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Streisand: Man After Man in Hollywood Told Me I Couldn’t Make ‘Yentl’

A lesson from Streisand about making it on her own—despite sexism—is a lesson in why she supports Hillary Clinton

Rachel Shukert
August 29, 2016
Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton and Barbra Streisand talk prior to a speech by President Bill Clinton at a luncheon sponsored by the United Jewish Fund in Beverly Hills, California, April 9, 1995. Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton and Barbra Streisand talk prior to a speech by President Bill Clinton at a luncheon sponsored by the United Jewish Fund in Beverly Hills, California, April 9, 1995. Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images

You guys, our long wait is over. Barbra Streisand has finally—finally—made her preference for the next president of the United States known. In her first official email to potential campaign donors, Barbra has endorsed … drum roll, please … Libertarian Party candidate and (as far as I can tell) sole Libertarian Party member Gary Johnson!

No, I’m kidding! Obviously, it’s Hillary Clinton. I just wanted to toss a moment of suspense into what is probably the least surprising endorsement of all time, given Streisand’s outspoken liberalism and long-standing friendship with the Clintons. (Barbra was probably the most famous, and most emblematic, celebrity Lincoln Bedroom-guest during Bill’s administration, leading some, including me, to wonder if Prince Charles wasn’t the only leading world figure with a giant crush on our Barbra.) She supports Clinton because she doesn’t present herself—doll collection aside—as an unhinged, bigoted lunatic. (Hi, Trump voters! Feel free to work yourself into an unhinged, bigoted lather, because supporting Trump means that you are A-OK with a campaign chairman who, according to his ex-wife, is an anti-Semite, exemplified by her claim that he didn’t want their twin daughters to go to Los Angeles’ Archer School for Girls because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” where they might grow up to be “whiny” brats. That’s the kind of “friend of Israel” you’re supporting!)

Streisand recently wrote a letter backing Hillary, which was sent to Clinton supporters via email. Though she refrained from clarifying yet again the correct pronunciation of her last name, she did mention she’d be in New York to fundraise for the Democratic nominee. And later, Barbra got quite personal. “When I was a kid and told my mom I wanted to be an actress,” she wrote. “She said, ‘Well, you’re not pretty enough; you better cut your nails off and become a typist so you’ll have a job.’”

I blacked out for a second after I read this, imagining the much maligned Diana Streisand Kind in the afterlife, shrying to anyone who will listen: “Fine, I was wrong! She was right and I was wrong! Now I’m dead and she lives in a giant Gentile barn by the ocean and is married to the handsomest old man since John Forsythe. Can she give it a rest, already? Does Bette Midler talk about her mother this way?”

And then Barbra starts talking about Yentl:

Years later, I was trying to make my first movie, Yentl, and man after man in Hollywood told me I was just an actress—I could never direct and produce a film. So many of us—especially women—know how it feels to be told, “No, you can’t.” It’s easy to believe that about ourselves. It’s harder to believe the truth: that we have power, and we can use it. Hillary Clinton is the proof.

This made me think about how Hillary Clinton resembles the title character—not to mention how Streisand does so herself—in that she is a woman who has refused, in a hundred important ways, to play the role the world/men have offered her, or wanted her to fill, perhaps even on the sidelines. It’s a powerful comparison, and one that for many people may be uncomfortably to the point. Hillary Clinton is powerful. So is Barbra Streisand. And I believe that how you feel about them, and how they go to where they are, and where they are going, has a lot to do with how you feel about women in general.

Which is to say: Do you, in your deepest lizard heart, feel like women should pretty much accept whatever is given to them—say, a secretarial job because they aren’t attractive enough for the stage, or an inattentive and sometimes abusive second husband (see: Barbra’s mother) because who else is going to marry a poor widow with two children? The same goes for Clinton and the so-called consolation prize of being Obama’s secretary of state. Should Clinton and Streisand simply feel grateful that they have a window out of which they can see a small piece of sky? Or do you believe that women—any woman—should have the right to smash that window and achieve as much as their drive and talent will enable?

And do you believe that if they do reach such dizzying heights of achievement—like winning Oscars and directing films and starring on Broadway or becoming the president or getting on boats to America without a second glance—that it’s not because they are narcissists or monsters or immoral calculating Lady Macbeths (who, as I might point out, never ran for office in her own right, but if she had, I would have happily voted for her), but because they are special individuals, and that extraordinary people get to live extraordinary lives? I hope so. Because these are the people we need to be our North Stars.

Think about it. Your answer will tell you a lot about yourself. And remember, under a Trump administration, Yentl probably wouldn’t have been permitted to enter the country anyway.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

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