Sally Field and Goldie Hawn: Feminism, post-feminism, and cactus flower politics

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Sally Field made celebrity history during her 1985 speech at the Oscars ceremony. Accepting her second Best Actress Academy Award, for Places in the Heart (1984), she declared, "And I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me . right now . you like me. Thank you." (Her speech soon morphed into a catchphrase that empha-sized weakness over strength: "You like me, you really like me.") A woman who was not afraid to expose her "need to be liked" clearly had cultural resonance in the 1980s, as her statement immediately became part of the lexicon of American popular culture. Goldie Hawn often expressed a similar sentiment. In an interview, she told Celeste Fremont that she knew she could appear flighty, but "I don't think of it as scatterbrained. . Everyone likes to be liked, so you put your most charming aspect forward" ("Goldie Hawn," Playgirl, November 1980, 39). Field and Hawn speak to the contradictions of 1980s feminism. When seen as "intertexts," from a perspective further reinforced by their continual claims that they were (and remain) "best friends," the two stars illuminate how their feminist-star identities became newly defined from previous decades. It is instructive to place Field and Hawn alongside one another, as related stars, and as separate from other stars. This follows Richard deCordova's claim that to highlight the "actor-as-star" is to create "a specific path of intertextuality that extends outside of the text as a formal system" (20). The two stars crossed paths repeatedly. The two continually told stories-in their films, offscreen representations, and self-accounts-that articulated a sense of being "in the process of" achieving political identity. What is most interesting about the staging of their stardom is that they were always "inbetween" one political space and another, always inhabiting both past and present. As stars at a turning point-as the 1970s turned into the 1980s-Field and Hawn helped usher the past into the present. For this reason, the two are best viewed as pre-feminist, feminist, and post-feminist all at the same time. They provide compelling illustrations of the states of feminism outlined by Susan Faludi in Backlash. She posits that in the 1980s, even though the majority of women supported feminist causes and cited the second wave movement as having positively impacted their lives, they distanced themselves from the term "feminist" (2nd ed. 2-7). This makes sense, Faludi asserts, given that the mass media, in conjunction with politicians, educators, doctors, and major corporations, was implying that the women's movement was the cause of women's inequities. She marks the middle of the decade as the first time the backlash becomes truly noticeable in popular culture, suggesting that it then strengthens in President Ronald Reagan's second term. Faludi makes a strong case, however, that overwhelming series of images-more than usual-were broadcasting the same message over and over again: it is time for the exhausted "superwoman" to admit that she (and feminism) were her own worst enemy and she would be much happier (and more feminist) at home (2, 4). Field and Hawn achieved enormous critical acclaim and celebrity power as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, with Field winning an Academy Award for her performance in Norma Rae (1979) and Hawn earning a nomination for Private Benjamin (1980). Nineteen eighty-four proved to be a pivotal year for both stars, with Field winning her second Academy Award (for Places in the Heart) and Hawn battling to bring Swing Shift to the screen. It is no coincidence that both Places in the Heart and Swing Shift revisit 1930s and 1940s proto-feminist struggles. The former features a recently widowed female farmer in the Depression era; the latter offers up Hawn as a Rosie-the-Riveter figure during World War II. These films mediate the complexities of middle-1980s feminism through a glance backward at what is presented as a simpler representation of female bonding and political community. While postfeminist discourse is very visibly reflected in representations of both stars, after 1984 Hawn becomes much more associated than Field with the individualistic, consumerist "lifestyle feminism" that defines post-feminism. All of Field's and Hawn's films certainly have nuances and contradictions, but still their work between 1979 and 1984 specifically addresses concerns of gender equality, almost always going the additional step to connect gender discrimination to ideas about class, racism, or national militarization. They also speak to women's ambivalence about heterosexual norms and marital institutions, ending without romantic (heterosexual) closure and raising questions about coupling. More specifically, Field's and Hawn's characters begin to reimagine the worlds in which they live, pushing the ideological boundaries that dictate their social roles (see Tasker and Negra Interrogating Postfeminism). In addition, as their characters take on leadership they manifest a movement from self-focus toward community involvement and shared moral responsibility. Between 1984 and 1989, the stars' films-and their representations in general-are inflected with more post-feminist discourse, evidencing a greater contest over meanings regarding the actresses' power, politics, and agency. Themes of domestic recuperation prevail, especially for Hawn (often with her apparent participation). Their aging was most certainly a factor-as each woman hit her forties in the middle 1980s-and led to their closer alignment with motherhood and the domestic sphere and a renegotiation of their past and present relationships to second wave feminism. Clearly the mid-decade intensification of post-feminism, which emphasized consumerism, leisure, lifestyle, and the self (over community involvement), was influencing their media discourse (see Tasker and Negra). In films such as Field's Punchline (1988) and Steel Magnolias (1989) and Hawn's Swing Shift, Overboard (1987), and Bird on a Wire (1990), the female protag-onists are more self-centered, finding transformation through individual career choices or romantic decisions rather than in political community. The same theme appears in popular press accounts that relay the stars' growing satisfaction with their marriages, children, and homes. In these post-feminist representations, heterosexual romance and marriage become part of the solution rather than part of the problem (of female empowerment). Sally Field and Goldie Hawn showed women a way to go or-more aptly put-a way to grow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationActing for America
Subtitle of host publicationMovie Stars of the 1980s
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780813547596
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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