How The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Eliminating Gender Roles One Plotline at a Time
It’s no secret that I’m a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fan. I watch and rewatch year round and always finish a new season within a week of it being released. If I’m being completely honest, I should probably learn some restraint, for when I finish a new season I have a wait a full year for more episodes. However, it’s too good not to watch all at once, I am desperate for the next episode. When I learned I had to write another semiotic analysis, but this time through a gender lens I was heartbroken, for I had already written about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for a previous assignment. However I was not to be deterred, I knew that this show was begging to be analyzed more and after speaking with my teacher it was set, I was to write about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, again.
The beauty of this show is how it begins with the “traditional” gender roles and behavior, however as it goes on everything changes. The opening scene of the show is Miriam “Midge” Maisel at her wedding day. It’s a room of smiling people, including Midge and her now husband Joel, she cracks a few jokes, offends the rabi, and the next thing you know there’s a jump cut to four years later. Now, I don’t know what everyone else was expecting, but in my head I had the idea that Midge would be unhappy in her life as a housewife, start to resent her husband, and then begin her successful stand-up comedy career. However, that was not the case. Midge was not just content with her life, she was overjoyed to have it. I found this interesting, especially based on the notion that women are always unhappy with their “traditional” roles, for here is Midge, in a role that today’s standards deem constricting and unwanted, ecstatic with her life and doing everything she can to maintain it.
When Midge’s life falls apart, it has almost nothing to do with her. Her husband left her and revealed he had been sleeping with his secretary, cliche I know. That betrayal and shock is what led her into stand up comedy, and it was only then did Midge start to understand the roles that men and women were “supposed” to live, and that she had followed the script to a T. She did everything expected of her, so when she starts to reject it she is welcomed with a rude awakening. When Midge first comes home to tell her parents that Joel left her, their first reactions were to ask what she did wrong. When Midge decides she wants to get a day job, her family is appalled. When she goes on stage she is immediately expected to be a singer, and is told that she’s “too pretty” to be a good comedian. Who ever thought being pretty could be an insult? However, it is abundantly clear that the remark is not meant to be a compliment.
I love Midge Maisel. I think she is one of the most amazing television characters ever created, and I think this show does an incredible job portraying her life and experiences, However, she is not the only character that deserves to be recognized and appreciated. Midge’s manager is a woman named Susie Myerson. Susie is a short, fast-talking, foul-mouthed women who spotted Midge’s talent immediately, and while I love Midge, she does manage to almost have it all; the glamorized aspects of a 1950’s women, and the ability to act as she would be able to in today’s society. Susie does not have it all. She has rejected the concept of a gender role, and is taking the show-business industry head on with no help. Susie dresses in men’s clothing, speaks with more curse words than you would think possible, and values her smarts over everything else. She was taking the concept of feminism and riding it all the way to the top, before it was popularized term.
After World War II ended, progress seemed to stop. The world around them was so chaotic, the people of that time period grabbed on to what was familiar; traditional gender roles. Women were placed back under the cult of domesticity, and men carried on with their work as always. It gave them a sense of stability that they were unable to gain from their current life and world. Susie did not even acknowledge this. She carried on and lived her life unapologetically. What I appreciate about Susie as well is the fact that she never calls attention to her behavior. It is not a statement, she is not doing it for anyone’s benefit but herself.
I find Susie’s behavior not just badass, but also refreshing. In today’s society everything has to be a social or political statement, and while at times it is needed and constructive, unfortunately it has begun to become a bit redundant. People can no longer just be people, now every action has to stand for something and every decision as to be weighed with great reflection. While Midge does not consciously decide to go out and fight for women’s rights, she does every time she steps on stage. Susie, however, stays in the background, she is only interested in women’s rights regarding Midge’s ability to perform and succeed without any barriers, her interest has nothing to do with the bettering of society. While that may seem ignorant and selfish, I actually find it uplifting, for it shows that progress is possible without an aggressive crusade.
While The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel provides an amazing arch for women’s rights and feminism, they also address how men are affected by traditional gender roles and the results of those ideals. However, it did take a while to get there. We are introduced to Joel Maisel in the first episode as the horrible man who had an affair with his secretary and left his wife. Joel was made out to be the bad guy, and Midge was to be the victim of his cruelty that overcame hardship and found success. Joel followed all the rules. He had a wife, two kids, a high-level office job, living in a gorgeous apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, all before thirty. On their wedding day, Midge and Joel both looked thrilled to be starting a life together, and fast-forward four years, they have accomplished everything they were “supposed” to. However, the interesting aspect of this is that after four years Midge is still elated to be living this life, and Joel is miserable.
When Joel left Midge he said, “I’m not happy… I thought my life was gonna be something different, I thought I was gonna be something different… I just don’t want this life”. He did everything he was supposed to and because of that lost what he wanted to do, and while this is no excuse for cheating on his wife and leaving her out of the blue, it provides more context towards why he behaved the way he did. Joel fell victim to the concept of toxic masculinity. I know that is a term thrown around a lot these days, however Joel fits the definition perfectly; certain cultural norms that are associated with harm to society and men themselves. As the show goes on, Joel begins to redeem himself and figure out what he wants his future to look like, and not what he thinks it is supposed to look like. Still, by ignoring his true wants, he caused pain and suffering not just for himself, but for everyone around him.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a show that addresses how the very concept of having traditional gender roles can affect everyone in a negative way. First, there is Joel who by following the path his role set forth for him, hurt everyone and everything around him. Then there is Midge, who loved the path her role provided for her, however once her life became less than perfect, her gender and its expected role is the number one hindrance to her success and ability to be taken seriously. This show does provide an example of what can be accomplished by not acknowledging roles, and that is abundantly evident in Susie, and it is her no-nonsense attitude that affords Midge the ability to learn a different path, one that will lead to prosperity.