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The Accidental Feminist

How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice

M. G. Lord

Walker Books

The Accidental Feminist Download image

ISBN10: 0802778631
ISBN13: 9780802778635


224 Pages



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Winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Press Club Journalism Award

Countless books have chronicled the life of Elizabeth Taylor, but rarely has her career been examined from the point of view of her on-screen persona. That persona, argues M. G. Lord, has repeatedly introduced a broad audience to feminist ideas.

In her breakout film, "National Velvet" (1944), Taylor's character challenges gender discrimination: Forbidden as a girl to ride her beloved horse in an important race, she poses as a male jockey. Her next milestone, "A Place in the Sun" (1951), can be seen as an abortion rights movie--a cautionary tale from a time before women had ready access to birth control. In "Butterfield 8" (1960), for which she won an Oscar, Taylor isn't censured because she's a prostitute, but because she chooses the men: she controls her sexuality, a core tenet of the third-wave feminism that emerged in the 1990s. Even "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) depicts the anguish that befalls a woman when the only way she can express herself is through her husband's stalled career and children. Other of Taylor's performances explore similar themes.

The legendary actress lived her life defiantly in public—undermining post-war reactionary sex roles; helping directors thwart the Hollywood Production Code, which restricted film content from 1934 to 1966; fund-raising for AIDS research in the 1980s; championing the right of people to love whomever they love, regardless of gender. Yet her powerful feminist impact has been hidden in plain sight. Drawing on unpublished letters and scripts, and on interviews with Kate Burton, Gore Vidal, Austin Pendleton, Kevin McCarthy, Liz Smith, and others, The Accidental Feminist will surprise readers with its originality, adding a startling dimension to the star's enduring mystique.


Praise for The Accidental Feminist

"M.G. Lord makes the intriguing case that for Elizabeth Taylor, too much was never enough—not for the woman, not for the actress and not for the society that produced the theatre of her life."—The New York Times Book Review

"M.G. Lord has written a marvel of a book that is as intellectually engaging as it is entertaining. She looks at Elizabeth Taylor—and through her—to a bigger story about popular culture and especially the role of women in it. A wonderful, engrossing read."—Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin and the Orchid Thief

"An affectionate portrait of Taylor and her event-filled life . . . an excellent, compact guide to Taylor's film roles."—The Wall Street Journal

"Apparently Taylor wasn't an accidental feminist—she was a natural-born one."—Newsday

"Lord writes with clarity, and her close analyses of every Taylor title from National Velvet and Cleopatra to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Little Foxes are a pleasure."—Entertainment Weekly

"Always smart, insightful, and accessible, M.G. Lord examines Elizabeth Taylor through the unexpected lens of feminism. The results are a revelation."—Kenneth Turan, film critic, Los Angeles Times

"This provocative feminist appreciation will surely tempt you to rent or download her best movies, to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with this marvelous force of nature."—Associated Press

"Lord makes a convincing case that many of Taylor's best-known roles do go against the grain of prescribed attitudes toward women in studio era Hollywood and beyond."—Publishers Weekly

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About the author

M. G. Lord

M.G. Lord is an acclaimed cultural critic and investigative journalist, and the author of the widely praised books Forever Barbie and Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science. Since 1995 she has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the Times's Arts & Leisure section. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Travel + Liesure, the Hollywood Reporter, and ArtForum. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lord was a syndicated political cartoonist and a columnist for Newsday. She teaches at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.