In Praise of Women
Scripps-Howard News Service 2.27.02
The New York Times printed a lengthy proposal by Daniel Radosh to do away with the category "Best Actress" at the Academy Awards, and let women compete with the men for the "Best Actor" Oscar. The piece ran on February 9 but, since it continues to occupy my thoughts, here is a late comment.
Occasionally, one sees the word "actor" on the television screen while an actress is being interviewed. Some of us may remember that the ending of a noun in "-or" comes from the Latin, belongs to the third declination, and denotes invariably a word of the male gender. Yes - gender. Words have gender, persons do not. Persons may be of one sex or the other. That is why words may be gender-neutral. Human beings, for the most part, are male or female.
And, as traditions evolved, professions often - though not always - denote the sex of the practitioner. It so happens that the acting profession is among those. And what a lovely word "actress" happens to be. And what lovely, unforgettable images float before our mind's eye as we speak or hear that word!
We see Bette Davis in "Now, Voyager," Greer Garson in "Mrs. Miniver," Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind," Katherine Hepburn in "Philadelphia Story," Lana Turner in "Imitation of Life," Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Theresa Wright in "Shadow of a Doubt," Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca," Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle," Grace Kelly in "Country Girl," Lee Remick in "Anatomy of a Murder," Gene Tierney and Jeanne Craine in "Leave Her to Heaven," Marilyn Monroe in "Bus Stop," Elizabeth Taylor in "Giant," Doris Day in "Love Me or Leave Me," Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember," and Shirley Temple in anything.
The foregoing, woefully incomplete, roster was necessitated by Radosh's preposterous statement whereby "great parts for women are as rare as the tartare at Spago." Perhaps he was thinking of opera? Iphigenia, Leonora, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Cenerentola, Luisa Miller, Aida, Carmen, Tosca, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Margarete, Salome, Electra, Turandot are just a few title roles. Many more great parts, like Susanna in Mozart's "The marriage of Figaro," are not in the title.
No, Radosh was not thinking of opera - nor, indeed, of anything to do with the true history of the arts. He was probably hoping to score points with unhappy women.
One has to wonder: does a woman who wishes to be known as an "actor" dislikes being a woman? That would be truly sad, but possible. So many dress, and try to act, as men. They must be unhappy.
Something went terribly wrong in the evaluation of woman's position and role prior to the political upheaval called "liberation." Instead of properly focusing on legal status, and the correction of inequities, the movement has been hard at work to persuade members of the female sex that they have been oppressed, exploited, trampled upon, and generally shortchanged by all men throughout history. The indoctrination begins with little girls, who have been reclassified as "women" to make the point.
For 99 per cent of history, the survival of the human species required that women do what only women can do: bear children. Until very, very recently, way too many women died in childbirth, and way too many babies were lost. The social constraints upon women had just about everything to do with the foregoing, as well as with Nature's arrangement about the consequences for women of sexual contact. The real liberation of women had little to do with feminist politics but was, ironically, engineered by men who came up with antiseptic medical procedures, later invented "the pill" and, meanwhile, produced an endless array of household machines.
But throughout history, whereas men were concerned with the tangible aspects of life, women mostly provided the intangibles, and who is to say which was more important at any given time?!
It is heart-rending to see the extent to which some women succeeded in making so many other women unhappy, based partly on ignorance, partly on a deliberate distortion of the past. And, Mr. Radosh, perhaps there are few great parts for women these days because there are not many actresses to play them. Reclassifying the awards, and masculinizing actresses will make little difference. We really don't need both sexes to spout obscenities and kick one another in the groin.
Please comrades, whoever you are, wherever you are, let women be women again.