A few nights ago, I watched Mona Lisa Smile on TV with my husband. He was surprised I hadn’t watched it before, with all of my interest in women’s rights, feminism and so on. While he cooked, I sat down and watched it.
I found the movie, in one word, infuriating! The movie was set in the 1950’s, and I was gobsmacked by how much these bright, talented and articulate young women worshipped the idea of marriage, and put their husbands on a pedestal. It was so painful to watch these girls attend dances and so on in the desperate hope of snagging a husband. Preferably from Harvard.
I’m all for women exercising agency. But it looks like in 1950’s America, the only agency a woman had was through her husband. There were literally etiquette classes where the (of course) unmarried teacher role-played domestic disasters, and quizzed her bright-eyed students about what she ought to do. You know, I’m all for being prepared for marriage, but that’s just going overboard. There was so much pressure for young women to be PERFECT – perfect wives, perfect mothers, and perfect housemakers. They transformed their very beings to fit this image, and moulded their souls against the expectations of their husbands. Unbelievable. I didn’t change my last name when I got married. I will always be my father’s daughter, and my sense of self isn’t contingent upon the ring on my finger.
Without giving too much away (in case you actually can stomach this kind of thing and actually want to watch it), the uppity, privileged girl in the movie who finds herself in an awful arranged (ARRANGED, PEOPLE) marriage actually does have the chutzpah to reclaim her dignity. So that’s one redeeming point.
Okay, so it wasn’t all bad. Julia Roberts played the ‘subversive’ (gasp!) art history teacher who kept telling her students then you don’t have to choose between being a housewife and getting a career. “You can do both.”And that, ladies and gentlemen, was enough to make her subversive. If I was a women’ liberal arts college teacher in 1950’s America, I would probably get my house vandalised by scandalised upper-class mothers. I would be SO subversive.
I am amazed and grateful that I live in a time where that concept is such a no-brainer, and most of all, that my faith supports me in balancing the many roles I have in my life. A woman must have time to herself to stay sane, especially in the face of so many competing demands. People come and go, things change, but the only constant is God. I’ve learned to pin my hopes on Him, and not on creation.
The world has marched on since the era depicted by the Mona Lisa Smile.
In the 1950’s, we had this:
And now, in 2011, we have this: Debunking the myths of sex work.
Wow. Now that’s a whole other point of discussion.