Kirsten Dunst’s latest role: Unlikely warrior in continuing gender debate

When a rain-soaked Kirsten Dunst kissed an upside-down superhero in 2002’s “Spider-Man,” fans cheered. The response to the actress and cover girl’s comments in the latest Harper’s Bazaar UK has been far more controversial.

On the subject of gender roles, Dunst, who has a new movie coming out and has been, as they say, “spotted” with actor Garrett Hedlund, told the magazine, “I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued.” She said, “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work … ”

To be fair to Dunst, she probably didn’t suspect that an actress’s comments would spark so much contentious debate. But when you go beyond your personal romantic situation to opine on relationships in general, you do invite others to join in. And considering the current political, social and cultural arguments over the choices women make and decisions made for them that affect their lives, the skirmish is not surprising.

Being Part of – and Apart from – ‘Leaning In’

This has been the year of Sheryl Sandberg and “leaning in,” and, of course, the Journalism & Women Symposium would be in the middle of this timely debate. It’s part of our JAWS mission, after all. And it’s not as though we haven’t been posing similar questions for quite a while.

As I asked in a column in The Washington Post, “Is the manifesto about women not doing enough or trying to do too much? Will busy working women be able to spare the time to see its lessons as valuable rather than additions to already crowded to-do lists? If women feel guilty about shortchanging home or work, is that really Sandberg’s fault?”

At times, it has seemed as though it’s Sandberg’s world and the rest of us just get to react to it. Was it what we have done, have not done, should have done? But there’s a value in that exercise, too, even if it only gets women thinking about how we help ourselves and one anothe