I used to love Cynthia Rothrock.
Years ago I made my living reviewing film and DVDs. That meant I sat in the dark with a lot of other pale people. Actually, I sat in the dark with a bunch of ashen-hued men. There were very few, if any, women and often they made up the public relations crew. It also meant that, while I watched some excellent cinema, I also survived far too many Mexican vampire movies, buddy flicks, sappy romcoms and a genre I like to call” Kill the Women Flicks” — those movies in which women were brutalized, sometimes in serial form, for our enjoyment.
Cynthia Rothrock in 2010. Photo: Mark T. Gerry
Which brings us back to Rothrock. She made a slew of B-action moves, mostly martial arts flicks that always flew below national radar. In truth, I don’t remember her as being a great actress, but she was about 5’3”, cute as a button and could beat the hell out of everyone in the room. I adored her — not just because she was one tough chick, but because she looked good and always wore sensible shoes while destroying her foes.
Go ahead, roll your eyes, but even in my 20s, I would cringe as I watched actresses run in high heels. I found it so compelling that I could lose myself in the very action, waiting for them to slip from the construction beam or catwalk they were crossing in high-heeled pumps. Sometimes you could catch a continuity error in a film in which they would start out in heels, switch to flats, then be back in heels for the next scene. More often than not, though, we watched the ladies defending themselves in stilettos. What we did not see were the taped feet and bloody blisters that often accompany such footwear.
In her autobiography “Ginger: My Story,” Ginger Rogers recounted the 48 takes for her and Fred Astaire to dance down wide, alabaster stairs for the filming of 1936’s “Swing Time.” By the time they finished, her high pumps were filled with blood. Gal Gadot of “Wonder Woman” admits she wore sneakers under armored spats and the high wedges were added later through CGI. And for the film’s premiere? There were flat sandals under her haute couture gown.
My daughter, whom I shall call Kay, laughed at me this year as we twice sat through “Black Panther” and I pointed out the sensible footwear. I often tell her (the completely made-up fact) that stilettos are designed by men who hate women and kitten heels are the way to go. Of course, a mother’s neurosis will never compete with glitz and glam. When she was about 9, she picked up a fancy pair of high heels in a store and told me how much she admired them.
My response: “If I ever see you in shoes like that I will cry. And if you are also smoking a cigarette, I will just have a stroke on the spot. That’s how you’ll kill your mother.” I can still hear her laughing at me.
This summer will see a slew of movies focused on, directed by and written by women. This gives me hope Not just hope that Hollywood is remaking its image and that we’ll see an increase in the numbers of female film critics, writers, producers and directors employed by the entertainment industry, I also hope that the very image of women will change.
Gal Gadot in ‘Wonder Woman 1984.’ Photo courtesy Gal Gadot
Back in the day, I would argue that women would never be taken seriously if they were portrayed as decoration. Often I was met with eye rolls and told to “lighten up” by my mostly male colleagues. However, the playing field will never be even if women are at a disadvantage not just economically, but sartorially. Who do you want protecting you when the dinos run amok, the dude in the sensible clothes who can run unimpeded or Bryce Dallas Howard who was forever captured on film clomping through muddy terrain in a suit and heels? (“Jurassic World,” 2015)
Now translate this to real life. Who is going to get away from the mugger or rapist chasing your daughter down the street after a college party? Not the young woman in high heels. Not the coed who feeds into the images of women projected onto us by Hollywood, fashion magazines, television and the media in general.
I have said, on several occasions, that I hope Kay will be smart and wear flats when she makes her big, planned move to New York City for college in a few years. “You can’t outrun an attacker in heels,” I told her. “That’s how girls die.”
With a cool look on her face she retorted, “I’m saving that one for the therapist some day.”
OK, the kid has a sense of humor. However, the smirk disappeared when I recalled how a friend’s daughter escaped a vicious attack on her college campus a decade ago. She was wearing sneakers. She pushed back and then ran. Had she been wearing stilettos, the ending would most likely have been quite different.
I am not saying that one shouldn’t enjoy the fantasy of fashion. A large part of the appeal of watching the jewel thieves of this summer’s “Oceans 8” was their beguiling attire. Had I been in charge, the heels would have been lower just to save the actresses from backaches and bunions, but in such a setting I can withhold judgment. Otherwise, give me Cynthia Rothrock in sensible black flats or Lupita Nyong’o in regal African attire and flat sandals. How about a spy in a 1-inch heel, or a female president in flats? Anything to show little girls that fashion does not have to hurt.