The Roles and Responsibilities of Women in Mona Lisa

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Today I will be discussing the changing roles and responsibilities of women in film, especially in Mona Lisa Smile. Mona Lisa Smile, directed by Mike Newell, is about Katherine Watson (an art history teacher) inspiring her students at Wellesley College to challenge the lives they were expected to live. Today you will learn about the importance of independence, choice and how during the 1950s it was hard to be unique. So just sit back while we examine some of the issues during the 20th century.

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Throughout Mona Lisa Smile you learn about the importance of independence. It is important for modern women to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to be different and original. We learn this lesson by watching Katherine encourage her students to not be afraid of chasing their dreams. In the voiceover, “Katherine Watson didn’t come to Wellesley to fit in,” Betty reveals that Katherine was different from the beginning of the film and it outlines her intentions in coming to Wellesley. This introduces to the audience that Katherine came to the college to make a difference and to educate us that being different is okay and important reinforcing that society can’t change unless we change first. In the opening scene of Katherine on the train, a close up of Katherine’s face is used. This angle of Katherine resting on her knee shows us that she is focussed and intelligent to a degree, telling the audience that she is different from the typical 1950s woman as she thinks independently and has her own opinions. Through watching Mona Lisa Smile you learn about the importance of being independent and that it is important to be different because it allows you to gain self-respect, self-worth and freedom.

Mona Lisa Smile teaches us about choice and explains that choice and independence doesn’t always mean you have to defy traditional gender roles. This is important for modern women to know because there are multiple factors influencing one’s decision, so it is important to be able to make decisions for yourself. In the film, Joan realises and accepts that she has a choice however she decides to deny her dream of becoming a lawyer and chooses to become a traditional housewife instead. In the ceremony scene, a close up of Joan hitting a mullet on the church door is used. This angle was used to show the audience that Joan values her education as she is speaking on behalf of every girl at Wellesley College and that her journey throughout the film will be important. In the dialogue, “It was my choice… not to go,” Joan has a has stern expression on her face. Although Joan decided to become the traditional housewife over going to Yale and becoming a lawyer, she knows that she had the choice to do what she wanted. This tells the audience that Joan understands that being independent doesn’t mean defying the norms of society but being able to make the choice to follow your dreams. Watching the film, Mona Lisa Smile, the audience learns that choice and independence doesn’t always mean you have to defy the expectations of society which is important as it tells women that they have the freedom to be able to decide their own future.

Mona Lisa Smile teaches the audience about how during the 1950s it was extremely hard for women to be unique and break away from traditions. It is important for modern women to understand that although the image of women in society has come a long way, it was due to the courage and persistence women had during the 20th century. This lesson is learnt through watching Betty’s journey throughout the film. Betty’s journey throughout the film is the most progressive as she has to fight an internal battle between image and reality. From the dialogue, “Don’t disregard our traditions just because you’re subversive,” Betty reveals that tradition is important and that Katherine shouldn’t ignore the traditional women roles just because she is a troublemaker. This reveals to the audience that Betty is conventional meaning she believes that every woman needs to conform with what is socially acceptable and that they need to keep up appearances. However, this perspective on life changes towards the end of the movie. A close up is used on Betty’s face when she tells her mother that she is filing for a divorce and moving to New York with Giselle. This angle is used to display the relief Betty had when she finally confronted her mother about not wanting to be the traditional housewife anymore, telling the audience that Betty understands that she doesn’t have conform to the expectations of women and can pursue her own path. Mona Lisa Smile educates modern women about how challenging the breaking of tradition and expectation can be. This is important as we can understand the struggles 20th century women experienced.

We as modern women can learn a lot about the roles and responsibilities of women through the film Mona Lisa Smile. We learn that being independent is important, that everyone should and has a choice, and that being yourself during the 1950s was hard and was frowned upon. The image of women in society has come a long way since the 1950s as a result of courage, persistence and determination. So, tune in next week where we will discuss the relevance of clueless in the modern world.

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