A few weeks ago I rented the movie "The Help" and viewed it. I pretty much got emotionally involved with the characters in that movie and found myself balling like a baby while watching it. I watched it again and had the same reaction.
At first I thought the story line dealing with racism was what was behind my reaction.
But with time, I discounted that theory.
Now, if you KNOW me, you know that I am not an emotional person. That is to say, that I don't wear my heart on my sleeve and I don't break down into tears at the sight of puppies or the thought of sad or troubling situations, like the characters in The Help were involved in.
I grew up a white daughter of a middle class family in Southern Virginia in the 1960's and 1970's. So I am well aware of what society was like during the time period that The Help takes place in.
But my strong reaction wasn't due to the racial tolerance/acceptance issues explored in the film.
It was something else.
And I finally figured out why I had the reaction I did to the film.
It's because of this throw-away, minor character......
The little girl, Mae Mobley Leefolt.
Yes, I figured it out.....I AM Mae Mobley!
My family wasn't "society" white people and we didn't have a maid to clean, cook and raise our family's children like the folks explored in The Help. (It might have been better for me psychologically, in a way, if we had had a maid.)
We were lower middle class white people and my father was a social climber. He pulled himself and our family up from the echelons of the working class into the lower fringe of society in a large metropolitan city in Virginia by his sheer will and business acumen before a divorce and my parent's personal lives tore it all apart.
But in the society class or middle class, among white people in the South of this time, there was not only racism toward non-whites as a group, but there was a large festering sore called sexism toward their white women and girls.
In the South of that time, a woman was only worth her physical beauty. Meaning, women, in order to be of any value to their white society, needed to be pretty. This indoctrination started pretty much from birth. You see this in the Skeeter character. She voices that she is a disappointment to her mother for not being a pretty "society girl" and for going to college and working, instead of marrying, staying home, playing bridge and popping out babies.
Being smart was a bonus, but if you weren't a pretty girl, you could just forget going anywhere in life. Your place in society started with how well you married and an ugly woman was lucky to find a husband at all unless her family had a LOT of money and power.
Women were not encouraged to work but to stay home, look pretty and give her husband children and assure his standing in the community.
The only women who worked were those with a very strong will(who were also still married and worked as a "hobby" and didn't need the money), and those who were divorced or widowed or who's husband's for some reason couldn't/didn't support their family......and usually in that situation, these women would go home to their parents and let the grandparents support the children and the abandoned wife.
Though technically women in the South had had the vote since the 19th Amendment in 1917, could own land and even leave their father's home without having to be married first by 1963, a woman with no physical charms was a disappointment to her parents and a burden to unload.
And these girls who didn't measure up were told in so many ways, both directly and indirectly through the ways in which they were treated, that they were a cross to bear.
Like this Mae Mobley character was treated......she "aint gone be no beauty queen. I think it bother Miss Leefolt." Mae is the kind of Southern daughter I was.
I identify with her so completely, that it took my breath away and the parts of the movie she was in just made me ball.
I'll explore more how I relate to the Mae Mobley character as a young white woman growing up in the South of the 1960's in another post at another time.