What does Sexual abuse, Single motherhood, and a Sense of humor all have in common?
Correct, they are the backbones of Showtime's "dramody" SMILF. Women of all backgrounds, mothers young and old, and people who know mothers young and old will watch this show with a hand-slap to the forehead. There will be times when you will see yourself in Frankie Shaw's lead character Bridgette, and you will cringe. If you are currently a mother, you will sigh in relief because you will think…damn…I guess I'm doing pretty good…but I get her.
In a world overflowing with "How To Be The Best Parent in the World" articles, this show is a breath of fresh air as it's more of a…"How To Get By Until Tomorrow" kind of thing. And yes, the lead character, single mama Bridgette, is a childhood sexual assault survivor just like 63,000 American children a year are, an adult sexual assault survivor, much like the 17.7 million American women are, and also struggles with disordered eating, just like 75% of American women currently do. And just like most of the women in the statistics above, Bridgette is much more than a victim. Much like many of the women reading this article (or women that you know and love) who may also suffer from any of the above challenges, Bridgette has a job, a family, friends, a kid, and a sense of humor.
This is the thing. In the same world and even the same timeframe that sexual assault happens, so do birthday parties, and average trips to the grocery store. Someone can be aggressively raped, and lovingly hugged in the same day. Just like in Bridgette's case, the same father that molested her can also give her fatherly shoulder rides around the block. SMILF is such a great watch because it doesn't define the characters as "girl with eating disorder" or "rape victim." The characters in the show are just like the many female victims of sexual assault in real life; they are strong and complex. While the characters in SMILF are clearly affected by the traumas they suffered, they are not solely defined by them.
The #metoo and Times Up movements are so powerful because they are removing the "specialness" and rarity of sexual assault. In the past, assault victims were thought of as just that…victims. Now, women are saying, 'of course we have experienced this,' 'wake up world, this is not rare'…sexual misconduct is something that sadly is woven into the fabric of the female experience. It doesn't define us, it affects us. We still have jobs, we still parent, we still have friends, and we still laugh. SMILF shows us this…this ability to be both victim and victor.
It also shows us one version of working class single-motherhood, the unique challenges that only poor and working class single parents face and the realities of always needing to rely on other people. Bridgette can't afford to not rely on other dysfunctional people; she needs their help. SMILF shows us what it's like to have to rely on dysfunctional people and engage with those relationships long term.
As someone who's parents were divorced in the early 80's, wasn't raised by grown-ups who had savings accounts, and spent most of her weekdays in one-bedroom apartments, there were parts of this show I appreciated. I didn't find it shocking that she left her sleeping 3 year old at home in a locked apartment for 10 minutes while she ran to the corner store for snacks. I love that the father figure is in recovery and he is clearly trying…he is young, and wasn't parented well himself…and he is trying. Often the dad characters are horrible or missing completely, rather than present, loving, and flawed.
I also love that women are at the center of this story. They are also flawed (because we all are), but they make the world go round. Whether they are mothers, girlfriends of the father, or grandmothers, it is the women that ensure that holidays are celebrated, hot meals are cooked in order to bring people together, and that babies are watched so that mamas can work. For better of worse, women in real life, and the women in SMILF have to be both simultaneously victims of abuse, and also hilarious resilient warriors with a sense of humor and grit. If you watch this show you will get to see how love can thrive in the tiny cracks, in the in-between places, like a fungus that keeps growing.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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