“A Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady:
Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
maddening and infuriating hags!
Pickering, why can’t a woman be more like a man?
I love how far the ladies have come in movies, regarding roles and representation, which have improved, although my lists spotlight Caucasian actors simply because they have the numbers on their side and therefore more examples to draw from. And, amazingly, white washing is still a common occurrence, for the roles of both men and women.
But Professor Higgins called it, and now, to a large extent, he’s got it: women are now much more like men. Which hits exactly dead center on cinema’s latest trend and a serious pet peeve of mine.
As someone who obviously has never read the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus—Irritating? Calculating? Infuriating? I’m sorry, Professor, but have you met Mitch McConnell??—I still think Higgins would succumb to cardiac arrest the first time he witnessed Scarlett Johansson flinging her thighs around a man’s neck and then corkscrewing him violently to the ground.
I have no problem with physical strength in anybody, women included. The more power to them! I’ve always been fairly muscular and never had a problem with it. And I can see that Hollywood’s doing what they do best: mining a largely ignored resource (the female ego) and continuing their clichéd exploitation until interest in the resource diminishes due to their over-saturated and hackneyed representations of it.
Cue: Daisy Ridley in Star Wars, Gemma Arterton in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft, Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, Halle Berry in the third John Wick.
Although a good run and gun can be exciting as hell, this is still my question: since when did “strength” translate to “violence” for women? Especially unbelievable violence involving immense power sans physical bearing and/or apparent training?
For someone who’s been trudging through desert sand and sifting through junk for most of her life, Daisy Ridley’s Rey might have strong legs and a supple back, but when did the sword-fighting lessons happen, exactly? How does she, with those tiny arms, block a male counterpart’s downward thrust with apparent ease and notable skill? Is it really just “the Force” within her?
I also don’t believe it when Angelina Jolie does anything physical in any movie. And that goes for Scarlett, too, the poster child for the thigh-neck-corkscrew move. Have either of them done one pushup or one deadlift their entire lives? And yes, their bodies are fine, great, in and of themselves, without bent over rows or lateral raises. Fodder for much jealousy. But if you’re gonna be in action movies…
One might argue that many men take on action roles without being in great shape or even age-appropriate sometimes.
Cue Sean Connery in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Bruce Willis in the fifth Die Hard, Wesley Snipes in the third Blade, Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones movie, The Do Over with Adam Sandler (albeit, a comedy).
But do women really need to follow in their footsteps? I’m not sure Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman needed to shave their heads in order to distance themselves symbolically from (at least one perception) of femininity in order to appear…stronger. But at least they both had brains, in Mad Max and V for Vendetta, respectively. And maybe Natalie’s shaved head was canon from the comic books.
I realize Gina Carano is an anomaly, being an ex-MMA fighter, and conversely, while she’s believable whenever she engages in fisticuffs, she also could do with an acting class or two.
But convincing examples of this new era of “fighting” women can be seen, in my opinion, in Hanna (trained from youth and also DNA-enhanced), Terminator II (Sarah is now thin and cut and mean, but there’s been an evolution) Edge of Tomorrow (Emily Blunt, a tough solider, but also enhanced by her armor and, for a while, precognition), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (physically slight Michelle Yeoh undergoes extensive training most of her life), La Femme Nikita (trained later in life, but during her missions she does nothing over-the-top), and, of course Kill Bill.
It is a conundrum, though, because if I’m being honest, Scarlett’s Marvel character has had life-long training too, as much as Michelle Yeoh. So does she really need to be cut while Michelle floats on the wind, so tiny and insubstantial-looking? Maybe it’s cultural bias: the strength of Michelle’s character is supported by centuries of belief systems. But then wouldn’t that train of thought also include Star Wars Rey? Maybe. But she still “feels” like a Mary Sue to me.
Per Dictionary.com: Mary Sue is a term used to describe a fictional character, usually female, who is seen as too perfect and almost boring for lack of flaws, originally written as an idealized version of an author in fanfiction.
Even though Uma is fairly tall and willowy with nary a muscle in sight, she WAS trained by a master who could balance on the tip of a sword, so….yeah. There’s that.
When Zoe Zaldana’s standing on top of a storage container in The Losers, aiming a rocket launcher at the enemy, Chris Evans says, “That’s so hot.” But why is it hot? And…is it really hot? What happened to strong female roles where the women had brains and balls, but their balls were made out of their brains?
Isn’t that a lot hotter than shooting off a shoulder-fired missile, no matter how cool Zoe looks?
Cue: Pat and Mike, Okja, Legally Blonde, Thelma & Louise, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Dead Calm, Working Girl, Arrival, In the Time of Butterflies, 9-5, Silence of the Lambs, Hidden Figures (although overly Hollywoodized) Real Women Have Curves, Silkwood, Norma Rae, Star Trek (Michelle Nichols), Zero Dark Thirty.
Remember the ladies that figured out all the bad things that were going on in their companies, that started unions, that revolutionized their offices to include flexible hours and daycare?
Speaking of brains, on a side note, Jayne Mansfield’s IQ was 149-163, she spoke five languages, played the violin and piano, and had once been destined for Carnegie Hall. When she passed away in 1967, Roger Ebert wrote that she couldn’t act and had always been in Marilyn Monroe’s shadow.
Can you say that in German, please, Mr. Ebert?
Why Jayne felt the need to dumb herself down and didn’t continue on to Carnegie Hall and an entirely different life would take more research, but stories like these are always disheartening, including the fact that Hattie McDaniel often came under attack, labeled an “Uncle Tom,” a person who was “willing to advance personally by perpetuating racial stereotypes or being an agreeable agent of offensive racial restrictions.”
She reportedly responded, “Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn’t, I’d be making $7 a week being one.”
Even so, she was unable to attend the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta because it was held at a whites-only theater. At the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, she sat at a segregated table at the side of the room. So Hattie, and others like her, were getting it from both sides, sadly.
Despite all this, we’ve come far, and notwithstanding any distances still to be traveled, one might be surprised to realize how some of our favorite actors from various movies, some now classics, provided enduring roles for interesting, maddening, emotionally powerful, vacillating, courageous, calculating, intelligent, and dearly beloved female characters.
The Joy Luck Club
The Sound of Music
Miracle on 34th Street
The Wizard of Oz