Reviews: Calamity Jane

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I contend it to be the Greatest Feminist Film Ever Made
The Wild West has some notoriety as being a particularly misogynistic setting. It is a man's world of violence and brute force. On the rare occasions women are even present, they exist as Madonnas or whores to be bullied or rescued. A more modern writer might try to combat the conventions by presenting us with a bad ass gun slinging girl. A whimsical 1953 cowboy musical called Calamity Jane manages to go about twelve steps further.

Let's talk characters. Calamity Jane is the ultimate Tomboy, exhibiting desirable masculine qualities (shooting, bragging, drinking) and eschewing "female thinkin'". Most writers would stop there. Calamity Jane pushes it further by teaming its protagonist up with Katie Brown, a dainty saloon singer and domestic goddess. Katie seems like the perfect 1950s housewife stereotype, and she is totally incompatible with Jane. Some writers would stop here at this odd couple set up, but it keeps going.

Katie transforms Calamity into a debutante, dolling her up in pretty dresses and cleaning the shit off of her. It could have stopped at this 90s Rom Com "beautiful all along" crap, but it pushes it further. Calamity is uncomfortable with the feminine affectation and quickly reverts to her angry, violent, gun slinging ways. Katie responds by beating Calamity at her own game, standing up to the woman with a gun of her own. It doesn't stop there.

Katie decides to resolve everything by leaving town for good. Calamity is utterly unable to comprehend why someone would do such a thing, because she only thinks in terms of stand-offs at high noon. For the first time in the movie, the female thinkin' insults are dropped and womanhood is talked about in positive terms; that Katie did the right thing because she was "a Lady". Guns and arguments are for kids, and it takes a woman to show that the way forward is through a sensible compromise. That's something you will never see in any other Western movie.

By the end we are presented with a composite character. She still wears the cowboy pants, but they're clean and feminine as well.

Calamity Jane is this funny, cute movie that manages to accidentally has more about gender than most movies that make an explicit attempt to explore it. Most people will point to Sigourney Weaver as the feminist icon. I'll take Doris Day.

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