Nicole's Sex Roles Betray Women in the Real World
Street-Porter, Janet, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
On the face of it, Nicole Kidman would seem to be a rum choice to be talking about violence against women. After all, she's been raped in one film (Dogville), and had kinky sex with Tom Cruise in another (Eyes Wide Shut). She had a bath with a rather young boy (in Birth) and shagged Billy Zane in Dead Calm, her Hollywood debut - all in the name of art, of course. But Nicole isn't just a highly successful actress who's managed her career so brilliantly she now earns over 7m a film; she's decided to do her bit for the less fortunate by becoming a "goodwill ambassador" for the UN Development Fund for Women.
A new piece of legislation aimed at tackling the global abuse of women (the International Violence Against Women Act) has got stuck in the US Congress - and Nicole pitched up in her goodwill role to plead its case. This is undoubtedly an important cause - Amnesty International claims that one in three women are beaten and abused during their lifetime, with the figure rising to 70 per cent in some countries. Clearly, these are shocking statistics, and women deserve better. But using Nicole Kidman to front a campaign - no matter how worthwhile - really does call into question the whole dubious notion of goodwill ambassadors.
Over the past decade, the number of "ambassadors" has grown like Topsy, as the UN tries to capitalise on our obsession with celebrity culture. A quick trawl on the internet reveals what a motley bunch they have become - once a small group, which included people like Roger Moore, Nelson Mandela and Leslie Caron, now the list is endless. All the various UN agencies - from Unesco and Unicef to the parts of the organisation dealing with culture and science, education, population control, famine, refugees and women's rights - have their bizarre list of goodwill ambassadors ready to fly around the world drumming up media coverage by being photographed in some of the poorest and most deprived places on the planet.
These unpaid worthies, according to the UN, "use their fame to draw attention to important issues". I question whether the majority of these actors, singers, sports stars, minor members of royalty, prime ministers' wives and high-profile dress designers really add anything worthwhile to the UN's cause. Do women the world over think twice about birth control because Geri Halliwell is an ambassador for the UN Population Fund? Do governments listen to the thoughts of a woman who chose to have a baby without including the father, who is still waffling about "girl power" rather than real power.
Other figureheads seem equally random choices - Unicef has just appointed Orlando Bloom, and Unesco can boast some assorted discus throwers, Shirley Bassey, Pierre Cardin, and Celine Dion. Other goodwill ambassadors include Claudia Schiffer, Charlie Boorman and the businessman Duncan Bannatyne. Claudia Cardinale promotes women's rights - now, that's a surprise. And we hardly dare make a donation these days without double-checking that Bono has deemed the cause worthwhile.
Nicole Kidman might claim that she has never taken a role which demeans women, but she's working in an industry where women are routinely chucked on the scrap heap after the age of 40, consigned to play character roles and ageing mums, while leading men in their sixties still have on-screen sex with girls young enough to be their granddaughters. The film industry is run by men, financed by men and marketed by men. Apart from Jane Campion and Agns Varda, has any high-profile woman made a successful film recently? …