As Irish Americans across the land watch this Maureen O'Hara, John Wayne classic they might consider it in the light of the campaign to stop violence against women and the "empire of misogyny" the Catholic Church.
Last week, The Newark Star Ledger ran a thought-provoking essay by Mark Voger headlined “The Quiet Man in the Age of #MeToo.”
Let’s set aside, for the moment, whether or not you consider The Quiet Man a godawful piece of shameful shamrockery.
But is there violence against women and is it glorified?
As Voger writes, “For decades, fans of the 66-year-old film have looked the other way regarding the film's occasional sexism (as we must do with many beloved older films). Maureen O'Hara's character, Mary Kate Danaher, is treated like property in a war between her controlling older brother Will (Victor McLaglen) and her suitor, Sean Thornton (Wayne). Sean treats Mary Kate rather brutally in one protracted sequence.”
He adds, “Certain sequences are harder than ever to watch. Such as: In an early encounter, Sean prevents Mary Kate from fleeing through a door; holds one of her wrists behind her back; and forcibly kisses her. She yields to his kiss (a common trope in romantic movies of the time).”
Personally, I love the movie. I don’t give a fiddle that the film’s postcard version of Ireland makes it seem as if folks spend their days sipping pints, brawling and making sure the grass stays green.
I still laugh at Barry Fitzgerald’s jokes about whiskey and the IRA. I still appreciate the way John Wayne’s performance balances a certain charm with a distinct woodenness. That the movie sneaks in a message about Catholics and Protestants living peacefully together is a mere bonus.
Either way, as Voger writes, “John Ford's 1952 romantic comedy ... usually tops the list of ‘must see’ movies for St. Patrick's Day.”
But this St. Patrick’s Day, we are engaged in a long, deep debate about women, movies and sexual violence.
Read more: John Wayne’s love of Ireland and “The Quiet Man"
It’s true that to tear apart the sexual dynamics of The Quiet Man would be simplistic, to say the least. For decades, this was a Hollywood problem, not merely a Quiet Man problem.
Which doesn’t change the fact that it’s a problem. And The Quiet Man is not the only classic Irish flick with this problem.
Think of Jimmy Cagney, as Irish gangster Tom Powers, decking his girlfriend with a grapefruit in The Public Enemy. Think of the rough treatment Scarlett O’Hara is made to seem to “deserve” in Gone With the Wind.
Over six decades later, when Martin Scorsese decided to make his Irish immigrant epic Gangs of New York, it’s a stretch to say Jennie Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) is not much better than Scarlet O’Hara.
Read more: Is The Quiet Man misogynistic and outdated?
But it’s also true that some of the love scenes between her and fellow Irish immigrant Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) resemble wrestling matches, implying that much of Hollywood still believes that the best solution for a woman’s resistance is a little old-fashioned aggression.
Still, perhaps this is also a good time to point out that for all of the troublesome dynamics in The Quiet Man, no viewer would mistake Mary Kate Danaher as a weak character. She can more or less take care of herself just fine, even if, at one point, her future husband is handed "a good stick” so that he can “beat the lovely lady."
And it’s a woman who hands John Wayne the stick!
It’s also interesting to note that just as many Irish Americans are popping in The Quiet Man DVD, others are debating a certain speech last week given by a certain former president of Ireland.
During a speech in Rome, on the even of the much-anticipated Voices of Faith conference, Mary McAleese said, "The Catholic Church is one of the last great bastions of misogyny," later referring to the church as “an empire of misogyny.”
As in the debate over sexism in The Quiet Man it’s easy to get bogged down in the tone, language and precise details of what McAleese is trying to say.
What’s much harder to do is deny -- or ignore -- the basic truth of what she’s saying.
Sadly, Hollywood can take comfort that at least one powerful institution may have an even worse historical record when it comes to women.
Read more: Where was the movie The Quiet Man filmed?
H/T: Newark Star Ledger