better and More Interesting Careers If They Were Men

By Celery | PaEHba Day | November 18, 2009 |

By Celery | PaEHba Day | November 18, 2009 |

Simply put: Hollywood is a man’s world. With very few exceptions, success for a woman in front of the camera requires a standard of aesthetic beauty to which men may, but need not conform. And even working actresses rarely get the chance to really flex their chops. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, female audiences are willing to accept less than perfect looks in their leading men. In fact, those imperfections or unusual features are often what we find sexy (e.g. Adrien Brody, Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert Pattison, Willem Dafoe). But mostly, it’s all about the roles. The great majority of fascinating and juicy characters on film are written for men, so it’s important that their casting is largely based on talent. This allows less handsome actors to become loved and respected for their abilities — a quality which most people find attractive. When women are delegated to mother/daughter/eye candy/girlfriend, casting directors might as well pick the prettiest woman who is marginally competent: the roles require so little acting that it really doesn’t make a difference. Even if some of these lovely women are gifted, they are rarely challenged on film. Finally, there are a multitude of character and supporting parts for less-than-hunky male actors that provide jobs and more importantly, exposure, allowing them to be truly memorable with their few moments on screen. To make matters worse, when there are lead roles for unusual-looking women, producers cast beautiful women and then go to great pains to take down their looks a notch (Nicole Kidman/The Hours, Charlize Theron/Monster). Of course, there are exceptions, often occurring in independent cinema, when an actress like Francis McDormand has a writer or director in her corner.

Compiling this list and whittling it down was depressing, both as a woman and a lover of film. All of the women on this list are attractive by non-Hollywood standards, so one can imagine that there are extremely gifted actresses out there whom we will never see because they simply won’t get a chance. Simply put, audiences are being robbed of the female equivalents of men like Bill Murray, Paul Giamatti, John Candy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, John Turturro, Gene Wilder, Seth Rogan, Jack Black, Danny Devito, Robert Duvall, Geoffrey Rush, and Dustin Hoffman.

Many of the the women on this list get steady (mostly supporting or television) work and a few are wildly successful compared to the average actor. Also, to the loss of cinema, most have found a more welcoming home in the theater. The point of this list, however, is that given their talent , each woman’s career would be improved and the opportunities to practice her craft would be increased … if she were a man.

Honorable Mentions: Frances Conroy, Martha Plimpton, Sally Hawkins, Rosie Perez, Molly Shannon, Kathy Bates, Sandra Bernhard, Madeline Kahn, Catherine Keener, Rachel Griffiths, Debra Winger, Ally Sheedy, Jodie Foster, Lisa Gay Hamilton.

10. Melissa Leo


9. Emily Watson


8. The Women of SCTV: Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin


7. Amanda Plummer


6. Sophie Okonedo


5. Brenda Blethyn


4. Amy Sedaris


3. Joan Cusack


2. Laura Linney


1. Marcia Gay Harden


This post is part of Paheeba Day 2009. An explanation of Paheeba Day can be found in the Pajiba Dictionary.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.