Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

When women were women

Did 70s Hollywood kill feminism, or was it vice the versa?

The great auteurs of the 1970s used women as props, either victims or vixens. The ’70s women were plot devices, not fully developed characters. I grew up in the ’70s, with only two kinds of Hollywood women. They were either murder victims or prostitutes; unless they were prostitutes getting murdered. With the exception of a certain princess from Alderaan, as a teenager, I never saw a strong woman on the big screen.

In contrast, when I’d watch movies on the old movie channel, there were reporters, businesswomen, army nurses, even scientists. I was told again and again, that women of the 1930s were oppressed and women of the 1970s were liberated. But the old movie channel told a very different story.

Those women from black white movies were tough in a realistic way. They were not like today’s ridiculous female heroines—chicks who are all of 95 pounds and beating up men three times their size. The women in the movies of the 1930s and ’40s were resilient, resourceful, and intelligent. In other words, they were tough in a feminine way. They were not just carbon copies of male heroes.

She goes on from there to cite several sterling examples of female strength and power in the old classics before getting to one of my favorites:

Finally there is the champ—one of the strongest women ever put on film. You aren’t allowed to say that of course, because she was on the side of those whose statues we must now tear down. But there never was, and probably never will be, as strong a woman in movies as Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. Her entire life, quite literally, is burnt to ashes. But she rises and builds a great business. She has financial success; when everyone around her says it is unseemly for women to do anything but stay home. Scarlett has more right to the name Phoenix than any of the X-Men.

Scarlett O’Hara still stands atop the adjusted for inflation box office.

I think she always will. The entire Yankee army couldn’t take Scarlett down, and a horde of super and space heroes won’t be able to topple her, either.

Those were the strong, female characters, that inspired me in my youth. These women fought against villains and succeeded without fantasy super powers. They brought men like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart and, yes, even the epitome of the male hero, John Wayne, to their knees.

The great auteurs of the ’70s threw women like that under the bus. They beat women and raped women and killed women and degraded women. Now Hollywood pats itself on the back for their ridiculous dress-up paper dolls and proclaim voila! As if it is the first time we’ve ever seen the “strong female character.”

In fairness, though, they’ve done a real number on men, too. And I don’t mean just in terms of the characters, but of the actors themselves. Or do any of y’all want to compare such classic male exemplars as Clark Gable, Erroll Flynn, or Robert Mitchum with any of our forgettable, slope-shouldered effeminates of today by way of argument?

Yeah, thought not.

Aubert makes a stronger point than she might realize in citing GWTW, though. Hell, nearly every damned women IN the film, excepting Aunt Pittypat and Scarlett’s whiny sisters, was tough, courageous, and entirely admirable. Melanie Wilkes, Belle Watling, Mrs Meade, Ellen O’Hara, even Mammy: ain’t a hothouse flower or shrinking violet in the bunch, bless their indomitable hearts.

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1 thought on “When women were women

  1. Sorry Mel is the tough babe, she is the one that commands the respect of every man she meets. She commands the respect of all women as well. Scarlett steals her sister’s boyfriends, will steal from anyone, has zero integrity, and is dumb as a rock pinning after Ashley. When the Yankee invades their mansion Scarlett shots him but Mel is there with a saber ready to do battle. She holds her family together, she supports her husband while Scarlett tells Rhett “I’m so glad you’re not stupid like them” as she watches the defeated Confederate Army retreating from a burning Atlanta and Rhett realizes what courage is.

    The best contrast between the two is the charity ball in Atlanta when Scarlett donates her ring while Mel sacrifices what is dear to her to support the cause, something Scarlett will never do or appreciate.

    Tough women, not the idiots we see today but the kind of women that Mel was, or the women that tamed the frontier. Not today’s pussy hat wearing critters and butch lesbians.

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