Heath Ledger: a Feminist’s Lament

Brighton J. Fowler

Heath Ledger’s premature death — he was found dead in a SoHo apartment next to a bottle of sleeping pills last week — is a tragic but all-too-familiar Hollywood tale. Ledger will be missed by fans and feminists alike. Yes, that’s right folks. Feminists.I guess I could go the route of deconstructing his past roles and exposing him as a patronizing, oppressive supporter of the masculine hegemony, but I just ain’t that kind of gal.

Okay, well, maybe I threw up a little bit in my mouth when I saw him and Mel side by side on the American battlefield in “The Patriot,” promoting the heroic masculine myth of our country’s humble origins.

Yes, and if I wanted I could criticize the chivalrous and archetypal masculinity of his character in “A Knight’s Tale,” but in all fairness he was really just a nobody pretending to be a somebody.

And, I must admit, I certainly can’t deny that I was truly upset for his young and na’ve wife in “Brokeback Mountain,” whom, as we all well know, he cheated on with *gasp* another man — and whom he later impregnated in real life.

But the Ledger that I will always remember, love, and miss is the complicated, often tortured, always beautiful, but never typical character that he exposed to us in film. From the first time I laid my hormonally charged adolescent eyes on Ledger in “10 Things I Hate About You,” I knew there was something different about this leading man.

His brand of masculinity did not fit the insensitive, beer-guzzling teen hunk that I was so used to seeing. This guy had the confidence to be a shaggy blonde, sport tight leather pants at a fem punk show, and shed his criminal reputation and neo-masculinity for the “bitchy” girl.

Oh yes, amen, the blossoming feminist within finally had a character to drool over, that was a far cry from the JTTs or Freddy Prinze Juniors that the media fed to me as the ultimate objects of my teenage desire.

And even though I thought his marital infidelity and lack of honesty in “Brokeback” was downright despicable, any man who has the courage and confidence in his own masculinity to have the least effeminate gay sex that has ever been portrayed in a major Hollywood film gets my full-fledged feminist stamp of approval.

This is a man who was constantly bending the heteronormative gender stereotypes in his acting roles, in his unconventional relationship with Michelle Williams, and in his somewhat androgynous, risky and unpredictable masculine style.

On behalf of myself and all the other campus feminists whom I am unofficially representing in this article, my deepest sympathies are with Ledger’s family, friends, and fans alike, and I sincerely hope his legacy of flexible masculinity will continue to persist despite his absence.