Alice and Feminism’s Values

When most people think about the largest radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s, they think about the anti-war protests and the African-American fight for equality (Farber 240). However, there was another movement growing stronger in the late 1960s and the early 1970s: the women’s liberation movement. This movement challenged the common ideology that men should control all spheres of the political and economic life, and that women should just be the housekeepers and look beautiful. The feminist movement fought a long and hard struggle, but by the 1970s many of the women’s voices and complaints were finally being heard.

Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Along with this newfound feminism, came a different genre of films. Several movies started to depict feminist’s values, and showed the female character breaking out of the masculine society. In 1974 Martin Scorsese’s movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, was released. The movie starred Ellen Burstyn in the lead role of Alice. This wonderful film shows how common gender roles were, and how a housewife was able to find happiness and balance in her life.

The first part of the movie allows the audience to be fully involved in Alice’s normal day. We see her cooking, sewing, cleaning, attending to her child, and waiting on her husband. Those scenes also show Alice fighting with her cold, distant, and abusive husband. The roles that Alice and her husband have are the common gender roles so many people became accustomed to. Some people might view those scenes as not supporting the feminist’s ideology. Some might even say that this shows no values of feminism. However, this aspect of the film depicted a realistic reality that many women faced. In the book, The Age of Great Dreams, author David Farber states: “Most men and women, after the turmoil of the war and the Great Depression, and in the midst of the Cold War nuclear weapons race, readily accepted socially prescribed gender roles” (242). The old-fashioned gender roles became accessible and most couples were ok with the idea of men being the breadwinners and women being the caregivers at home. While this ideology does not go along with the feministic values, the roles were still prominent in America’s culture, and many women were trapped in this arrangement. Soon many housewives across America began to be unhappy with their role, and soon they became a part of a powerful women’s movement. When Alice’s husband died, Alice saw this as an opportunity to make it on her own, and become a singer in Monterey. She also saw this as a great opportunity to find happiness and meaning in her life. Even though Alice expressed doubts in the film, Alice very much has the feministic quality about her. She is ready to break out of the gender roles and prove that she can make it on her own with no help.

As the 1970s progressed, the women’s movement reached its peak and power. The feminist message was being heard through the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), articles, and best-selling books. Also many feminist scholarship and female institutions expanded and reoriented the movement (Schulman 172).  Finally, this women’s movement gained public acceptance. This public acceptance can also be seen in the film. As Alice moves from New Mexico to Arizona she encounters a lot of people on the way. At one point she was able to get a job as a singer. Shortly after getting the job, Alice leaves the position and moves to Tucson. There she gets a job as a waitress and meets David, and both them slowly falls in love with each other. Here is where the film can become a little controversial among the feminists supporters.

The ending shows Alice stopping her pursue at being a singer in Monterey. Instead, she decides to stay in Tucson with David. Many feminists of the era would argue that the ending is not a feministic ending. The ending shows that Alice is giving up on the feministic ideology, and is now returning to the same old gender role. The ending might suggest that Alice needs a man to make it in life, and to be happy in life. Even the star of the film had strong feelings on the ending: “Burstyn was awash in the feminist tide of the early ‘70s. ‘I wanted her to leave the Kristofferson character and go on to Monterey, where she had a singing gig,’ she recalls” (Biskind 253). I strongly believe that ending is very much in favor of feminism because of the journey that Alice makes. She was a trapped housewife in the beginning of the film, and then she was able to go out and get a job as a singer. Then she met a man that was willing to give up his ranch to make her dreams come true. The fact the David and everybody around her accepted and supported her aspiration is because of the feminist movement. The decision was up to Alice and was not up to a man. Alice was the one controlling her own journey and her own faith. She chose to stay with David, who is not perfect, because he was able to fully support her and make her happy. Her first husband was not able to do that. Alice now has balance in her life, and realized that she didn’t need to go to Monterey to become a singer. She can very much stay in Tucson with a man and a son that loves and supports her. Her conclusion was that she could be a singer anywhere.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a testament to how the feminist movement became wildly accepted and supported. Alice is a heroine that was able to find the balance and happiness that she desired. Even though she ended up with a man, it still can be seen that Alice is not trapped in anything anymore. She is making her own decisions and she is finally deciding what she wants to do in life. The social and gender constraints are not holding her back anymore, and that is what the feminist movement fought for.

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