Here in the blog series Reverse Cowgirl, we’ve looked at everything from women warriors to advertising aimed at horse-loving girls, each getting at this baseline question: what is it about girls and horses? Now, as it’s time to hit the trail (sorry, had to), what can we come away with?
Based on a true story, the 1991 film Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken tells the story of an orphan girl named Sonora (played by Gabrielle Anwar) whose beloved horse is sold off by her aunt as punishment for Sonora's bad behavior. Sneaking off into the night, Sonora takes to the road in search of a traveling diving horse show. That's right, a TRAVELING DIVING HORSE SHOW!
Classic film National Velvet (1944), tells the story of horse-obsessed Velvet Brown (played by a 12-year old Elizabeth Taylor) winning the Grand National on an “untamable” horse with the help of drifter Mi Taylor (played by Mickey Rooney). Based on a novel by Enid Bagnold, the film received positive reviews and earned actress Anne Revere, who played Velvet’s mother, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. More recently, National Velvet was chosen for preservation by the United States National Film Registry in 2003.
Beyond the accolades and awards for being a well-made film, National Velvet is often cited as a great feminist movie for its depictions of the wise and supportive mother and for young Velvet following her dream to compete in the all-male Grand National.
But is this film about a girl overcoming sexism with the help of her exceptional horse and family still relevant nearly 70 years later? Do its depictions of Velvet Brown have anything to offer today’s girls and women?
Cowgirl narratives—films, shows, and books featuring women and horses—often show women who are at home in their bodies, connected with nature, and many times, disrupting traditional gender roles. As cowgirls, women are shown in acts of blissful physicality. They follow their dreams. They are independent and strong-willed. But the horse seems to be essential in these experiences, and the contemporary relationship between woman and horse, particularly in our cowgirl narratives, is undeniably gendered. What is it about girls and horses? What do cowgirl narratives tell us about young girls and women?
As both a life-long horse owner and a gender-women's-studies teacher, I think about this a lot. Obsessively, even. I've always personally connected to cowgirl stories, but the tales of daring women and horses have not often been considering within the larger media landscape.
In this two-month long blog series, I'll be examining representations of women and horses in film, TV, and songs. Looking at films like, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Secretariat, National Velvet, and Dreamer(among others), television shows like Heartland, and books like Princess Smartypants (I will argue later why this falls in with our cowgirl narratives) I will be asking the question: What do these representations tell us about our ideas of gender?
In many ways Germany is not an unprogressive state. People are free to elect, choose and live whatever they want. We have a female chancellor and a gay minister for foreign affairs. People were even supportive of me wearing a skirt to support my skirt-loving son.
But lately some things got pretty complicated. In the past few days, every channel on TV seems to be discussing big questions about sexism. The current conversation was sparked when journalist 29-year-old Laura Himmelreich published a portrait of 60-something political party leader Rainer Brüderle. Himmelreich mentioned meeting the politician at an informal occasion where politicians and journalists are trying to get comfortable and set the real deals over a glass of wine. She asked how it would feel to be suddenly some kind of hope for his party at his age. According to the Himmelreich, Bruderle didn’t want to speak about age—at least not his age. He knows women her age, he told her before he made a comment about how her breasts would “easily fill a dirndl.”
I have been told by some I am creating inspirational porn in a different form by showing images that are too queer, too sexuality provocative, and too fabulous—but I am sharing what people are sending me.