the oppressed working-class woman March 12, 2007Posted by sindhub in bad girls go..., class, race, stereotypes, the color purple, Thelma and Louise, theory, Working Girl.
So I noticed that most of the movies we’ve been looking at have dealt with the problem of the oppressed working-class woman, e.g. The Color Purple, Working Girl, and now Thelma and Louise. Actually, let me rephrase that–it’s more that the men they’re oppressed by are working-class. From Mick in Working Girl to Mister in The Color Purple to the truck driver (can’t get a more blue collar occupation than that), the men from the ‘masses’ are almost unanimously brutish, abusive, piggish, boorish, and explicitly sexist.
This got me thinking of the Walkerdine article, “Subject to Change without Notice: Psychology, Postmodernity, and the Popular.” She spends a lot of time talking about how ideology about the masses/the working classes has always thought of them as of inferior intelligence, of a more primitive mindset, and how they can only be transformed by ‘upright’ middle class values (Protestantism, hard work, gumption, etc.). So the portrayal of the men of different classes in these movies is truly disturbing to me for this reason. It seems a little bit too easy for the truck driver in Thelma and Louise to be so creepy and stupid, and I think it’s needless to say that there is a certain stigma attached to truck drivers nowadays too. The worst offender, though, is Working Girl. Part of Tess’s journey to becoming a figure of female empowerment is the necessary dumping of the Italian? or Irish?-look/accent working-class no-good shmuck of a boyfriend, and the taking on of the WASPy proper older gentleman mister (he undressed her and put her in bed, but he didn’t take advantage of her! How noble! And he has so much more control over himself and more character than Mick, because he doesn’t cheat on Tess…). Another example of this is how, in Bad Girls Go to Hell, Ellen is raped by the janitor, who is portrayed as this big, boorish brute.. with an accent that sounded eastern European to me. The ethnic aspects of this are striking.
So I wonder, why is it that we don’t see more middle and upper class women breaking out of the shackles of sexist oppression? Does sexism not exist in their lives, or does the fact of being materially well-off privilege them over any disadvantage that might be caused by their sex? Or do the men in charge of producing and directing these movies subconsciously take in these stereotypes (like Bobo talks about with Spielberg’s possible subconscious use of black stereotypes in The Color Purple)? Or could it even be done like this on purpose?