Molly Haskell on Women.

Film  After seeing a recommendation on the brilliant Be Kind Rewind YouTube channel my latest read is From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by the film theorist and critic Molly Haskell.  Haskell's best known for defining the "women's film" genre and this book is laser focused on not just how female characters developed but also how Hollywood abused the actresses playing them.

It's early days, we're still getting to know each other, but the first twenty pages are devastatingly good.  There's a passage in which she talks about how male critics tend to give films a pass if they fancy the actress and pages pretty much burn as you read them.  After lengthy quotes from Otis Ferguson's lubidinous prose about Margaret Sullivan, she takes aim at some of her other colleagues:
"For James Agee, it was after croaky-voiced actress, June Allyson, who could turn routine movies into musicals and musicals into masterpieces -- momentarily.  To Ferhuson's and Agee's crushes (which he shares), Andrew Sarris adds a passion for Vivien Leigh which led him to see That Hamilton Woman eighty-five times.  Vincent Canby has been known to make considerable allowances for the performances of Candice Bergen ..."
And so it goes on.  Andrew Sarris (who helped develop auteur theory) incidentally was her then husband, they'd been married for five years and this is just the sort of insight you might expect from someone who's seen a particular film just too many times.

But the best paragraph so far is on the second page and defines the work which Haskell is committing to.  It's quite long but worth repeating especially in the light of the current and past presidential elections and the treatment of female candidates by the media and opposition party.  
"The prejudice against women is no less pernicious because it is based on a fallacy.  Indeed, to have sanction by law and custom a judgement that goes against our instincts is the cornerstone of bad faith on which monuments of misunderstanding have erected.  We can see that women live longer than men, give birth and endure pain bravely; yet they are the "weaker sex."  They can read and write as well as men -- are actually more verbal according to aptitude tests.  And they are encouraged to pursue advanced education as long as they don't forget their paramount destiny to marry and become mothers, an injunction that effectively dilutes intellectual concentration and discourages ambition.  Women are not "real women" unless they marry and bear children, and even those without the inclination are often pressured into motherhood and just as often make a mess of it.  The inequity is perpetuated as women transmit their sense of incompleteness to their daughters.  But men, too, are victimized by the lie.  Secretly they must wonder how they came to be entitled to their sense of superiority if it to these "inferior" creature to home they owe the debt of their existence.  And defensively, they may feel "emasculated" by any show of strength or word of criticism from their nominal dependents."
That was written in 1973 and some of the language has dated.  But glass ceilings still exist.  Some women's careers still take a hit if they decide to have a family, perhaps even giving up their employment, their spouses still inoculated against such things.  Pay parity is still being fought for.  Fifty years on, the white male voice still feels loudest.  Especially in cinema.

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