Diana, the forebear of Katniss (photo: public domain)
Before Katniss Everdeen emerged as a strong, vital female character, there was Julia. The year was 1977, and feminism at its most fervent reached the screen. The movie, Julia, garnered 11 Oscar nominations, winning 3 awards. Vanessa Redgrave, in a luminous performance, plays the title character, a young leader of the antifascist underground in Nazi Germany. Jane Fonda portrays her lifelong friend, who with Julia’s encouragement leaves the comfort and safety of her writer’s beach house in America to smuggle money into Berlin for the Resistance. Each time I watch this movie, I marvel at Jane Fonda’s artistry.
[Repost from April]
In a scene that defines Julia’s character and sets the tone for the way the film depicts women, Nazi hooligans invade her university’s campus in Vienna and begin gleefully tossing Jewish students and professors over a balcony. Brandishing a table leg, Julia leads her fellow medical students in a charge to defend the mob’s hapless victims. In the ensuing combat, she endures a savage beating and loses a leg as a result. Later, swathed in bandages and lying in her hospital bed, she is visited by her friend from America, Lillian, who insists on staying by her side. When Julia recovers, she returns to the Resistance.
In the mid 1970s, the feminist movement was newly ascendant. Julia and Lillian as screen characters epitomized sisterhood in the face of peril and reaction against progress. Their camaraderie glows from the screen. In art, they dramatized the reality of the ferment in society. They did more; in the film, Julia and Lillian presented a counter vision of how social change might proceed. The glow was the light of hope. Continue reading →
I was so impressed by the linked article by Soraya Chamaly, which a friend shared on Facebook. Employing telling personal anecdotes supplemented by research, the author paints a vivid picture of women’s voices being ignored in a male world. “A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.”
Reading the article, I saw a reflection of my law school experience, some 10 years ago. Classes were 50% women, yet discussions unfailingly took on a male-oriented, competitive tone. Women students’ contributions were diminished until they simply declined to play the game.
In addition to the obvious limiting of women’s horizons, excluding or belittling women’s voices impoverishes our culture and ossifies its thinking. As social problems prove resistant to the traditional male solutions, this is a deficit that we can clearly no longer afford.
If you like this article, you might also be interested in my short (I promise!) essay on Katniss Everdeen’s social/political significance.
“Solicitous to those most in need of solace, yet entirely capable of the hunter/warrior’s resolve, Katniss’ character suggests a renewal for our ailing spirit in politics.”
Art in all varieties has at its best provided a vision offering us an alternative to the status quo and its bland conventional wisdom. A prophet is often without honor in her own country, so counter visions tend to briefly illuminate the possibilities and then fade away. Or perhaps they enter a period of dormancy, to reveal themselves at a later time: the past is often prologue. Not so long ago, there was a television show like that.
In February 1983, an unprecedented television audience watched the last episode of the comedy-drama, MASH. Over 105 million Americans tuned in to find out what would happen to the cast of characters who had become familiar over the previous decade, and who had in that time visited millions of American homes. The exploits of the 4077th MASH unit, and the family-like bonds its characters developed over the course of the series, had attracted a following that made the show among the most-watched of the 1970s and early 1980s.