Rachel Weisz: We demand women be ‘likeable in a way that’s not asked of men’


Rachel Weisz covers the November issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK to promote her quirky new film, The Lobster. If you’ve seen the trailer (at the end of the post), you have some kind of idea what the film is about. It’s like… rom-com dystopia. Single people are given 45 days to find a soulmate (or simply a “mate”) and if they can’t find anyone in 45 days, they’re turned into an animal of their choice. Colin Farrell is one of the single people (and he would like to be turned into a lobster) and he meets Rachel Weisz’s character, who is I guess living outside of the now-conventional society. It seems like a weird and lovely little film. Anyway, there aren’t a ton of quotes from Rachel’s Bazaar piece, but here are some highlights:

She’s uncomfortable talking about acting: ‘You tend to sound like a bit of a jerk.’

Working with Colin Farrell. ‘I saw him in Cannes. He’d lost all the weight. But he’ll always be that lovely, pudgy, tender sweetheart to me.’

Sexism and difficult women: ‘I’ve noticed in my career this tendency towards wanting women to be likeable in a way that’s not asked of men. I don’t understand how that’s happened. You know, if you look back at Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis – they were difficult, difficult women, and they were iconic and worshipped.’

She hated her 20s: “In your teens you think nothing is impossible. Then in your twenties you realise everything isn’t possible. I think in your thirties you get more confident about who you are and I find that a relief. The twenties are excruciating. At least they were for me, anyway.”

[From Harper’s Bazaar UK & The Daily Mail]

The likeable thing is definitely pretty tricky. I get the impression that Rachel is talking about women feeling the need to be “likeable” in real life, or in their media-spun images. Which is true, actresses feel the need to not only be likeable but relatable like never before. The problem I have is that this whole “likeable” thing has moved into film and television too, where it’s nearly impossible to have a female character who is terrible or complicated or vicious or somehow not relatable or unlikeable.

Here’s the trailer for The Lobster. I think Colin excels at playing losers, you know? I also think he’s an underrated romantic lead.


Photos courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar UK.

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66 Responses to “Rachel Weisz: We demand women be ‘likeable in a way that’s not asked of men’”

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  1. Louise says:

    Totally true, you see it in comment sections all the time. Guys get away with so much sh#t that girls are hauled over the coals for – save for the chosen few who can do almost anything as long as they are cute, funny, down to earth, ‘relatable’ etc

    Adele is a good example – People worship her and it’s more than her considerable talent, it’s because she’s from a working class background, she’s chubby, she’s pretty but not TOO pretty and she’s unfiltered – yet still very self-effacing.

    But Adele is one of the few, 85% of guys can do what they want, screw around with so many women and there’s an eyeroll here and there but it’s rarely brought up over and over unless it’s somebody ‘unlikable’ like Sean Penn or Chris Brown

    • Hannah says:

      So true! you see it in how female politicians like Hillary are judged versus male politicians, a male politician wouldn’t have had to do the stuff she has to do to appear more likeable. In the celebrity world you only have to look at how Tom Hiddleston carried on at the graham Norton show. He was exactly like Anne Hathaway a few years ago. Yet, Anne was widely ridiculed for this behaviour, the comments about Tom was like “poor Tom he was probably nervous, he’s insecure and just wants to liked, how adorable”.

    • danielle says:

      Totally agree!

    • K2 says:

      I read a comment thread on Facebook a couple of years ago, with women (feminist women, depressingly) talking about the Hunger Games books. The topic was how unlikable Katniss was, and nobody disputed that, or even questioned why a heroine in a classic hero’s journey tale was being judged in those terms – the sole conversation was whether that characterisation (unlikeable) was realistic given her history.

      If those books had been written about a boy hero, the conversation wouldn’t have taken place in those terms. At all. Because male protagonists in the hero role are judged on courage, and intelligence, and moral fibre, and how successful they are. Not whether they seem “nice”.

  2. tifzlan says:

    I totally agree with her, especially being in the workforce for the first time in my life and having to deal with SO. MUCH. Sexual harrassment but not knowing what to do about it. I’m currently doing a fellowship at my country’s department of defence and the hyper-masculine environment is too much for me to handle sometimes. I’ve lost track of the countless “friendly” comments and gestures made towards me by men much older than me who think that just because i’m “the girl intern,” they can get away with anything.

    Others treat it like a joke, telling me they’ve “heard the gossip” about me (gossip being the fact that i reported my sexual harrassment) and just laugh about it like it’s soooo funny. Unfortunately, i feel like i am expected to tolerate these remarks because i’m there temporarily and i’m the youngest person in the room so you know, gotta be the friendly intern, can’t be seen as a bitch lest i am alienated by the office.

    Yet SO many of the men working there are constantly loud and play-acting at being military commanders with us civilians, telling us to do push-ups and whatnot despite this being an office environment and there are no repercussions. It really gets me down because i feel super dehumanized and demotivated to work but Rachel is right. The men definitely do not feel like they have to be likable and i do, even though i feel unsafe at work now.

    • Sara says:

      I am so so sorry to read what you’re going through.

    • Cassie says:

      You’ve to build and maintain an alpha male mentality otherwise you’ll always be the target.
      Women want equality and be treated as men…Get ready to fight back!

      • Wren says:

        Then you’re a bitch. Or a shrew/harpy/ballbuster/nazi/c*nt/whatever the term of the week happens to be. There’s no real way to “win” sometimes around these people. Demand respect, real respect, and you’re labelled with the above terms. Ask for it nicely and nobody hears you.

        I don’t want to be treated like a man, I want to be treated like a person. Why is that too much to ask for and why do *I* need to change my behavior to receive basic human politeness?

      • PennyLane says:

        ‘Being an alpha male’ will only get you as far as being the only ‘token’ female in the room.

        After that you’re going to have to spend the majority of your time taking down other women because you are ‘the’ woman on the team (or the board, the C-suite, whatever) and there is only one man-woman allowed.

      • INeedANap says:

        This isn’t equality. The men aren’t being treated this way. She’s being singled out and harassed specifically BECAUSE she’s female.

        Idk if you’re actually a woman, but if you are, then I am sorry to inform you that you’ve bought the bulls**t hook, line, and sinker from men who try to blame you for your own harassment.

      • holly2905 says:

        I used to run a weekly meeting that was constantly disrupted by two men who had a pissing contest EVERY week. I always wanted to come in at the start of the meeting and say “okay, let’s whip them out, see who has the biggest and get on with the meeting” but I never had the guts!

        Way before that when I was in college I was managing a rep company doing Shakespeare plays during the summer. During a break in one of the rehearsals 2 of the guys (who were both good friends of mine) made a really derogatory remark about one of the female cast members. I asked them exactly what they got out of saying something like that. I wasn’t mad, I just wanted to try and understand why they would say something so hurtful. Of course, they just mumbled something unintelligible and wandered off. They didn’t answer because there was no answer.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I’m so sorry, too, tifzlan. Is there any way you can leave? I know that’s not the fair or right answer, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do?

    • Beth No. 2 says:

      Hugs to you! <3

    • MinnFinn says:

      I am so very sorry this is going on. If by ‘feeling unsafe’ you mean someone has threatened or attempted physical sexual contact, you really should go to human resources.

      • INeedANap says:

        Human Resources is there to protect the company, not the employee. If she goes to HR, she seriously risks being let go for it.

    • Angie says:

      That’s awful, I can’t even imagine. Seriously think about reporting this and seeking help. You don’t deserve to be taunted and mistreated! Lots of love and good wishes your way xoxo

    • tifzlan says:

      Thanks for the kind and supportive words, everyone.

      @GNAT, i’m attached to the DoD for 6 months but i am seriously considering cutting it down to 3, of which i am halfway through.

      @MinnFinn and @Cassie, by ‘feeling unsafe’ i mean that i’ve already had someone who has pretty much crossed the line multiple times by pretty much stalking me – sending me texts and calling me multiple times, telling me he knows where i park my car, etc. Yes, it’s easy to say “build and maintain an alpha male mentality” when you’re not in the situation but this is completely new territory to me and my biggest fear right now is that if i “challenge” them too much, they might try to physically harm me, if you know what i mean. Especially considering the fact that some of them, as i’ve said, have stalked me and have access to my information (through the security checks i have to go through and whatnot). It’s really something i’m trying to figure out but yes, i have reported the stalker to my superior and he has reported it to one of the military advisors so the MA is going to investigate the matter and take the necessary steps.

      • Pinky says:

        What you do is go to HR, tell them again about the harassment, and let them know if they do not stop it IMMEDIATELY you will complain to REAL law enforcement to put an end to it (and know in the back of your head that you can follow that up with a lawsuit against the individual AND the DOD). It will stop and be over by the next day. You may be frozen out in terms of people no longer speaking to you, but that’s better than feeling unsafe. It will be over. DO NOT PUT UP WITH THIS!!!

      • sunnyeze says:

        Tifzlan, as a fellow Bolehland-er, cut back your internship to the minimum by all means, and you are still entitled to put the experience in your resume. Civil service back home is notoriously a big boys’ club and if they can’t keep it professional, I don’t see how hanging around longer than necessary would do you any good. I am familiar with the Perdana Fellowship project and its noble objectives, but unfortunately some public officers do abuse the interns, often times passive-aggressively.

    • Val says:

      That’s awful tifzlan. I guess the only thing to do is just bear with it until you’re done. I know that sounds defeatist, but I’m not sure what else is there to do in such an environment where you have no power.

    • MinnFinn says:

      tzflan, Try wearing an engagement ring. I’ve seen sterling silver with cubic zirconia rings that would be convincing enough at Target for maybe $50.

      I experienced the ‘friendlies’ when I was the new and much younger single employee at a mostly male office. I got engaged about 2 months into that job and the day I got back to work wearing my ring, ALL the hassles ended. Those men noticed my ring right away without my saying a word. It’s worth a try. And again I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. It really makes my blood boil.

      • Naddie says:

        But you know, I don’t think the interest is “romantic”. They are being sadistic to her just for the sake of it ( I could be wrong, but that’s what I got from her words). Those assholes feel offended by a woman “invading” their so masculine territory.

      • Wren says:

        It’s worth a try. Maybe it’s not romantic interest per say, but I’m betting it’s more like, “she’s single and I bet she’d be totally into me if she gave me a chance” rather than sadism. They see her more as a potential mate than a colleague and that fuels a lot of unwanted, dickish behavior. Add in cultural excusing (or even encouragement) of such behavior and yeah, it seems cruel.

        I wish women didn’t have to visibly labeled as another man’s property for other men to back off, but it’s true. It’s so…… primitive.

      • EN says:

        That is a good advice. A lot of girls did it back in my college days to keep away unwanted “suitors”.
        But it is also very sad that this is something that is still needed.

      • MoxyLady007 says:

        It does work. They won’t treat you like a human being for your sake but for the sake of the other unknown man who “owns” you. Go to emitations or sterling silver . Com. Get a ring between 1-3 carats. I would go 2. It’s pretty damn big but to them it just correlates to how much another man values you

      • PennyLane says:

        It depends on the place. When I was working in Central Africa I was married and wearing a ring, and boy was I surprised at how many married men were making huge passes at me!

        It turns out that in that part of the world, married people target other married people for affairs because it is safer and there is less chance of things blowing up when both affair partners have something to lose.

      • neutral says:

        Or let it be known you are keeping a record (and do so) and threaten to sue for harrassment.

    • K2 says:

      I wish I had an answer for you. All I can offer is sympathy, solidarity, and the hope that our daughters won’t deal with this crap, because we will work to ensure that things change, together. You have, by reporting it. That takes real courage, especially when the rewards are more hassle. So thank you.

  3. TreadStyle says:

    Yes! She is absolutely on correct. It’s a bit annoying. Kinda makes all the females seems the same (personality wise) in Hollywood. And she looks so pretty in all this shoot.

  4. Angie says:

    She’s absolutely right but I also think in terms of Hollywood, the rise of social media and celebrity accessibility ala Swift has made younger actors and/or singers expected to appeal to a certain demographic in order to stay relevant and bring in an audience. There are older actors who don’t maintain a social media presence but are still popular and looked for, Sandra Bullock for instance.

  5. Tara says:

    I’ve been saying this for the longest. Best example is the Mad Max promo with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Charlize would be photographed not smiling and people would rip her apart, but Tom Hardy not smiling on every red carpet? Oh it was fine. People are more critical of actresses and want them to make you feel like they could be your best friend. The men get to be the sexy, complex artists even when they have a reputation for being difficult. I don’t even think people realize they have this double standard half the time.

    • Louise says:

      God forbid an actress not smile!!!

    • Artemis says:

      Please, Charlize is called an icequeen, bitch, cold and hard all because she isn’t dainty or apologetic wheareas Hardy can be unprofessional (getting into fights on set and criticizing directors), cheats but he’s a ‘Bloke’. The difference is jarring. Women don’t even have to be ‘difficult’ to be labeled difficult.

      I love women like Blanchett, Theron and Robin Wright because while I know they’re not perfect, it’s refreshing to see adult women who have a fully developed personality which doesn’t cater to an audience looking for blandness (and then people moan how boring they are, they really can’t win most of the time). They’re not nice and they don’t have to be, imo. You know what to expect of them to a certain level and they’re clearly fine with that image.

    • Val says:

      And the worst culprits are other women too! I guess it’s a kind of competitiveness that we have to tear others down to make ourselves feel better?
      I don’t see men saying anything about Chris Brown, and women defend him, so…

    • Wren says:

      This is exactly why little girls (and women) are told to smile but boys and men are NEVER told that.

      • Naddie says:

        Yeah!!! The sentence I hate the most and heard the most in my life “You should smile more”.

    • PennyLane says:

      It’s really sad that this dynamic is so pervasive in our society at every age and apparently across fields as disparate as film production and the corporate world. Sheryl Sandberg recently wrote about it:

      “To get more women into leadership roles, we have to address our culture’s discomfort with female leadership. Young girls are called “bossy” on our playgrounds, while young boys are expected and encouraged to lead. This dynamic carries over into the workplace, where women walk a tightrope between being liked and being respected—and men do not…

      The unfortunate reality is that women at every stage in their careers are less interested than men in becoming a top executive. Contrary to popular belief, this is not solely rooted in family concerns. Our research shows that even women without children cite stress and pressure as their main issue. This points to another possible explanation for the leadership ambition gap: The path to senior positions is disproportionately stressful for women. ”

      It’s so frustrating and ultimately just so exhausting. At what point in life do you get to stop running through the likeability minefield?

  6. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I think it’s part of the phenomenon that we have to know every detail about famous people, and we put them on pedestals simply because they’re famous, then we are disappointed when they turn out to be imperfect. She gave examples from the Hollywood years when people were much more mysterious, so they could be worshipped because people didn’t know it if they weren’t nice or smart or mature. Now we see every flaw. But I do agree with her generally that women are expected to be nice in situations where men are not. It’s a little better than it used to be, but not much.

    • lucy2 says:

      Absolutely. It was much easier for them back in the days when all the publicity was very controlled, and no one got over-analyzed and ripped apart for a comment, occasionally taken out of context.

  7. captain says:

    I think it has always been this way in life: girls are expected to be pleasant. We hear it all the time growing up: ” be nice, pleasant, well-behaved, gentle – you are a girl”.
    Now, in Rachel’s industry, there were certain women allowed to be difficult, but the rest were supposed to cater to the big-wigs, or am I mistaken? I’m not sure, is she talking about the way the actresses personally should be, or the characters they play?

    On the personal level, could it be that Rachel herself doesn’t trust her difficult side to ran free? At the end of the day, it is always a question of how replaceable you are, and if you are, then it is wise to stay pleasant. If people don’t like you, they tolerate you, and that must be for a reason. There are generally more men who open movies in H’Wood than women, that’s why it seems that there are less women who are allowed to be unlikeable. Like Streisand.
    For both men and women, If you’re unique and you open a movie, then you can be difficult. In my opinion, Rachel is talented, beautiful and unique, she can be herself, without worrying about likeability part. I like her.

    • EN says:

      > ” be nice, pleasant, well-behaved, gentle – you are a girl”.

      And yet you are expected to make your way. no? Women have to make their way, get education, make a career yet all the time maintaining ” I am a fluffy bunny” demeanor and “I can’t possibly explain how I got this promotion, it was all luck”.
      Can we just do away with built-in hypocrisy? Most women while appear nice because society demands it are not much nicer ( if not at all) than men. They are just as ruthless because our society is ruthless and unforgiving.
      The extreme example of that is Japanese society, where women are just as well educated and smart and capable as men but are expected to be subservient at all times.

    • Original T.C. says:

      I can totally relate to what she’s saying and it’s not just about actresses, it’s being a woman in general. A woman walking down the street having a bad day and frowning is called a total bitch. If she’s Black AND a woman then she’s also “scary”. A man having a bad day walking down the street with a frown is either “normal”, “having a bad day” or “hot”. Take it up a notch and enter the work place where women are supposed to be a monolithic of smiling faces ALL THE TIME.

      You can’t just be neutral or not be Rachel from friends because everyone especially other women will judge you as hostile. It is so annoying not to be allowed to be a normal human being with complexity. It happens to women in every field not just acting.

      • FingerBinger says:

        I agree except a black woman not smiling is labeled angry. If a black man isn’t smiling he’s labeled scary.

    • snowflake says:

      How about the good ole “act like a lady” ? I hate that phrase

    • Wren says:

      “Give me a smile!”

      Something no man has heard ever in his entire life yet how many times is that demanded of girls and even full grown women?

  8. Neelyo says:

    In the context of her remarks, I think she’s talking about the roles available to women. She references Stanwyck and Davis, two stars who did play the most difficult, unlikeable characters of their time. If you go back and watch the work of those two and some of their contemporaries in the 30s through the early 50s, women were allowed much more depth, on a regular basis than they are now. I blame the rise of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Doris Day in the 50s. All lovely, but dangerous as a daisy.

    • LAK says:

      Davis and Stanwyck were also known for being very difficult in real life. Bette took it as a compliment, and actually relished telling her many biographers that she was born difficult.

  9. Alex says:

    Not to go off topic but this movie looks totally awesome.

  10. missmerry says:

    does anyone have any more info on the plotline of this movie they’re in?
    like WHY would you have to be an animal if you’re single?
    I can’t wait to see this, it almost reminds me of Wes Anderson, but not so fantastical, but just as curious and oddball.

    • EN says:

      The movie’s plot is amazing. And I love Rachel but can’t stand Colin Farrell, so I was very disappointed he was cast. He’ll spoil the movie for me.

      Anyway, the premise is that in a dystopian society all single people or widowers get sent to a place where they have to find a pair (partner) for themselves within a certain timeframe or otherwise they get turned into an animal of their choice.

  11. Mimz says:

    She’s a stunning woman. Love that cover.
    And I agree with what she said. It must be exhausting to be “nice” all the time and, if you’re not, you are Charlize and called a Bitch left and right.
    And unless you are charlize, still able to get work, you are screwed.

  12. liam says:

    Can’t wait to see “The lobster” and I’ve got to say how freaking great it is that a fellow Greek finally has success not in the one time hollywood “mock the Greeks” way like Nia Vardalos (although I did enjoy her movies) but with critically appraised stuff too. It’s inspiring in a very difficult time for us. I am talking of course about the director G. Lanthimos. Check out “Dogdooth” it’s sublime in its weirdness.

  13. Bridget says:

    Just look at the hate someone like Alicia Vikander gets on this site. We expect actresses to walk a very fine line: be beautiful but not fake; confident but not TOO confident because then you’re just full of yourself;Sweet but not cloying; you get the idea.

  14. tealily says:

    I love her comments on age. It IS a difficult thing to realize that maybe all your dreams won’t come true just because you want them to and you try really hard. I enjoy my thirties so much more than I did my twenties.

  15. ican'tsnap says:

    She is so right. Her point is made in so many of the posts and comments on this very site…

  16. Neelyo says:

    It makes me happy to see her use ‘sweetheart’. The way she said those words in THE CONSTANT GARDENER broke my heart.

  17. Caz says:

    I really like Rachel. She is strong & articulate. And a great actress.

  18. Miss Melissa says:

    She is correct. And it’s not just hollywood. It’s gender roles and expectations.

    Honestly, if another strange man walks up to me and says “smile,” I might punch him in the face.

    Go ask some strange dude to smile and tell me how that works for ya.

  19. Sarah01 says:

    @caz I completely agree plus this shoot is stunning!!! She looks like herself unlike Kate winslet.

    @Bridget spot on! You spoke my mind, but I couldn’t put it together in words like you’ve said.

  20. Blackbetty says:

    So true. I would like to see men afraid to walk home at night., like what us women do. Or get blamed for getting raped, because of “what they wore”, “they were asking for it” etc etc