What if Miranda Priestly was a man?
A hill I will die on: Miranda Priestly was not the villain.
The renowned Devil Wears Prada provided an awakening for many of us, whether it was a career awakening (I would live in a Runway-esque fashion closet if I could) or a sexual awakening (hello Anne Hathaway’s “I’m not your baby” ensemble). An awakening that comes with some critical thought concerns the perhaps overly-villainised antagonist of the film, Miranda Priestly.
Miranda is widely regarded as one of the most vain and selfish bosses in contemporary film. The title equates her to the devil even before the opening credits roll, immediately tainting her reputation as an employer.
Don’t get me wrong, Miranda is no saint. She can hardly be considered a model employer, and I will never forgive her for betraying Nigel in order to retain her position within the company. Questionable corporate culture is no issue to be glossed over, and I will readily put my hand up and rattle off all the things that are wrong with hustle culture and unhealthy career obsession, but that’s not what we’re discussing today.
Put simply, Miranda has no regard for being likeable, a quality central to success as a woman. Miranda challenges this idea, and we all feel her wrath. Women bosses in movies are few and far between, with most meeting a similar stereotype and convincing us all of the outdated ideals such entails.
Men who are ambitious achievers are framed as desirable and go-getting, excused of coming across as unfeeling or demanding in their pursuits (think Harvey Specter, Jordan Belfort, Captain Holt). High-powered women exhibiting those same characteristics are unpleasant, cruel, fire-breathing even. The same demeanour and command displayed by a man and a woman are received by audiences in vastly different ways.
Research suggests that women in power are regarded less favourably than their male counterparts, and are reproached for adopting typically masculine leadership styles. Where Miranda is evaluated as bossy, a man in the same position is assertive. Miranda is narcissistic and conceited, a man in command is determined and astute. The difference between being an enthusiastic leader and an iron-fisted leader can come down to something as simple as gender.
Miranda’s reputation raises the question: why do women need to be overly concerned with likability in order to perform well in the workplace? Ideally, everybody would play nice in a professional context, but men just don’t have to.
Who was the real villain of the film, you ask? Unequivocally Nate, Andy’s aggrieved boyfriend (and Christian Thompson but he’s mostly irrelevant to our purposes). Nate was an expert gaslighter who seemed intimidated by Andy chasing her dreams and proceeded to judge her as superficial. He was the main antagonist, actively working against Andy and insisting her hypocrisy undermined her work ethic and aspirations. Nate well and truly earned the villain label.
Either way, Andy deserved more; I hope she’s doing well.