Attempting to categorise classic Hollywood stars as feminist or anti-feminists is basically a futile exercise.
|Bette Davis gets a light from Dick Cavett|
So, what is the point of trying to label actresses as either feminist or not?
|Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope in|
THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956)
|Katharine Hepburn in STAGE DOOR (1937)|
There are a number of ways I look at a Hollywood film actress's career in order to determine whether she would be considered a feminist by today's standards:
- Films: In her films, does she portray "progressive" women? These are women who push against the gender status quo. They are often ambitious women who choose traditionally male roles in society, like Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN.
- Career: How does she manage her career? Is she fiercely independent, like Bette Davis who went to court to battle studio-system injustices? Or does she let her husband/boyfriend make all her career choices for her? Or is she a victim of the Hollywood system, helplessly taken advantage of by her agents, producers, directors, and studio bosses?
- Personal life: is she constantly moving from one man to another? Does she maintain a healthy, long-term, monogamous relationship? Does she chose to remain a single career woman? The answers to this question do not necessarily define an actress's feminism, but they can offer insight into
- Interviews: As I mentioned before, many of these stars publicly denied feminism in interviews. However, a lot of what they say about women and gender in these interviews reveals a more progressive side to their thought, especially in terms of their own career and life choices.
- Education: Has she earned her college degree or did she leave school to become a model or chorus girl? If she did go to college, what did she study? This is a bonus point - not a deal-breaker, but I find this criterion most interesting, considering how few film stars did continue their education after high school. Did you know that Mary Wickes (below) studied political science at Washington University in St. Louis?
|Mary Wickes visits her alma mater|