The modern screen heroine can learn from Brigitte Bardot’s unapologetic sexual power.
In 1956, “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway with Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. Fidel Castro began to inflame an uprising in Cuba. And the U.S. Supreme Court declared Alabama’s bus segregation laws illegal. America may have been in the thick of Eisenhower’s puritanical 1950s, but the shades of a social revolution were starting to stir.
In the midst of it all, Brigitte Bardot exploded onto American movie theater screens. Her 1956 film “…And God Created Woman” made the 22-year-old actress an international star, catapulting both the French ingénue and the foreign film market straight into the American consciousness. Bardot became the symbol of a new kind of sexuality, embracing both frankness and spontaneity with an abandon never before seen on American film screens. Consequently, her defiant disdain of convention both shocked and inspired a generation of women and men.
As Juliette Hardy, Bardot became much more than a stereotypical sexpot. The first time we meet her, she’s sunbathing naked in the St. Tropez sun as the camera plays on her naked form. But her sex is the source of her power. Sex is not a weapon she’s using to get what she wants – it is her end goal.
Mix Bardot’s “unbridled appetite for pleasure” into 1950s American culture and you have the beginning of a feminist revolution. She was the first of her kind, a new kind of sexually-liberated heroine. Bardot was a threat to the status quo. Her Juliette was confused, abandoned, and at times childlike, but conversely one of the most powerful female characters of her time.
But did Bardot’s example survive in cinema? She was scandalous to the 1950s American public. Today, she’s just as rare. After all, who would be her modern equivalent? There is Angelina Jolie, whose screen presence often seems to hold sexuality like a sidearm. But compare Bardot’s Juliette to most characters played by a Julia Roberts, or Katherine Heigl, or Kate Hudson. It’s like putting a panther next to a litter of kittens. The so-called modern screen heroine pines for marriage and Mr. Right in a typical modern romantic comedy. Ironically, it’s the 1950s that’s considered a quaint and conventional period in American history.
So perhaps it’s time for the modern screen heroine to take a page from the Bardot’s handbook. We’re not prudes, sluts, or whores: we’re women empowered to unapologetically get what we want. So let’s reclaim the modern woman from an image as a marriage-obsessed desperado. Even if it means dancing a mambo, stepping on a man’s face, or being called a “demon-driven temptress.”