October 16, 2007

Guest Blogger: Fellow-ette of The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick?)...

Today's mystery guest emerged on the scene literally one year ago at The Egalitarian Bookworm, where she delights us with her highly creative (and hilarious) film reviews, and offers much more to ponder in the realm of books, politics and pop culture. Here, she gives ample reason why filmmakers need to give women their due. -- Amy

First off I'd like to thank the lovely ladies of Romancing the Tome for inviting me to guest-blog. I feel that if we were in Regency times, we'd write each other lengthy epistles about country dances and new parsons. Also, after Amy and Kim told me about their anniversary, I did some snooping and realized that October 16th is the one-year anniversary of my blog, too! I can think of no better way to celebrate, and I think this proves how psychically connected we are.

For my contribution I'm combining two of my favorite topics: feminism and period films. (I know that Romancing the Tome covers all film adaptations, but empire waists and riding breeches have a special place in our hearts.) Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about women in Hollywood due to the widely-publicized Warner Brothers scandal. In brief, the WB studio head recently said he was fed up with having female stars anchor his films because they weren't bringing in enough cash. Now it may be true that women don't flock into theaters these days as we once did, but the obvious reason for this trend seems to elude commentators. To me, and most of the Romancing the Tome audience no doubt, the answer is clear: in an industry dominated by male producers and directors, there are few realistic depictions of women onscreen.

That's the gap that literary adaptations fill so well. It's no wonder that we look forward to BBC adaptations of books like North and South and Jane Eyre and Hollywood movies like Pride and Prejudice and the Merchant-Ivory oeuvre. These are the kind of stories that have strong, interesting female protagonists, and are told from a uniquely female point of view. The gorgeous heroes of these tomes orbit around the heroines and are sex symbols for viewers. This is a welcome reversal of how most Hollywood movies work, with a fleshed-out hero and a secondary heroine who often exists to pout and look pretty.

Plus, even literary adaptations where women are not the central protagonist, frequently deal with historical oppression and restriction of women's roles. Screenplays about contemporary women's dilemmas like the mommy wars, reproductive rights and the wage gap most likely have little to no appeal for the big studios. Can you imagine one of these head honchos getting excited about a film about a harried working mom who's neither a victim nor a ball-busting bitch? Me neither.

But historical romances feature women who have to choose between marrying for love or money, who have to figure out how to navigate a life that's full of unspoken boundaries and rules that diminish their personal choice. That kind of subject matter speaks to modern women about our own dilemmas. When Emma Woodhouse tries to take care of her father and look out for her friend Harriet Smith and fails miserably, when Lucy Honeychurch has to choose between standards of propriety and her own eccentric nature, we relate because it's like a more concrete version of the current pressure on women to have it all and look good doing it.

It irritates me to no end that writers continue to puzzle over "Austen-mania" and conclude that its endurance means that women must yearn to be bound up once more in the good old fashioned corset. I mean, how idiotic can you get? We like these films because the stories are good, and because they pay the kind of nuanced tribute to women's lives that's missing from so many modern movies. Of course, we also have a deep appreciation for costumes and set pieces and stately British manors, but that stuff is just icing on the cake. I wish that there was a more welcoming climate for movies about real women that didn't have to go back 200 years to be palatable in L.A. Until then, I'm holding my breath for Sam Mendes' Middlemarch.

Fellow-ette, known in the real world as Sarah Seltzer, is a freelance writer who fulminates periodically at The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick?)


  1. Excellent points--When you mentioned Emma Woodhouse and Lucy Honeychurch navigating boundaries, I also thought immediately of the Schlegel sisters in "Howard's End." Thank you, Fellow-ette for this thoughtful post!

  2. Great post fellow-ette! I don't understand why Hollywood hasn't made the connection that pretty much everyone (except a few still-unevolved males) wants strong female characters. If they are what makes "costume dramas" so popular, why don't we see more of them in "modern" films as well? I know there are some examples, but overall it still seems like we have to go back to an era where women had less power in order to see "strong women"! It's a ridiculous and mind-boggling when you start to think about it too hard... I think I'll just stop thinking and go watch North and South again! :)

  3. Thanks ladies! As Mr. Collins would say, we must console ourselves with sisterly affection.