Lauren Bacall: An amazing addition to my feminist fantasy league

The Hollywood star was at ease with herself and totally unapologetic about it

Share

Lisa Simpson is lying in bed, late at night, worrying about whether she needs to smoke to be as good as the other ballerinas, but she’s sure that smoking is for losers. Suddenly, the smoking ghosts of Simone De Beauvoir, Margaret Mead, Queen Elizabeth I and Lauren Bacall appear and fly around her head. “My feminist heroes,” she cries as her idols call on her to “puff with us, puff with us, puff with us”.

Lauren Bacall has been on many little girls', and big girls', feminist hero lists. She’s an amazing addition to the fantasy feminist leagues some of us spend time plotting in our heads. I’ve spent the odd afternoon imagining my ultimate Spice Girls, and Bacall makes a very suitable replacement for Geri.

She is the type of woman many women want to be: alluring yet strong, difficult yet witty with it, loved with great warmth for her strength. She struck a balance that many of us find torturous. She appeared to be at ease with herself and unapologetic for it. Most actresses are either beautiful or a “character”. Bacall was both - a beautiful character.

The obituaries are calling Bacall a feminist, but a kind of pre-feminist feminist - “a conundrum, a proto-feminist forever linked to the man she loved”, said the Sydney Morning Herald. But was it her culture or herself that made her a conundrum? Was Lauren Bacall a feminist?

A liberal, a strong woman and a leader in her field. Bacall was all of these things, but she wasn't a pioneering campaigner for women, and while she had some nice one-liners they were never as man-bashing as Mae West’s or as cutting as Dorothy Parker’s. Bacall was subtler. She made us feel like she was like one of us, which in itself was pioneering for a stage and screen goddess.

If her peer Marilyn Monroe had lived as long, would she have been retrospectively crowned a feminist? I think not, for Bacall, like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, were seen as ball-breakers and not baby dolls - an image that is still seen as anti-feminist. Even though Marilyn and Lauren shared a screen, both talented comedians, the blonde bombshell with the cutesy voice was never to be given the same level of respect as the brunette with her gravelly gravitas.

Whether blonde or brunette, they all suffered from a lack of critical acclaim, unlike their male peers. Lauren, who was married two Oscar-winners, didn’t get near her own statuette until just five years ago when she received an honorary award. In 1994 she said that she put Humphrey Bogart's career first. “You can’t blame him for wanting that,” explaining that he lost his first two wives to their careers.

She lived alone for a long time but is known for the great loves of her life. The culture did this to her and she knew it. In 2011 Bacall told Vanity Fair: “My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure… I’ll never know if that’s true. If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is.” This is the conundrum, this is perhaps why she is a proto-feminist. We feel she helped us get to where we are now, though she is still very much a victim of what her era asked of her gender.

So who will join her from 2014 in my Ultimate Spice Girl Feminist Warrior Team? They may not be chain-smoking, or gravelly, but I think my line-up’s awesome: Tina Fey, Lorde, Oprah and Madonna. We’ve got difficult yet witty women. We’ve got the unapologetic, loved for their strength, alluring ball-breakers. None of them will be expected to forego their success for that of the bloke in their life, and none of them will have to worry about having obituaries that talk about anyone else.

Deborah Coughlin was the Editor of Feminist Times

READ MORE:
‘You're free, Genie’: Why The Academy's goodbye to Robin Williams was dangerously irresponsible  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all