Update on the Re-education Project

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That's about where Kennedy's car was when he was shot.

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That’s about where Kennedy’s car was when he was shot.

Apologies for the radio silence, mi amors. I’ve been in Texas complaining about the weather (I was cheated out of my 75 and sunny!), eating, and weeping at the Sixth Floor Museum (in the building from which Kennedy was shot).

You guys are seriously the best. Last week, I put out the call for movie/TV suggestions to help launch my “re-education project”  in which I try to round out my knowledge of historical on-screen portrayals of the ladies. The suggestions were fantastic and I’m just about ready to quit my job and sit in front of netflix all day. Later this week, I’ll list out all of the suggestions in case you want to undertake your own watch-a-thon.

Let’s talk about Waitress. This wasn’t even supposed to be an official part of the project; I had it filed away in my head as cutesy romance about a pregnant pie maker and her OB. Wow was I wrong. I mean, I’m not entirely wrong, that is what it’s about, but it’s about so much more! This is a feminist movie. About pie. And pregnancy. And romance. This proves, once again, that feminism is not about shitting on pies or babies, but is instead about thinking critically about what choices we afford people, what assumptions we make, and how gendered expectations can limit opportunity.

Waitress, if you don’t know, was a film written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (who was murdered in 2006), about a small-town diner waitress, Jenna, stuck in an abusive marriage. It could have been a heavy-handed film about domestic violence, capital D, capital V. Instead, it’s a sweet, silly, beautiful movie that also happens to capture some truths about domestic abuse that we are all very good at ignoring.

I happened to spend my Texas weekend with a friend who is a domestic violence counselor and she agreed that Waitress, through it’s humor and likability, is able to get at some of the insidious, less acknowledged components of abusive relationships. So many people say to her, why don’t these women just leave? Money is often the culprit, as it is with Jenna, who addresses “how lonely it is to be so poor and so afraid.”

waitressHer husband, Earl, is also not the caricature of an abuser we often see. He is not outright mean and aggressive, but controls Jenna through manipulation and subtle threats. He keeps her money so she won’t have other options. He undermines her confidence with casual insults. He tells her exactly what to say, and how to say it, forcing her to repeat to him the words he wants to hear. He also cries against her pregnant belly. He is weak and insecure, and he hides his insecurity behind faux swagger. He says things like:

“After everything I’ve done for you…”

“I provide for you. I put the clothes on your back, the roof over your head.”

“You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.”

“You belong to me.”

“Ask me how was my day. Ask me like you mean it.”

Not all abuse looks like a black eye. Waitress also acknowledges the extremely precarious position Jenna’s pregnancy forces her into. Take Jenna’s observation about her unborn baby:

It’s an alien and a parasite. It makes me tired and weak. It complicates my whole life. I resent it. I don’t know how to take care of it.

It’s frank, it’s candid. She later says to her friend, “Not everybody wants to be a mama, Dawn, that doesn’t make me a bad person.” These are poor women. They are uneducated women. They are diner waitresses who expect to be diner waitresses forever, because there are no other choices. The ending of the movie (Spoiler Alert) also reinforces how trapped they are. Jenna is given a whopping financial gift from a dying customer and is able to rescue herself and her baby from her situation. It’s a fairytale, but through the transparent rosy glow of Jenna’s happy ending, it’s all the more evident how few happy endings real women in her position would have.

So yeah, it’s a movie about pie. There are lots of pastel colors, and Cheryl Hines cracking jokes, and Nathan Fillion looking dashing. But really, it’s a movie about what happens when you’re trapped and how hard we’ve made it to rescue yourself.

Related Post: Another great feminist movie, For a Good Time Call…

Related Post: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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1 Comment

Filed under Art, Gender, Hollywood

One response to “Update on the Re-education Project

  1. SteveS

    Agreed. It’s a movie that sticks with you.

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