A Brief Examination of Misogyny in the Films of Sam Peckinpah

by Mitch Walrath

As voiced by some of the female members of the class, it seems that some, if not all, of the films of Sam Peckinpah are blatantly misogynistic. This ill treatment of women in his films may stem from his own personal mixed feelings toward them. This love/hate relationship is a commonality shared between both Peckinpah himself and the characters in his films. As was the case with Peckinpah, the male characters in his films sometimes treat women like tainted princesses (The Ballad of Cable Hogue), as simple material objects (The Wild Bunch), and other times like dirt (Straw Dogs).

Whether or not they are raped, women are, on the whole, treated as sex objects in his films. As is the case with Hildy in Cable Hogue, A. Nicholas Groth states, "The fact that she is submitting sexually to a number of men confirms the offender's view of her as a whore, and whores are legitimate targets for abuse and mistreatment." Hildy has obviously suffered years of abuse and mistreatment, since she is a prostitute. Now, she wants to escape that life and start a new one with Cable. Although he loves her, Cable sometimes still sees her as a whore. He doesn't abuse her, but he does mistreat her by accidentally calling her a whore.

This may be one of Peckinpah's attitudes toward women: mistrustful, yet a little sympathetic. He and they both feel an abject love toward women, but can't get past their underlying fears of infidelity. They love them, but they hate them at the same time.

The Wild Bunch, obviously, is very different in its depiction of women. Even though they never commit gang rape in the film, they do share women and dance around with a prostitute on each arm. From this, it is easy to imagine the Gorch brothers raping a woman at the same time. The reason for this is not sex, though; it is more along the lines of camaraderie, like when they share the bottle of liquor. For them, it is a means of bonding. According to Groth, this is "one way of relating." He also says that it's "the experience of rapport, fellowship, and cooperation with the co-offenders. The offender is not only interacting with the victim, he is also interacting with his co-offenders." One may see this type of activity as an expression of latent homosexual desires for one's comrades. Groth, however, disagrees and says, "Men do not rape women out of a sexual desire for other men, but they may rape women, in part, as a way to relate to men." The Gorch brothers and other members of the bunch treat women merely as material objects, something to pass the time with and put smiles on their faces for even just a few minutes. They don't treat the prostitutes with any great disrespect or degradation aside from treating them like prostitutes. They don't beat or rape them; in fact, Dutch, Pike, and Angel don't even participate in the drunken folly that the Gorch brothers do. The only time in the film when any harm comes to the Mexican prostitutes is when the bunch shoot them at the end, but that is out of self defense, not out of anger or sexuality.

Straw Dogs, being the total opposite of Cable Hogue, is the most extreme case of misogyny in a Peckinpah film. Amy, the sexual being that she is, is the total opposite of her husband David. She attracts attention and invites casual glances and even staring. She welcomes it and she knows it infuriates David. David ends up taking this frustration out on her and pushes her away from him. As if the anger from David is not enough, Amy ends up receiving all of Venner and Scutt's pent up anger and hostility. In Defining Rape, by Linda Bourque, she states that rape is an "overcompensation by males who have low sex drives or low self-esteem", an "expression of violent behavior." Sadistic rapists, such as Venner and Scutt, have aggressive, not sexual, motivations behind their rapes. By Bourque's definition, they are Type II rapists, in that they are "antisocial, psychotic men who were unconcerned with the consequences -- it is just another violent act." She says that in rape, "both aggression and sexuality are involved, but sexuality is a way of expressing aggressive needs and feelings."

Since Venner instructs Scutt at gunpoint to get off of Amy so he can have his turn, they are obviously competing. This is no form of bonding or camaraderie for them, but a competition. They each want Amy for themselves and don't want to share her. They also take their hostility toward each other out on her. As Groth says, "sex becomes an expression of power and anger to compensate for feelings of inadequacy, depression, and vulnerability and to retaliate for feelings of humiliation, hostility, and frustration."

As displayed in three totally different films by Peckinpah, he has three totally different views of women: the good, the bad, and the ugly. His tarnished princess depiction of Hildy, his fun-loving boy toy depiction of Mexican women, and his promiscuous, bitchy depiction of Amy all clash and make for a somewhat schizophrenic view of women that Peckinpah himself most likely adopted.