Minds and outfits were changed, lipsticks were reapplied and pearls were strewn about – but Midge Maisel is finally back (albeit fashionably late) to the premiere of Season 3! The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel is a 1960s housewife-turned-comedian from New York, who found her way to 21st century streaming devices in 2017, and has been winning hearts, viewers and awards ever since.
Portrayed by the shiny Rachel Brosnahan, the likable protagonist of the Amazon Prime series wears the Amy Sherman-Palladino brand of “too witty for the story world she lives in,” making her the ideal character to star as a comic (we could see Lorelai Gilmore up on stage with her, too). Her infectious charm almost seems wasted on the “perfect” wife, mother and woman she personifies while introducing herself to the audience in the first season. However, after her husband cheats on her, a bitchy comedic rant paves the way for sarcastic, self-deprecating humor that gets the show renewed with encores every year (we’ll be watching Season 4 with 2020 vision).
Mrs. Maisel then becomes liberated from the definition of “being Joel’s supportive wife” to a loud-mouthed comedian who inspires an entire class of women to follow their dreams. And while she definitely has white feminism and privilege written all over the Dior gowns her father buys her, she remains a deeply empowering character.
Obviously, she isn’t the feminist icon of 2019, and that is an important distinction to make. The second wave of feminism was only just rolling in and Mrs. Maisel may be oblivious to the problems outside of her own, but that does not refute the fact that she is taking on the sexist world of 1960s America every time she’s allowed to speak on stage. “I can’t sing,” she has to explain to lines of club managers, who cannot fathom the existence of a woman comedian.
However, Palladino writes her as a complex character, who acknowledges and embeds the widespread objectification of women into her own identity. She embraces being “feminine” during that time, even if it implied not being taken seriously. She dresses to impress and subscribes to the normative body type expected of women; capitalizing off the fact that she cannot be unnoticed – all the while questioning it in her acts:
“Why do women have to pretend to be something that they’re not? Why do we have to pretend to be stupid when we’re not stupid? Why do we have to pretend to be helpless when we’re not helpless? Why do we have to pretend to be sorry, when we have nothing to be sorry about?”
Her iconic bow strap black dress becomes a symbol of power dressing, allowing her to claim space on and off stage. And while this may seem off-brand for 21st century feminism, it reveals a flawed human being who works hard to keep doing what she loves within the constraints of her gender.
She is the very definition of a strong, “independent” woman who needs no man – and she makes sure they know it. She does not take her husband back after he cheats on her, she does not prioritize her children in the way she is expected to and she steps over anybody who doesn’t believe in her career. She is also selfish, rebellious and outspoken – qualities that were clearly unappreciated of a woman during the Mad Men era.
Essentially, Mrs. Maisel empowers herself and the people watching her – she takes the time to understand her audience, she’s dedicated to being the best in everything she does, and acknowledges the importance of being noticed; all the while working insidiously through a patriarchal maze that tries to hold her down.
Images courtesy of EPK and Instagram @Maiseltv via Amazon Prime