What a Woman Won't Do for Washboard Abs

     There is just something about a man with a stomach you could wash your clothes on that will make a woman put up with a lot of crap. Just ask Stella Kowalski, played by Kim Hunter in Elia Kazan's film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951. She is a woman who has suffered through physical abuse, verbal abuse, and living conditions far below what she had been used to.

      And why did she suffer through these indignities? Because Stanley Kowalski was cute, those muscles of his, vividly brought to life in the film, drove her crazy with desire. Even Blanche (Vivien Leigh) was affected by all that sweaty, manly flesh Stanley displayed, and she took a lot of abuse from him, too. Stella just could not give that up and leave him. She could not leave him, that is, until his offenses overcame his charms; and this is the curse of an attractive man. It takes a major offense to overcome those charms. For Stanley, that offense was the rape and ruin of Stella's sister, Blanche.

     Stella does not have much in common with the lowbrow Stanley (played by a young, handsome Marlon Brando). She hates his friends, the way he treats Blanche, even the way he eats. But Stella lives with it all. Even after Stanley smacks her around after the poker party, Stella goes back to him with a serious craving for some make-up sex. It is pretty obvious the only thing keeping them together is their hormones.

     His hormones are what cause Stella in the movie but not in the play to finally snap out of her lust-induced infatuation with Stanley. He allows his hormones and his cruelty to get the better of him and rapes poor Blanche, shattering her last, tenuous hold on sanity. When Stella gets over her denial that Stanley had done anything wrong (and she has to deny it or risk having to give up Stanley "Zero Body Fat" Kowalski), she snatches up their baby and takes refuge at the neighbors, claiming she would never go back.

     Stella will not go back to Stanley, either. She will resist the siren call of that gorgeous body and leave him for good. Stanley will finally learn what a woman will not do for washboard abs, and that is forgive a rapist.

Meg Schoenman

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