The Dark Side of Hollywood: Taking away a woman’s autonomy

A look into how the industry stripped women of their autonomy.

By Aliya Zuberi

KARACHI: Recently, Britney Spears shocked the world when she opened up about her conservatorship battle with her father. Amongst many things, one particularly shocking revelation was the fact that despite the fact she really wants to have children, she’s being forced to keep her IUD which will stop that from happening. As shocking as the reproductive coercion that Spears is going through, it’s even more shocking to know that these forms of control and manipulation have been rampant in Hollywood. Behind all the glitz and glamour, Hollywood was brewing a very dark system of control, one that was stripping women away over the right to their own bodies.

Long work hours and making it up with drugs

It seems as though the concept of work hours simply did not exist back in the day. By the time the 16-year-old Judy Garland wrapped up shooting The Wizard of Oz, she was already addicted to drugs. Drugs that were given to her by the studio that hired her. MGM would force young actors to shoot for long hours, sometimes up to 72 hours at a time, to squeeze out as much as they could from the young stars. To do so they would give them “pep pills” to keep them awake and then would go on to give them sleeping pills when they couldn’t sleep. As a result, stars like Garland became addicted to drugs from a young age. Garland eventually died at 47 from drug overdose.

Judy Garland – The Wizard of Oz

Forced abortions

Drugs weren’t the only thing that Garland was forced to endure. Judy Garland was forced to get two abortions at the behest of MGM. When she got married, she managed to anger the studio executives since they didn’t consent to the marriage. Her marriage and pregnancy, they believed would take away the youthful persona moviegoers associated with her.

Garland was just one name on the long list of women who were forced by the studio to get abortions done. There was a penalty clause in Ava Gardner’s contract with MGM if she was to get pregnant. MGM would fine their star actresses if they got pregnant and so Gardner had to make the decision to go for an abortion because “if I had one [baby], my salary would be cut off. So how could I make a living?” she revealed in an interview. Dorothy Dandridge was forced to get an abortion too in order to maintain her sex symbol persona because you couldn’t be a mother and be sexy at the same time. Lana Turner was forced to get an abortion in a hotel room without any anesthetics during the procedure.

Dorothy Dandridge


The studio also had a great say on whether stars could get married and who they could get married to. Jean Harlow is often referred to as one of the original blonde bombshells of Hollywood. But she had a morality clause in her contract that forbade her from getting married because she was considered to be a sex symbol and men wouldn’t gravitate towards her if she was married.


Beyond being misogynists, Hollywood was also incredibly racist. Interracial relationships were completely out of question. So much so, when  Kim Novak began a relationship with Sammy Davis Jr., mobsters were called in to kidnap Davis, beat him up and threaten him to end the relationship.

There was also a lot of whitewashing going on in Hollywood. Margarita Carmen Cansino was of mixed heritage, her father was Spanish and her mother was Irish American and so she made the typecast for an exotic foreigner for Fox studio movies. When she switched over to Colombia they stripped her of her identity. Long gone was Margarita Carmen Cansino and was instead replaced with a Rita Hayworth. To make her more marketable she was forced to lose weight, dye her hair red, and had to endure agonizing electrolysis procedures to correct her low hairline since it was considered ethnic.

Using women as a smokescreen

Hollywood studios were also known for setting up arranged marriages. The caveat? Straight women were often forced to marry gay men to cover up their sexuality. Two of Judy Garland’s husbands, actor and director Vincente Minnelli and Mark Herron were gay men. Herron continued his relationship with actor Henry Brandon throughout his marriage. Phyllis Gates was married off to heartthrob Rock Hudson despite it being a well-known fact that he was gay. Cary Grant also married five times but he had a live-in relationship with a same-sex partner.

Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates

Decades have passed since the 1930-1960s era in Hollywood, yet women still are at a disadvantage. From predators like Harry Weinstein sexually assaulting women to women being paid less than their male counterparts, Hollywood still has a long way to go to correct its unfair treatment of women.

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