Complicated Consciences by Anne Morse

Complicated Consciences

Anne Morse on Women & Morals in Pre-Code Films

Here was sex without victimhood, sophistication without chastity. Here was a bold, modern woman with no apologies,” wrote the film critic Mick LaSalle of Norma Shearer’s role in the 1930 film, The Divorcée. “They’re well dressed, well paid, and sexually gratified . . . they sleep with whomever they want, max out their credit cards and never have to worry about play-dates or carpools,” wrote Newsweek of the women of the television series Sex and the City.

Seventy years, a motion-picture code, and a million miles of celluloid separate the films of Norma Shearer and the episodes of Sex and the City. Yet critics praise their actresses for the same dubious quality: a willingness to portray promiscuous female passion.

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Anne Morse is a senior writer at the Wilberforce Forum in Reston, Virginia, and lives in Unity, Maryland, with her husband and two sons. She writes frequently about cultural issues.

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