Gender Roles in the Work of John Ford: How the Director of Westerns Used Women to Drive a Male Dominated Genre

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  Jonathan
 Moeller
  Final
 Paper,
 Theory
 and
 History
 of
 Cinema
  5-­‐4-­‐12

1
 

Gender
 Roles
 in
 the
 Work
 of
 John
 Ford:
 
 How
 The
 Director
 of
 Westerns
 Used
 Women
 To
  Drive
 a
 Male
 Dominated
 Genre
  The
 Western
 genre
 has
 always
 been
 a
 representation
 of
 American
 identity,
 in
 that
 its
 films
  reflect
 societal
 moods,
 pop
 culture,
 politics,
 etc.
 
 The
 prototypical
 Western
 portrays
 beautiful
 open
  landscapes
 and
 heroic,
 rugged
 heroes
 who
 are
 set
 on
 either
 conquering
 or
 defending
 them.
 
 These
  iconic
 actors
 such
 as
 John
 Wayne,
 Roy
 Stewart,
 Alan
 Ladd,
 and
 Gary
 Cooper
 were
 made
 famous
  through
 being
 the
 centerpiece
 of
 Western
 films
 and
 series.
 
 These
 heroes
 and
 images
 of
 the
 ‘great
  American
 frontier’
 stand
 as
 metaphor
 for
 America
 itself.
 
 Yet,
 as
 we
 closely
 examine
 this
 exciting
  and
 adventurous
 genre
 of
 film
 we
 see
 that
 the
 hero’s
 female
 counterparts
 are
 usually
  underdeveloped
 and
 ignored.
 
 Western
 films,
 especially
 in
 the
 early
 years
 of
 the
 genre,
 featured
  women
 characters
 who
 held
 little
 importance
 to
 the
 plot
 and
 served
 as
 comedic
 or
 sexual
 support
  to
 the
 hero.
 
 In
 this
 essay
 I
 will
 examine
 how
 John
 Ford,
 as
 a
 Western
 filmmaker,
 did
 not
 follow
 the
  formula
 of
 the
 genre.
 
 He
 played
 with
 male
 characters
 that
 were
 not
 heroic,
 but
 were
 selfish
 and
  cold,
 and
 even
 more
 interestingly,
 readjusted
 the
 gender
 roles
 in
 his
 western
 films
 so
 that
 women
  were
 no
 longer
 simple
 characters,
 but
 in
 fact
 drove
 the
 story
 along
 and
 made
 significant
 plot-­‐ related
 decisions.
 
 Often
 women
 and
 men
 were
 equals
 in
 Ford’s
 work.
 
 I
 will
 examine
 how
 Ford
 did
  this,
 and
 contemplate
 why,
 as
 well,
 in
 three
 of
 his
 western
 classics.
 
 The
 films
 we
 will
 be
 taking
 a
  close
 look
 at
 are
 Fort
 Apache
 (1948),
 The
 Searchers
 (1956),
 and
 The
 Man
 Who
 Shot
 Liberty
 Valance
  (1962),
 all
 of
 which
 feature
 significant
 female
 character
 contributions. Before
 diving
 into
 the
 work
 of
 Ford
 and
 how
 he
 gave
 significance
 to
 women
 in
 the
 West,
 it
  is
 important
 to
 discuss
 further
 the
 attitudes
 that
 Western
 film,
 and
 all
 of
 Hollywood
 in
 the
 early
 


 

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