To see the progress made thanks to feminism, it suffices to immerse oneself in works of fiction from another era. I recently saw, in quick succession, two films made nearly 70 years ago: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) by Howard Hawks as well as And God created the woman (1956) by Roger Vadim.
Posted at 7:15 a.m.
Feature films that made two young women, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, sex symbols. Two actresses revealed by the roles of diamond diggers. Monroe as Lorelei Lee, the archetypal “dumb blonde” American, ready to surrender to the highest bidder. Bardot in that of Juliette Hardy, an 18-year-old libertine French orphan, who makes her suitors lose their heads.
To see these films again is to see how Monroe and Bardot are reduced to their physical characteristics (And God created the woman begins with a nude scene of Brigitte Bardot). The more they are presented as foolish or ignorant, the more it is implied that they are desirable and seductive (this was already the role in which Marilyn Monroe had been imprisoned in All About Evein 1950).
It’s quite a contrast to the romantic sapiosexual trilogy of Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) by Richard Linklater, with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, produced from 1995 to 2013, which I also just saw again.
Howard Hawks and Roger Vadim, the cliché of the “ladies’ man” of French cinema, proposed in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and And God created the woman a deeply sexist, reductive and infantilizing vision of women, which was socially acceptable in the 1950s. Fortunately, it is no longer so, in general, in Western societies.
As a counterbalance to the Monroe character, Hawks featured Jane Russell in a typical “Hawksian woman” role, that is, with more wit and agency. It remains that the scene that we retained from the film is the one where a Marilyn in a pink dress sings Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friendsupported in a choreography by about fifteen men (and recreated since by Madonna, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and several others).
Men seem to prefer whimsical and sassy blondes; women prefer wealthy men who can afford them diamonds. These may be worn-out sexist clichés, but they run deep.
As we have seen again recently, the achievements of feminism are fragile and the weight of patriarchy as heavy as an insistent man in a bar on a Saturday evening.
Novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote Blonde hair in 2000, about Marilyn Monroe, from which filmmaker Andrew Dominik made a film starring Ana de Armas, which is due to be released at the end of September. It’s not about Marilyn Monroe that the American writer got into trouble last week.
Relaying a chronicle of New York Times which reproached the middle of the American publishing, “too left”, to force the authors to self-censorship – the usual refrain of the anti-woke —, Joyce Carol Oates hinted on Twitter that bright young white men were now unable to get their first novels published in the United States. According to what a literary agent friend had told him.
The anecdote of the 84-year-old author and her defense of the so-called discriminated white writer had the good fortune to displease the literary community and did not stand the test of facts. No, it is not better to be a black-transgender-woman-in-a-wheelchair (registered trademark) to hope to find your novel in a bookstore.
A survey of New York Times conducted in 2020 concluded that 95% of novels published by the five largest American publishing houses since 1950 (more than 7,000 books) were written by white authors. In 2018, 89% of the perpetrators listed were still white, while in the United States, the proportion of whites is less than 60%.
In response to the controversy, Joyce Carol Oates claimed that Twitter, of which she is a regular, was not the ideal platform to explain her thinking and that she recognized that “non-white authors have always been disadvantaged, especially women “.
In June, the very popular American novelist James Patterson had also caused an outcry when he declared that white authors were now victims of “another form of racism” and that he encountered few authors “who are white men of 52 years “. The 75-year-old author later apologized.
I am talking about falsehoods relayed by American writers. But this impression that the white man is today discriminated against is widespread. An Abacus poll released over the weekend found that 53% of Canadians planning to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada believe white people face more discrimination in the country than visible minority citizens (18% of those who who identify with the Liberal Party of Canada think so too).
However, all the studies on the subject prove the contrary. The facts, unfortunately, are no match for the extremely popular reactionary rhetoric that is currently shaping public opinion, here as elsewhere. The false discourse of those who fear that the carpet of their privileges will slip away from under their feet.
We are not born reac, we become it. There will always be those who deny reality in order to maintain their gains. Let’s hope that in 70 years, we will grieve as much for their point of view as for that of those men who reduced Marilyn Monroe to the status of a sexual object ready to be consumed.