March is Women’s History Month, so what better way to celebrate women in film than to highlight feminist narratives made in the 1980s? The '80s were a wonderful time for female-driven properties. This was the era of Working Girl, Baby Boom and The Legend of Billie Jean. For your movie-going enjoyment, I have chosen four other female-inspired films that may have been forgotten by contemporary audiences.
Nine to Five • This 1980 flick was directed by Harold and Maude screenwriter Colin Higgins. Its story centers around a trio of office employees (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton) who take their chauvinistic boss hostage, an act of defiance that is motivated by being subjected to verbal abuse and receiving unwanted sexual advances.
With their boss sequestered away, our heroines implement more accommodating policies that benefit women in the office, including salary increases, day care services and job sharing for working mothers. While still a comedy at heart, Nine to Five tackles serious issues regarding male attitudes toward women in the workforce, but it does so to the catchy beat of Parton's Oscar-nominated titular song. Available on Netflix Instant.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains • Diane Lane and Laura Dern star as disaffected teens in a 1982 proto-punk band. The young women find themselves on a cross-country tour as the opening act for a more established musical group. Lane, as the Stain's singer, defies the submissive female archetype by engaging in confrontational monologues with her audience, ultimately bringing her band to mainstream prominence.
Women are enamored with the band's dyed hair, Ziggy Stardust makeup and their refusal to wear sexualizing outfits. Men are dismissive of the band's artistic endeavors, labeling the Stains as a gimmick, a viewpoint that still dominates the rock world today.
These young women are a completely different breed than their conformist Baby Boomer parents. They are brazen in appearance. They are less emotional than most of the men. Simply put, they are the Stains, "and they don't put out." Available on Amazon Prime.
Born in Flames • Lizzie Borden's seminal 1983 film takes place 10 years after the War of Liberation, where the women of New York City successfully overthrew the Democratic government and left a Socialist party wielding the political power. Despite the minor gains women have experienced (the government now gives hiring preferences to females), an imbalance of power between the sexes still prevails.
Spurring on the desire to promote female equality among the pervasive masculine culture is the Women's Army, a predominantly African-American and lesbian group whose neighborhood offerings include child day care and rape rehabilitation centers. With the federal authorities monitoring the group's activities and with a mantra proclaiming that "all oppressed people have a right to violence," this militant narrative most assuredly ends in death and destruction. Available on Amazon Prime.
I've Heard the Mermaids Singing • Films espousing feminine virtues don't need to be overtly political. 1987's Mermaids is such a film. Sheila McCarthy plays a secretary for an accomplished female art gallery curator. McCarthy is enamored with her boss' beauty, sophistication, liberating views on sexuality and her desire for "universal respect." The nebbish secretary's naive decision to hang her boss' lover's painting in the gallery leads to surprising and unintended consequences.
This flick, a prototype for the New Queer Cinema movement, never comments upon the heterosexuality, lesbianism and bisexuality inherent in its characters' desires. Psychologist Lisa Diamond describes this spectrum of sexuality as sexual fluidity, stating that female desire results in a fluctuation between same-sex and other-sex romantic longings. McCarthy's secretary reiterates the film's thesis when she states, "Gender is irrelevant in matters of the heart." Available on Netflix Instant.