A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
The oft-quoted passage from proverbs describes the ideal Hebrew woman, and this definitely does not apply to Amelia Ear hart (Hilary Swank) in Mira Nair’s biographical film. She did eventually give in to the pleas of her business partner publisher George Putnam that she marry him. But it was not because she accepted what she called “medieval” values of marriage—wifely obedience and loyalty to one mate. She made him agree that both she and he would be free to enter into liaisons with another, in her case this being fellow aviation pioneer Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). She is not only attracted to the adult Vidal, but also to his young son William Cuddy, who grew up to be Gore Vidal (and who contributed to this story). Amelia Earhart thus was the poster woman for what was touted in the 1920s as “The New Woman.”
The film captures much of the excitement of the 1920s and 1930s, switching back and forth between her final ill-fated attempt in 1937 to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world to scenes from her past achievements, both as an aviatrix and as a woman. The appellation “aviatrix” reflects the time’s condescending attitude toward women, and even more does her first notable achievement of becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. Her backers, when she applied to Putnam for the opportunity to fly the Atlantic, would not let her pilot the plane despite her provened aviation skills. She had to go as a passenger! A year or two later she did get the opportunity, the successful ocean crossing launching her as a national celebrity who pioneered not only aviation, but product endorsement as well (what could be more appropriate than a set of Amelia Earhart luggage” ?).
Although criticized for resorting to commercialization, Putnam justified it as a means to finance her flying projects. She became quite a role model for young girls and sought to promote fledgling women pilots by setting up a special organization on their behalf. She befriended First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones), treating her to a flight that thrilled her. As portrayed by look-alike Hilary Swank, Amelia was also reckless at times, very much sold on herself, and, as has been mentioned, definitely not an example of the faithful wife of by-gone days. But all this is overshadowed by the mystery of what happened to her and navigator Fred Noonan on that last flight. Even though we know that the outcome is not good, the film manages to build suspense as we listen to the attempts of the radio operators to contact them. And we wonder—about the weather, about the equipment, about her recklessness, what might have happened if…? Wisely, the filmmakers do not elaborate on any of the theories of their fate.
1. What do you think of the way that Amelia Earhart is depicted? How does the filmmakers try to balance the flaws and the virtues of her character?
2. What was the prevailing view of women against which Amelia fought? Do you think this contributed to the extremity of her view of marriage? What was happening to women in the 1920s? How long had they been allowed to vote? How did their hair and dress styles reflect their movement toward more freedom?
3. What do you think of the way in which George Putnam is depicted? How do we see grace in his relationship with his wife?
4. How are women—and men—better off today because of women like Amelia Earhart? What about women in the NASA space program? When did they make their first appearance? How does a woman wanting to rise to the top of a profession still have much to overcome?
5. What about women in our churches? How recently have they risen to positions of leadership in your denomination? For a group: on a line write the names of the churches in regards to the status of women, starting at the left for those where they hold the most power (on what other side would we start?) and going toward the right toward where their power is most restricted. How is this struggle being played out in the Roman Catholic Church? How did such a bizarre story as The Da Vinci Code make a positive contribution to this? (See the Visual Parables for Summer 2006.) How does the way in which Jesus dealt with women (see especially the Gospel of Luke) bolster the efforts of those working toward full equality in the church?