Beauty or Brains: Why are we so surprised Meryl Streep went to Yale?

The term “Actress” provokes visions of beautiful women parading up the red carpet, from Audrey Hepburn running around on camera in pearls, to Margot Robbie, starring as the face of Chanel, or even Jennifer Lawrence famously stacking it up down the steps of the 2013 Academy Awards but nevertheless wearing couture Dior and a graceful smile. 


With all of these gorgeous and glamourous visions, it’s easy to forget that the word ‘actress’ isn’t an adjective, it’s a profession. The women you see clutching onto their Golden Globes and Oscars have worked tirelessly and twice as hard as the rest to get where they are, yet this is often disregarded as they are cast as the romantic co-star or damsel in distress… Maybe that’s why the few women who do reach the top are clinging on to their awards so hard? But equally, maybe that’s why we easily forget these actresses are incredibly intelligent individuals often undermined. 


In 1977, Meryl Strep left Yale with a first in fine arts after developing stress ulcers from working so hard and appearing in over a dozen performances a year. She then launched into her acting career and a few years later received an Honorary Doctor of Arts from Dartmouth in 1981. At the same time across the Atlantic, British actresses Emma Thompson followed by Rachel Weisz stepped through the doors of Oxbridge to graduate with an English literature degree. Notably, Natalie Portman took on a role in Star Wars whilst completing her phycology degree at Harvard, the institution where Rashida Jones also attended. And more recently, Harry Potter Star Emma Watson graduated Ivy- League college Brown with honours in English.


These women are high achieving academics and there are many more just like them including those who have graduated from the most competitive drama schools in the World. It’s consequently disturbing the media makes us forget this; and it’s because old, dark, habits die hard. For decades the glamour of Hollywood has dependant on beautiful women for male writers and directors to muse and for audiences to fixate. Films are supposed to be an escape from life’s hard graft and that’s why women have pressure to appear attractively and flawlessly floating through life - it's what the patriarchy of producers wants to see. But pressingly if a beautiful woman had a brain too, what would they capable of? The fear of a strong-minded woman has loomed over Hollywood producers and terrified the institution for years. 


Thankfully things are changing. The ‘Me Too movement’ has created a ‘Weinstein Effect’ where the oppressors of Hollywood are being removed and replaced a with vocal women once silenced. Reece Witherspoon, Elizabeth Banks and Eva Longoria are some of many women starting up their own production companies. Writers such as Abi Morgan and Phoebe Waller-Bridge create strong female characters for the likes of Katherine Bigelow and Abi Morgan to direct. There is strong force growing in the international film industry, one very different to when Audrey Hepburn parading in pearls and Marilyn Monroe stood in a short white skirt.