Sunday, March 25, 2012

You Is Kind, You Is Smart, You Is Important....

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!

Here is an excerpt for the book, THE HELP,  by Kathryn Stockett.......

"August 1962
Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

But I ain't never seen a baby yell like Mae Mobley Leefolt. First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic, fighting that bottle like it's a rotten turnip. Miss Leefolt, she look terrified a her own child. "What am I doing wrong? Why can't I stop it?"
It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation.
So I took that pink, screaming baby in my arms. Bounced her on my hip to get the gas moving and it didn't take two minutes fore Baby Girl stopped her crying, got to smiling up at me like she do. But Miss Leefolt, she don't pick up her own baby for the rest a the day. I seen plenty a womens get the baby blues after they done birthing. I reckon I thought that's what it was.
Here's something about Miss Leefolt: she not just frowning all the time, she skinny. Her legs is so spindly, she look like she done growed em last week. Twenty-three years old and she lanky as a fourteen-year-old boy. Even her hair is thin, brown, see-through. She try to tease it up, but it only make it look thinner. Her face be the same shape as that red devil on the redhot candy box, pointy chin and all. Fact, her whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it's no wonder she can't soothe that baby. Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in you armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too. That I know.
By the time she a year old, Mae Mobley following me around everwhere I go. Five o'clock would come round and she'd be hanging on my Dr. Scholl shoe, dragging over the floor, crying like I weren't never coming back. Miss Leefolt, she'd narrow up her eyes at me like I done something wrong, unhitch that crying baby off my foot. I reckon that's the risk you run, letting somebody else raise you chilluns.
Mae Mobley two years old now. She got big brown eyes and honey-color curls. But the bald spot in the back of her hair kind a throw things off. She get the same wrinkle between her eyebrows when she worried, like her mama. They kind a favor except Mae Mobley so fat. She ain't gone be no beauty queen. I think it bother Miss Leefolt, but Mae Mobley my special baby."

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.



  1. I can't believe I still haven't seen a movie, or read a book! My library still doesn't have them in stock. But I know quite a bit about feeling an outcast at times. People still ask me if we have bears on the streets in Russia, or if all men are always drunk there. Ignorance can be amazing and hurtful at times. I know it's different but hey, if I was Kurnikova, I might be accepted a lot easier by some people.

  2. I loved that movie and went at full price three times. Something unheard of for me. I don't know why. I have endured my own prejudice, in my religion. Good women did not work. You did not display intelligence. If your husband could not support you in a good style you were basically ostracized or were not "blessed". You must have brought it on yourself. You were only blessed if you were wealthy. But you could not bring about that wealth yourself. Your husband had to do it, if he could not or would not their was something wrong with you. You were not asked to join in the reindeer games, your children were not included and you were certainly not in the first social circle. Now tell me sluggy is this what the good lord teaches? NO! It is not what the church teaches either. It was just a small segment of an isolated population that had soured in it's own selfish nasty stupidity. Thank goodness I woke up! That is what I loved about the movie. People woke up. You do not have to be the social norm. You can be yourself and it is okay.In fact it is wonderful!

  3. This post couldn't have come at a better time. Over the last few weeks I've been spending my free time at the Barnes and Noble reading this book. I finally finished it yesterday and rented the movie last night. I don't think the movie did the book justice at all because it left out so many dramatic details. The most powerful part of the movie for me was at the end when she leaves Baby Girl crying in the window.

    I'm so sorry you felt pain as a child. Every child deserves to feel kind, smart, and important.

  4. We just watched this movie last week ourselves! I bawled too... I felt so terrible for that little girl having her "mama" taken away from her.
    I'm sorry you had to grow up in a community like that!
    You is smawt, you is kand, you is impotant.

  5. I agree with Free! The book was AWESOME. The movie made me cry too and I am not an "heart on my sleeve" gal either. I really identified w/Skeeter. I would have been so frustrated living in those times...the toilets on the lawn scene was priceless though.

  6. Very interesting Sluggy - I want to hear more. I balled my eyes out watching that movie too but seeing the excerpt from the book makes me want to read it too. Sometimes things written don't entirely translate to the movie.
    So, you're Mae Mobley are you? I found that part of the movie so terribly sad but also ironic - that the black maid could love that child so deeply in spite of the racism she herself suffered at the hands of her employers - now that's truly inspired. That is an amazing mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning when we look at ourselves in the mirror: I is kind, I is smart and I is important. Yes we are.

  7. I LOVE this movie! I'm so sorry that it made you cry. It always bothers me so when something is bothering me and I have to figure out what it was that upset me. Usually its one of the kids that is making me upset but when it is a character in a movie that stirs childhood memories that's a tough one.
    Hang in there.

  8. Luv your blog! Would you know what happened with Judy @ finally frugal and happy; she disappeared again?

  9. Loved the book and the movie. I was really sad for little Me Mobley. I'm even sadder that you had that type of childhood. I grew up in the South in the 60s and our parents let us know that we were all smart and beautiful. I have wonderful parents!


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