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The ‘Miracle Mop’ Can’t Wring Out Dated Stereotypes

I don’t often frequent the local multiplex for first run feature films. Between the absurdly high ticket prices and the endless amount of content I can stream on my laptop, I tend to choose very carefully. Mostly I stick to those interesting foreign films, slightly avant-garde indie, and lefty political documentaries. This past December, however, with a friend in from out of town and those new, uber-comfortable pleather reclining seats at the AMC Loews, I was excited to see Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Joy. Unfortunately, Joy confirmed my worst fears concerning mainstream media’s misogynistic tendencies.

Joy is a cute movie, to say the most. Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Joy Mangano, is a housewife who strives to become a businesswoman despite the men in her life advising her against it. On the surface, this is a powerful story about  a woman coming into her own; a working class woman in the late 80s who moves beyond her meager station in life to make a name for herself. The plot follows this empowered housewife’s journey to manufacture mops. Spoiler alert ... but yes—Joy’s brilliant feminist breakthrough involves her manufacturing mops and selling them to other housewives; those yet to be enlightened.

From both standpoints, that of a feminist and of a teenager seeking relatively inexpensive entertainment, this movie was a disappointment. One of the most disappointing aspects of this acclaimed film is that it stars feminist frondeur Jennifer Lawrence. Iconic ‘J-Law’ is known for her bold presence both on-screen and off. Generally speaking, I was glad to see her name on the list of the other, unfortunately exclusively white, actors nominated for Oscars this season. As much as I’d love to see Lawrence go home with another trophy to match her brand-new Golden Globe, the American press needs more Lawrence, not more Mangano.

Jennifer Lawrence is not your typical Hollywood actress. Part of her appeal is her no-nonsense attitude and her resistance to stereotypically feminine characteristics for which Hollywood starlets so frequently tow the line. We’ve come to rely on Jennifer Lawrence as that rare American actress who re-envisions her role by avoiding the typical norms of conventional female edict. In the 1980s, the role of the proper American housewife was characterized by grace and by a lack of humor, which are both stereotypes that Lawrence transcends in Joy.

However, Lawrence seems to be a walking oxymoron in this film. It’s truly ironic that Joy is a woman who learns to fend for herself in a male-dominated world…by buying and selling mops, in bulk! Joy puts her hair up, is makeup-free and rocks a Hillary-esque pantsuit … but she goes on air to sell mops. There is an apparent, and potentially positive influential feminist undertone to this film, but the mere fact that Joy’s empowered vision revolves around mops detracts from the potential feminist impact. Could they have possibly found a more mundane symbol of female enslavement? A mop for cleaning up other people’s messes? Can’t we do any better than that?

Although Joy takes place in the late 80s, the feminist challenges that Joy confronted then still apply today. And yes, the Joy Mangano story is real, and I’m not criticizing Joy at all. For she struggled and succeeded, as a single mom, a caretaker for both her mother, daughter, and ex-husband, and as an entrepreneur. But the film elevated selling mops, over the true struggles and victories in Joy Mangano’s life.

The masterminds responsible for bringing Mangano’s story to the big screen include Jewish filmmaker David Russell, and feminist Annie Mumolo. I’m elated to see Jewish voices take part in this production team, but the product was far from empowering. These identified Jewish and feminist producers chose to tell a female rags-to-riches story with the most stereotypical symbol of women’s drudgery. This makes me question why they felt this was the story of empowerment that needed to be told, as opposed to one with a truly feminist message. How far have we really come when women’s entrepreneurial success is still bound up in the restrictions of stereotypical domestic norms? Where is the story of Geraldine Ferraro’s historic vice presidential bid during the same decade?

Quite frankly, it’s insulting that American movie-goers today are supposed to enjoy films that portray women spending all day thinking about mops. I know that I am glad to have grown up in an age in which this stereotype is behind me, but it certainly brought me no ‘joy’ to see it portrayed on the big screen.

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Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy"
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Actress Jennifer Lawrence in the 2015 film, "Joy."
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How to cite this page

Gayle-Schneider, Eliana. "The ‘Miracle Mop’ Can’t Wring Out Dated Stereotypes ." 16 March 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/miracle-mop-can-t-wring-out-dated-stereotypes>.

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