WOMEN

   Westerns traditionally have been stories of men struggling against the forces of the frontier. Women’s roles in these stories have usually been secondary at best. Symbolically, however, women have played a major role. While the frontier is a world of men, the townis dominated by women. Women thus exert a feminizing influence on the frontier. The westward movement, then, can be seen as a process of feminization. Women, moreover, represent repressed sexual desires. Men lose their masculinity if they actually settle down and marry. Thus, any attachment to women must be purely sexual and nonconsensual if frontier men are to maintain their inherent maleness. Therefore, the cowboy hero’s relations with women always involve the hero repressing his latent sexual urges. When a man cannot repress his desires, he becomes the savage. Women, then, are frail and must be protected at all costs. They are subject to sexual violation by savages. Thus, in films such as The Searchers(1956) and The Missing(2003), rescuing the women captured by savages becomes an obsessively desperate mission.
   The cowboy hero is often torn between his attraction to savagery and his attraction to civilization. This can be symbolized with a dichotomy of the blonde and the brunette—the blonde offering the hero a pure and utterly respectable relationship and the brunette offering a tantalizingly forbidden relationship. Will Kane in High Noon(1952), for example, must choose between Amy Fowler, the blonde Quaker, and Helen Ramirez, the ambitious, dark-haired saloon girl. The one represents civilized respectability while the other represents a move toward savagery.
   Different eras have emphasized different stereotypes of the heroines who rode opposite the cowboy heroes. The silent era of William S. Hartfeatured hapless maidens such as that played by Anna Q. Nilsson in The Toll Gate (1920). B Westerns of the 1940s, on the other hand, often featured heroines such as Dale Evans, who wore jeans and could ride a horse as well as anyone else on the set. Other stereotypes have been the long-haired, wild-riding hellions; girls dressed as boys; chocolate-box heroines; decorative heroines; and spunky heroines. Perhaps the most common stereotype is the dark-haired girl and the fair-haired girl vying for the same cowboy hero. Whatever the stereotype, the fact is that cinema Westerns have been guilty throughout their history of relegating women to roles as Others.
   See also ANGEL AND THE BADMAN; ARTHUR, Jean; BACALL, Lauren; BANDOLERO!; BARDOT, Brigitte; BLANCHETT, Cate; BROWNE, Reno; CAPTIVITY NARRATIVES; CARDINALE, Claudia; CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA; CIVILIZATION VERSUS WILDERNESS; CRAWFORD, Joan; DANCE HALL GIRLS; DANDRIDGE, Ruby; DARBY, Kim; DARNELL, Linda; DAVIS, Gail; DE HAVILLAND, Olivia; DICKINSON, Angie; DIETRICH, Marlene; DUEL IN THE SUN; EVANS, Dale; EVANS, Muriel; FEMINIST WESTERNS; FINLEY, Evelyn; GANG OF ROSES; GREENWALD, Maggie; HART, Mary; HOLT, Jennifer; JANUARY, Lois; JOHNNY GUITAR; JURADO, Katy; KELLY, Grace; MALE GAZE; MARION, Beth; MILES, Betty; O’HARA, Maureen; THE OUTLAW; PANTS ROLES; PAYNE, Sally; RUSSELL, Gail; PRODUCTION CODE; SILENT ERA CINEMA; SPAGHETTI WESTERNS; STANWYCK, Barbara; STOCK FOOTAGE; STOREY, June; THE QUICK AND THE DEAD; THE TOLL GATE; TOWNS; TREVOR, Claire; WINTERS, Shelley.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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