One of the very first scenes of the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” consists of Ransom Stoddard being beaten by a bandit. Why was Ransom physically attacked? Ransom wasn’t beaten because of who he was, because the bandit thought he would get more money, or even just fun. Ransom was physically attacked because he stepped in to keep the bandit from grabbing the lady he was traveling with. Although in modern times, a woman may very well have become enraged at the idea of a man defending her and stating that she could take care of herself, Ransom’s actions were praised by others in the movie. Word travels the town about Ransom chivalrously putting his own life at risk for that of a woman. Hallie, who becomes Ransom’s love interest, even expresses her approval of Ransom’s actions before she even meets him.
The movie viewer can basically make assessments on the characters based on how they treat women. Liberty Valance, the big bad outlaw, pushes a woman around and tries to snatch a pin from her body. Based on this, we know Liberty is the one to dislike. Tom, who is the tough good guy, compliments Hallie but also tries to control her by telling her not to educate herself. He is strong yet caring. Although Tom knows that he could easily expose the truth about who shot and killed Liberty, he refrains from telling anybody. Tom knows that he could easily become the hero; however, it is more important to him to keep Hallie happy. Tom’s treatment of women leads the viewer to have mixed feelings. Finally, we like Ransom because of his treatment of women. He helps the woman in the first scene, teaches Hallie and others to read, and even aids Hallie by doing “woman’s work” in the restaurant.
Perhaps, the idea of a man standing up for a woman represents the time period more than it does the West. However, men are consistently represented as protectors of women in movies about the West. Violence has come to largely represent the West; however, when we think of violence in the West, women are rarely the targets. Women are often portrayed as the victims who are helpless standing in a corner or tied to railroad tracks and in need of the help of a man. When we imagine gender in the West, we imagine these reoccurring gender roles. As long as movies about the West are made, women will be portrayed as the victims and men will be shown as the chivalrous protectors.