Molly Ringwald Confronts the Deep-Rooted Sexism of John Hughes in an Essay

Illustration for article titled Molly Ringwald Confronts the Deep-Rooted Sexism of John Hughes in an Essay
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Molly Ringwald wrote a fascinating essay for The New Yorker in which she revisits the old movies she worked on with late director/writer John Hughes. As a teenager, she was long considered his muse, but the two eventually grew to have a strained relationship.


When Ringwald moved onto more mature material as an adult, Hughes famously took issue with her choices. “If he thought that I did something that slighted him, if he got jealous, he would go into a rage and not talk to me for a couple days,” she once told Bret Easton Ellis.

In her essay for The New Yorker, Ringwald tallies up the ways in which Hughes failed audiences when it came to his sexist and racist screenplays and how she came to that realization admittedly too late in her career.

She did sometimes recognize Hughes’s missteps and corrected them in real time, ultimately shaping the final outcome; for instance, she asked a completely unnecessary scene in which a naked teacher is spied on to be removed from the original Breakfast Club script. She writes of one note during Sixteen Candles:

In “Sixteen Candles,” a character alternately called the Geek and Farmer Ted makes a bet with friends that he can score with my character, Samantha; by way of proof, he says, he will secure her underwear. Later in the film, after Samantha agrees to help the Geek by loaning her underwear to him, she has a heartwarming scene with her father. It originally ended with the father asking, “Sam, what the hell happened to your underpants?” My mom objected. “Why would a father know what happened to his daughter’s underwear?” she asked. John squirmed uncomfortably. He didn’t mean it that way, he said—it was just a joke, a punch line. “But it’s not funny,” my mother said. “It’s creepy.” The line was changed to “Just remember, Sam, you wear the pants in the family.”

For her essay, Ringwald also reached out to Haviland Morris, who played the snooty popular girl Caroline in Sixteen Candles, to talk about her character’s treatment. Unconscious from drinking too much, Caroline’s popular boyfriend Jake Ryan passes her off to “The Geek” at a party. When they wake up, neither of them can remember what happened that night, but Caroline has a “weird feeling” she enjoyed it. “She had to have a feeling about it, rather than a thought, because thoughts are things we have when we are conscious, and she wasn’t,” Ringwald writes.

Haviland recounted to Ringwald:

“You know,” she wrote, “the more I think of it this evening, oddly, the less uncomfortable I am with Caroline. Jake was disgusted with her and said he could violate her 17 ways if he wanted to because she was so trashed, but he didn’t. And then, Ted was the one who had to ask if they had had sex, which certainly doesn’t demonstrate responsible behavior from either party, but also doesn’t really spell date rape. On the other hand, she was basically traded for a pair of underwear . . . Ah, John Hughes.”


Ringwald struggles to reconcile her feelings about Hughes’s scripts, and her place in essentially enabling scenes like this, with her feelings about him as a devoted mentor:

How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it? Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.


It’s a complicated take on what was clearly a complicated relationship, but in Ringwald’s writing she seems to not just be speaking for herself but for anyone else who, now grown-up, struggles with the ickier aspects of Hughes’s movies.

Hazel Cills is the Pop Culture Reporter at Jezebel. Her writing has been published by outlets including The Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, ELLE, and more.


Dave Haaz-Baroque

Also, not to derail too much, but can we also talk about how Duckie Dale taught a generation of guys that pushy, entitled, Nice Guy behavior was quirky and adorable rather than being borderline stalkery?

Me included, by the way. I spent a LOT of my teens acting like garbage because I thought I was a Manic Pixie Underdog like Duckie Dale.