Mrs. Robinson’s creator

I saw an interview with the guy who wrote the original story of The Graduate, and the story of Mrs. Robinson’s origins reminded me of some theories we’ve talked about here.

She was based on a friend of his parents – a woman he lusted after. He fantasized about her seducing him because he wanted to be seduced by her, and finally had to write the story just to get it out of his system. By the time he’s done with the fantasy, his character doesn’t want her; she wants him. And she has him, practically against his will.

In short, it’s a rape fantasy. Specifically, it’s the rape fantasy where you imagine there’s something darkly evil about the person you desire, but you get to have that person anyway because that person takes you by force. As a daydream or the “plot”, such as it were, of a romance novel, this can be fun stuff. But when you squeeze it into a movie making a social statement, you can end up sending some pretty odd meta-messages you probably don’t even mean to send. It’s that damned Eve seducing poor, pure Adam with her apple again. It’s not his fault. Those women use sex to manipulate men, you know. And men can’t be blamed because they’re just slaves to their hormones, poor things.

Now, for those of you just tuning into see what those damn feminists are saying about misogyny in The Graduate, hello there! This is a site that critiques films on several levels, so not every film we mention is misogynistic. I have no reason to think the guy who wrote The Graduate hated women and this was his way of punishing them on screen. But I do think when only the fantasies of men are allowed on screen for the most part, you’re going to have an imbalance. And when the next generation of writers bases their writing more on the writing that came before them than on their own observations, portrayals are going to become more and more caricatured over time.

And I also can’t ignore that while this guy may have just been incorporating his favorite fantasy into a story about his very real adjustments to a changing culture, the folks who brought us Adam and Eve were deadly serious about what they perceived as the woman’s role as the conduit of all sinful behavior. And they are not alone.


  1. Purtek says

    This idea that when we, as feminists, critique a piece of media, or even a comment we hear, we must be accusing its speaker of outright, malicious, literal “hatred of women” misogyny really pisses me off. The whole point of this blog and of a lot of the things feminists really need to worry about right now in North America, where legal equality is much less in question than it once was, is the subtextual messages and portrayals that make it okay to dismiss, objectify and yes, do violence against, women.

    As to The Graduate specifically, I haven’t seen in since high school or so, but if I’m remembering correctly, it’s also another one of those “girl rejects guy, but his persistence is just so darn endearing that she eventually can’t resist” situations. Doesn’t he show up at her wedding, shouting her name, all evocative of Stanley Kowalski except for how we’re not supposed to think of him as a violent abuser, and she responds to this complete boundary violation and actual stalking by ditching her fiancé at the altar and driving away with Dustin Hoffman in a limo with cheery hearts all over it?

    Oh, and speaking of the next generation of writers, who just might see it and think it’s worth copying, what was that Maggiecat was saying about Studio 60?

  2. says

    Speaking of “the next generation”, I actually kind of liked the Jennifer Anniston followup, Rumor Has It, where she’s the granddaughter of Mrs. Robinson. It wasn’t a great movie, but I enjoyed that it was basically about a confused woman trying to get her shit together, and I really liked that at the end, when she decided to go back to her fiance, she told him flat out that yes, she wants him back, but if he says no to her, she’ll survive and get over it. It was that last part that did it for me–it moved her from being a character who *needed* a man to one who knew she didn’t need him, even though she did want to be with him. A huge distinction, in my mind.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Purtek, yes, there is that plot with the daughter. There’s a whole lot of “resisting the irresistible” in the story. And again, it can be good fun drama regardless of whether it’s realistic. I just wish we saw more female fantasies basking in the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and then it would feel balanced.

    Reb, I haven’t seen that, but that sounds interesting. And you know, if the guy decides to be with her after learning he’s not desperately needed by his dependent darling, that might even qualify as a female fantasy. At least in my experience: “I’m not your crutch? Oh, well, then, I’m off to find some gal with psychological issues so I have a guarantee she’ll never, ever leave me” is the more typical response I’ve seen and experienced.

  4. says

    Yeah, it’s definitely not that. He does the understandable thing by leaving her after she sleeps with someone else, and if memory serves (it’s pretty shaky, though) he’s gone out of his wy to be supportive of her as she’s trying to figure out what she wants. I think at the end, he sees her being able to let go of him as a sign that she *does* know what she wants now, and because she wants, not needs, him, he’s okay with being with her.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yep, in relation to my experience (and that of women I talk to) that would qualify as a female fantasy: the man who’s not so desperate to be needed, he can appreciate just being wanted.

    To be clear, by “fantasy”, I don’t mean to imply with a scoff “Yeah, THAT never happens” – there are some guys who are that secure out there. It’s just something *I* (and I suspect other women) wish happened a lot more. And it’s not something that would particularly engage the male audience at all, at least not from any perspective I can think of.

    So in relation to what I was saying about the imbalance between male and female fantasies presented on screen, this sounds like a good example of a fantasy that truly comes from the perspective of the female gaze.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *