10 Movies That Prove It’s Still Hard Out There for Women

Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5
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 that’s just the start…

1. 9 To 5 (1980)
The feel-good sexual harassment and discrimination comedy of the decade! We love the song, we love the movie, 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.”

2. 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 wife.

3. 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? And does Kyle MacLachlan, as college student Jeffrey, want to save Dorothy or have sex with 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.

4. 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 movie 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.

5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
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.

6. The Accused (1988)
The Accused 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.

7. The Burning Bed (1984)
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 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 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.

8. The Crucible (1996)
Arthur Miller’s screenplay for this movie 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 now, though now the false accusations, misogyny and hysteria are more likely to call to mind former 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.

9. The Stepford Wives (1975)
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 abandons the feminist message of the original in favor of a women-against-women plot. 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.

10. Working Girl (1988)
What was it about the ’80s? 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, 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.” Of course, this being the ’80s, 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.



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