6 - The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, January 26, 1995
Clear and present danger: Hollywood's passive women
By ALEXANDRA TWIN
Sitting in film class, I'm annoyed. We're watching "Fort Apache," some-
thing of a creme de la creme of Westerns. Peter Fonda's a good ol' boy, giving
his life for his country. Shirley Temple is his squawking daughter, too intent
on seducing a cute soldier to worry much about the war. Whether it's Temple's
simpering manner, my gushing professor's insistence that John Ford, the
film's director, is generous to his women characters or the fact that I hate
Westerns, something about the entire experience is frustrating.
It is, in many ways, unfair and useless to judge dated works of art by
contemporary standards. What's troubling is when the art meets the standards,
not because it was progressive for its time but because the standard hasn't
changed. It would appear that the recent portrayal of women in mainstream
film seems to not only meet these dated standards but in many cases, to
wholeheartedly embrace them.
Madonna vs. Whore. Supportive companion vs. aggressive bitch. With few
exceptions, most modern-day heroines fall into these categories. Jodie Foster
is mute and saintly in "Nell," a victim of the evil ways of the 20th Century. Her
alter-ego, Demi Moore in "Disclosure," has been so corrupted by her promo-
tion to top executive that she becomes the evil that wreaks havoc upon the
innocent Nell's of the world, attacking the poor Michael Douglas when he fails
to submit to her sexual demands.
From these two films, we learn that women like Nell are pure and women
like Moore are tainted. Nell wants to do nothing but live in peace, babble
incoherently to Liam Neeson and swim nude at midnight. Meanwhile,Moore's
career aspirations have cost her a personal life. Despite her gorgeous physique,
Moore must seduce pudgy officemates like Douglas to get sex. Mail room boys
everywhere, beware: power hungry women are out to get you.
It has been argued by Caryn James of the New York Times and others that
"Disclosure" reflects an antifeminist backlash, a male fear of women in power
and that future films will continue to echo this trend. The question is: how often
has mainstream film not expressed a similar feeling?
The Office of academic Multicultural Jnitiatives
is now taking applications for
positions for the KinglChdvez/Parks
College Day Spring Visitation Program
Application Deadline is 17anuary 23, 1995
Student leaders accompany visiting middle school
students throughout the day serving as guides
and role models while providing information about
the college experience. Student leaders usuallyj
work in teams of three. They should be fairly
outgoing individuals and have a keen interest in
and commitment to helping students underrepresented
in higher education develop personal motivation for a
college education. Many positions are
available, and scheduling can be flexible.
Applications and job descriptions can be obtained at
The Office of academic Multicultural 9nitiatives
1042 7leming 6uilding, first floor.
3or additional information contact
3elton Rogers at 936-1055
It appears that some unwritten rule states that with few exceptions, passive
women are rewarded and aggressive women are punished. Sandra Bullock in
"Speed" is this year's one exception. The cast of "A League of Their Own,"
a film written, produced, directed by and starring an almost all-female cast was
1992's exception. 1991, an unusually good year for women, saw Foster in
"Silence of the Lambs," and Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2." Four films.
Not much, considering the number of films that confirm the rule.
It seems that sexy, aggressive women are essentially divided into two
categories: namely "bitch" and "for sale." Melanie Griffith has played at least
two "for sale" roles, in last year's "Born Yesterday" and the recent "Milk
Money." Moore plays a "bitch" in "Disclosure" but was "for sale" in 1993's
"Indecent Proposal." She gets the guy at the end of the latter, but gets burned
at the end of the former. Nicole Kidman is an adulterous "bitch" in 1993's
"Malice." She has to suffer at the end. Sharon Stone is sexually aggressive and
morally questionable in nearly every role she plays. Uma Thurman was "for
It seems that sexy, aggressive women are
essentially divided into two categories: namely
"bitch" and "for sale."
sale" in 1993's "Mad Dog and Glory." Sarah Jessica Parker was "for sale" in
1993's "Honeymoon in Vegas." Lena Olin was the classicfemmefatale bitch in
last February's "Romeo is Bleeding." She got what she wanted and got killed as
a consequence. Even "Thelma and Louise"'s eponymous heroes - who are
arguably the most fleshed-out representation ofmodern women on screen in years
- have to kill themselves to preserve their morals.
Meanwhile, passive Nell gets to moonlight in the moonlight; mute Ada suffers
diligently until her cold husband sets her free in last year's "The Piano"; blind
Uma gets saved by hunky Andy Garcia in "Jennifer 8"; Anne Archer stands by
her man, no matter what the role; countless talented women actors play random
girlfriends or sideshow attractions; Julia Roberts always gets what she wants.
Roberts, who only plays passive roles, was the whore with the heart of gold
in "Pretty Woman," the nurse with the heart of gold in "Dying Young," the law
student with the best intentions in "The Pelican Brief," the abused, innocent
wife in "Sleeping With the Enemy" and the lovestruck reporter in both "I Love
Trouble" and "Ready to Wear." She is always a "good" girl and always gets
rewarded for it.
Granted, Hollywood has offered some interesting, complicated women
who defy the angel/whore classification. 1989's "Steel Magnolias," 1990's
"Mermaids," 1993's "A League of Their Own" and the recent "Little Women"
all feature teams of women spicing up reasonably tasty material. Meryl Streep
was strong and respectable in "The River Wild," Susan Sarandon in "Safe
Demi Moore, seen in "Disclosure," embodies the strong and evil archetype.
Passage," Geena Davis in "Speechless," Wynona Ryder and Streep again in
"The House of the Spirits," Annette Bening in "Bugsy" and "The Grifters."
Michelle Pfeiffer and Ryder again in "The Age of Innocence" and Laura Dern
and Diane Ladd in "Rambling Rose." Yet how many of these films made any
money? Of those that did, how many were blockbusters? The answer is not
What's the problem? Are people really not interested in seeing women in
strong, assertive, effective roles or is that just the perception of the predomi-
nantly male-run Hollywood? If people really aren't interested, why? Are
Caryn James and others correct that pop culture is experiencing an antifeminist
Yet, if it is to be stated that people just aren't interested, then how can one
explain the success of independent films like "The Last Seduction"? In it,
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino), afemmefatale bitch and antihero of the
first degree, to paraphrase Liz Phair, takes full advantage of every man she
meets... and gets away with murder. Bridget is the first on-screen woman in
a long while to have total sexual power and win, never having to face
consequences for her actions. She may be no more realistic than Moore's
angel-faced devil in "Disclosure," but at least she provides an attractive
alternative for so-called "bad girls." Yet, "Seduction" is a film destined to
transcend but never leave its art-house background.
There isn't a clear solution. Making room for more women within the film
industry is important, but not if it means that they would then be responsible
for making all the intelligent "women's pictures." Men need to contribute to
that, too. In order for women filmmakers to earn respect as filmmakers, they'd
need to get beyond the stories of their gender and make generally non-gender
specific films, as the best male filmmakers frequently do. (This is an issue that
has also been addressed by Spike Lee, among others, in regards to the recent
emergence of a bevy of African-American filmmakers.) Yet, right now, few
women filmmakers are considered capable of making films from their own,
female experience let alone one more universal.
But even if the films are out there, will they find an audience? If they've had
some trouble in the past, why? An antifeminist or antiwoman feeling does not
exist in most people's minds yet, but If Hollywood's male executives continue
to turn out heavily politicized, essentially antiwoman films like "Disclosure"
and we, as viewers continue to support this with our time and money, we are
feeding the frenzy, playing the game and allowing this fear to spread far and
wide across the country, polluting whatever mild form of progress has been
This is not 1950s America. Don't let anyone force-feed' you that era's
values under the guise of popular culture.
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uch easier when you live outside the residence halls."
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