Many of Alfred Hitchcock's films contain a strong female lead. From Grace Kelly's Lisa in Rear Window to Ingrid Bergman's Alicia Huberman in Notorious, these actresses were characteristically assertive, intelligent and rarely allowed themselves to be sublimated by men.

The term feminist may be ambiguous, so I'll define a feminist for this situation as: a person who believes that women should enjoy the same benefits as men through equality in the political, social and economic spheres.

Consider Alma Hitchcock, his wife. She was by his side for many of his films, and was considered an asset in the editing room. Per the Hitchcock Wiki, Alma "...noticed Janet Leigh inadvertently swallowed after her character's fatal encounter with Norman Bates' "mother" in "Psycho" (1960), necessitating an alteration to the negative."

Or even Edith Head, Hitchcock's favorite costume designer, who won eight Academy Awards-- more than any other woman.

By including such characters (or such actresses) in his films, and surrounding himself with smart and successful women, was Alfred Hitchcock (either consciously or unconsciously) expressing a personal desire to see equal treatment for women?

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You ask a complicated question! There are arguments for Hitchcock as feminist, but the bulk of the literature I have seen is more inclined to label him as a misogynist (not to mention fetishist, sadist and voyeur). The icy blondes that were his trademark may have been strong characters on film, but in life were very much under his control. He not only dressed Vera Miles for his film The Wrong Man, but dressed her for general wear as well. Joan Fontaine called him a Svengali for the way he controlled her during the making of Rebecca. Tippi Hedren was picked out of a television commercial not for her acting ability but for her look. She was allowed to be brutally attacked by birds in the filming of the movie The Birds. During the filming of Marnie, rather than give her direction, Hitchcock would pose her, even arranging her expression with his fingers, then roll film. When she rebuffed his advances and his need for control, he threatened to ruin her career and he did – keeping her under contract for a small sum for several years, after which no other studio would touch her. (Interview with Hedren)

The trouble with labeling Hitchcock is the incongruencies between the product of his work and the methods employed to achieve them. In The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory, author Tania Modleski argues that Hitchcock was indifferent to feminism and that is the reason there is so much debate on the issue.

Personal opinion? He recognized the strength in women, but rather than appreciate their strength, he used his films and his film-making as a way to obsessively control them. Art history is full of people whose art and motive seems disparate. Genius in art does not always come from a place of honor. To judge Hitchcock, or any artist, you have to look at both work and life.

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    +1 for many things in this answer, but broadly: evidence re:misogyny; Modleski's book; a refreshingly well-worded answer. I wish I could give more than just +1!
    – stevvve
    Jul 8, 2012 at 3:36
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    +1 also for the many good points here. My recollection, from a biography read long ago, is that Hitch had a controlling mother and indifferent father. Thus my understanding is that his model of the perfect woman was one that was strong and assertive. Combined with his own controlling, perfectionist personality the results are his female characters. Yet at the same time I think Hitch enjoyed being mothered and dependent on the women in his life, hence his devoted relationship with Alma (I could never believe he actually wanted a sexual relationship with his leading ladies, despite the rumors). Jul 8, 2012 at 18:35

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