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  • Carrie Specht

Strong Women in Classic Movies


At first you might think, oh, there were lots of strong women portrayed in the movies over the decades. Better take a closer look. Far too often by the end of the film the man has eased his macho slightly, and the woman has bowed low to the subservient role. All the battle of the sexes films between Kathrine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – watch out for the last ten minutes. The only time Kathrine Hepburn’s character clearly holds on to her strength in a relationship is in Rooster Cogburn And The Lady. John Wayne softens and so does she, but only a little. Not that it is a perfect ending. We have not yet figured out how we can continue as equals, each person having strengths the other partner in the relationship values and lives with comfortably.

In Hondo we can more or less assume a good on-going relationship with John Wayne and Geraldine Page. And in both of Wayne’s movies with Lauren Bacall (Blood Alley and The Shootist) there is a positive female image projected, however the majority of the times Duke’s films project truly bad images. McClintock (one of my favorite movies because of the great fight scene at the mud hole) spends a lot of screen time concluding that what the heroine needs is a good and very public spanking. In the Quiet Man – a beautiful film - and yes I know it was how it may have been in that time and place, but nothing excuses perpetuating the idea that the gentleman might need “a nice stick to beat the lovely lady.”

I do know real life people who have managed mutual respect in a loving relationship. But I challenge you to find good examples in the movies. In Father Goose, Cary Grant and Leslie Caron manage to come to it at last. And, yes I do know the sexual tension is necessary to keep a story going and the viewer interested. I am concerned that not only are women’s roles minimal and pushed to the background but that so often the message is that a woman must look act and behave the way men traditionally expect her too. It is an unacceptable pattern and has been for some decades now.

Take a moment and give some thought to your favorite movies of any era, what did the heroine look like? What did her relationship with the hero boil down to? More times than not bad attitudes are perpetuated. In a time when we are finally becoming sensitive to harassment and abuse behind the camera (the casting couch was well know and a nod, nod, wink, wink subject since the silents) isn’t it time films began to reflect the change in attitude which has been so long in coming?

I have no doubt it would be an easy thing to put together a film festival that showcased the negative behavior. I think it might take some effort to mount a festival entirely devoid of poor role models. The next time the man in your life resists going to see “some chick flick” tell him you are equally unwilling to watch one more testosterone tromp. If we can’t influence them with honesty and logic perhaps the industry will respond to a vote with the pocketbook. If we want the harassment and abuse to stop, negative female imaging also needs to stop on the screen.

#ClassicFilms #WomenInFilm #JohnWayne #CaryGrant #KatharineHepburn #LaurenBacall