Feminist ideas have been around for a long time, but it was not until the early twentieth century that major social changes began to occur. During World War I, women slowly broke away from the social norms, as the country needed them to assume the roles of men in the society. The fact that women were capable of fulfilling such tasks that were presumably geared towards men was an eye-opener to the society. Even their outward appearance and the way they carried themselves also changed.
However, alongside such great social advancements was also strong opposition: Many people did not accept the idea of gender equality. In fact, one form of opposition took form in a film called Annie Get Your Gun, which juxtaposes feminism and happiness. The film Annie Get Your Gun attempts but fails to deliver a successful historical narrative of how one can only have either feminist ideals or happiness, but never both. Annie Get Your Gun showcases the feminist ideal that men and women are equal through Annie Oakley’s strong and independent character.
In the film, Buffalo Bill hired Annie to become a markswoman for his shooting show Wild West Show, thinking “she could be a sensation” (Annie Get Your Gun) because he has never “seen a girl shoot like that” (Annie Get Your Gun). Although Bill already had Frank Butler as the star of the show, he still hired Annie because he was impressed by her astounding abilities as a shooter. Bill disregarded gender stereotypes concerning women such as women being much weaker than men, which is very unusual at that time period. Annie also performed a difficult shooting trick while riding a motorcycle, which caused Buffalo Bill’s rival Pawnee Bill to leave.
Annie’s shooting skills were so remarkable that it drove a major competitor away; something the main star Frank was not able to do. Additionally, Annie received a plethora of medals for her skills as a markswoman from different countries while she was traveling in Europe, while Frank just worked locally for Pawnee Bill. And so, not only did Annie get the same job as Frank, but also she was clearly more skilled than he, automatically dismissing any ideas about men’s superiority over women regarding work. After missing his shot, Frank commented how “anybody can miss a shot (Annie Get Your Gun),” but Annie confidently told him she cannot.
Annie’s achievements explicitly show that women are fully capable of doing what the society perceived as men’s work. In this sense, Annie Oakley is the embodiment of feminist ideals, showing how gender does not determine one’s abilities. Her achievements as a shooter proved the society’s misconceptions about women wrong. She was a very strong character who had great potential to dismiss antifeminist ideals. However, she lost her feminist qualities when she chose to give them up in order to be with the man she loved, because she believed as long as he is happy, she can be happy, as well.
Her decision suggests that one cannot have both feminist ideals and happiness at the same time; one must be given up in order to obtain the other. Besides her work, Annie also exhibited feminist ideals through her outward appearance and aura. The film portrays the transition between women’s traditional prim and proper image into a less conservative and more expressive one. In contrast to the society’s expectations of how a lady should behave, Annie is very outspoken and is not afraid to say what she wants. She constantly fights with Frank over the smallest things involving shooting.
She tells him, “Anything you can do I can do better” (Annie Get Your Gun) which hurts his ego. During that time period, women would not normally argue with anyone especially men, because they were expected to always have their composure. Annie clearly did not care about the expectations of the society and was not afraid to voice out her opinions. Also, in the beginning, Annie dresses differently from the other girls: she wore dirty and worn-out clothes, while the rest of the female characters in the movie wore elegant gowns and gloves.
Contrastingly, Annie gave little attention to her physical appearance in the beginning, even singing proudly that she and her less-fortuned family are just “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” (Annie Get Your Gun). She did not fit the usual image of the society’s ideal woman nor did she try to fit their standards, and yet she was perfectly fine and content with her life. Additionally, Annie really loves shooting, but guns were perceived to be manly and thus not something that an ideal 1950s girl would ever use, or in Annie’s case, not something a girl that Frank would want to marry would ever touch.
Annie essentially represented the opposite of what the society looked for in a lady. She avoided conformity and remained her true self for quite some time. However, since the film underlies that feminism and happiness cannot exist together, Annie eventually gave up her individuality to achieve her happiness – marriage to Frank. Sitting Bull advised her to put aside her pride and essentially herself to marry Frank, because her happiness is dependent upon him. So, Annie decided she could not be herself because she “can’t get a man (Frank) with a gun” (Annie Get Your Gun).
She had to become like the woman of his standards, because he will never like her if she were to remain unique. Once again, this reiterated the film’s central message that women must conform to the standards of the society or else they can never be happy. Aside from her image, Annie further displayed feminist values through her interaction with her family. The film Annie Get Your Gun depicts the change in women’s roles within the household of that time. Women were expected to stay in the house to do chores and take care of children, while men were expected to do work.
In the early twentieth century, more and more women, however, started to assume the role of breadwinners. For instance, in the film, Annie took care of her siblings while she was working. Though she is just the older sister, she acted as their parent. She also worked very hard to provide for her family at home. Instead of looking for a husband, she tries and sells the birds she shoots: She went to Foster Wilson’s local hotel and persuaded him to buy some from her. Also, she was illiterate, while her little brother Jake could read quite well for his age.
She most likely put off attending school because working would benefit her family more than school. Since the beginning, Annie had always been independent and responsible. She did not rely on anyone, not even her parents, for anything. This is a feminist ideal because she was able to get by on her own. However, this changed throughout the movie as she began to become dependent on others. She constantly relied on her father figure Sitting Bull to obtain her desires: When Pawnee Bill announced that the merger is off, she immediately went over to Sitting Bull and demanded, “Papa Bull, you gotta do something! (Annie Get Your Gun)
She also became very dependent on Frank, believing that she will be fine as long as she is with him. She did not even argue anymore when he said that their partnership should be named “Butler and Oakley” (Annie Get Your Gun) instead of the other way around where her last name is mentioned first. Because she strongly believed her happiness is Frank, she did not question his demands and decided to just give in. Her pride had no value if it meant losing Frank. Again, this increased dependency on men underscores a hidden message in the film – that women cannot be independent and happy at the same time.
This message, however, was not conveyed in a compelling manner, lessening its impression on the audience. The film, though very entertaining, could not deliver a compelling argument regarding the wall that exists between feminist ideas and happiness. It attempted to express that an individual will never be able to obtain both simultaneously. The only argument that the film portrayed is that Annie would not have gotten her happy ending with Frank if she had kept her feminist ideas. No matter how strong and independent of a woman she was, she still needs a man to complete her.
Annie’s decisions to throw away all her achievements and pride for Frank’s sake is not relatable at all. In fact, it diminishes the likability of Annie as a character because she lost her individuality. Also, the film assumes that the only way for a woman to find happiness in life is to marry someone, which is dismissive of other factors that can make women happy. This automatically deters women who watch the film. And so, instead of a historical narrative that promotes antifeminism, the film becomes more of an unrealistic love story.
Furthermore, Annie Get Your Gun puts forward an unconvincing historical narrative of how women can never achieve true happiness unless they turn away from feminist ideals. The film tried to convey this underlying message through Annie Oakley and her struggle to obtain happiness while embodying feminist ideals. She does not portray the society’s ideal woman, as she proves that women can be as, if not more, strong as men. She is also very honest and does not conform to what everyone wants. She is very independent, as well.
Because Annie exhibited these characteristics in the movie, many people argue that the movie advocates feminism. However, although she showed such great qualities in the beginning, ultimately she changed herself for a man. She put her pride and achievements away in order to please him, which is definitely not a feminist quality. In conclusion, the film showcased that a woman’s world and happiness revolves around a man – an unconvincing message because it stereotypes what all women wants. Therefore, the unrealistic circumstances in the film attempt but fail to captivate the audience to advocate for antifeminism.