The Female Ascent to the Top, on Screen and Stump

By Suzanne Fields

February 22, 2019 5 min read

"Ah, women" doesn't quite have the resonance or ancient history of "Amen," but if women had been as dominant in biblical times as they are today, that might've been how we would close our prayers today, though the word is derived from the ancient Greek meaning "truth" and doesn't relate to gender or sex. Today we're bombarded with changing images of women in pop culture as well as in the larger culture tracing a wide arc in politics and male-female relationships.

Five women are running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, more than ever before, with more likely on the way. Their views run the gamut from A to B (or perhaps to C when counting Amy Klobuchar), but they're all considerably younger than Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, which entitles them to wear Big Boy pants.

How competitive these ladies will be against the younger male strivers in the Democratic Party will soon begin to play out. There's a long, long time from February 2019 to July 2020 and the Democratic National Convention in Houston, Miami or Milwaukee, the last standing candidates to host. A year ahead of time, picking a nominee is even more difficult than placing a bet on who will be judged best actress and actor on the Academy Awards night.

The perceptions of women in politics, like the perceptions of women in the movies, are changing with such speed that it's difficult to calculate the certainties, except to notice that women are in the ascendancy. The scent of estrogen is in the air. The image of male politicians being in charge, like the status of men in Hollywood, is clearly in decline. You could read the hit list of the #MeToo movement, if you doubt it. Or you could go to the movies or a political rally to measure the changes in attitudes and perceptions on screen and the campaign stump.

Last year, the best picture at the Academy Awards was "The Shape of Water," the story of how a mousy woman dominated a male fish, calling the shots for how to enjoy his hidden male part and even rescuing him from his tormentors. Girl and fish made for an odd couple in a heterosexual relationship, the new frontier in the battle of the genders. The guy with the scaly exterior was the fish out of water. This ichthyoid speciman never transformed himself into a prince, as he might have done if he were a frog in a fairy tale. We were left awash in the idea that the traditional hero had gone underwater.

This year, the best picture nominations offer no fishy love story, and the male characters usually lack heroic qualities. In "Bohemian Rhapsody," Freddie Mercury is a flamboyant homosexual, a rock queen in the band of which he is lead vocalist. He claims a woman is the love of his life, but heterosexuality is not actually his gig, and he's a loser in love.

"Green Book" is a buddy movie, and although the white heterosexual male character is married, we watch him mostly as the bodyguard and protector of an elegant, effeminate black man as they motor through the South. (Role reversal writ large.) "A Star Is Born" reprises the story of a fading country music singer who descends rapidly into the drink as his wife becomes the star born of his demise.

Most of the leading men in the running for an Oscar for best actor, if not all, do not fare well in their movie narratives, suggesting another sign of the times. Any hope for another Clark Gable is gone with the wind.

Women who don't get what they want in politics still occasionally blame it on sexism. That's a little like crying wolf. "There is a narrow universe of acceptable behavior for women" who want to be president, media consultant Heidi Moore tells the Washington Post. Her observation already sounds dated, although traces of the double standard survive. A male candidate with the DNA of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the ambition to be a Native American would quickly earn a nickname from Donald Trump (perhaps "Sitting Bull").

The point is, as Mr. Dooley famously said, "politics ain't bean-bag" in our era, when any internet troll can find an outlet on social media. Nasty news, fake and otherwise, easily finds its way into print and onto the television screen. Male candidates, just like female candidates, require a skin as thick as that of a hippopotamus. Some of the women wannabes may even one day regret getting what they wished for. Ah, women.

Write to Suzanne Fields at [email protected] Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost." To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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