“No, no, no, that one, the sultry bitch with the fire in her eyes! Take her clothes off and bring her to me!”
MASH, released in 1970, is a well-crafted, well-acted black comedy about a surgical unit at the front lines in the Korean War. It is also one of the most blatantly misogynistic film’s I have ever seen. The men in the film treat the nurses like objects for their own amusement and sexual gratification. The men constantly harass, demean, catcall, and proposition the women around them with zero respect for the nurses as human beings.
This film could be used as a visual textbook of sexual harassment and the devaluing of women. To illustrate my point I will give two egregious examples. The scene in which Maj. Margaret O’Houlihan is publicly humiliated by exposing her fully naked in the shower in front of the entire camp couldn’t be more demeaning. Regardless of how stuffy or hypocritical she may be, that is abuse and it is just plain wrong. Another example is when Lt. Maria ‘Dish’ Schneider is brought into to have sex with the army dentist who just tried to commit suicide because he thinks he’s gay. She is treated as a sexual object intended to solve this man’s “problem”.
The female characters in this film are one dimensional and portrayed as of less value than the men. They are essential props for the good old boy’s fun, shenanigans, laughter, and sexual desire. Depicting only the male gaze, MASH portrays most of the women, except perhaps Maj. Margaret O’Houlihan, as accepting the treatment without finding it strange or hurtful. I will not even touch on the homophobia in the film, which warrants a post of its own.
This utterly anti-woman film displays point by point why the #MeToo movement was necessary. While certainly this depiction does not speak for everyone’s experience in that era, older friends a coworkers of mine have related countless horror stories of workplace harassment, sexual coercion, and disrespect of the same type shown in this film. How could I possibly see that as funny? As a 30 year old woman, I am so grateful for the blood, sweat, and tears of our foremothers who fought bravely and tirelessly for both women’s rights and women’s safety. Now I join them!
MASH is an important cultural artifact for many reasons, including its depiction of the sexism and antiwar sentiment of the day. However, it is just that, an artifact, and an ugly one at that. It depicts normalized sexual harassment and for that reason I personally despise it.
*This originates from a forum post I recently wrote for a college class titled “Vietnam War and Film.”