Barbra Streisand and Jessica Chastain Open Up About Women in Hollywood: ‘What Does Difficult Mean, Anyway?’

Barbra Streisand and Jessica Chastain (Photos: Getty Images)

In separate pieces in The Hollywood Reporter, both Barbra Streisand and Jessica Chastain pull back the curtain on what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood. The two, who have seven Academy Award nominations between them, talk about their experiences as minorities in the film industry, and where they see it going.

“What does ‘difficult’ mean, anyway?” Streisand, who has long been dogged by rumors about on-set behavior, asks. “[Women are] just measured by a different standard. He’s ‘committed.’ She’s ‘obsessed.’ It’s been said that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Why can’t that be true of a woman?”

Barbra Streisand holds her Best Actress Oscar — she won for her film debut in Funny Girl. (Photo: Getty Images)

Streisand says she became passionate about gender equality while directing, writing, producing, and starring in Yentl. The film itself is the story of a Jewish woman who disguises herself as a man in order to study the Talmud; as a first time female director in 1983, Streisand says she faced a similar struggle of acceptance.

Chastain, for her part, writes from the Prague set of The Zookeeper’s Wife, an upcoming biopic about a woman who helped save the lives of 300 Jews during the Holocaust. It is written by, directed by, produced by, and starring women. The film has a female camera operator and a female stunt coordinator.

“We’re not even 50 percent of the crew — we’re probably something like 20 percent women and 80 percent men — but it’s way more than I’ve ever worked with on a film before,” Chastain writes.

Streisand remembers coded language used to dismiss her methods; methods which male directors rely on constantly. She specifically cites being bashed for having shown the film to Steven Spielberg before it was released, who told her, “Don’t change a frame.”

“It seems that only when a woman shows her film to a male director, the assumption is she needs rescuing!” she says.

Jessica Chastain presents with Jennifer Garner at the 2013 Oscars — she was nominated for Best Actress that year. (Photo: Getty Images)

Chastain says she believes things are changing, albeit slowly.

“The reason I think they are changing is because whenever I talk about these issues with men I know in the industry — they are very talented, really intelligent and very successful men — there’s this embarrassment,” Chastain writes. “They say, ‘I don’t understand how it got to be like this.’ And I think that is what will help things change because it takes the group that is the majority in the industry to say, ‘Wait a minute: Maybe it’s more interesting to have more female voices in the executive suite and not just a token woman.’”