Comedy often allows for a subversion of the status quo that is not tolerated in more serious genres. Despite their surface flightiness, women in this genre were pretty effective in getting what they wanted, including the man that they desired. Screwball and other forms of romantic comedy do not just reverse the masculine/active, feminine/passive paradigm (which as Kaplan notes accomplishes little in terms of change), but instead strengthens the female and weakens the male to put them on more equal footing. As besieged as the anti-hero is by the screwball heroine, he always manages to hold his own, overcoming some obstacles on his own, revealing himself to be her worthy partner. But unlike the end of Shakespeare's comedies, these strong women are not "tamed" by marriage, but maintain their control of the narrative past the final frame.
Though the narrative and the gaze may attempt to follow traditional male patterns, the screwball heroine continually subverts them. Though she presents herself as a prospective object of the male gaze, she rarely remains motionless or stops talking long enough to conform to the fully objectified position--in Mulvey's terms, the flow of the action cannot freeze to contemplate her erotically because she won't sit still for it. The only time the heroine slows down is to direct her gaze, and the camera's, to contemplation of the anti-hero. Though her desire for the anti-hero generally becomes evident early on, the anti-heroe's awareness of the screwball heroine as the object of his desire is often blocked until almost the end of the film. Similarly, the narrative may anticipate following the direction put forth by the anti-hero only to have the action hijacked by the heroine in another direction entirely.
Earlier I discussed that film was a collaborative medium and as such was subject to subversion from within of its monolithic stance. This seems especially true in the realm of screwball comedy. In his discussion of directors of the comedies, Gehring describes their collaborative approach, citing Rosalind Russell's autobiography as an example:
[Hawks] encouraged us [in His Girl Friday] and let us go . . . once Cary [Grant] looked straight out of a scene and said to Hawks (about something I was trying), "Is she going to do that?" and Hawks left the moment in the picture--Cary's right there on film asking an unseen director about my plans.
The fact that Hawks left in Grant's appeal for aid demonstrates that the anti-hero's inability to control the screwball heroine is a part of the genre. The anecdote also demonstrates the freedom that screwball actresses had to shape their characters and the film's action. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gehring individually identifies Katharine Hepburn and Carole Lombard, two of the defining actresses of this genre, as daughters of suffragettes. Other actresses within this genre were also known for their independent personas, on and off-screen: Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur.