How "Pretty Woman" predicted the future

Salon talks to author Carina Chocano about what has and hasn't changed for women over 5 decades of pop culture

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published August 11, 2017 6:45PM (EDT)

In "You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages," Carina Chocano explores over five decades of popular culture and reveals what "Bewitched" and "Frozen" can tell us about the modern female experience. It's a book that's both wide-ranging and deeply intimate — Chocano was inspired to write it by watching her daughter discovering iconic film and television works.

The author spoke recently with Salon about film, feminism and "Desperately Seeking Susan."

On how "Pretty Woman" was a harbinger of backlash:

In the '70s, you had a lot of focus on stories of women becoming liberated, and that usually meant liberated from marriage and finding themselves. Then in the '80s, you had a lot of underground, independent film, a lot of it made by women. By the time I graduated college I felt like, "We're moving forward, and I don't expect to see this kind of Cinderella story be the rubric for my life." Then the success of "Pretty Woman" — it was surprising. I thought, this is such a throwback; this is such a weird story. This isn't how things are going to go from here on out. And it kind of was.

On whether the success of  "Wonder Woman" and "Girls Trip" means things are changing for women:

There's a lot more now than there was when I first thought about writing this [book]. But I also think that people say that every year. Why have I been hearing this since I was a kid? Since the '70s? Why are we always changing now —  and then it's never changed?

Watch our conversation for more on women's roles in pop culture.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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