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Unless you can fly the B-1 or rebuild an infrastructure, the best thing you can do for Uncle Sam these days may be to hone your skills at analyzing media messages and identifying the political agendas they advance. As it happens, this week’s installment of Golden Gate University School of Law’s film-law series offers a welcome exercise of the critical faculties. The presentation on Thursday, Oct. 4, examines the ’80s, the era when the cowboy ethos — “Stand Tall,” “Walk Proud,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” — rode into the White House, where it remains today. Notably, a fundamental part of Ronald Reagan’s Old West agenda was the reinstatement of the American woman as homemaker — a realignment premised on the idea that smart women capable of excelling in the workplace would choose not to, opting instead to play helpmate to male breadwinners. If you think that revisiting the gender wars seems trivial given recent events, think again. After all, how well are women represented in the meeting rooms where today’s leaders decide issues of war and peace? And how many women are defining America’s military objectives or planning our economic recovery? Thursday night’s presentation provides a glimpse of a media barrage aimed at convincing ’80s Americans — specifically, the women who might now have the seniority to make a significant difference in national policy — that women could not be both mothers and managers, warriors and wives. That cultural blast — featuring man-starved executives and absentee parents — began with Joe Eszterhas’ vicious “Jagged Edge” (1985) and ended with Anita Hill’s trip to Capitol Hill. But the apotheosis of cultural anti-feminism was “Class Action” (1991), a condemnation of women disguised as courtroom drama — and, not coincidentally, the evening’s principal film. “Class Action” hit women when they least expected it — in a major studio release featuring acclaimed actors (Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and a well-respected director (Michael Apted). In fact, “Class Action” looked like a David-and-Goliath story: A woman lawyer, climbing the ladder in a powerful PI defense firm, does the right thing by her dad, a sole practitioner representing plaintiffs in a case that borrows from the Ford Pinto tragedies. But the film’s powerful subtext is a full-blown apology to the patriarchy for all the sins of the women’s movement. “I’ve spent my entire life being angry with you,” Mastrantonio’s contrite litigator tells her dad, echoing post-feminist penitents that included even Betty Friedan. “Now I’ve discovered a better way.” Notably, Mastrantonio’s new strategy requires her to surrender her case and her career to her dad. If the links between ’80s images and contemporary ideas about women aren’t entirely clear, Kamala Harris will be on hand to connect the dots. Head of the city attorney’s children and family services division and a co-founder of Women Count, Harris has definite ideas about how and why women remain underrepresented in power positions. That insight, coupled with an intense scrutiny of images, may yet reveal why American strategies of war and recovery remain the business of men. “Class Action” screens Thursday, Oct. 4, as part of the film series, “A Century in the City: A Film Retrospective of the Legal Issues that Shaped San Francisco.” Complimentary reception: 6:30 p.m. Program: 7:00 p.m. Film: 8:00 p.m. Delancey Street Screening Room, 600 Embarcadero. For more information: www.ggu.edu/schools/law/filmfest.

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