Hollywood and Catholic Women by Kathryn Schleich (Giveaway and Interview)
I’m excited to have my guest, Kathryn Schleich, on my blog today with her interesting and perfect-for-a-book-club book, Hollywood and Catholic Women. Kathryn gives an insightful interview below, but I will tell you two things. One, I met Kathryn because I edited her book as part of my freelance editing business, Editor 911. I LOVED working on this project because the book is so interesting. She takes different movies and TV shows with Catholic characters and discusses how women are portrayed in these shows. It will make you look at old favorites like The Sound of Music in a whole new light. Second, she is giving away two hard copies and one e-copy of the book. So, please ask questions and/or leave comments for your chance to win. If you are an international reader, you will be eligible for the ecopy only. Please leave comments and questions by Sunday night, August 19. Okay, on to the interview. . .
Margo: Welcome, Kathryn, to Read These Books and Use Them. I very much enjoyed editing and reading Hollywood and Catholic Women: Virgins, Whores, Mothers, and Other Images. I love how you take the TV shows and movies that we love and grew up with and show us how Catholic women are portrayed. It really opened my eyes! Who is the audience for your book? Where has the book been used as a text or discussion points?
Kathryn: Thank you, Margo! It’s a pleasure to be here. The main audience for the book is an academic one, particularly women’s studies programs at the college level. Since the book is written from a feminist point-of-view, I believe Hollywood and Catholic Women is a good fit for those interested in women’s studies. Another important target audience is colleges and universities with film, television, and media programs.
In the fall of 2007, the Religious Studies program at the University of South Carolina used the book as one of the texts in the course, “Religious Women in Film.” In the class, students viewed a number of the films discussed in the book, which is how I intended the work to be used.
Margo: Interesting! That’s the theme here–read the books and use them! What drove you to write this book?
Kathryn: When I was studying for my MA in mass communications, I was married to an ordained Catholic deacon. How women were portrayed in film had always interested me; and with my conversion to Catholicism as an adult, I focused on the image of Catholic women.
We would watch a lot of movies and it dawned on me that Catholicism was frequently depicted in the movies. The symbolism, rituals, and sacraments that are a part of Catholicism look great on film. Additionally, simple acts, such as a character making the sign of the cross or the garb of a priest or nun, lets audiences know immediately their religious affiliation.
From there, I began to notice that the portrayal of Catholic women in film was not always terribly positive. In the first edition, which was an expansion of my thesis, there were some optimistic signs that Catholic women were making strides forward. What convinced me to write a second edition was a cable series on TNT, Saving Grace, created by writer Nancy Miller. In the series, Holly Hunter plays Grace Hanadarko, an Oklahoma City police detective, who is a lapsed Catholic. Grace drinks too much, has anger issues, and is very promiscuous. What makes the series so ground breaking is that Grace is a very flawed human being who is never punished by patriarchy for her strength or sexuality.
Margo: Yes, the Saving Grace part of your book is very interesting; and even though I’ve never seen the show, your writing makes me wish it was still on the air! What went in to writing a book like this? Did you get to watch a lot of TV and movies?
Kathryn: For the second edition, three new films were added: Dead Man Walking, Doubt, & The Godfather Part III. So I didn’t have to view a lot of new films.
However, besides three seasons of Saving Grace, I watched all six seasons of The Sopranos, and that alone took a year. Of course, you are not just watching the programs and films, but taking notes so the process takes longer. Then it was almost another year of writing and editing.
Margo: You undertook quite a project! What are the themes you explore?
Kathryn: One of the main themes is the exploration of the fear, mistrust, and even hatred of women that can be found in the patriarchal structures of the Catholic Church, Hollywood, and Western society. Hollywood and Catholic Women explores how these ingrained attitudes often translate into the film portrayals of women from a feminist point-of-view.
A second theme is whether or not the landmark changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council have also carried over into film and television. Surprisingly, the answer to that question is, “No, for the most part.” With the exception of Dead Man Walking, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, you rarely see a Catholic woman portrayed in a post-Vatican II Church.
Margo: What an insight and how interesting. Studying film can really give you insights into the culture of that time. Are you working on a sequel? What’s your next project?
Kathryn: I don’t plan on a third edition, but I hadn’t thought about a second edition either until the opportunity presented itself.
For upcoming projects, I’m looking to publish some of my short stories. Grand Slam juxtaposes a woman’s divorce with baseball season and how she grows, learning to take control of her life and be comfortable alone. It was definitely inspired by my own experience with getting divorced.
Margo: Sounds interesting–and possibly some of the same themes explored in those stories as in your book. What will people learn in your book? What can they use it for? (since this blog is all about–reading books and USING them!)
Kathryn: My main goal is that reading Hollywood and Catholic Women will encourage others, but especially women, to continue exploring feminism and the way women are portrayed in the media, both Catholic and otherwise. I’m hopeful that younger women will realize that earlier generations have been fighting to break the confines of patriarchy and for an equalitarian society for both men and women for a long time. While the situation of Western women has changed dramatically, younger generations need to recognize that (1) many women took huge risks to break new ground so that future generations might have more opportunities, and (2) that there is still a great deal of work to be done for women to achieve equal status with men.
Additionally, when studying the films especially in chronological order, the movies present a history of how the status and roles of women have changed, within the Church and society. Film and television images surround us and present a “snapshot” of how life was lived during a particular time period. I think readers can look at how women were portrayed in the past and recognize they need to be familiar with history.
Other ideas for using this book include starting a discussion with students or book club members, for example, about how they perceive Catholic women to be treated in the Church. Then chose some of the films or TV series to watch and see if their initial perceptions changed at all after viewing. Also have students discuss whether film portrayals of Catholic women are realistic or some Hollywood ideal.
Margo: This is something I’ve been dying to know since I edited your book: were there any movies/TV shows that you had to review for this that you just could not STAND? What’s your very favorite one? (And of course, we want to know why!)
Kathryn: Of all the films I viewed, I hated Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Here is a woman who dares to challenge the confines of patriarchy in society and Catholicism by being both autonomous and sexual. But Theresa Dunn is punished brutally for not accepting her “rightful position” as dictated by society, and the Church and is viciously murdered at the film’s end.
In direct contrast is Grace Hanadarko in Saving Grace. Like Theresa, she is committed to her job, has great compassion, and is a very sexual creature. As I mentioned, Grace is a deeply flawed individual and challenges these institutions, but is never, ever punished. Instead, she is admired and respected. I came to love the series; and I when I got to the end, it was very emotional for me. For me, the future needs more Grace Hanadarkos.
I also loved Dogma. The film may be controversial, but this is not a typical Kevin Smith film. While Dogma is quite funny, there is a powerful message about faith, and the idea that God works through all types of people, a concept which is also evident in Saving Grace. In Dogma, the savior of humanity is female, she will give birth to a daughter who will continue Christ’s work, and God is portrayed as female.
Margo: Thank you for sharing those opinions with us. I could go on for hours talking to you about this–but we have to let readers read some in your book! Anything else you want to add?
Kathryn: I want readers to recognize that it is not only okay to challenge the status quo, but often absolutely necessary. I hope Hollywood and Catholic Women gives them the courage to do exactly that.
Margo: Thank you, Kathryn. Readers, to perhaps win your own copy of this EXCITING and INTERESTING book, please leave a comment or question or your favorite Catholic character. To see an excerpt from the book, go to this link right here.