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128 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 7 A Postfeminist Primer Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hilary Swank, and Renée Zellweger CORINN COLUMPAR The 2000s were good to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hilary Swank, and Renée Zellweger. Three of the most active and acclaimed actresses of their generation, they worked continually over the course of the decade, and, in turn, each was richly rewarded for her efforts, be it with largely laudatory reviews, copious attention, or at least one (Gyllenhaal) and as many as three (Zellweger) Academy Award nominations. Moreover, each of the three either attained or consolidated her status as “star” in this same period, even while keeping one foot (or more, in the case of Gyllenhaal) planted in the world of independent cinema, which tends to produce “picture personalities” instead (see de Cordova; Negra “Queen”). As a result, not only their work but also Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hilary Swank, and Renée Zellweger. their lives offscreen and in private generated buzz, speculation, and commentary that informed their public personae. While Zellweger’s celebrity had already been secured by the start of the decade due to a break-out performance in Jerry Maguire (1996), it only intensified as the decade wore on and she honed her skills as a comedienne. Meanwhile, definitive proof of Swank’s and Gyllenhaal’s arrival among the ranks of A-list actresses came with their inclusion on the cover of the 2004 Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. After that they both rose considerably in profile due to events both professional and personal, and in so doing attained a level of visibility equal to, if not greater than, some of the Hollywood-issue veterans, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Connelly, with whom they posed (March 2004). What makes the achievements of Zellweger, Swank, and Gyllenhaal all the more noteworthy is the fact that the 2000s were not good to actresses in general, in large part due to the cultural changes wrought by 9/11. By many accounts everything changed after that fateful day, and, as Susan Faludi amply illustrates in her book The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 Media, that includes women’s presence in the media. Arguing that “we [Americans] reacted to our trauma . . . not by interrogating it but by cocooning ourselves in the celluloid chrysalis of the baby boom’s childhood,” Faludi charts a profound cultural shift throughout the 2000s, one that depended on a reversion to the traditional gender roles embodied by John Wayne on the one hand and a generic female caretaker on the other (4). As a result of this shift, women’s presence in the public sphere, including popular culture, was severely curtailed in the wake of 9/11; registering the cumulative toll this curtailment took on the film industry, Manohla Dargis published a resonant lament in 2008 over what she called “the new post-female American cinema” (“Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?” New York Times, 4 May 2008). Furthermore, when women did feature in the media, Faludi argues, the roles they typically played were more circumscribed due in part to the revivi fication of “sex-coded rescue language,” which positions men as heroes and women as either damsels in distress or cheerleaders from the domestic sidelines . The result was a reinforcement of certain trends—chiefly, a disregard for feminism and the establishment of a new traditionalism—associated with an already pervasive postfeminist culture. For the most part, Zellweger, Swank, and Gyllenhaal are exceptions to the rules that Faludi fleshes out. Not only did these three work regularly throughout the 2000s, but the majority of characters they played exhibit a considerable degree of both agency and dimension, even when they functioned as supporting players in someone else’s drama. In fact, a number of their films are explicitly concerned with foregrounding certain figures, be A POSTFEMINIST PRIMER 129 they historical personages (Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter [2006] and Alice Paul in Iron Jawed Angels [2004]) or fictional types (a female masochist in Secretary [2002]), so as to grant them gravitas and to complicate facile assumptions about them. As a result, it is tempting to ignore the larger social context at issue for Faludi and even Dargis, one that testifies to ongoing gender inequality in Hollywood and elsewhere. Yet to do so is also to ignore the very conditions that made the stardom of Zellweger, Swank, and Gyllenhaal possible; after all, the ideas these three articulate about not only personhood , as Richard Dyer would have it, but...


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