>What’s Feminist about Steel Magnolias?


Yesterday I felt absolutely exhasuted after all my classes and meetings. So I felt like spending the evening watching some good old feminist classic by way of relaxation. http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B00004TJKK
was on, so I decided to watch it because I always heard people refer to it as a profoundly feminist film. It is also a perennial staple of “Feminist Film” courses.

Boy, was I in for a disappointment! This poorly made, boring flick is nothing if not profoundly patriarchal. The main story line revolves around a young woman who is willing to risk her life and die (which happens in the end) in order to produce a baby. Because the central goal of a woman’s life is to make babies. Unless you can fulfill this goal, you are incomplete. So of course, the only reasonable thing to do is for a woman literally to kill herself in an attempt to produce a baby.

There are many other female characters who are mainly dedicated to endless hen-like clucking around the protagonist’s attempts to have a baby, as well as interminable conversations about hair-styles, weddings, husbands, etc.

Since the movie was excruciatingly boring, I started investigating the reasons for why some people see this patriarchal piece of rubbish as a feminist film par excellence. The only reason offered by the scholarly articles I encountered on the subject is that the movie “celebrates female camaraderie.” This is a very weird understanding of feminism. Female friendships are great but the film is obviously not about that. In Steel Magnolias, we see women of all generations inhabiting a world of their own. It’s a world of babies, beauty, and homemaking. It’s a world of things that the patriarchal societies always mark as exclusively female. Men are supposed to be detached from these “womanly” interests and concerns, while women have no interest in the pursuits of men. The view of genders as profoundly divided by an unbridgeable chasm of difference is patriarchal. There is nothing feminist about it. Just as there is nothing feminist about this silly movie.


6 thoughts on “>What’s Feminist about Steel Magnolias?

  1. >This is one of the films that passes the Bechdel Test, where two women talk to each other about something other than a man.Aside from that, it sure does have a heapin' helpin' of patriarchy. I've never been one of those "women are better than men" feminists, having been oppressed by people of both sexes, so I have a hard time slogging through most of these.It's feminist in the eyes of the men who control the film industry, because there are no explosions. A film that seriously questions the patriarchal status quo never makes it to development.


  2. >I'm glad I'm not the only one who hated that movie…it was a hard one to sit through after JR sacrificed herself for the sake of a pregnancy.


  3. I watched this movie when I was like twelve and COULD NOT understand why she just didn’t adopt or something. I thought it was horrible, glad I’m not alone.


  4. Hm. How can this movie be feminist. Lets see.
    1.The film.gives the impression that women are the only really important people in the world.
    Julia roberts makes a dumb choice which the other women choose to celebrate rather than make her miserable. The whole group comes together to show so much love to the family once jr has begun to suffer for that choice.

    I dont see how you could interpret this as being part of the patriarchy since men are depicted as being idiots who cant do anything without women except make dumb choices about things like fireworks and beer.
    Only one man even has a character arc in the movie. The rest dont change, while all of the women do.

    Im sorry you were offended by the film depicting women doing what most of us do.

    3.Most of the movie takes place in a female owned and operated business.

    4.Two of the major characters are wealthy, influential, entrepreneurs who do things like buy radio stations for fun.
    5. All of the characters have jobs except “weezer” and none of those jobs are inconsequential to the world except the color announcer to kpph, but since she owns the radio station i think even her job passes muster.

    And fyi. Jr doesnt adopt in the movie because she can’t. They tried but were denied because of her health issues. This is brought up in the same conversation where she tells her mother shes pregnant so i dont know how you missed it.


    1. “I dont see how you could interpret this as being part of the patriarchy since men are depicted as being idiots who cant do anything without women except make dumb choices about things like fireworks and beer.”

      • And that’s how Monsieur Jourdain discovered he was speaking in prose. 🙂 What you describe is precisely what the patriarchy is. This concept has been a huge part of the patriatchal ideology since at least the 16th century. The role of women is to prevent men from making dumb choices. A woman is a man’s helpmeet and should keep him on the straight and narrow. Without a woman’s civilizing influence, a man would become a feral animal, etc. I can give a bibliography of when this idea arose and how it developed but I’m stunned that people are unaware.

      “Only one man even has a character arc in the movie. The rest dont change, while all of the women do.”

      • Exactly the same as above. Women serve, change, transform, and make themselves as serviceable and pliant as they can.


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