Marriage of the Year 1942


Trigger warning: this entry is about a movie, not a play. But, it’s good enough for government work.

Last night I attended the film Woman of the Year, the 1942 classic that paired Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn for the first time. I’m usually a sucker for romantic comedies, especially those that are—because of the time they were created—more subtle and sexually suggestive than anything written today. I found the film to be a little slow-going and a tad unbelievable in terms of its timeline (they fall in love within minutes), but overall I loved the traditional message about gender roles and the choices people make that impact others around them. I had more fun, however, listening to the “enlightened” millennial sitting behind me as the picture was winding down.
I’ll try not to give too much away as I describe this, but let’s just say that Katherine Hepburn plays Tess, a worldly, multi-lingual reporter who falls in love with Spencer Tracy’s Sam, a less-sophisticated sports reporter. Putting her career before her husband—whom she dearly loves—causes a strain between them and a switch in traditional gender roles as Tracy’s character is forced to keep house and home while she pursues her lucrative career. This leads to a separation (but not a divorce; Tracy apparently was not one for divorce, even in fiction). At the wedding of her father, William, Hepburn’s character realizes that marriage involves hard work, true devotion, and a commitment to make the vows last:
Dearly beloved... ...we are gathered here together in the sight of God... ...and in the face of this company... ...to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony. Which is an honorable estate... ...instituted of God... ...and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly... ...but reverently, discreetly, soberly... ...and in the fear of God. You are performing an act of utter faith. Believing in one another to the end. As the bride gives herself to the bridegroom... ...let him be to her father and mother... ...sister and brother... ...and, most sacred, husband. As he gives himself to her... ...let the bride inspire and sustain him... ...let her unite with him in all the experiences of life... ...to which their paths shall lead. The great moments and the small. That the joys of each shall be the joys of both. And the sorrows of each, the sorrows of both. If you wish your new estate to be touched with lasting beauty... ...cherish those gracious visions of your first love. Let them not be blurred by the common events of life. Be not moved in your devotion. Believe in the ideal. You saw it once. It still exists. It is the final truth. William... ...wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife... ...to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony?[1]
Note the references to God, too—most likely a no-no today.
She rushes back to her husband and tries to play the domestic—miserably failing to make him breakfast in a very humorous scene complete with volcanic coffee, flying toast, and bubbling waffle batter.
TESS (Hepburn): I love you, Sam. Will you marry me?
SAM (Tracy): You mean love, honor, cherish and obey until death do us part?
TESS: Yes, Sam.
SAM: You're gonna live here with me? Kiss me goodbye and wait for me to come home, with stories about what you and the girls did?
TESS: Yes, Sam.
SAM: Gonna run up [dimity] curtains and sew my underwear?
TESS: Yes.
SAM: Cook and sew and put on your rubber gloves and wash the dishes?[2]
Now, without context, Sam’s lines seem a bit sappy and archaic to some conventional tastes. In the film, however, Sam is being sarcastic because he knows this is precisely the woman Tess is not and he doesn’t want her playing a role she is not suited for. What was obvious to all sentient theatregoers seemed to be problematic for the millennial, who kept yelling “No! No!” with every line, especially when Tess responded with “Yes.”
In the end, they reconcile, with a new understanding of what roles they need to play in marriage:
Why do you have to go to extremes, Tess? I don't wanna be married to Tess Harding any more than I want you to be just Mrs. Craig. Why can't you be Tess Harding-Craig? I think it's a wonderful name.[3]
This neat little ending was punctuated by the protestations of the aforementioned millennial behind me: “No, no! I hate it!”
Of course, it doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to understand what the millennial’s beef was. Any mention of a traditional role for women as homemakers and doting wives is to be rejected. The millennial was mortified at the suggestion of a woman being a woman, despite the film’s obvious call for equality and freedom from domestic “drudgery,” and despite being the woman's choice. The film also portrays marriage as “an honorable estate instituted of God,” “in fear of God” and, to put it bluntly, a two-way street: “As he gives himself to her... ...let the bride inspire and sustain him... ...let her unite with him in all the experiences of life... ...to which their paths shall lead.” This was all too much for the millennial who no doubt rejects God right along with any notion of true devotion and equality. Instead, I imagine the militant millennial would prefer something like this:
TESS (Hepburn): I love you, Sam. Will you marry me?
SAM (Tracy): You mean love, honor, cherish and obey until death do us part?
TESS: No! I will not obey. I am not your slave, you misogynist pig!
SAM: You're gonna live here with me? Kiss me goodbye and wait for me to come home, with stories about what you and the girls did?
TESS: No! I will go out with girls and guys and both and either/or and it’ll be none of your goddam business. Don’t judge me!
SAM: Gonna run up [dimity] curtains and sew my underwear?
TESS: No! I don’t sew; I’m not my grandmother. And I don’t know what the hell dimity curtains are!
SAM: Cook and sew and put on your rubber gloves and wash the dishes?
TESS: No! No! No!!
Charming, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it may be more like what we see nowadays in movies, theatre, and yes, marriages.
[1] https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=woman-of-the-year
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid