"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Antifeminist Childhood: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Edition

"It's a history report, not a babe report."


I loved this movie as a kid. My brother and I rented it over and over and cracked up at Bill and Ted's lovable dopiness and the of notion historical figures having a blast at a modern shopping mall.

When I watch it now, though, I notice other things. Like the fact that the only female historical figure important enough for them to include in their report was Joan of Arc, who Ted and Bill initially thought was "Noah's wife". Or the giggling and helpless damsel-in-distress princesses in need of rescue from their arranged marriages, and how they show up later in modern clothing beaming over having been introduced to malls and credit cards.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure came out in 1989, but we can't delude ourselves into thinking that comedies about historical figures have moved beyond female tokenism in the last twenty years. Night at the Museum features only Sacajawea, and its current sequel Battle of the Smithsonian makes due with Amelia Earhart. So much for progress.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite.

You're complaining that the movies didn't contain enough historical female characters. But I've been to a history museum. Not a whole lot for the screenwriters to work with there.

Maybe your real issue is that museums and history textbooks should feature more women. But right now, I can't name very many historical female explorers. And I can't think of many historical female warriors, either. Or engineers. Or inventors.

Now scientists... that's a different story. But the reason I can name a significant number of female scientists is because I've read more about the development of science than most. A majority of people could not tell you who Henrietta Levitt was.

To me, the proportions of male/female figures used in those movies seem completely appropriate. If you're supposed to write about random characters you would find in a high-school history textbook, you would find maybe one out of every seven figures to be female. And if the movie is set in a history museum, you should use what a visitor might actually find there.

[And I wouldn't say that Amelia Earhart was a 'token' character.]

Tracey said...

Maybe your real issue is that museums and history textbooks should feature more women.I couldn't agree more. There's not nearly enough representation of women in history books and museums, and those issues deserve attention for sure. But I chose to write about these films, because they matter, too.

And even though art is supposed to reflect life, films that stretch the truth enough to allow time travel and wax figures coming to life can probably manage to bend reality enough to achieve some more equal representation of women.

Anonymous said...

Although the underlying problem might be the lack of women in museums and history books, I do see a strong men-only worldview in "Bill and Ted".

Like you said, the only female historical figure was Joan of Arc. The princesses are either going to be arranged brides or the girlfriends of the main characters (there is no courtship, just Rufus handing them over).

And then there's Missy, the cooking and cleaning trophy wife... and, if I recall correctly, the three future people are men.

There does seem to be a fair diversity of black/white, but certainly not male/female.