My chosen film was Real Women Have Curves.
The movie follows the story of a Hispanic girl named Ana who has just graduated high school. Ana lives in a destitute and very traditional Hispanic family that values togetherness and collective effort above all else, and all family members act by and strongly advocate traditional masculine and feminine gender roles. Despite being very bright, Ana has given up on all dreams of going to college due to her being pressured by her family into working at Ana’s sister’s low-wage clothing factory, where she and a group of local, middle-aged Hispanic women manufacture dresses at $18 a piece that are sold for $600 in an upscale clothing store. This problem is further complicated by Ana’s problematic relationship with her mother, who is extremely superficial and critical of Ana’s weight, believing her to be unattractive and fearing for her prospects of finding a husband. Ana is resistant to this pressure which causes a great deal of family strain, but she nonetheless continues to defer her dream and work at her sister’s sweat shop, even after one of her former teachers convinces her to fill out an application to a prestigious school against her parents’ wishes. Ana begins to face mounting pressure on the sweat shop front when a sudden staff shortages puts the entire business in danger, as the coldhearted corporation licensing the dress production refuses to give Ana’s sister an advance on what they are supposed to receive for the dresses; because of this, Ana can neither pay her remaining workers, pay the rent on the building, or keep the electricity working. In the course of all of this, Ana begins to date a former classmate of hers, however, the relationship is awkward for both of them and in the absence of much to keep them together they decide to take the relationship to a physical level. During intercourse, Ana realizes that her partner is the only one who has ever sincerely told her that she is beautiful, and this causes her to make peace with her own body and gives her the motivation she needs to change her life. Not only does she find a way to save the sweatshop from bankruptcy, but she finds the strength to end her mother’s criticism for once and for all by taking off her shirt while working in the sweatshop and convincing the other women, few of which could be considered traditionally attractive, to do the same. At last, she finds that she has been accepted with a full scholarship to the university she desired to go to, and after a brief time of tension between her and her family, she receives her father’s blessing (although never her mother’s) and goes to New York to start her new life.
This film deals with issues of gender through illustrating the struggles of poor, urban Hispanic women. Despite Ana personally desiring liberation for herself, reality and a sense of duty to family keep her chained to traditional female roles. This is largely caused by the influence of her mother, who believes strongly that a woman should not be allowed to think for herself or live by her own rules but, rather, that her purpose is to support her husband and be mindlessly obedient in all things. As the title of the movie would suggest, the definition of a “real woman” is central to the theme of the movie, with Ana opposing her mother’s superficial definition of “real woman” that consists of little more than a thin, youthful individual whose personal worth is up to her husband to define. Ana is constantly arguing with her mother that a woman is more than her weight, her sexuality, and her devotion to a husband. Of course, the movie validates Ana’s point of view by having her be accepted for who she is by someone who has no interest in a personal relationship with her and then achieving independence by disobeying her mother and leaving her family. Women in general in the film are portrayed as individuals who have lost their potential and accepted mental blankness and patriarchal servitude. The women in the sweatshop factory are judgmental, superficial, love to gossip, criticize free thought, are antagonistic, and through it all never question their husbands, the corporate system exploiting their cheap labor, or their own subservience to either of these. Not until the very end, at least—they have a collective moment of realization of the error of their ways at the end of the movie when they follow Ana’s lead in taking her shirt off. The women in the film are not themselves empowered, but Ana, the representative of a “real woman” is definitely an empowering image—she breaks free of patriarchy in multiple ways at once and seeks independence and personal fulfillment in ways that patriarchy opposes.
All in all, I see Real Women Have Curves as a feminist film. It is a harsh criticism of cultural norms that demand female subservience—we begin the movie with a young girl whose future potential has been forcibly wrested from her by circumstances beyond her control, after all. The fact that she does not make the comfortable decision to obey her family and accept a steady, traditional life of menial labor and enslavement to a husband, even if this final decision comes toward the very end of the movie, is strong evidence that this movie carries a positive feminist message. Her mother, who could be considered the main antagonist of the movie, is the antithesis of all feminist ideals—zealously traditional, limited to her own cultural lens, anti-sexual, adherent to the patriarchal standard of beauty, a believer in marriage as the highest aspiration of a woman. Her absolute insistence on all of these things for her daughter are the single most destructive force in her daughter’s life, and it almost does indeed destroy her. Fortunately, and reinforcing the feminist message, Ana rejects these ideas, even at the cost of her own family, reflecting the important feminist tenet that nothing-not even one’s own family—is worth compromising one’s personal independence.
My personal opinion of the film is mixed. It delivers its message well, but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m not a person who enjoys coming-of-age films and the teen angst and family confrontation that come with them, and although these attributes were presented in a very realistic and professional manner, they’re still attributes of a genre that I don’t delve into on a regular basis. Through a feminist lens it was an excellent movie, though, and I would recommend it to any young women looking for inspiration on how to learn to oppose patriarchy and find themselves, especially those finding themselves under pressure to adhere to cultural or familial norms. Many people don’t realize that escape can be just as easy as simply deciding to live by one’s own rules, and that one has no obligation to succumb to pressures from those close to them—they’re only more powerful pressures because emotional manipulation is easier coming from family members. As for how it relates to my own personal experience, I have underwent the terrible threat of my aspirations being crushed by family circumstances beyond my control. Although this wasn’t as much of a cultural problem as it was a financial problem, such experiences opened my eyes to the evils of patriarchy in the same way Ana’s eyes were opened.
Resources on Real Women Have Curves:
Youtube Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maIWHDfJ3SU
EZ-Entertainment (with pictures of movie): http://www.ez-entertainment.net/zoneseye/realwomenview.htm
Website of woman who wrote the play the movie was based on: http://www.josefinalopez.com/