The Consequences of Feminism (1906)
Alternate Title: Les Résultats du féminisme
This role-reversal comedy from Alice Guy may surprise modern viewers with its perspective on gender. Even the title seems like something far more recent than 110 years ago, and yet it survives as a commentary from an earlier age.
The movie begins by showing a group of men in a small room together, all apparently working on sewing hats. We notice that the men have longer hair than is usual for the period, and some of them are wearing flowers in their hair. They move effeminately, with hands extended and graceful steps. A woman comes into the room, dressed more or less normally for the period. She apparently wants to buy a hat and one of the men gets a hatbox out for her, but while she is waiting, she checks out the men and pinches one of them on the cheek. The man selected to carry the hatbox gets up and smears cream on his face in front of the mirror, then delicately picks up the hatbox and minces out the door. The next scene shows him walking on the street (a set, unfortunately, not one of Guy’s shots of contemporary Paris) past a café. A woman is at an outdoor table and sees the man, and gets up and comes over to him, trying to force a kiss. Another woman, seeing him harassed in this manner, comes over and breaks it up, the offers her arm to escort the helpless man away. This woman leads the man to a park bench, convinces him to put down the hatbox and sit with her, and now she tries to take advantage of him. While he struggles, two other men walk by, look and see what is happening, and quickly run away from the scene.
Next, we see the man at home. A woman lounges in a chair reading a newspaper while he sits at a sewing machine and another man does the dusting. The woman and the other man leave, but the man from before seems to be waiting for something. He takes out a photograph and kisses it, then he answers the door and the woman from the previous scene comes in and kisses him. She leads him to the couch and gets on her knees. The man seems overcome with emotion, but insists on writing a note before going out. The next scene shows the two of them in a hotel room, the woman ardently trying to show her affection while the man seems to have second thoughts. She starts to take his clothes off eagerly, and he faints. She runs to get him some water.
Now, we cut to a bunch of women in a bar. Some of them are reading newspapers, others are gathered around a table. A woman comes in wearing pioneer-clothing and carrying a gun. She is greeted heartily by the other women, who pour her a drink and pound her on the back. Now a man comes in, carrying a laundry basket with linen, and tries to ask her a question. The other women grab the items out of the basket and throw them around the room, laughing at his distress. He flees the scene in terror. Another man comes in, leading two small children and goes to the woman sitting in the corner, she chases them out as well. Now the women close the bar door to prevent all these male intrusions on their domain. At last, we see the women from the hotel sitting at the outdoor café as various men with baby carriages stroll by. The men begin to congregate, comparing their children and chatting. Finally, the man from the hotel walks by with several children in tow. One of them runs over to the woman, and the man pleads with her for his honor. She rejects him and all the other men band together in support of their wronged comrade. When the man slaps the woman, all the men gather round and shame her for taking advantage of his weakness. Then they march into the bar en masse and drive the women out, taking over and drinking to their hearts’ content.
It’s very tempting to over-analyze this film, to read more into it than Guy likely intended, in light of modern politics and perspectives on the history of gender and sexuality. Let’s back off for a moment and recall that she was trying to make something that would entertain her audience, most of whom would be presumed to be male. She probably knew that most would read this as a vicious parody of feminism’s aspirations to put women in men’s place and vice versa. No doubt she intended that it would be read that way, and made the women strong and the men weak to suggest that this reversal was “unnatural” and comical. But, it’s hard to avoid realizing that what she is doing here is commenting on the inferior position women had to tolerate at the time. By making men the objects of sexual harassment and exploitation, she forces her male audience to see how unpleasant it is, and how few choices women have when confronted with it. Moreover, by showing the men at the end banding together for their rights, she has (inadvertently? Subversively? It’s hard to be sure) validated feminism as a tactic and suggested its necessity.
The other thing that stands out about this movie is all of the signals the men put out regarding sexuality, which a modern audience reads as their being “flaming” or openly gay. Gay men existed at this time, of course, but they were far less open, even in liberal France, and again it’s hard to know how much we are “reading backward” when we interpret their behavior in this manner. Obviously, Guy was making them as feminine as possible to show her future dystopia in which men and women have traded places. Did she hire female impersonators as actors? That would make the longer hair and obvious facility with feminine roles more logical. Certainly, there were cabarets by 1906 in which this sort of thing went on, but I don’t know whether Guy would have had access. It’s possible that she used wigs and directed “straight” male actors until she got what she wanted.
Whatever the case, this is a very unusual film for the period, and one of the few Guy made that really speaks to her being a woman in a largely male industry.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 7 Min
You can watch it for free: here.