Mrs. Maisel: Marvelous or Misguided?

Congratulations to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for its two Golden Globe awards. Though I don’t generally talk about movies or TV shows, given the theme of this one it’s no surprise that I’ve got an opinion.

Of course everybody’s in love with this show, and it’s primarily because of its eponymous character (aka “Midge”), a young woman who is feisty, independent and unafraid. Better still, she isn’t constrained by society’s limitations on what a woman in 1950s America can do and say. And in this year of women speaking up and refusing to be dismissed, it’s natural that we’re rooting for a heroine who refuses to be silenced.

Vanity Fair called Midge “ineffably charming and determined.” Personally, I didn’t find her charming. I found her to be completely self-centered and destructively impulsive. But that’s just me, and it’s also besides the point. My issue isn’t with her bubbly perky oh-so-cheery personality. What I’m struggling with is that the show is yet another false portrayal of what a woman’s life can really be like, if only we just tried hard enough and believed in ourselves enough. My problem is with the ease with which perky determined independent Midge pursues her dreams.

We’re meant to be inspired by Midge’s determination to follow her dreams straight to the top. In fact, she’s the prototype for what we should all be doing. But is she really? Of course she’s facing life’s setbacks with charm and effortless ease: the show’s writers have removed all of the real world obstacles.

Think about it: the only reason she’s able to do what she’s doing is because of her circumstances and especially because of her parents. They have plenty of money and live right upstairs from her (or is it downstairs?). She runs off all hours of the day and night and dumps her two small children with her parents. If the parents aren’t available, the kids go to the baby sitter. And no problem paying for that.

And what about when she’s evicted from her Upper West Side luxury apartment? No worries. She just moves in with the parents. They’ve got plenty of room. She doesn’t have to find the time to shop or cook or clean up after herself or her children, because there’s a maid to do all that. And wardrobe concerns to set just the right tone for her act? Mother’s couture closet.

Those of us who aren’t so fortunate would never be able to do what she’s doing.

What would Marvelous Midge’s life be like if she weren’t supported by her wealthy, close-at-hand, always-willing family? Once she was evicted, she’d have to find an apartment. It would likely be small and in a bad part of town, because she’s not qualified for any real job—certainly not one where she’d be able to afford to live in a swanky apartment on the Upper West Side. She’d work all day and then she’d have to do her own housework, shopping and cooking, because she wouldn’t have a maid. She’d actually have to watch her children and help with homework. She would be too exhausted to go out every night and work the party circuit to hone her skills and make connections.

But we’re not supposed pay attention to the details. “Don’t overthink it. It’s just supposed to be fun!” It’s TV after all.

But it’s more than just fun. What we must never forget is that TV is a powerful medium. In addition to entertaining us, it also has the power to set expectations: society’s expectations for us, and our expectations for ourselves.

Like ideas about what our bodies can and should look like. Through TV, movies and magazines, we’ve been subjected to unhealthy runway-thin models, augmented actresses and air-brushed images as the standard we are expected to achieve. These images have resulted in a disturbing number of women with eating disorders, low self esteem and a negative body image.

Like “having it all”: career, marriage, family, and a sparking social life. We may have (arguably) achieved equality in the workplace, but we never got equality in the home. The reality is that women continue to do far more than men in terms of child care and house work. As a result, in trying to have it all we are stretched impossibly thin, most of us barely managing in any one of those areas.

And now Midge Maisel twirls into our lives setting more unattainable expectations. Because once again, we are being presented with a false image. In this case it is an overly optimistic image of what it means to be a divorced woman with two small children and dreams of a career. In truth, the statistics are quite dismal.

We have so few female role models in real life and in the movies and on TV. Why give us more unattainable fantasy, more air-brushed imagery that we can never really achieve? Why not something real that we can strive for with some hope of success. That would be truly marvelous.

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