Throughout this course over the semester we have explored feminism in many forms about different topics. Defining feminism, toxic masculinity and inspiring feminist figures around the world being only a couple of them. The film I chose for this assignment is the film Mona Lisa Smile (2003) directed by Mike Newell. This film specifically, explores the societal norms projected onto everyone. More precisely, the gender norms everyone was help up to.
The story takes place sometime in the 1950s at Wellesley College in Massachusetts when Katherine Watson transfers to the private school to fill in the position of teacher of History of Art. Although she’s very excited to start her new job; she soon learns it won’t be as easy as it may seem. Especially since she is a teacher with ideals that may “corrupt the students”. Both the students and the staff in the school are rather traditional and prioritize marriage before anything, even their own education. However, Ms. Watson tries to show her students a new perspective of life. One that doesn’t put being a good wife as their top priority. At first some of her students don’t seem too fond of the idea, especially since it goes against everything they were taught. However, as Ms. Watson becomes closer to her students, they realize that perhaps there was some truth to what she was trying to teach them.
The film itself, as previously mentioned is set in the 1950s. A point in time where gender roles, scripts and stereotypes governed society. From a young age both women and men were held to such standards. For starters, women were expected to be a good obedient housewife and a nurturing mother. Whereas, men were expected to be the providers of the family and those who were in control of it. This goes without saying, everyone was closeminded to a different philosophy in regards to the gender roles. For instance, there was a policy at the school that if one of the students got married, it wouldn’t matter if they missed weeks’ worth of school and assignments. The staff would simply “turn a blind eye to the situation”. After all, they viewed marriage as the most important thing in their life. Although it is normal for school not to be for everyone, they left school for different reasons. Not because they didn’t necessarily like it, but because above all they were raised to marry. An example of the gender roles and gender scripts playing an important role is when Joan Brandwyn and Tommy Donegal are engaged. Although they both still in school to pursue their careers, Joan decides that she won’t be continuing her studies since she engagement and marriage to Tommy are her priority, even though she is not quite certain about leaving school for good after her final year in college. Nonetheless, Ms. Watson tries to convince Joan otherwise as she is one of the top students and knows that she has a passion for her education. Although Joan explains that nobody forced her to not continue on her education, it is clear that she feels pressured by not only her friends who are married or even her parents but by what society dictates as a norm.
Personally, I enjoyed this movie as it was not only motivating but also frightening. Although it is only a movie, it is sad to think that women had to live in a time where there opinions meant little to nothing and they weren’t seen as good enough to do anything more than to serve their husbands. A time in which Patriarchy reigned over aspect of society and its people. However, it also makes me thankful that there have been amazing feminists to pave the way into the world we live in today. Nonetheless, the world is not perfect and will always need people to fight for such a cause. It inspires me to better myself and hopefully aid in progressing the movement, paving the way for future generations. I would recommend this film to those who enjoy dramas. I also believe those who enjoy films either set in the past or simply enjoy feminism movies would like this film. What I enjoyed most about this film is that everyone, regardless of who watches it can learn something from it.
To conclude, the film Mona Lisa Smile directed by Mike Newell challenges the patriarchal system in both the past and the present. It conveys that to find your own happiness you don’t need to conform to society’s norms or guidelines. Gender roles have been around for quite some time, however when it comes down to it; our gender is not who makes us who we are. It is a part of our identity, but it is our values, morals and decisions that define our character. Happiness varies from person to person, regardless of gender and in order to be happy you must follow what you want to do. Even when those around you and society tells you to do otherwise.