FEMINIST FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Amanda Bonner (‘Adam’s Rib’)

We’re enhancing Flashback Friday with a feminist twist by bringing you badass darlings from the golden age of cinema. First up on our docket is Katharine Hepburn as Amanda Bonner in George Cukor’s brilliant romantic-comedy from 1949, Adam’s Rib.

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Who is she?

Amanda Bonner (Hepburn) and her husband, Adam (Spencer Tracey, of course) are two hotshot New York City lawyers enjoying careers in which they are both equally respected. When Amanda reads in the paper about a woman who shot her husband and his mistress, she can’t help but put on her suffragette sash and side with the scorned wife while Adam believes that no sex is above the law and the woman ought to be tried for attempted murder.

Of course, when the two go into the office that day, Adam learns he is assigned to the husband’s case and, upon learning this, Amanda seeks out the wife to defend her launching the Bonners into a battle of the sexes that has the entire city on the edge of its seat.

What Makes Her a Badass?

Amanda Bonner is the first woman chosen for Feminist Flashback Friday because she is the personification of the women stuck between the first and second waves of feminism. After the first wave, women had won the vote and were more readily accepted in the workplace than they used to be, but there were still glaring differences between the genders that left womankind perpetually holding the short straw. One of those differences was the way society reacted to adultery.

Amanda asks her secretary what she thinks of a man cheating and the secretary replies that it’s “not nice.” When Amanda asks her opinion on the same situation with the genders reversed, the secretary immediately admits that it would be a terrible thing, to which Amanda exclaims, “Why the difference? Why ‘not nice’ if he does it, and ‘something terrible’ if she does it?” A valid question and once that we’re still attempting to answer in the 21st century.

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Throughout the movie, Amanda’s continual opinion is that there is no difference between the genders (socially) and that women should be treated as men are. Adam, refuses to see gender and insists that a crime is a crime and no one is above the law. Also a valid point, but easy to say for a man in the ‘40s. Amanda Bonner is a loud modern voice in a time that was still embarrassingly old-fashioned. There have always been incredible women in the world whose potential has not been realized because of their gender, but there have also been incredible women who have said “fuck you” to traditional gender roles and done whatever they wanted.

Among Amanda’s witnesses are a woman who is impressively (yet almost comically) over-educated, an elderly lady who is the overseer of dozens of men (including her husband) at a construction company and a showbiz woman who does everything from acting to gymnastics to weight-lifting. The point Amanda is proving is that women are just as capable of doing “manly” things and therefore should be judged on the same scale. So, if society is lenient on a promiscuous man, it should be equally forgiving to a promiscuous woman. Another, valid point which we’re still attempting to dismantle in the 21st century.

Why She Still Matters Today

By the time the trial winds down, with Amanda coming out the winner, Amanda has made a massive step in the name of women’s rights, but has started to lose her husband in the process. While lamenting to a lovelorn neighbour about the conundrum in which she’s found herself, she more or less admits that she doesn’t regret what she did, despite the marital estrangement it’s caused. “I may be wrong about much, about plenty, but not about this,” she cries and women everywhere can feel for her because it seems we seldom find a happy middle ground between the seemingly continuous fight to improve the social class of our gender and our human need to love and be loved.

I’m on Amanda’s team in that I believe women should be treated as men are treated in all respects, but I also agree with Adam in that no one is above the law. However, to this day there are crimes for which one gender is treated more harshly than the other and until we mend the discrepancy between how we see men and women in all respects, it’s impossible to treat everyone equally under law.

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