Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Slap’s Women

NBC’s limited series, TheSlap, was best when addressing the many facets of being a woman. Aisha, Anouk, and Rosie represent different iconic women as well as modern dilemmas that women face. Two of them, Aisha and Anouk, are successful career women. Aisha balances being a physician with parenting, thanks in large measure to an understanding and responsible partner in their father. We learn later that Aisha has a reckless past that tempts her, especially when her reckless partner registers for the same medical conference.

Anouk is without spouse or children. In the first episode, she demonstrates antipathy toward parenting and a love that binds, but a young lover impregnates her, and like so many fictional women, she chooses to let love bind her. By the end of the short-lived series, she is blissfully parenting an infant without that young lover. TV producers and screenwriters shape single parenting as idyllic, easier than it is in reality. They create women of means able to afford help and rely upon a supportive extended family.

The Slap tries to convince viewers that
Hope awaits after the Storm passes.
Photo by Al Griffin
Rosie is the stay-at-home mother and the least affluent, married to an artist--not starving but striving. Rosie also differs from Aisha and Anouk because she is the least self-assured, except in her opinions about her own parenting. In that life role, she is the fierce Mother Bear, prepared to fight to the death any and all threats to her son, Hugo, unable to admit that some of her parenting choices may negatively affect that boy.

All three women support and forgive one another more readily and more freely than they do anyone else in their lives, especially men. Their disagreements are civil; their empathy given freely. Their loyalties to each other trump all wild cards even after a terrible conflict divides the extended family and sets woman against woman and women against men.

In The Slap, women are the archetypal and somewhat clichéd peace-makers. New mother Anouk puts her infant in the arms of Hugo, the boy who has been a chronic danger to other children. He’s gentle with the babe, suggesting that court-mandated counseling has helped Rosie correct her own course and thereby Hugo’s. With this tableau, the writers suggest that the next generation will lead the way to live peaceably with one another.

The men in this TV tale do not enjoy support or empathy. They are cast in the role of Silence, confined to keeping their mouths shut while the women work their way through the maze of parenting choices and justice in this world. The men also suffer as the women find their way.

Aisha, for example, almost commits adultery just to feel like the bad girl she once was before marriage and motherhood. What prevents her from breaking her own marriage vows is discovering that her former lover is also married. She walks out on him, apparently offended by his inability to confess his married state while she was fully prepared to betray her own marriage vows. Go figure.

Aisha soon learns that her husband almost betrayed her. After being disappointed at work when a woman claims the promotion he thought was his, he lets a young girl’s flattery tempt him. Unable to live with the knowledge of his own frailty, he  unloads his guilt upon Aisha, forcing her to bear it and endangering their marriage. Aisha moves out, leaving her husband hurt and confused, especially because she throws her own carnal desires in his face before she goes.

Rosie’s marriage is as complicated and fraught with emotional harm. She and her husband drink too much. A semi-permanent buzz does nothing to improve their  expectations for each other, but they agree upon Hugo. They love him beyond measure. Rosie’s husband also loves his wife, often in spite of her blind allegiance to an Earth-mother philosophy of child rearing and her Mother Bear ferocity.

Anouk’s man, the lover who impregnated her, moves on, and the viewer is simply left to imagine how their days or weeks or months passed. Anouk seems to have let him go or lost him without regret. She has Aisha and Rosie, after all; they are with her for the ultrasound appointment. They are the nurturers, and they nurture Anouk as well as their own children.

The Slap is, in the end, part Hollywood fancy trying to be timely and relevant. It is also short-hand for very complex roles and relationships. It attempts to portray family dynamics with special emphasis upon the power of women who, while immersed in a patriarchal, parochial culture, steer the Ship of State. When the story ends, justice has been meted out by a wise, if somewhat terse, female trial judge. She assigns blame and punishment in ways that viewers surely deem appropriate. Hugo’s father nods, apparently recognizing his own culpability; his mother seems chastened but still resolved to bear the slight against her child forever as if she is the victim. The man who slapped the child has fought for his reputation, but lost it anyway. As the adult with all power bestowed upon him by virtue of his gender, his position in the extended family, and his wealth, he should have exercised restraint against women and certainly against a child. The women corrected him, then turned to their real work: initiating Anouk into their clan as women who are also individuals with pasts and hopes, women who are also mothers, coping and striving.

Connye Griffin writes My Writing and Editing Coach