A spider has spun a web outside my kitchen window. Suspended by a silken thread she survives gales and heavy rain. I check for her every evening and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s still hanging on, waiting for her next meal and proving that small and delicate doesn’t mean weak.
“Just because you think you can do something doesn’t mean you can actually do it.” This was a comment I often heard from a nurse at a local hospital where I experienced disability discrimination. That is so wrong. Believing in yourself is eighty percent of the path to success. Strength begins in the mind. The subtle and not so subtle negative messages disabled people receive from society every day creates low self-esteem, weakens them so that many don’t even attempt to live full independent lives. And the same thing applies to women, even in this supposedly post-feminist age they are presumed to be the weaker sex.
Although there have been improvements in attitudes towards both disabled people and women in the last fifty years, both groups are still constrained by old stereotypes. Disabled people are supposed to be helpless, sad and stupid; women are supposed to be caring, domestic creatures mainly defined by their relationships. Men are celebrated for their achievements, women for their appearance and how much they are loved. Bold, successful women who take risks and defy the norms of marriage and motherhood are viewed as an aberration. Their main role in life is still caregiver, not adventurer or pleasure-seeker. Their domain is the home and not the wilderness.
I’ve previously written about the image of the loner in film. The old Westerns and wilderness survival movies such as Into the Wild, The Grey, All is Lost and The Revenant all have male protagonists. I’ve struggled to find many female equivalents. Loner women are not shown as mysterious heroines battling nature but as loveless misfits, bitter like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, or victims of abuse like Carrie in Brian de Palma’s classic horror. How much do these negative messages influence the aspirations of girls growing up today? Why can’t women run wild with the wind?
Its strange that even though we speak of ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘Mother Earth’ there are so few films exploring women, solitude and the natural world. Here is my list so far. Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.
‘Here Alone’ is a recent offbeat film about a young woman named Ann (Lucy Walters) who struggles to survive after a weird epidemic decimates society. She leads an isolated life and battles the threat of bloodthirsty survivors who were infected and lurk outside the forest. Although her life is hard she is clever and successful at living off the land with limited resources. She has experienced loss and trauma but still exists in harmony with the beautiful landscape. Later in the story she meets up with other survivors but is ambivalent about joining them. The shock ending shows the real threat is from an unexpected source.
‘Wild’ features Reese Witherspoon in a brilliant performance as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman driven to a crisis by the loss of her beloved mother (Laura Dern) and the break-up of her marriage. She decides to halt her self-destructive behaviour and put her life back together again. With no outdoors experience or training Cheryl sets out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a distance of over one thousand miles. This film is a female equivalent of Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s moving film about Christopher McCandless. It’s also based on a true story and has an episodic structure with flashbacks revealing the backstory. However, Wild is an astounding film in its own right and has an upbeat ending.
‘Alien’, directed by Ridley Scott and ‘Aliens’, directed by James Cameron are sci-fi horror movies but could also be described as woman battling against a hostile environment. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is the ultimate female survivor, tough and intelligent. Although she is at heart a loner she doesn’t avoid relationships and takes on a mothering role towards an abandoned child in Aliens. She also loves her cat Jonesie!
The 1994 film Nell is about a female hermit played by Jodie Foster who has lived her entire life in an isolated mountain cabin in North Carolina where she has developed her own language. She eventually becomes a curious object to be studied by psychologists who try to integrate her into society.
The Hunger Games film series consists of four science fiction dystopian adventure films based on the novels by the American author Suzanne Collins. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as the reluctant but fearless survivor of a man-made hostile wilderness. Contestants are forced to kill each other in a televised game designed to distract the masses from the injustices of real life. (So a bit like the reality TV shows that clog up our screens today! The Hunger Games films are popular with teenage girls who will, hopefully, grow up less afraid than earlier generations to embrace life and venture freely into the Wild.