Email this review


A meditation on film as a prism of the collective American psyche, in which the roles of women in movies are canvassed and explored as microcosmic representations of women in society. Women, the author tells us, have been consistently delineated in terms of the male consciousness, subject to whatever misconceptions may exist there: as angels or devils of sexuality; as beings whose lives revolve exclusively around romance, marriage, and motherhood; as pillars of support to the male in his moral or psychological quandary, never experiencing such dilemmas themselves; or as persons who are permitted to adopt masculine qualities, but then are denied their apposite feminine qualities, their sensuality, or their social points of view qua women. Haskell singles out Adam's Rib as an ideal, in which the female and the male are portrayed as independent entities orbiting around each other, exchanging qualities supposedly reserved for attribution to one sex, uniting to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts (but even in this case the woman -- and the man -- are portrayed as non-sensual beings). Haskell documents women's roles through the century: the Victorian virgins, the flappers, and the suffragettes in the '20's; the vamps and the heartsmitten homemakers of ""women's films"" in the '30's; the molls, the dames, and the ""superfemales"" (intelligent, but, like Hedda Gabler, lacking an acceptable fulfillment for their intelligence) in the '40's; the pop stars like Monroe, who was the apotheosis of male fantasy, in the '50's; the demons of the fragmented male psyche in the '60's. Haskell's failure to justify her biases -- for example, her conception of ideal sexuality -- is forgiveable: she is probing subjective meaning not objective truth. Because the reality she is sifting is so intangible, her logic is sometimes delitescent, her prose heavy, and her ethics casuistic; but these are infrequent lapses in a study which is otherwise sapient and perspicacious.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1974
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston