Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chloe Liked Olivia A Room of One's Own, published in 1929, is an expansion of two lectures that Virginia Woolf delivered at Newnham and Girton colleges on the topic of women and fiction. Woolf's overarching theme is that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." She supports this assertion by examining the economic and social constraints under which women lived for centuries. In addition to discussing the lives and works of such notable authors as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, Woolf examines the way women were generally portrayed in literature. Woolf's thoughts about this issue were prompted, so she reports, by reading the simple sentence, "Chloe liked Olivia." Woolf goes on to say,
I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. There is an attempt in Diana of the Crossways. They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex.

A little later on, Woolf says,
Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer! We might perhaps have a good deal of Othello; and a good deal of Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no Jaques - literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.

According to Woolf, not only were women proscribed from writing throughout much of human history - the literary roles they were alloted (by male authors) were rigidly constrained. Off the top of my head, I can think of two current fiction series that feature groups of women or female buddies: Lisa Scottoline highlights a female law firm in several books and James Patterson has a series that features a Women's Murder Club. If you're familiar with other female buddy fiction series (and you probably are), mention them in the comments.

Moving on from women's roles in literature, let's look briefly at women's roles in movies. Specifically, taking my cue from the ideas that Chloe liked Olivia, that Chloe and Olivia were friends who had interests other than romantic intrigue and child-rearing, I want to consider the "buddy movie."

The first buddy movie that I remember in any detail was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I had previously seen some of the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movies on TV reruns, but I can't recall anything about them except that Martin was the straight man and Lewis was the buffoon. In the years since Butch Cassidy hit the screens, I've seen countless other buddy movies, such as 48 Hours, the Lethal Weapon series (I believe there were 4 of them), The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men, The Last Boy Scout and Men in Black (I think there are 2 of these). As you've no doubt noticed, all of these movies feature men. Furthermore, you can probably name many others that I've omitted. As always, you may note them in the comments.

Now, let's look at female buddy movies: Thelma & Louise, Outrageous Fortune, Big Business, Fried Green Tomatoes and, if we're willing to enlarge the circle of buddies from two to three, perhaps 9 to 5, are the only ones that come to mind immediately. Of these, only Thelma & Louise is listed as one of Amazon's 25 Best Buddy Movies. Think about that. 25 movies. 24 of them feature male pairs. The last time I checked, men did not outnumber women 24 to 1. What is going on here? Do Hollywood writers believe that women are not friends with other women? Do they believe that women's friendships with other women are far less interesting than men's friendships with other men? Are moviegoers so uninterested in women that they prefer movies about men to such an outrageous degree? Why? As one who enjoys reading books and viewing movies about both men and women, I'm perplexed by the lack of attention that women continue to receive in film and literature. It's the 21st century! By all means, let's continue exploring the multiple facets of men's lives. But, please, let's also start viewing women in roles other than wives, mothers and jealous lovers. I know for a fact that women make fabulous friends, and I, along with Virginia Woolf, want to read their stories.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Interesting about the movies. As I started thinking about it, there are a few movies that I would classify as female buddy movies but they are a larger group of women, such as the YaYa Sisterhood. I recently dragged the boys to see Mad Money which is about three friends.

I think one reason for this huge difference in numbers is that women will go and see these buddy movies with their husbands and boyfriends, and yet men won't go and see the female version with their wives or girlfriends. Women will go see these with their friends.