Last night, Speedy and I watched Bullitt, a 1968 film starring Steve McQueen. It is famous for a car chase scene, the stunt then rumored to have been performed by McQueen himself, but which later turned out to be untrue.
Jacqueline Bisset was third in the billing but her role as McQueen’s girlfriend was limited to six scenes: First, McQueen visits her at her job (she’s an artist). Second, she and McQueen goes out to dinner. Third, she is sleeping beside McQueen. Fourth, presumably the morning after, she asks McQueen if he wanted breakfast. Fifth, after the car chase and McQueen’s car goes out of commission, she drives him around in her yellow Porshe, she mistakenly enters a crime scene, sees a bloodied dead woman and she looks so upset and about to faint that her boyfriend has to escort her out. The fifth scene continues with McQueen and Bisset leaving the crime scene, McQueen now driving the Porsche, and Bisset asking him to stop. She gets out, boyfriend follows her, she is teary-eyed and remarks how different his violent world is from hers. The last scene she appears in shows her sleeping on McQueen’s bed raising the presumption that her shock had passed and she had come to terms with her man’s lifestyle.
Of course, I made a comment. I remarked to Speedy how disgusting it was that Jacqueline Bisset’s role was merely decorative. Like a token female interest in the whole story. Had her role been cut off altogether, the film wouldn’t have lost anything.
But this is really not a film review. There is an e-mail account that I had neglected to open in months, I opened it two days ago and found a note from a reader with a link to an August 11 article in The Huffington Post entitled “Tough Girls: Do They Still Exist?” The sender of the email was urging me to comment and, in effect, lambast the article and its writer. I could have done that, even at this late date, but I didn’t. I won’t.
See, I agree with some parts of the article and I disagree with other parts — despite the insulting tone of the writer when she mentions women who blog about cupcakes and gardening (oh, do read it). I do agree with the part that says a lot of women roles in entertainment today are scarily reminiscent of Jacqueline Bisset’s role in Bullitt. But I disagree with the view that a woman has to be a wise-cracking, ass-kicking bitch who wears leather and sings rock and roll to be tough. To begin with, a person who appears tough is not necessarily truly tough. Packaging is different from the person within.
I am a woman. I am a female female. I can be bitchy and snarky occasionally but I am no bitch. Neither am I anyone’s bitch. And I am darn comfortable and happy with it.
Really, what is so objectionable about being comfortable with one’s body, hormones and gender? Why does any woman have to look like Sigourney Weaver in Alien or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day to prove that she is tough?
I don’t like to have bulging muscles; I like my curves. I like my boobs that make men stare and trip over their feet — and I really don’t have to do anything except walk by.
I like my brain, what it can do, and what ideas and words emanate from it. I like it even more that I don’t have to uglify myself to make my brain do its work.
I like my financial independence, and I especially like how I was able to achieve it without having to look, talk and act like a man or a woman pretending to be a man.
Am I short-changing my gender and insulting everyone who has fought for “equality” — from the women suffragettes to the fighters for the RH Bill — by writing about cupcakes and gardening instead of continuing to write about politics, something I did for for seven odd years, just to show that I have a brain and I am tough? Hell, no.
The truth is, the fact that I can choose to write about what I want, cupcakes and gardening included, is already a statement of power and strength. I am powerful enough to do things on my terms. And I am tough enough to turn my back on a job and the political writing niche because they no longer give me the satisfaction that I need to continue to be able to write and write well.
I don’t have to prove anything. But I owe myself — to be true to myself, to be myself and to live happy being me.
So, there. If I were to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” on stage, I’d sway my hips and bat my eyes as I purr out the lyrics and notes, and still get the message across. Strength, or toughness if that’s what you want to equate it with, is not about muscles, ass-kicking and head-bashing. It is about character. A woman does not have to be pushy or aggressive or arrogant to be tough — if she truly is, then, she just have to be. The ones who need to shout to be noticed are the ones who wish and pretend that they are tough but, inside, they are scared and insecure about who and what they really are.
In short, let the writing about cupcakes and gardening continue.