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Molly Haskell (born 28 September 1939, Morehead City, North Carolina) is an American feminist film critic and author. Her most influential book is From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974; revised and reissued in 1987). She also co-hosted Turner Classic Movies's The Essentials with Robert Osborne in 2006 for one season.


Early career

Although Haskell was born in North Carolina she grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Haskell attended a few different schools during her education years. She attended Sweet Briar College, the University of London and the Sorbonne before settling in New York. While there she wrote a newsletter about French films for the New York press. For the opening of new films in America, within the newsletter she interpreted the directors that came to America. To begin as a critic she then went to The Village Voice, and became a movie reviewer. Finally Haskell found a steady career with New York Magazine and Vogue. She is married to fellow critic Andrew Sarris.

From Reverence to Rape (1974)

Haskell's most influential book.

When Haskell published From Reverence to Rape it was one of the first books to chronicle women's images in film. It and Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus typified the first feminist expeditions into film history and criticism, adopting the "image of woman" approach. Later developments in feminist film theory have partially rejected Haskell's and Rosen's approach as rudimentary.


"The Woman's Film"

One particularly influential chapter in From Reverence to Rape discusses the genre of the "woman's film".

As Haskell points out, woman's film could be a compensation for "all the dominated universes from which she has been excluded: the gangster film, the Western, the war film, the policier, the rodeo film, the adventure film." A woman's film is also more self-pitying in comparison to the male adventure film which Raymond Durgnat calls the "male weepies." The man's film abstracts the times before settling down, when men were battling nature or the enemy. Marriage becomes the killjoy. "All the excitement of life occurs outside of marriage. At a soap opera level, which Haskell considers the lowest level, a woman's film "fills a masturbatory need, it is soft-core emotional porn for the frustrated housewife." These "weepies" are focused on "self-pity and tears, to accept, rather than reject".(155)

Woman's film characters

  • Three types of women characters appear in the woman's film, according to Haskell: (160-62)
  1. The Extraordinary woman
    • For example, characters played by Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.
    • These women portray strong, powerful figures.
  2. The Ordinary woman
    • These women are common, passive, and often a victim.
    • They are precursors to soap opera characters.
  3. The Ordinary who becomes extraordinary woman.
    • The victims who rise, or endure.

Woman's film themes

Haskell contends, "The domestic and the romantic are entwined, one redeeming the other, in the theme of self-sacrifice, which is the mainstay and oceanic force, high tide and low ebb, of the woman's film" (157).

  1. Sacrifice:
    • A woman must sacrifice herself for her children.
    • Her children for their own welfare.
    • Marriage for her lover.
    • Her lover for marriage or for his own welfare.
    • Her career for love.
    • Love for her career.

In the 1930s and 40's most films end tragically.

  1. Affliction:
    • Women holds a secret. An illness or disease.
    • Martyrdom is proportionate to guilt.(170)
  2. Choice:
    • Normally two suitors.
    • Commonly the male is only curable by "her." The man is a clergyman or confirmed bachelor.
  3. Competition:
    • The heroine must do battle with the woman whose (husband, fiance, lover) she loves.

Books by Molly Haskell

  • A Memoir, Love and Other Infectious Diseases (1990)
  • A collection of essays and interviews, Holding My Own in No Man’s Land: Women and Men and Films and Feminists (1997).
  • Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited (2009)


  • Haskell, Molly (1987). From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31885-0.  

External links


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