I was on Netflix the other night, looking for some time to kill. I decided to browse the Drama section. I always tend to avoid the heavy stuff if I’m just trying to pass time. I’m a very emotional person and sometimes, if I don’t prepare myself, I tend to get affected a lot by what I watch. So, here I was, browsing the Drama Section of Netflix, and I see this movie from 2003 called Mona Lisa Smile. Now, I don’t usually like Julia Roberts, I think she’s pretty, I think she’s a great actor, but the roles she tends to play are, most times, not the roles I’d like to see women play. I’ve known her for her Rom-Coms and romantic movies, where a man was always swooping in to save the woman. But still, I wanted to give this movie a chance so I drag my mouse to see the short synopsis of this movie and it says, and I quote: “In 1953, the women of Wellesley College are measured by how well they marry — until the arrival of a professor who threatens to upend the status quo.”
I’ve always had a fascination with, some might even say an obsession (but I, for one, prefer the term “a love of”), strong female characters. I love women in movies, books, and shows that take control of their own life. I love women that know their value is not dependent on any man, on any dress size, or on any physical beauty. I love strong women, women that embody what being a real woman means. I always thought of myself as a feminist. And this particular synopsis has piqued my interest. It has intrigued the feminist in me.
I decided to watch it. Immediately, I can see that the world they live in is very different from mine. It is a world where women weren’t allowed to be their own person. They can study, yes, they can hold degrees and doctorates, but it was all empty titles. The most important thing was still to find a man, settle down, pop out a few children, clean the house, do the laundry, cook for the family, and be an obedient wife-always waiting, hand and foot, on your man. Then, walks in Julia Robert’s character, Katherine Ann Watson, a professor of Art History. She came to teach at this very “conservative” college, where the success of the girls that study there is measured by how well they marry, how easily they can find a man, and how successful said man is. Ms. Watson knew that something was wrong, she challenged the status quo. She came to teach scholars, women who are hungry for knowledge. In her own words, she wanted to “teach future leaders and not their wives”. She was, however, met with great resistance. One of the very students she was teaching wrote an article about her and her beliefs. The article said that she was challenging the very importance of matrimony, that she was waging war against tradition, and that she was preventing the girls from fulfilling the roles they were born to fill.
In response, Julia Robert’s character, in her frustration uttered one, in my opinion, of the best feminist speeches ever spoken. She said the things that needed to be said but were left unmentioned, she questioned society’s rules and the roles it wanted women to fit in. My words are not enough to describe them so below is the clip.
What will the future scholars see when they study us? In a world where a woman’s worth is only measured through her man, what will the future scholars think? Will they say that society was so archaic? Will they think that we were ignorant? Will they see the small injustices happening everyday? Will they know why we let boys be boys and tell girls to protect themselves? Will they ask why some still refuse to treat women equally? Will their sense of justice be stirred? What will the future scholars see when they study us? Our world? Our time? Our era? Our choices? Is it really so different from that of the 1950’s? Is our society an improvement of their era? Or did the injustices simply take new form? What will the future scholars see when they study us?
You know, the most interesting thing I find about the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, is not her identity, not her name, not her eyes, or the mystery surrounding the painting. What most intrigues me about the Mona Lisa is that her smile, at least to me, has always been a smirk. It wasn’t an innocent smile projected by a doe-eyed beauty, nor the smile of a person oblivious of the world around her. It was a smirk. She looked like she knew something, the best kept secret, perhaps? She looked like she has discovered the key to happiness. And, perhaps, it wasn’t the smile that everyone thought it was. Perhaps, it was the smile of a woman who knew exactly who she was, a woman so sure of herself that she knew her value doesn’t fluctuate, nor does it depend on the man she will marry. It looked like behind her smirk was great intelligence and character. It seemed like behind her smile, behind those eyes, was someone who thirsts for knowledge, who pursues excellence. Her smile isn’t what it looks like. It was a smirk. It let you know that she is not what she appears to be. There is something, there is someone deeper. Her beauty, yes, was immortalized, but I think what da Vinci was really trying to capture was her character. It was her character that transcended generations. It was her character that survived the passing of time. It was her character that magnetized millions of people. It was her character that brought intrigue and mystery. Her smile is, arguably, the most iconic smile in the world. And it wasn’t even a smile, it was a smirk.