Where are the blue collar heroines?

It’s no big secret. We urgently need to see more films that feature complex female protagonists. But why do stories about women matter anyway? Because telling stories is how we shape our perceptions of human life and there are some gross misrepresentations in cinematic stories about women, particularly women wage-earners.

 A Google search for the “top ten movies about work” reveals titles that feature mostly white, unionized, working-class heroes or super-rich, ultra-privileged corporate honchos. The reality is that a third of the US paid labor force (47% of whom are women) is just one paycheck away from poverty, with women and people of color in particular facing a much higher risk of economic insecurity. Where are these women’s stories?

What’s more, when we do see cinematic portrayals of working-class women, those movies often center their triumph or undoing at the hands of male characters. These films perpetuate that most American of fantasies:  if you’re one of the “good poor” – intrinsically noble, hard-working, and perpetually hopeful despite your circumstances – you will succeed (get rich), or even better, fall in love with and be rescued by a dude.

These rags-to-riches stories romanticize poverty and keep alive the myth of a classless society. In too many cinematic accounts of working-class life (particularly in the U.S.), the fate of the protagonist is due to individual responsibility rather than contexts of privilege and oppression. And when the very real vulnerability to violence and exploitation of working women’s lives is portrayed on screen, it’s most often presented as spectacle. These portrayals are insultingly reductive.

As self-described “working-class storyteller” Dorothy Allison once said about the women in her family, they “were powerful in ways not generally seen as heroic by the world outside. Though some mainstream films have centered their stories around the resilience and strength of working-class women, what’s still largely missing from our screens is the ordinary, everyday humanity of these women’s lives.

And this is where the Bluestocking Film Series “Blue Collar Heroine Challenge” comes in. What would a film look like that portrayed a more complex picture of working-class women? Would it show us that women wage workers are human beings first? Would we see that working-class women, not just the default middle- or upper-class characters who currently populate our screens, have cares and concerns and dramas and comedies too? Might we even see some on-screen anti-heroines (that rarest of bird)? And what if these stories were played out in workplaces we seldom see on-screen? How might these kinds of cinematic stories help to shape the ways we collectively understand, and therefore treat, working women in this country?

The only answer to these questions is to place the challenge before filmmakers. So bring on the complex Blue Collar Heroines! We’re primed and ready to see how she lives and works.

Andrea Breau

Special to Bluestocking Film Series

Andrea's Sun is in Feminist with Killjoy rising (her Moon is nobody's damn business). Due to a childhood of foul stomach, she is now a gluten-free baker and lover of fermented stuff. She has been told - by many a principal, headmaster, and dean - that she is quite good at fomenting stuff. She credits this particular inflammatory skill to perpetual studenthood and enjoys the irony of it all. Andrea values her multi-dimensionality and resents all attempts to flatten it. Though born and raised there, Andrea considers Lewiston her Chosen Home. She is pursuing a PhD in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies.