This week’s Feminist Flashback Friday features someone a little different than usual. But this person is worth a mention for the refreshing portrayal of the difficulties (and hilarities) of being a woman in a man’s world. I’m talking about Daphne (or Jerry) from Billy Wilder’s timeless comedic classic from 1959, Some Like It Hot.
Who Is She?
Daphne is not really a she at all. “She” is actually a male jazz musician named Jerry (Jack Lemmon) who, along with his friend Joe (Tony Curtis) who also a male jazz musician, don dresses and wigs in order to hide from mobsters after accidentally witnessing the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The two get hired to replace members of a travelling all-girl band in Florida and must keep up the facade of womanhood despite having been men all their lives.
“Daphne” is the name that Jerry chooses for himself while Joe goes for the predictable “Josephine.” The choice of names is the first sign of how dedicated to his role Jerry is. The way he sees it, if he’s going to have to live as a woman for an indefinite amount of time, he may as well go all out. At first he’s a little sceptical of his own ability to pull it off, but Joe reassures him that he can do it. Soon, Jerry has melted happily into Daphne to create a persona that can easily switch between the two when needed.
What Makes Her A Badass?
Daphne learns from the very beginning what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world when she finds herself the object of a dirty old man’s affection (Joe E. Brown). From the moment the band arrives at their hotel in Florida, Daphne is pursued by Osgood who seems to be a perfect example of how not to act in a civilized environment. He wastes no time cornering Daphne in an elevator and even sexually harasses her by pinching her ass—in response to which he is greeted by a swift slap in the face and loud outrage from Daphne.
Later on, as Joe tries to get closer to the band’s singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), Daphne develops a natural friendship with her and embraces her temporary womanhood by doing everything with the girls, including playing on the beach in a bathing suit (the movie’s set in the ‘20s, remember, so bathing suits were way different). Despite being a woman for only a brief period of time and already facing sexual harassment and borderline stalking within hours or being out in public, Daphne still manages to realise that there is a beauty in womanhood.
She puts up with the harassment, the fun, the kinship that all comes with being a woman and goes on to appreciate the effort it takes to be a woman in a man’s world.
Why Does She Still Matter Today?
“I’m not even pretty!” Jerry shouts when furiously telling Joe about Osgood’s inappropriateness.
“They don’t care,” replies Joe. “Just so long as you’re wearing a skirt.”
Perfectly summed up in those two lines is rape culture. The culture that encourages woman to be flattered when strange men shout obscenities at them or grab them in public and then tells them that they were asking for it when they are the victims of sexual violence. Rape culture is something that too many people deny the existence of, but here in this movie from the ‘50s that takes place in the ‘20s is a clear-cut example of that same culture that has been around since the beginning of time and is still prevalent today.
Women were harassed back then and they continue to be harassed today. The fact that it took Jerry to become Daphne in order to notice is a great example of the fact that most men don’t fully understand what rape culture is and how women have been drowning in it for ever. On the other hand, Joe’s perfect response is troubling because it illustrates that there are many men who know what they’re doing and don’t harass women as a form of compliment, but literally just as a show of dominance over a “skirt.”
On the other end of the spectrum is what Daphne learns of female friendships. She and Sugar become close bosom buddies and Daphne flawlessly fits in with the girls in the band, talking with them about clothes and hairstyles and even men. She finds a happy contrast to the regular harassment and objectification women face in the form of close-knit female friendships. Sure Jerry and Joe were good friends—best friends maybe even—but that friendship couldn’t compare to the one between Daphne and Sugar.
While the male-male friendship was full of a power dynamic with Joe taking the reins even though he seldom knew what he was doing and with Jerry consistently being the butt of Joe’s snide remarks, the female-female friendship was the opposite. With Sugar, Daphne found genuine compliments and the privilege of trust and secrecy. Sugar allowed Daphne to feel emotions and see emotions being felt without the wall of masculinity to worry about. The contrast to Daphne’s friendship with Sugar and the other girls is so stark a contrast to that of Jerry and Joe that you wonder why Daphne would ever want to return to being Jerry at all.