What’s up, everybody! Dude Corner here. As a critical thinker, when someone suggests a film is sexist, I immediately prepare myself to evaluate the claim with level rationality and (obviously) a healthy dose of skepticism. So you can imagine, when a female colleague accused a 1950s period drama of sexism, I had to give my head a good clearing shake before I could even begin to assess and dismantle the assertion.
I knew it would be difficult to explain what was really going on here: Those who are quick to cry “ism” often can’t see that films set in the past aren’t sexist or racist – they’re just historically accurate to a time before women had any interiority at all. This is like an objective fact.
Over the last century, the condition of the American woman has drastically changed, and no one is gladder for that fact than me. I think it’s wonderful that women now have rich internal lives, complicated and at times contradictory desires, and all-around psychological existence: All important elements to merit the representation of a movie character with, for instance, lines.
However I could hardly begin explaining this to my woman friend, let’s call her Jenny (my preferred female character name) before she launched into a tirade about how there’s “a clear difference between a film representing the existence of sexism and a film being sexist in its construction of female characters”. Unfortunately, her hysterical rant betrayed a real ignorance of American history and obvious ignorance of the fact that you can’t have interiority if you don’t wear pants. This is science!
It is simply a fact that in the 50s, women were relegated to the domestic sphere, dissuaded from professional and intellectual pursuits, and were generally more attractive because they tried harder.
It’s not women’s fault that these conditions led to (or did they? Sort of a chicken/egg situation but that’s a sparring topic for another time) a lack of inner conflict beyond figuring out the best way to get a pot roast stain out of a carpet! But it would be anachronistic for a period film to suggest otherwise.
I asked Jenny point-blank: A film can accurately represent the past without being sexist. Why the inability to hold two ideas in your head at once?
When I backed her into this intellectual corner, she had nothing, and simply groaned with fury, then walked away muttering about me being an idiot. Yeah, right!
So with a point well made, I’ll leave you. Be sure to tune into my next post where I’ll be explaining why Gone With the Wind isn’t racist, it’s just from a time before black people felt so negatively about slavery.