Is Die Hard (1988) a Feminist Film?

I have read essays and theories on both sides of the question. The lack of representation of women shows it is not a feminist text. The fact that Holly is an intelligent, working woman means it is a feminist text.

While watching Die Hard, I noticed that there were only about 5 women in the entire film, even in the background. Each of these women were hostages. I could conclude that this means that women are all weak and helpless. But, at a closer look at Holly’s character it could be seen in another way.

Holly is a smart, career driven woman. Even as a hostage, she shows strength and intelligence when facing Hans Gruber. She calmly bargains with him for a place for a pregnant woman to lie down. She keeps her composure and is smart enough to have a fairly peaceful conversation with a terrorist.

McClain is taken aback by his wife using her maiden name, a choice that is entirely up to her. He chose to grow estranged from her by staying in New York as her career progressed. Rather than telling her how he feels, he holds back his thoughts and emotions about the situation in order to protect his masculinity. The question is—does the film want us to blame Holly or blame McClain?

There is a moment when Holly acts in a physical manner. After the chaos is over, she punches a reporter in the face. This is the only time a woman physically poses a threat in the film. This seems like an attempt at making her a more empowered woman by the filmmaker. It is a stereotypical trope that viewers have seen before. This surge of power is a result of the fighting that her husband did before. She didn’t pose a physical threat when there was actual danger, only after the big fight was over.

She is also used as a bargaining chip by Gruber, resulting in the stereotype of damsel in distress, as well as being hit on by a coworker, which is obviously an unwanted advance.

I can see both sides of the argument. Die Hard could be read as a feminist text with an intelligent, competent female character, or it could be read as commentary on the threat of feminism and the working woman.

The film could be viewed as persistence of the patriarchy, and some people I know that have viewed this film dislike Holly’s choice of work over her husband. McClain is meant to be the protagonist, after all, so audiences empathize with him.  But couldn’t it be seen as McClain choosing his job over family? If so, why is it okay for him to do it, but wrong for Holly to do it?

What do you think?

-B

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