By Adrianne Calgie
Last Saturday (March 8th) was International Women’s Day. Much like Valentine’s Day, I think it’s ridiculous that we only choose one day to celebrate the achievements of the sisterhood, but it’s an acknowledgement at least. IWD, in its own words, isn’t a reminder of the struggles of women but “a celebration of the positive”. It’s about connecting women worldwide and commemorating the advancements we’ve made. These have always been passions of mine and in a change from my usual flippancy, I’m really excited that more of a big deal is being made of it.
Although many young women identify themselves as ‘feminists’, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Even in mainstream media it’s difficult to identify strong women without allusions to what they’re wearing or who they’re dating. I decided to wade through the usual dross and prove that there are strong, successful roles for women in Hollywood, and some exemplify it both onscreen and off.
1/ Sarah Connor, T2: Judgement Day
Both Terminator films are excellent, and the original is one of my favourite movie romances: you’d be hard pushed to find a sweeter declaration of love than that of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). However, when we first meet her, Sarah is a waiflike wallflower, living a quiet unassuming existence and working as a waitress without much ambition. By the time we meet her in T2: Judgement Day, she’s a completely new woman: locked up in a mental institution, she’s lean, muscle-bound and utterly resolute in her convictions. Rather than take her medicine, she busts out to casually go save the world. She’s a freedom fighter, fighting machine, mum and all round badass.
The Woman Behind The Role: Linda Hamilton admitted in 2005 that she suffers from bipolar disorder and fronted a campaign on how to live with the condition.
2/ Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity
I couldn’t have a list about strong female roles without including a femme fatale: for me, they don’t come much more defining than Barbara Stanwyck in noir classic Double Indemnity. She bends men to her whim, going so far as to convince her new squeeze to bump off her rich, boorish husband. OK, so arranging to have your husband murdered isn’t cool, but let’s look at the context: in a time when pretty wives functioned as arm candy, she seized an opportunity to solve her own problems and masterminded an (initially) foolproof plan to implement it. We’ll skim over the fact that she was a bit of a bitch to her poor stepdaughter: femme fatales are so called for a reason.
The Woman Behind The Role: Stanwyck had a phenomenally prolific career, often cast as women who had to overcome their lower social standings. She was reputedly one of Hollywood’s most famous closeted lesbians. The truth was never revealed, but she projected an image that young lesbian women could connect with: “a woman in full possession of her powers–no man needed”. After she retired, she also worked tirelessly for charity until her death in 1990.
3/ Sidney Prescott (the Scream franchise)
Horror is, perhaps surprisingly, a great genre for strong female characters. Think Halloween’s Laurie Strode, Signourney Weaver’s Ripley or the feisty Italian bombshells of the ‘giallo’ subgenre. It was a tough one to whittle down, but I had to choose the most iconic one for impressionable young me: Sidney Prescott, the ultimate Final Girl for horror fans who cut their teeth in the late 1990s. Far from being the ‘professional victim’ she’s made out to be, Sidney blossoms from shy teenager, to cynical college student, to self-help guru and remains thoroughly badass throughout. Despite losing her mother in the most brutal way imaginable, she fights her way out of tragedy and never lets the past get the better of her. Also, she doesn’t give in to pressure from her high school boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) to take their relationship further. Good lass. I wouldn’t either, he reeeeeally looks like he needs a good long shower and some outdoor time.
The Woman Behind The Role: Neve’s younger brother was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome in 1989 and she’s utilised her fame to raise awareness and funds for the condition. In fact, her family are the official ‘spokesfamily’ of the Tourette’s Syndrome Association of Canada. Her middle name is also Adrianne- that’s good enough for me.
4/ Selina Kyle (Batman Returns)
The question of ‘best Batman’ really comes down to when you were born- which really makes me feel sorry for anyone whose first exposure to the Dark Knight was Joel Schumacher’s nausea-inducing efforts. Christopher Nolan’s first two gritty, neo-noir efforts were pretty good, but The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was distinctly… un-catlike. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle is the defining Catwoman for me. Initially a downtrodden, put-upon cat lady, Selina comes into her own when devious boss Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) knocks her out of a window. She comes back from the dead- with the help of her beloved kitties- and after trashing her kitschy sweet apartment, sets out to exact revenge. This kitty can scratch though- she attacks a skeezy mugger for attempting to attack a female bystander, but also chastises the woman for not standing up for herself. This Selina Kyle is all about the female empowerment and taking control.
The Woman Behind The Role: Pfeiffer allegedly has one of the most mathematically perfect faces in the business. She’s pretty much officially, scientifically beautiful. She also busted out of a cult, adopted a daughter as a single mother, is a vegan and campaigns tirelessly for causes such as leukaemia and animal rights. Meow.
5/Hayley Stark (Hard Candy)
These days, kids are more tech-savvy than ever. This in turn opens them up to potential dangers that even my generation didn’t really face: cyber-bullying, online trolling and creepy chat room predators. However, not all kids are susceptible to falling into their trap- some take the law into their own hands. Enter Hayley Stark. She lures suspected paedophile Jeff (Patrick Wilson) into meeting her over a chat room, tortures him in a brutally unflinching game of cat and mouse, and she does it without even breaking a sweat. Talk about ballsy.
The Woman Behind The Role: Ellen Page is pretty amazing. She cites Patti Smith as her ultimate hero, flits between indie cool, thought-provoking blockbusters and comic book adaptations and lives in a sustainable eco-community. She also recently came out as gay and promised to use her status to give a voice to young LGBT people.