This week on Feminist Flashback Friday, we catch up with our favourite working gal and racially open-minded writer-lady, Anne Dettrey (played by the fab Celeste Holm) in Elia Kazan’s 1947 drama Gentleman’s Agreement.
Who is she?
Anne is a fashion editor a a New York City newspaper where she meets and befriends Phil Green (Gregory Peck), a newly hired writer who is writing a exposé on antisemitism in New York. Aside from being sassy, outspoken and unafraid to intellectually duel with the men, Anne becomes one of the most admirable characters in the film when you learn that she (like the rest of the staff at the newspaper) don’t know that Phil is pretending to be Jewish in order to get first-hand experience on the rampant antisemitism that prevailed in society at the time. Anne is one of the few people who accept Phil as it–Jewish or not–showing herself to be un-bigoted, unlike Phil’s Jewish secretary, family doctor and even his fiancé.
What makes her a badass?
The thing that always sticks out for me regarding Anne is her sense of openness. She proves herself a feminist by opting to be a career woman and has had no problem pursuing her career instead of matrimony. But despite that, she isn’t afraid of her femininity and looks and dresses like a star while writing about fashion (something the men undoubtedly wouldn’t dare be interested in) helping to bring it the sort of immense coverage it gets today.
Anne’s also so chatty and unafraid to talk about anything from the weather to her job to politics to love. While still unaware of Phil’s true identity, she dares to fall for him and pursues him when his engagement crumbles. She’s unconcerned with the fact that he’s Jewish and that antisemitism is rampant at the time. It should be noted that antisemitism often extends to those who fraternize with Jewish folk and therefore, by choosing to get involved with Phil she is opening herself up for potential abuse.
But Anne doesn’t care about that. She knows antisemitism is ignorance and, unlike Phil’s fiancé, Kathy (Dorothy McGuire), Anne refuses to stay silent when antisemitism rears its head. She herself isn’t Jewish, but she will fight for the right for others to be as safe as she is allowed to be. And she won’t do it by simply saying, “I’m not bigoted!” and then going about her merry way, she’ll do it by speaking out when she sees injustice because she knows that silence only condones prejudice.
Why does she still matter today?
In an era of fractured feminism where many people pick and choose what aspects of feminism they prefer to support, Anne Dettrey is a great example of someone who fights for the rights of everyone regardless of who they are. Though in this movie she is only seen standing up for Jewish people in a time of rampant oppression, she’s a metaphor for how people would ideally live to help make the world a more tolerant place.
I wouldn’t put it past her to be just as vocal if the movie were about racism, sexism, communism, or any other -ism that tends to get people’s panties in a knot. The essence of Anne is that, even though she may not be totally comfortable in herself (she does get rejected by Phil), she will continue to fight for the right thing, leaving aside her own personal beliefs for the sake of ensuring the safety and civil rights of others.