- Professional Women—Women in The Professionals (1966)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 12-18
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Howe I Professional Women—Women in The Professionals (1966) Professional WomenWomen in The Professionals (1966) Winona Howe La Sierra University In the words of Lee Clark Mitchell, "The image remains unaltered in countless versions from the genre's beginning—a lone man packing a gun, astride a horse, hat pulled close to the eyes, emerging as if by magic out of a landscape from which he seems ineluctably a part" (3). Mitchell's words may cause the reader to visualize the Marlboro man but, more importantly, they also evoke a scene from any number of Western films that we all recognize, a scene romanticized both by virtue of the male figure himself and the context in which he exists. Western women, however, are a different story. Jenni Calder describes the women who went west as "wives, daughters, or nieces. They might go as adventuresses . . . . The only respectable job that could take a woman West was schoolteaching. . . ." (158). Sandra Schackel refers to the female Western stereotypes as "Nurturer/civilizer" and "femme fatale/vamp" (197), noting that as "men have written and directed Western films almost exclusively, women's roles tend to reflect a male perspective . . . [which] dominates the genre in ways in which women's roles are played out in accordance with male expectations of female behavior" (196); Michael Coyne simply states that "the genre predominantly marginalized women from the outset " (4). It is not surprising then that women's roles are often small and unimportant; the women appear to exist chiefly as context or as object. Women and Westerns That women are often treated badly (or not treated at all) is aparticular stereotype oftheWestern , and a glance at a number of Westerns illustrates why this stereotype has come to be. In Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), an innocentyoung women is gunned down along with her father and brothers. A more experienced woman is used sexually andthreatened with deathuntil she agrees to sell her land to one of the film's villains. She may come out the winner in the final few frames, but that hardly undoes the impression that, for a woman in the west, life might possibly turn out all right, but only if she can manage to survive long enough. The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a Claudia Cardinale as Maria Grantmarginalized credit. much more light-hearted film, but its women serve mostly as backdrop . As the men ride across the western landscape, hands on guns, their horses' hooves dramming out the rhythm of the catchy title song, where are the women? One of the seven acquires a girlfriend , but she is hardly a vital part of the plot; furthermore, she is awarded to the youngest, mostnaive member ofthe group. Even in the iconic The Searchers (1956), where a woman is the object of the quest that drives the entire movie, she is just that—an object. Other women serve as a domestic backdrop to the important action as we see in the case of Laurie, who can easily be set aside by Marty any time the quest is renewed or its clarion call is heard. Even though she is feisty and willing to fight for her man, Laurie quickly learns by experience thatno matterhow close she andMarty seem to be getting, the moment someone says, "I heard a white child was seen with the [fill in the blanks] tribe," Marty is in the saddle and off at a gallop without a "by-your-leave," let alone a farewell kiss (unless Laurie initiates it, of course). At the conclusion ofthe film, it appears that Ethan will be taking care ofDebbie, and Marty and Laurie will finally be free to be together. After years of Marty repeatedly abandoning Laurie, however, it would not be surprising if the couple will forever be stalled at a stunted stage oftheirjoint emotional development that is both inconclusive and incomplete. Of course there are exceptions to the stereotype of the western woman and her place in western society. Consider High Noon (1952) where, when the intrepid lawman is deserted by both friends and other entities from whom he might expect aid for any number ofreasons, that rather startling and certainly serious lack...