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Scene4 Magazine: La Femme La Mujer La Donna with Lia Beachy
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

april 2009

with Lia Beachy

Woe be the Western Woman

Flipping through my 150+ channels of Direct TV, I came upon Encore Westerns, a movie channel dedicated solely to western films and TV series such as The Gene Autry Show and Maverick (who can resist the charms and talent of a young James Garner?). The familiar face of Glenn Ford was playing in an unfamiliar flick: a 1967 western called A Time for Killing.

 Set during the end of the American Civil War, Ford plays Union Major Tom Wolcott pursuing George Hamilton's Confederate Captain Dorrit Bentley, who is fleeing to Mexico with his small band of men and Ford's fiancé Emily Biddle, played by Inger Stevens.

It's a B-movie at best, though the budget did seem to account for some sweeping landscapes, soft lens shots of Stevens and a lot of horses. But there was a striking message I walked away with after viewing this film.

Misogyny. Or in milder terms... the low perception of women.

When Glenn Ford and his Union men come upon a Mexican brothel that the Confederate men have just left, a group of the prostitutes greet them, speaking in Spanish. Some are inviting them in, others are offering information, but none of the white men understand them.  

Major Wolcott asks one of his men, "What do they want?"

"Sir, they are women, more or less, I don't think they know," the man responds.

This is the basic discourse regarding the female sex throughout this movie and if the director Phil Karlson's intention was to shed light on the injustices of the time, it was 1967 and a time of cultural and political upheaval in the United States, he failed.        

Not long after this exchange, it is revealed that the pretty blonde Emily Biddle has been raped by Captain Bentley and left at the brothel. An act done specifically to dishonor Major Wolcott, not her. The rape scene itself was graphic for the time and while it didn't show the Captain in a positive light, it blamed the victim. Because the revelation of the illicit deed shows the Union men, the prostitutes and Major Wolcott all looking at the young female as damaged goods, no longer a woman of value. There is no empathy for her kidnaping and rape... no one coming to her aid, putting an arm around her, asking her what she needs... just shame.

The sanctioning and lack of understanding of crimes against women has historically been a worldwide practice, and both the 1860s and 1960s were no exception, but it got me thinking about the Western genre in general. There are great films such as High Noon, The Magnificent Seven, Stagecoach, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, all tales of an unruly land where anything goes but honorable men prevail. A world of open lands and fenced in females.

The reality is that the great Western stories depicted on film are male stories. Understandably so, since a woman of the time would need a man's strength and abilities to survive in a harsh environment. Women are second fiddle because history has made it so. But a filmmaker can choose to show this history for what it is or continue to perpetuate the same lame stereotypes into the present.  

Not all women were weak and helpless, waiting for a man to save them. A rough and tough rural life would require a female of equal character and strength to persevere even if there was double standard. I happen to find this to be interesting subject matter and would enjoy the telling from the "girl's point of view". So while I may share in the Western fan's nostalgia for wide open plains, lush mountain ranges, clean air, uncomplicated living and freedom, I'm not so keen on the delicate defenseless woman who has no discernible mark on the landscape.  

The days of men solving problems with guns and women existing as commodities to be bartered, bought and sold is something of the past. Isn't it? Or is it?


©2009 Lia Beachy
©2009 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine — Lia Beachy
Lia Beachy is a writer and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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