Book Review: Hollywood’s Second Sex The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999


June Butler reviews Irish author Aubrey Malone’s latest book, Hollywood’s Second Sex The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999.


If an author could win an Oscar for most thorough research, Aubrey Malone would be right up there with the best of them for his well-thought through and insightful tome on Hollywood’s Second Sex – The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999.

On first reading, it seems more anecdotal than directional but with each subsequent scrutiny, it soon becomes apparent that the narrative builds up to an impressive overview of just how shabbily actresses were treated in Hollywood from the inception of film right up to the present day. Malone brings the story forward, stretching beyond the lifespan of most humans to realise that in the broader scheme little seems to have changed in the way women are regarded amongst the hierarchies of the film industry during the twentieth century.

The dedicated and in-depth knowledge of every spirited actress from silent movies until more modern times places Malone in a league of his own. From Theda Bara’s muted luminosity to tragic Louise Brooks and her iconic pixie hairstyle. Katherine Hepburn was once cruelly nicknamed ‘Katherine of Arrogance’ merely for refusing to kow-tow to studio demands. Doris Day – America’s sweetheart lived through a relationship with Al Jordan, a trombonist. Day wasn’t particularly into the idea of marriage but did so because she was pregnant by Jordan who went on to physically beat Day to the point where she almost miscarried. Jordan then decided that suicide was the way forward – one day he thrust a gun into Day’s stomach urging her to kill herself. Her erstwhile spouse promised faithfully he would follow suit. Finally seeing sense, Day sought a restraining order against Jordan who stalked her for a while but eventually moved on. Decisively (and possibly much to the relief of his second wife), he followed through on hollow rhetoric by shooting himself in the head – forgetting perhaps that the golden rule of an empty threat is not to carry it out.

Jodie Foster in her auditions for The Accused (Kaplan, 1988), had to have a makeover in order to render her more ‘rapable’. In the first audition, the studio felt she wasn’t convincing enough to make audiences believe anyone would want to molest her. So Foster gamely set about changing the perception by wearing more make-up and less clothes. It is almost inconceivable that Foster should have been put in such a position yet no one batted an eyelid as her status of ‘rapability’ was mused over and tacit permission was given to those who would despoil Foster’s character by deeming her to have ‘asked for it’.

By contrast, women were for the most part, presented by Hollywood on pedestals – beautiful, alluring, incandescent, unobtainable and mainly adored from afar. In such scenarios it would not be too much to assume that respect and dignity for women should follow closely behind. According to Aubrey Malone, this was most assuredly not the case.

As a lover of film, this book initially appears somewhat voyeuristic considering the amount of salacious information – but that is only at first glance. Further reading is so detailed as to create an unrelenting tableau that does not flinch when it comes to revealing the unpalatable truth – which is that despite a plethora of denials, Hollywood’s second sex was female.



  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (April 10, 2015)
  • Language: English