The second season of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ started another uproar for the critically acclaimed portrayal and characterization of the titular Mrs. Maisel. But what makes Midge Maisel the poster-girl of making a stand-up position in the hearts of the audience? What is different about this ‘smart, funny, and beautiful’ woman of the 1950s?
In an episode where a drunk man heckles Miriam Maisel while she is performing on stage, he says, “Women aren’t funny,” and the marvelous Mrs. Maisel laughs her signature laugh while telling the man that his wife must have a sense of humour because she sees him naked every night. Then, he calls her a “dumb bitch” and she amuses him, and the audience, by asking, “Who told you?” The fashion in which Mrs. Maisel handles her heckler is a revelation, an out-there-message for the viewers in the real world, and her audience in the Midge-verse that she is not scared or intimidated in a man’s world.
There is an undeniable air of hostility around women who engage in humour. For instance, women in India in the twenty-first century sit around and witness their fathers joke about alcohol, cigarettes, and women with their sons, even in seemingly progressive households. Yet there is silence- an unsaid usher of understanding- about making the same jokes with the daughters. Daughters and wives are not allowed the leniency to joke about the same thing, because good girls are not supposed to know enough to joke. Their piousness is confined to their closed legs, closed mouths, and closed minds.
So, in the 1950s, a woman telling off men by amusing their stereotypes is not only unconventional, it is also a sign of raging strength. But is that all Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel is about? The courageous, unconventional, overlooked wife shining after the foil of her husband leaves her for good; this is not a story summing up the theatrical complexities of Miriam’s womanhood in the mid-decade of the twentieth century. When a booker refuses to pay Midge and locks her manager, Susie, in an attempt to dismiss her because she is a woman comedienne fighting it in what he sees as a man’s territory, Midge does not hesitate to ring her former husband. She tells Susie that one needs a man to navigate in a man’s world some times.
Michelle Obama, in her book, Becoming, wrote of her experience in the classroom while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree, stating that many men who dominated the debates and discussions had a false sense of self. She wrote that they believed themselves to be smarter than her and some other women but were “simply emboldened, floating on an ancient tide of superiority, buoyed by the fact that history never told them anything different.” Midge Maisel is the person whose smarts gain her husband slots for his stand-up performances, and he tells her that she does not know the way the world of comedy functions. Her identity as the missus of Joel Maisel is not an affirmation of her qualities as an individual, the series iterates, but it is a mask Joel constantly hides behind to escape his own inefficiency.
Then, the right way to assess Midge Maisel is not as a paragon of rebellious, empowering values. In fact, Midge Maisel is not straight-edge, and she is more than willing to weasel her way in by playing the stereotype to her advantage. This is what makes her stand out. We are accustomed to looking at women characters as archetypes. To assert power, for instance, women must be like Claire Underwood- ruthless, uncaring, and willing to go to all lengths that a moral soul would question. To make us love them, women must be all saints, always trying to do the moral, the ethical thing so that they deserve our sympathies. The categorization of our women is not a new trait, and it is absolutely not one reeking of modern feminism.
The series shows Midge Maisel as a human being, treading not dubiously on the path of the virtuous and the more virtuous, but struggling and cutting lanes to make it big. The final stamp of approval for the portrayal comes when one thinks of Serena Williams and Virat Kohli in the present-day light. Williams, a far more experienced and accomplished player in the world of sports, became a ‘bitch’ overnight for her outburst while Kohli’s anger issues on the field, rebuked by the umpire, are accompanied by “but he is the best batsman”. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is not the story fighting for women’s rights, but it is the story of a woman using her rights to fight her way towards her goal. On the way, she makes people angry, she makes people proud, but her individuality is not something she owes to their pride, their ego, or their anger.
The final episode of the second season makes the point, loud and clear, as Mrs. Maisel goes to her former husband, Joel, to have one last fling with the man “who loves her”, for she knows the cost of her dreams in the real world. She recognizes that she may not have people or love in the passenger seat of the marvelous ride, but she actively wants to enjoy the journey- opinions be damned.
Image Courtesy: Mashable
Image Caption: Miriam struggles to make it big, instead of winning the limelight by giving uncanny rants and speeches which do not work in the real world.