In 1992, Kathryn Schleich began her study of how Catholic women are represented in Hollywood with her Master’s thesis which was titled, Madonna, Tramps, and Redeemers: The Portrayal of Catholic Women in Hollywood Films. In 2003, Schleich published a follow-up to this study which was titled, “Hollywood and Catholic Women: Virgins, Whores, Mothers and other Images.” This 2012, 2nd edition of Hollywood and Catholic Women is a continuation of her research to see if there have been any positive changes.
In this 2nd edition, the author discusses 18 films and two television series which were produced between 1943 and 2008. The first part discusses “Nuns and Virgins” on film. The movies discussed begin in 1943, with “The Song of Bernadette,” and continue through to “Doubt,” which was released in 2008. The second discussion covers “Mothers, Tramps and Even Some Good Girls.” The movies reviewed begin with “The Quiet Man (1954),” and go through to “Return to Me (2000).” The third part covers “Crime Fighters and Mob Wives–A Sampling of Catholic Women on the Small Screen.” This section analyzes two television series, Saving Grace, and The Sopranos. Each film or television show provides a synopsis and an analysis of how Catholic women are portrayed in the show. This also includes a lot of discussion about the virgin/whore dichotomy.
It is very interesting to note that both Hollywood and the Catholic Church still have patriarchal systems in which women have lesser roles. There continues to be a deeply ingrained attitude of fear, mistrust, and hatred towards women. The Catholic Church has degraded and repressed female members throughout history. This is also reflected in Hollywood when Catholic women are portrayed as victims, aggressors, and whores. Schleich feels that television is beginning to make more positive strides towards improving women’s roles. There has also been a small improvement in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council; however, it appears that both the Church and Hollywood still have a ways to go.
As someone who had a very strict Catholic upbringing and attended several years of Catholic school, I found Hollywood and Catholic Women to be very thought-provoking and unsettling. Reading the synopsis of the films, several of which I had seen, I was amazed at how much I have accepted to be as a “normal” representation of women. When I read the analysis, however, my eyes were really opened and I realized that what I had accepted as normal was actually still fairly demeaning to women.
Fortunately, this was not the case in every film, yet it definitely was for the majority. Hollywood and Catholic Women is a very valuable, well-researched resource that should be read by all Catholic women. It would definitely make an excellent choice for women’s reader groups. It is highly enlightening.
(Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views)