VQC #80: George Clooney v. Oprah & Beatrix Potter: Have we really come a “long way”

Beatrix Potter as a young woman

Is there less stigma today placed on an unmarried woman living her Vision of Success than there was in the Victorian age? 


How have expanded choices for “modern” women affected our ability to live our Visions fully?

Have the expectations tied to gender roles really changed that much?  Consider these scenes from the movie Ms. Potter about the life of mycologist, artist, conservationist and author Beatrix Potter (1866-1943).

Scene 1: Potter as a young girl is already a budding naturalist, artist and story teller. She and her brother have just chased a rabbit around the garden and Beatrix returns to her mother her dress and face covered in mud. Upon seeing her daughter, Potter’s mother is asks… “What man wants to marry a girl with mud on her face?”  She goes on to explain that Beatrix must marry. Reminding her that her grandmother married and she married and that one day she too will marry but Beatrix says “Well I shant. I will draw.” 

Her mother’s response? “Oh those silly drawings. Then who will love you?”

Who indeed? How many of us have received this same message from well meaning mother’s? Stay clean, be ladylike, demure, quiet, don’t intimidate men with your smarts, or other abilities? Is there truth in this admonishment?

What was Beatrix’s response to her mother’s question? “My art and my animals…I don’t need more love than that.”

Scene 2: As an young unmarried woman in her early 30’s Beatrix has finally decided after years of drawing and writing short stories to take her work around to try and get it published. Narrating, she says “an unmarried woman was expected, after all, to behave in a very particular way, which did not include traipsing from publisher to publisher with a gaggle of friends.” These friends, by the way, included her characters Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny and she tells them “We can’t stay home all our lives and we must look at this as an adventure.”

What were you taught about how you were to behave as a woman? Did it include striking out on your own, without the aid or protection of a man, to live your Vision? 

How many times have you been told it is best to stay home, where you are safe? Perhaps warned of the dangers of putting yourself out there.

Have these same Victorian ages been passed down to you, to many of us?

Scene 3: Beatrix is introduced to her publisher’s unorthodox and also unmarried sister. The sister asks Beatrix “When did you know you wouldn’t marry?” Potter explains that after a trail of suitors were trotted before her one of her remaining suitors married someone else and that “I knew my mother would bring me no more suitors and that I would never marry, and that shocked me. Then I felt relieved and that shocked me then I went into the garden and filled a whole notebook with sketches.”

What does this say about the possibilities for where one might channel her energy if not toward a marriage, running a household, raising children or care taking others? Are we modern women encouraged to view this as a favorable choice or outcome or to see it as some fate that just might await us if we are unmarried.

Consider the image of the “successful eligible bachelor” think George Clooney v.s. “the successful unmarried woman” think Oprah. Are the expectations and the value given to these roles equal? Does it sometimes seem that the reward for a (heterosexual) woman who pursues and obtains her Vision of Success is a sort of second-place spinsterhood?

What’s your experience?

If you are a woman (21+) I invite you to submit your story for possible inclusion in a book on the state of  women living their Visions of Success.

About admin

For over 12 years Nicole Cutts, Ph.D., licensed Clinical Psychologist, Success Coach, Author and Organizational Consultant has been inspiring and empowering people to achieve a more balanced and successful lifestyle. Dr. Cutts has consulted with and trained executives, managers, and teams at Fortune 500 Companies, Federal Government Agencies, and Non-Profit Organizations. As a master facilitator and Success Coach, she helps people create an exceptional life by honoring their mind, body, and spirit so they can experience joy, passion, meaning, and ultimate success in their work.
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5 Responses to VQC #80: George Clooney v. Oprah & Beatrix Potter: Have we really come a “long way”

  1. Tom says:

    Interesting read Nicole but may I present some alternate (and possibly unpopular) viewpoints?

    First let me remove gender from the equation since that is not an essential part of my viewpoint although I realize it is a key factor in your post. Today, the traditional concept of family is being eroded. Both men and women are focusing more on their careers and waiting to start a family and in many cases, choose never to settle down. Many who do get married do not seem to take it seriously and the marriage suffers. As a result, in the U.S more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce.

    In my opinion, this isn’t ultimately about gender but a shift in attitude about families in general. Men are not racing to get married either. They are living at home much longer and quite frankly shirking responsibility.

    Do I think Oprah should get married and stay home with kids? No, that’s a choice that should be hers and no one should be forced into it.

    Do I think George Clooney should get married? Not unless he’s going to take it seriously (which few people in Hollywood seem to).

    However, that having been said, I think one of the biggest problems with society today (which will ultimately come back to bite us) is that men and women view marriage as some sort of prison sentence. I love my wife and raising children with her is one of the greatest blessings in my life and I know she feels the same way. My wife felt pressured by others not to get married and to focus on her art (she has a BFA in Illustration) instead. People shouldn’t be pressured into getting married but it shouldn’t be viewed as a death sentence either. Getting pregnant should be viewed as a blessing, not treated like an STD as is so often the case these days.

    I do think we have come a long way since Beatrix Potter, but not always in the right direction.

  2. admin says:


    Thanks so much for your insight. I agree with much of what you said about marriage. What I was really addressing is the disparate expectations for men and women and examining if those for women have really changed that much since the Victorian age. Whether or not to marry is only one area affected by the expectations surrounding gender roles. Some do view marriage as a prison but I wonder how many also feel trapped by the expectations tied to them as men and women.

    What I think is important is that we are clear about when our choices (like whether to marry or not, or what career path to take) are determined by the expectations of others/society and when it is an authentic choice in line with who we really are.

    It sounds like the choices you have made work for you and I congratulate you on that.

    My experience was that I was raised with many of the traditional values that can easily be traced back to the Victorian age. These expectations are deeply ingrained and often at odds with who I really am as an individual.

    My question, to readers is, how much have gender role expectations shaped your choices and where does this work for you (freeing you) and where does it work against you (imprisoning you)?

    I am not espousing that one choice i.e. whether to marry or no is the better but rather that we should be clear from where these choices originate and are they the right choices to help one reach one’s fullest potential as an actualized human being.

    Much continued success & well-being,

  3. Interesting and provocative piece, Nicole!

    Patricia Raspberry, Ph.D.

  4. Reggie Sanders says:

    Wow! This is very interesting to me as I consider how to guide my daughter. When we discussed boyfriends for the first time my conversation went like this:

    “Always remember the talk we had where you said you wanted to be free and discover the world. How you wanted to simply pack your bag, swipe your credit card and off you go! Well, with hard work and sacrifice you can have what everyone can – if that’s the choice you make. There is nothing wrong with having a boyfriend, or husband, or any career that you choose. But at this point in your life you have to put your dreams, desires and achievements on the front burner of your priority list. After all, this is your choice and your life and you have to be, have to be, happy with it.”

    You do good work. I just don’t think that we do enough for our young women relative to preparing them for the world of work and living a full life without the “pressure” of having to be married. Yes, (we) all want our daughters to find a good mate and be happy, but that doesn’t mean they should plan this as a way of life of dependency. We want them to make good choices, for them, and “choose” to be involved or choose the real life they want to live. Once we do that for them, or give them permission and encouragement to do so, they grow and live happier and self-esteem grows!

  5. First let me say that I was raised by my father and being the 5th child of ten, we had a very structured lifestyle. My father was in the military (U.S. Army) and retired after 20 years. After his stint in the military he carried on his military discipline into our family life.

    While summer visits to my grandmother were marked with her constant urging of being ladylike, demure, quiet, study the bible. My mother on the other had harkened us to not let men intimidate us and to use your smarts to get ahead (i.e. get a degree). Needless to say, I had conflicting admonishments and ended up choosing my father’s advice, which I passed on to my children (son and daughters)

    Growing up I was not allowed to call boys as I was admonished that men should pursue women. Is that why we women get antsy when a man does not call? We have come a long way in some areas but there is definitely room for improvement. There still remains the stigma of an unmarried woman living her Vision of Success as being absurd but if she is married the same coin surfaces. Heaven forbid she have children, then they are seen as neglected of motherly love.

    Our expanded choices for “modern” women have affected our ability to live our Visions fully because doors that once were closed are now being fully opened, while some are barely open. But the expectations tied to gender roles have not really changed that much because the majority of women with children (single or married) are responsible for child rearing and maintaining the house.

    I think that success comes in many forms based on the individual and their goals. We eventually must be true to ourselves as that is the person we look at each morning in the mirror. Society’s view of us comes and goes, but our own self-perception is key to living our Vision.

    Phyllis Wilson
    Author, Consultant, Radio Personality & Keynote Speaker
    Click here for the buzz on my new book: http://www.manypathsmanyfeet.com

    Check out my blogtalkradio show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/doingtherightthing_right

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