Top 10 Films That Represent the War on Women

While the topic of women’s rights doesn’t have the box office draw of a bunch of dudes getting wasted at a bachelor party, say, or a bride-to-be getting diarrhea in the middle of the street, there are many excellent movies that cover various aspects of the War on Women (either directly or metaphorically)—workplace discrimination, violence against women, restricted access to abortion, sexual harassment, and all that fun stuff. So when you make a bag of popcorn for one of these movies, not only will you be entertained, you’ll also be spending some quality time thinking about women’s rights. In other words, you can feel virtuous about that time on the couch. You’re welcome!

10. WORKING GIRL (1988)
What was it about the eighties? Sure, we enjoyed ERIN BROCKOVICH kicking ass in a push-up bra in 2000 (especially the “634 sexual favors” scene), and pretty-in-pink Reese Witherspoon certainly put a few sexist lawyers in their place in 2000’s LEGALLY BLONDE. But for a comedy about women not being taken seriously in the workplace—whether it’s due to their looks, their background, their catty and competitive female boss, etc.—you can’t beat WORKING GIRL, with Melanie Griffith riding the Staten Island ferry to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run.” The film almost (almost) convinced us that actress Melanie Griffith is just pretending to be a total airhead. Of course, this being the eighties, the kick-ass heroine spends a remarkable amount of time in her skivvies, and says things like, “I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?” Okay, Jessica Rabbit. Still, we are forever indebted to this film for reminding men everywhere that itchy scratchy “sexy” lingerie is not at the top of most women’s birthday wish lists.

9. ANTICHRIST (2009)
In the world of director Lars Von Trier, the battle of the sexes is a literal one—gory, violent, and almost unbearable to watch. ANTICHRIST was a polarizing film: some viewers found it unforgivably misogynistic, while others found it a gorgeous meditation on guilt, grief, and sex—and the intertwining of the three. It’s an arthouse horror film, which means you get smashed testicles (Willem Defoe’s) and a self-butchered clitoris (Charlotte Gainsbourg’s), and yet the violence is meant to serve a higher purpose: demonstrating the meaningless of everything. Or maybe it’s a lesson in just desserts for a man who is obnoxiously sure he knows what’s best for his little wife. Either way, Von Trier’s message is clear: the battle of the sexes will not end well for anyone. In case you need another reminder—less bloody, but emotionally, just as gory—may we suggest IN THE COMPANY OF MEN (1997). ANTICHRIST airs Friday November 16th at 12 am on the Sundance Channel.

8. THE ACC– USED (1988)
THE ACC– USED did more to undermine the “she was asking for it” bullshit rape “defense” than any other movie to date. In it, Jodie Foster (who won the Best Actress Oscar that year) plays Sarah Tobias, a poor, uneducated woman who goes to a bar in a mini skirt, gets high, and then gets gang-raped, while a bunch of other men cheer on the attack. If you came of age around the time this movie was released, as we did, you probably still get chills remembering it. (Which is probably why the 2007 movie THE BRAVE ONE got made. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but how awesome was it watching Jodie Foster grab a gun to avenge her own sexual assault and the murder of her husband? Pretty awesome, if you ask us.) THE ACC– USED is the ne plus ultra of rape movies; other titles lean more toward the rape-and-revenge genre—so satisfying to watch, even if feminist critics are divided on the topic. Some of our favorites in this area are THELMA AND LOUISE (1991), THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), IRREVERSIBLE (2002), RAPE ME (2000), EXTREMITIES (1986), and SUDDEN IMPACT (1983), the Dirty Harry film that spawned the catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day.”

7. BLUE VELVET (1986)
Is Isabella Rossellini, as nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens, a femme fatale, a damsel in distress, a symbol of domestic violence, or the Oedipal mother every son secretly wants to fuck? And does Kyle MacLachlan, as college student Jeffrey, want to save Dorothy or fuck her or hit her or be mothered by her—or all of the above? It depends on which critic you ask. Suffice it say, this role conveys the incredibly complicated relationship Hollywood (and beyond) has with female sexuality. In the end, Jeffrey falls for sweet-faced Sandy (Laura Dern), who dreams about robins as a sign of hope. Which certainly didn’t earn David Lynch any Feminist of the Year awards. Still, it’s hard to blame someone for choosing robins after they’ve lived in Lynch’s world for a while.

Sometimes the war on women is perpetrated by an army of one, a person who is supposed to love and honor his wife/girlfriend. Recent statistics suggest that one in four women has experienced domestic violence and that between one and three million women experience abuse by a former or current partner every year. Which makes this 1984 made-for-tv movie — starring Farrah Fawcett and based on a 1980 non-fiction book — still depressingly relevant. It tells the story of the thirteen years of brutal abuse Francine Hughes suffered at the hands of her husband before she set fire to their house, killed him and was ultimately found not guilty for it by reason of temporary insanity. It’s one of the most realistic and therefore chilling portrayals of domestic violence made for the screen, small or big. For better or worse, Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of domestic violence storylines. To list just a few: WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, ONCE WERE WARRIORS, BOYS ON THE SIDE, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, THE COLOR PURPLE, ENOUGH, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, KINDERGARTEN COP (seriously!), RAGING BULL, THIS BOY’S LIFE, WHERE THE HEART IS… Man, we’re depressed just reciting that list.

5. I’M NOT THERE (2007)
Six actors depict Bob Dylan in this po-mo bio-pic, and the one who received the most acclaim (not to mention a Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination) is Cate Blanchett. Somehow it took a woman to convey the very Bob-Dylan-ness of Bob Dylan. The film is as much about who Dylan isn’t as who he is, and in fact, Dylan was known for fabricating autobiographies for himself in his early years. Dylan dodges various identities and then is consumed by them, he trades one identity for another and still another, and he’s still “not there”—which should sound pretty familiar to anyone familiar with the women’s movement. Cate Blanchett turns Dylan into a kindred spirit of sorts—while proving that anything men can do, women can do just as well, if not better. Other women theatrically and successfully impersonating men include Linda Hunt in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982), Tilda Swinton in ORLANDO (1992), and, of course, Lady Gaga as a drag king at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Tune into the Sundance Channel on Tuesday, November 20 at 5:45 pm to watch I’M NOT THERE.

Based on the 1972 satirical thriller of the same name, this cult classic follows a young mother/photographer who begins to suspect that all the pretty, passive, submissive housewives in her new suburban neighborhood are actually robots controlled by their husbands. Not to be confused with the 2004 remake starring Nicole Kidman, which sacrilegiously abandons the entire feminist message of the original in favor of a women-against-women plot and terrible jokes. Apparently the producers of the remake were operating under the assumption that by 2004 we were living in a post-feminist world. But the fact that Roe v. Wade is in danger of being overturned, that men are legislating forced, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, that rape victims (especially in the military) don’t receive justice, and that women are still only paid 77 cents for every dollar men make today, we’d say the original stands up pretty well almost forty years later.

3. THE CRUCIBLE (1996)
Arthur Miller’s screenplay for this film is based on his 1952 play of the same name, which was inspired by his friend Elia Kazan’s testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee—to avoid being blacklisted in Hollywood, Kazan named a bunch of (Communist) names. The story is just as compelling in 2012, though now the false accusations, misogyny, and hysteria are more likely to call to mind U.S. Representative Todd Akin, who famously claimed, while explaining his “pro-life” position, that women who are victims of what he called “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant. We’re pretty sure Akin would vote for bringing back burning at the stake if he could. Catch THE CRUCIBLE on the Sundance Channel Saturday, November 24 at 1:45 am.

2. 9 to 5 (1980)
The feel-good sexual harassment and discrimination comedy of the decade! We love the song, we love the film, we love Dolly Parton, we love Lily Tomlin, we even love Jane Fonda. We’re pretty sure that every woman who’s ever been harassed in the workplace, called “my girl” by her male boss, paid less than men for the same work, hit the glass ceiling, or been looked in the boobs instead of the eyes has fantasized about 9-to-5-style revenge. As Parton’s character Doralee says to her boss, “If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot! And don’t think I can’t do it.” If new laws had theme songs, “Working 9 to 5” would be the Lily Ledbetter Act’s. For a sexual harassment movie without a bouncy uplifting soundtrack, try NORTH COUNTRY (2005) with Charlize Theron instead.

Maybe you think this is just a horror film about the spawn of—plot spoiler alert—Satan. But Mia Farrow’s Rosemary character also happens to be a pretty good stand-in for a woman’s right to choose. Creepy so-called doctors claiming they know what’s best for a pregnant woman? Check. Junk science? Check. A decision-making process completely out of the mother’s hands? Check. Ideology and doctrine to blame? Check. Threats to a woman’s sense of her own sanity? Check. A woman backed into a corner and forced to do what everyone else wants? Check. Check. Check. Necrophilia joke? Okay, that’s just in the movie. For a more literal take on the right to choose, check out VERA DRAKE, IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK, and even DIRTY DANCING (hey, at least they actually went through with the abortion in that movie, rather than allowing the character a convenient last-minute miscarriage).


This article originally appeared on SundanceChannel.com

One Comment

  1. ‘proving that anything men can do, women can do just as well, if not better.’ – dear em and/or lo, I really like your website. I would also consider myself a supporter of equalilty for men and women: in my opinion it is wrong to consider a person on anything but the merit of their own personal abilities and actions, with no need to bring gender bias into such decisions.

    I hope that this is what you are advocating too. However making statements like the one above does not help to make that case – in fact, I find it (albeit mildly) insulting and a tad childish. Asserting that no matter what the task, the best possible solution can be provided only by a woman, is a statement which goes way beyond equality and veers into sexism. When we look at tests of strength and physical speed, we also see that this is simply untrue.

    Please don’t misunderstand my intentions, I am not trying to argue that men are better than women or anything of the sort. Rather I want to point out that the main problem from my perspective is making such sweeping comparisons in the first place! Let’s judge people on their own merits instead of continuing the pointless schoolyard ‘boys are better than girls’ argument!

    That said, keep up the good work!


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