A recent TV drama described the long, bitter feud between Hollywood sirens Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. It showed in gory detail their creative struggle with each other and the heartless Hollywood studios who owned them. According to the story, Bette won because she had raw talent whilst Crawford only ever had looks.
Bette was a plain, skinny little thing and struggled mightily to get the lascivious movie moguls to cast her and years before they gave her anything worthy of her but she managed to gain respect through sheer force of talent on stage and screen. Poor Joan, when her looks faded, was left with dust and ashes, and the Pepsi company after she married its founder.
Incredibly, after nearly sixty years of feminism, if they were starting out as actresses today their fates would be reversed; Joan would be the winner and Bette would get nowhere. Looking at the line up of winning women gathered this week for the Hollywood Golden Globe Awards, what was striking was how they all looked so alike, more like humanoid robots than expressive artists, and almost all could have been fashion models. The exception being Christina Hendricks, shorter and rounder, mainly famous since her role in the TV series, Mad Men, set in the 1950’s, for her bra size.
Despite swapping the word actress for the harder edged, ‘Actor’ to be a success on stage or screen now, all a woman needs are very good looks. Pulchritude is seen in Hollywood as a sign of virtue, and feminine behaviour must be visibly sweet too. Gone are the days of strange, cold Garbo, awoman who was distinctly uninviting. The androgynous and challenging Katherine Hepburn, and cool, self contained Lauren Bacall.
Sadly Hollywood casting culture arrived at the BBC sometime ago. It was most obvious this Christmas in the BBC version of Little Women. The March girls were all pretty and feeble, lacking the zest and independence shown in the Hollywood versions of the 40s and 50s.
If Dames Judi Dench or Eileen Atkins were starting out now, it’s doubtful they would get very far. Miriam Margolyes might have been good as the first female Dr Who, a parallel to crusty old William Hartnell, the first male Doctor, but of course the Tardis will be occupied by a beautiful young girl.
The boney women lined up for the Golden Globes were famously decked out in black as part of the ‘Me Too’ protest against lascivious movie moguls. They are quite rightly uncomfortable at being molested by men in power, but they must know that globalised money has trumped feminism in Hollywood, and they are integral to that. They are only too happy to work in an environment where their looks not their ability are the commodity for sale. ‘Lookism’ has made them winners, but the down side to that is the type of men attracted to work in Hollywood who are chiefly interested in money and sex. It’s a bit like complaining about estate agents and bankers. Unfortunately the women’s discontent with their world has fed into the new feminism, which equates all sexual activity from men with abuse of power and sin against womankind.
(It’s white men who are up for censure of course, the abusive practises of those from minorities are never mentioned. Saint Oprah Winfrey speaking at the Golden Globes, managed to turn the whole event into a lecture about abuse suffered by her minority at the hands of white people in the 1950s. The beautiful women in black applauded wildly, not even noticing that their own identity issue had been hi-jacked. )
Throughout 2017 famous white men and their careers were cast aside like casting couch lingerie, destroyed by accusations of past sins. But now there has been an unexpected check to this Puritan hysteria from across the Atlantic. Esteemed but ancient actress Catherine Deneuve, supported by a hundred French actresses, declares that French luvvies strongly reject this, ‘hatred of men’ and refuse to take part in ‘public lynching.’
Across the channel in Paris where people have always flagrantly enjoyed sex without guilt, they have been observing how easily America and its UK bed fellow have come to equate a hand on the knee with rape. Journalist Anne-Elizabeth Moutet, speaking on the BBC Today Programme, identified, ‘A new wave of Puritanism,’ and points out that a man asking a woman out for dinner, or sex, however clumsily he does it, is not committing an act of violence. With Gallic coolness she also remarked that in America everything is seen as black or white, while in France they still have nuance. That might even be a French word.
The French are riding to the rescue of free thinking, decadent conservatives, who mistrust hysterical social dogma. Moutet says the new moral panic from feminists is, ‘destroying the ambiguity, charm and difficulty of relations between men and women.’
Her words sum up the difference between the Hollywood and the French cinema, America and old Europe; she described how she was sexually assaulted on a bus when she was thirteen, but she does not consider herself traumatised or a victim. She said she’d dealt with similar situations since by calling out loudly,’That’s enough mister!’
Strangely, French women from a Catholic culture who’ve never had the economic or cultural independence of their American sisters, who didn’t get the vote until 1948, refuse to see themselves as victims and believe they are equal to men, at least in sexual matters. Unlike their sisters in the US and the UK they are confident in their role as women. Their culture suddenly seems infinitely more grown up and sensible than ours, and better suited to a future when men and women must learn to respect each other within the context of this greedy, globalised world.©