Yesterday (6th April 2018) an article written by actress Molly Ringwald for the New Yorker was published on the magazine’s website, entitled, ‘What About “The Breakfast Club”?’ In it, Ringwald explores the long-term effects of the misogyny and sexual harassment of women in the movies written and directed by John Hughes that she featured in (and was often the muse for), in light of the #MeToo movement and her own ten-year-old daughter becoming interested in her mother’s movies. It is truly an insightful piece, probably one that could only be written by someone who can attest to two sides of the film/audience story. It isn’t Ringwald bashing on the movies that made her a household name, she instead gives a very rounded view not only on the darker aspects of the movies, but the good they did at the time for all sorts of young people going through different things and what they mean now, thirty-odd years later, and beyond.
The article as a whole really struck me, mostly because I’d only started watching these movies (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink) in my early twenties, past the age of their target audience, and was therefore of an age where I could see past the mostly teen-based issues that could cloud the judgement of someone younger, to the apparent disrespect towards women in each film. But I also thought it taboo to mention at the time, as I, like so many before me, also loved those movies. Although I, and many others, could blatantly see it, I didn’t think to talk about it or incite any discussions. These films are ‘classics’ – what good would it do to pull them apart and put myself in a position to be argued down? My long-awaited answer is found in Ringwald’s ultimate point about some of Hughes’ most well-known films: “The conversations about them will change, and they should. It’s up to the following generations to figure out how to continue those conversations and make them their own – to keep talking, in schools, in activism, in art – and trust that we care.” It’s like I, we, have now received permission to be able to pull these older films apart, not just those of John Hughes, and not just because Molly Ringwald has put her pen to paper, but because of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and the bravery of women speaking up and encouraging women to band together and have a voice, to not be afraid that we’ll be shunned and threatened to have our careers destroyed just because we’re finally able to stand up for ourselves.
Of course many voices have attempted to speak up about this kind of thing in the past, both male and female, however there’s always been that element of fear, which logically is irrational and ridiculous, but thanks to people in certain positions of irrational and ridiculous power, those voices were often suffocated and cast out. Now that those people are having to answer for their dictatorial ‘leadership’ and intimidating influence more than ever before, it opens up the conversations we didn’t feel we could have before. But how are we supposed to feel about what has come before? Are we to spurn those movies that we’ve loved but have toed the line, or in some cases crossed it entirely, or is there a way we can compromise?
From Ringwald’s perspective, having been involved in said movies, she asks, “How are we meant to feel about art we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it?” This is the issue that plagues those with morals. How can we continue to enjoy these films for their positive attributes when each of them contain at least one thing that goes against what most of us believe to be ethical? Ringwald goes on to answer this herself perfectly and succinctly: “Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art – change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.” The human race is ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-learning, but we always chide ourselves when it comes to learning from what history has taught us. There is a balance to be had – we can appreciate these movies for the effect they had at the time and continue to, showing young people who felt they didn’t fit in for whatever reason that they can fit in and they’re not alone, whilst understanding that perhaps in order to get these transitional films financed there had to be some kind of status quo when it came to the portrayal of women, and even men when portrayed negatively as predatory and misogynistic. Change is a process, and slowly these issues are being weeded out, but for films such as Hughes’ they should continue to be celebrated for the positive impact they had as well as studied for and understood where filmmakers have gone wrong in the past.
There’s still a long way to go, but unfortunately change does take time. There are still fools in the world who believe in the segregation and apartheid of genders, races, religions and sexualities, and until they’re gone and their influence quashed, all we can do is continue to raise our voices until the abnormal becomes ordinary, once these conversations do change and become past tense when discussed in the context of learning from past mistakes. As Hughes said about his generation, when interviewed by Ringwald in 1986 for Seventeen magazine: “We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers.” He’s referring to being a part of the Baby Boomers, but the same thing can be applied to women presently: there are more than enough of us to band together and create a stir, to support each other, which is now what is starting to happen. We have a strength that hasn’t been felt before in history, and as long as we’re keeping these conversations open, from something as specific as movies to as wide open as politics, and people like Molly Ringwald, influential and in a position to have a voice, continue to spark the conversations, there’s no end to what can be achieved in the future. And that’s very exciting indeed.