I was watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. It is a period piece set in the 1958 in New York City and tells the story of a Jewish and female comedian starting out quite by accident and with talent. There’s so much detail in the story that makes it incredible as a feminist story without being feminazi – something so appreciated. So there’s a lot they’re saying with the story they are telling and ton more they’re implying. Overall its remarkable storytelling and insightful social critique. Well done to the writers and actors/actresses!
There’s a subtle scene repeated in Season 1 between Mrs. Maisel and her mother. In one scene, Mrs. Maisel goes to bed with her husband and after he falls asleep gets up to take her makeup off and then “dress” herself for bed. Then before he wakes up she wakes up to go and do her hair and makeup to hop into bed and pretend that she’s been asleep and wakes up as she’s made herself up quite naturally and effortlessly. This scene is repeatedly similarly with Mrs. Maisel’s mother and she has a conversation around this with her husband toward the end of the series.
These scenes are profound for highlighting the degree to which women are pressured to edit and present themselves. Sure men are too but usually about our “stuff” while women edit and present “themselves”. There is enormous social pressure on us to tell people who we are and that we are successful (as men) and beautiful (as women). And both commodify us and disconnect us from our deeper values. We become as valuable as we are valued by others to the degree that we are successful and beautiful. This is dehumanizing and results in a tremendous amount of anxiety for many. And yet this very thing is foundational to our culture.
This is a problem that’s not easy to fix and solutions escape me.
The fact that the example I’m using is of the opposite sex informs me that it is easier for me to notice what I believe women are being told to do and be in order to be valuable than what I’m being told as a man. The way I see the world is bound up with how I’ve been schooled into being in the world. I can’t as easily highlight an example from a series or movie for and about men not because I can’t find one but instead as an admission that one is not readily at hand. That one immediately eludes me and I have to search for it while another stands out clearly to me is evidence of how powerfully these paradigms are and how integrally they become part of us (don’t worry, I’ve got several in my head now!). We only tend to notice them when blatantly obvious. But when not, we remain happily in step with them unconsciously self-conscious about whether we do have value and, if so, what value even “is” or “means”.
So the series quite literally raises the question of who “we” are and how we come “to be” what society tells us to be and why it rewards us for doing so. It shows us that it is costly to live in tune with our very selves. But the reality is that this is not just a story on the screen streamed over the Internet but the story that so many adults continue to live in and through the busyness of their lives. They function as nearly comatose in relation to their actual self and, through life, forget who they knew they were before they “grew up”. They may wake up now and again to their actual self but are encouraged to lie in a bit longer, to accomplish more, to edit that self, and to make sure that we dress up and show up and fit in as expected on time, every time. Self-discovery and self-care gets replaced with presentation culture and the social media encourages this.
So the actual self that is our inner and authentic dresses up in those clothes, curates a selection of stories, and parades a series of achievements and acquisitions to tell others that we matter and how we matter and why we matter. And, somewhere along the way, we disconnect from and lose touch with our inner self and become attached to that outer or social self. Simply put, we got lost to ourselves within ourselves in and through our own lives. But it takes our cooperation to get lost. The result is that spending time in solitude and silence with our self is agony and torture for many. To be seen as we are naked in body or emotion characterized by the words “shame” and “fear”. How frightening to stand in our own company reflected as ourselves to ourselves rather than as we portray ourselves as accepted by others. How shameful to be seen naked and vulnerable, plain and unclothed and not made up, before others.
We do, however, need an awakening to self and a stripping away of our outer self. And then we need to cooperate with our authentic or inner self to re-/discover and nurture that self. We need to get to know our self again and find a way to live as that very self that we actually are.
So let’s do that 🙂
We host a series in person for small groups and with individuals online titled The seven key relationships. Our relationship with our “self” is explored through storytelling in the seventh session.