Gender-Specific Winners and Losers

         Tennessee Williams' 1947 play Streetcar Named Desire and Elia Kazan's 1951 film adaptation outline three distinct gender roles. Stanley Kowalski (played by Marlon Brando) is super male; Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is super female; and Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) mediates as sex object.

         First, let us look at Brando's Stanley. Let us look him over really thoroughly. His appearance counts. Stanley's body exhibits his masculine strength very visibly. He has sculptured abs, thick biceps, and forearms, along with a solid, well-cut back. His face is immaculately designed as well--thick, heavy features that still appear soft and guiltless. With looks like his, he is guiltless. When he throws his dinner plate across the room to clear his space, I found myself applauding. Ultimate crudeness, strength, and tenacity typify the role of super male. These qualities allow the super male anything he asks for, even if he has to take it by sheer force.

         The definitive foil to the super male is Blanche DuBois, super female. Thin and shy, cultured and well-dressed--the super female is, in essence, very weak, while the super male is very strong. Super female qualities offer their possessor nothing. Leigh's Blanche cannot achieve satisfaction because she has lost the ability to ask for things. Her hand is constantly close to her neck, as if she is perpetually on defense. She hides her face in dimness and talks in a faint, pretty whisper. Her humanity is lost entirely by the end of the film, and we see she has little ambition to fight.

         Stella, Blanche's sister, is somewhere in the middle. As depicted by Kim Hunter, she is not as overtly feminine as Blanche in appearance or demeanor. Still, she is not anywhere near as strong as Stanley. The sort of strength she does possess is only intermittently potent. Stella can only control Stanley when she turns him on. A scene in the film depicts this so romantically. I found myself applauding her just as approvingly as Stanley. At the bottom of a flight of iron-worked stairs, Stanley appears utterly vulnerable and dilapidated. He is hysterically crying for Stella to forgive his brutish misdeeds. His messy tears and strained voice adorn him. At the top of the stairs, Stella can see that has him where she wants him. She listens to his turmoil for a little; and, then when she cannot stand it anymore, she slowly, sensually takes in stair after stair. Stanley looks on with absolute desire and admiration. When their two bodies finally meet, she grabs him hard, immediately rubbing her palm down his back as if to claim her territory. Then, as if to claim his territory, Stanley picks her up off the ground and carries her body into their bedroom. For the next few hours, the two are equal-or at least, as equal as Stella wants to be.

         The next morning, things will be back to business as usual. Stanley will make unreasonable demands, destroy the house, and growl at poor, pathetic Blanche. Stella will approve because, as a mid-female, she enjoys her share of weakness. It helps her enjoy sex more. In her own words (written by Tennessee Williams), she explains "…there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark--that sort of make everything else seem--unimportant."

Annmarie Campbell

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