Classic Hollywood cinema is rarely cited for its equitable portrayal of women; nevertheless, a smattering of films from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s contain feminist themes and feature strong female leads. Actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, celebrated for their wit, professional ambition, and intrepid sexuality, challenged many of the sexist expectations of their time. Thus, while gendered roles may have afflicted much of midcentury America, hints of feminism’s second wave managed to seep into its films–an advisory for the political storm to come. It would not be the first time, however, that feminist themes made a splash on the big screen.
“You look like a victim.”
I pursed my cherry-painted lips and folded my arms. “What do you mean I look like a victim?”
“I would just suggest dying your hair brown. Wear glasses. Invest in some baggier clothes.”
I instinctually pulled at the hem of my pencil skirt.
“But I have perfect eyesight. And my natural hair color is blonde…well, maybe not this particular shade…”
I thought back to the beginning of the semester and the orientation I attended for doctoral student professors.
A seasoned instructor proffered this gem: “The best piece of advice I can give you women is to dress like a man. Students won’t take you seriously otherwise.”
I remember turning to a female colleague and exchanging an incredulous smirk. Dress like a man? What does that even mean?
Years before, a graduate professor had instructed me to speak in a lower register for similar reasons. Determined to be “taken seriously,” I unintentionally delivered my class presentation in a cartoonishly seductive voice. Needless to say, the professor promptly retracted his advice.
Dress like a man. Talk like a man.