Coyote Ugly is one of the great female-focused films of the 2000’s, fit out with original music, romance, and a change-room outfit montage. Although, unlike a lot of a lot of our favourite films of the noughties, Coyote Ugly has actually aged surprisingly well.
By no means was Coyote Ugly perfect, but rewatching it now (it’s recently available on Stan) gave me a fresh appreciation for the empowered stance taken on women’s sexuality.
The film follows the story of a Violet, a young, hot, white girl (not a revolutionary protagonist, played by Piper Perabo). While chasing her dreams of being a songwriter in New York City, she makes a living working in the Coyote Ugly Saloon – based on the real bar where the show put on by the female bartenders is the main attraction.
The ‘Coyotes’ of Coyote Ugly‘s bar crew use their sexuality to make an impressive amount of cash – more than your average city gig. They wear skimpy outfits, they do provocative dances and they each role play as a stereotypical fantasy woman: The Russian Tease, The New York Bitch, The Virgin Prep-school Teacher/Nun.
These women invite and monetise the male gaze, and the movie respects that choice instead of shaming it.
This movie came out in 2001, before the call for the necessary respect due to sex workers and strippers became mainstream discourse, so it is a happy surprise to see that the bottom line is that the work the women do at Coyote Ugly Saloon is just a job that deserves respect like any other.
From the get go, the Coyotes are women whose lives are prosperous. Tyra Banks’ character (Zoe) is leaving the bar to go to law school, Cammie is engaged, and Violet is simultaneously pursuing her song-writing aspirations.
These characters are not depicted as damsels, ‘broken’ women, or ‘off the rails’. They are women who are sexually empowered and just doing a job.
What’s even better is that, in spite of the prominent role men play in their work, their worlds to not revolve around men. In fact, Coyote Ugly actually passes the Bechdel test.
While Violet is clearly enjoying her gig singing, dancing, pouring drinks and bonding with her female coworkers, the men in her life inevitably shame her for it. After seeing her on the job, her father cruelly says,
“For the first time in my life, I was ashamed of you.”
Similarly, her boyfriend – the unfathomably attractive Aussie dreamboat, Adam Garcia – ends up mocking Violet’s use of her own sexuality for financial gain, and accuses her of doing a job void of dignity.
This dress down actually directly follows a display of uncontrolled violent rage, so his judgment should really be focused on himself.
Although the male characters represent the admonishment that women in this line of work frequently experience, Coyote Ugly sides with those women.
Violet’s father and boyfriend are depicted as the ones in the wrong and they are made to deal with their prejudices. By the end of the film, both support Violet and embrace the Coyote Ugly job.
Then, just as Zoe successfully gets herself to law school, Violet (somewhat unrealistically) cracks into the music biz. These women are not held back by choosing a line of work that monetises their sexuality. It is just that – a choice.
We never fully appreciated it, but Coyote Ugly takes a decisive stance on the the sexual empowerment of women. Plus the soundtrack still bangs, so it’s got a lot going for it.