eating your cake and having it too

I saw Woman of the Year (1942) the other day, which initially left a bad taste in my mouth. The gender issues are glaring in its plot of an amazing, highly-respected international journalist (played by Katharine Hepburn) falling in love and marrying a sports writer from her paper (Spencer Tracy) who seems like a petulant 16-yr-old throughout the film. In the end, they reconcile their uncommon situation (of the female half of the couple being more successful than the male half) by painfully resorting to stereotypical gender roles, with Hepburn’s character literally back in the kitchen in the last scene. And yet her husband is not quite satisfied.

Sam Craig: I don’t want to be married to Tess Harding any more than I want you to be just Mrs Sam Craig. Why can’t you be Tess Harding Craig?

Tess Harding: I think it’s a wonderful name.

It makes you want to yell at your television, if you didn’t want to be married to Tess Harding, why did you marry her? Of course, he wants to be given credit for landing such a successful mate and also wants the free breakfast, lunch, and dinner that wives in those days were expected to provide. Just like other men of the period want a wife who’s attractive, but not so attractive that she starts getting the attention of other men. These kinds of attitudes put both men and women in an uncomfortable situation.

Which brings me to the one redeeming factor of the film: that Hepburn is a brilliant enough actress that you see her struggling with the contradictions in her social role. So the cracks that are appearing in ‘the natural order of things’ makes for interesting viewing, even if the resolution is slightly depressing. Of course, we’re not without more current examples of people acting strangely in service to gender stereotypes. Maybe if everyone read The Second Sex

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