Historical Background & Synopsis

The main thematic of the film Mona Lisa Smile is centered on the life of Katerina Watson (Julia Roberts), a socially progressive and liberal – minded woman, who is a lecturer at the university. Watson is thrilled to be a professor at the department of all-girl Wellesley College where the brightest women of the whole country study. Even though her students try to humiliate her after the first lectures, she manages to change their lives through fluctuating their attitude to the interplanetary theory of gender, feminism and equality.

The film was shot in 2003 and it tells a story that took place half a century ago. The 1950s years demonstrated that stronghold of the view of family prevalent on other ideological views. Thus, the theory of mens privilege appeared after the war period. The main reason of it is that during the World War II, many women were employed in factories to replace the men who had to go to war. Thus, the women had become a part of states economy. However, when the war was over, women had lost their jobs or were forced to obtain low-waged positions for the returning soldiers. Accordingly, the ideology that imagines women who is happily caring for children and family appeared. The decade of 1950 was similar to the Victorian cult of domesticity. The ideal family of this period should consist of caregiving woman and a breadwinner man. Thus, the woman had to stay at home caring for their family and filling the others emotional needs. Whilst, men were responsible for earning a living and protecting their families. The professor Watson was first who raised a question of gender difference versus gender inequality.

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The film Mona Lisa Smile rises the tension between the traditional ideology of gender, that was popular in 1950, and the new idea of educated, independent women. Watson, during her lectures, encourages her students to become autonomous and to reveal their potential to become educated women and not only servants in mens household. The tension between new ideology and society based on the common misunderstanding and perception of gender as a biological construct, rather than social. During the lectures, Watson uses powerful emotional slides, which show the advertisement and critique the one-dimensional depiction of women. The lady, portrayed in the advertisement, was excepted primarily as a sexual object and not as an educated or equal to man person. Watson then poses the question, how much has changed since that time, and the answer deliberately appears throughout the film. The professor also challenges the girls exposing them to the modern artist not endorsed by the school board. She stimulates the students to think of themselves, to break the stereotypes and explore outside of the common views. However, the adolescents turned out to be materially – minded and reluctant to the majority of questions she raises. Katherine sees that the girls cannot say their point of view. Furthermore, Watson is disappointed to discover that their sole ambition remains to find a good husband. In this scene, she claims, I thought that I was headed ti a place that was going to turn out tomorrows leaders, not their wives. Hence, the misunderstanding between students and professor during the first lecture triggered the beginning of her personal battle against the common constructs of inequality and patriarchate. Moreover, this scene also indicates, how gender socialization and common knowledge about inequality between men and women infiltrated into media and ideology of that time. Therefore, the main thematic of the film is to explore the life through reexamining its general concepts, such as feminism, education and marriage.

Mona Lisa Smile Main Characters 

The central character of the film is Katherine Watson. Due to her origin from the West Coast, California, she has liberal and feminists values. After she lands a dream job at Girls College, Katherine has a chance to investigate best female minds in the USA. The one of her students later says, Katherine Watson did not come to Wellesley to fit in. She came to Wellesley because she wanted to make a difference.

Watson often gets intimidations from students and colleagues. However, she manages to use them as motivation for others to think positively. As far as her character is concerned, she turns out to be very self – determined woman. Depart from the intimidations she accepts, Katherine always solves her problem by herself. Moreover, she concentrates on her idealism and never gives up on unfavorable conditions, convincing her students to think forward.

The Watsons position remains the same through the entire movie. Her foremost role is to help women to seek new role and responsibility in the society, obtain personal identities rather than to be defined as a supportive individual in male dominated society. However, it is important to indicate that she never encourages her students to reject the ideological position they follow. Katherine only adds that besides marriage, there are additional options, which can fill their lives with fulfilments. She proves that feminist position does not only depend on womens behavior. Sometimes, feminism means the ability to break traditions suggested by patriarchal and make changes toward women in the man controlled society.

Katherine is trapped in the environment ruled by the stereotypes. However, she has her personal perspective and view on masculinities and femininities. Even though the stereotypes usually installed the societys norms and values at that time, Watson believes that if she manages to change the point of view at least of some of her students, the society will soon refuse from the cultural construction of gender inequality.

However, some of the students have taken the position of feminist ideology suggested by Watson. Among them was Betty Warren, Joan, and Giselle. All these girls are different in their social position, and represent the various dimensions of the perception of Watsons ideology.

Joan is a bright and enthusiastic woman, who is in torn between a dream of becoming a layer and devoting the entire life to her children and husband, caused by the social stereotypes. Moreover, she is strongly affected by the labels. Joan has always dreamed about entering the Yale University. However, upon surprising acceptance into the University, she rejected the letter because of her beloved fiance, who entered Harvard. Her traditional beliefs do not allow her to pass the opportunity and become a good wife and caring mother. Therefore, Joans situation verifies, how influential the theory of gender inequality can be.

In contrast, Giselle is the most self destructive and promiscuous woman of the group. However, her character is also complex and can be read in various ways. From one hand, she is immoral, when from the other hand she can be interpreted as feminists as she uses her body to control men. Warren is a fragile, malicious gossip, which is in the greatest opposition to Watsons theories.

The notable exception from the entire group is Betty and her social character. First, she sarcastically challenged Katherine during her first lecture. Then he causes the Watsons college to be fired. All these actions considered immoral and unacceptable for college. However, Betty remains strong in her beliefs that society, college and even her mother have instilled in her. Moreover, like others, she believes that womans primary role is to be a good wife and homemaker. Thus, she never gives a chance to Katherine to admire her and look to her as a mentor. This social analysis of the confrontation between the professor and Betty is a vivid reflection of the post-war era and the incompatible tides of the industrialization. When Watson encourages her students to be more career-oriented, Betty is sure that marriage and having a family are more important in life. Moreover, Betty seems threatened by the feminists teacher ideology, which she confronts with social orthodoxy.

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Consequently, a contrast between the opponents of the feminist theory represents the variety of people who would be against the theory of autonomy. Moreover, it shows what methods they would use to prove their ideology. However, the determination of the professor Watson demonstrates that if the theory has a verified and reasonable background, the public might accept it soon.

Citic Film Analysis

The film Mona Lisa Smile managed to show the example of the confrontation between the stereotypes of the 50s society and the newborn feminist ideology. The movie underlines that lives shape and limit according to the existing social structures. It also examines how girls perform in the society dominated and ruled by male hegemony. Moreover, the film explores what expectations the young women have to their lives as they graduate from the college.

The Watsons methods of teaching can be considered as counter hegemonic. Even though she encounters a strong opposition, Katherine remains strict in her points of views. Moreover, she believes that self conscious analysis is the key importance component that helps in opposing the dominations order of things. The main lesson that Katherine tries to convey to her students is that encountering hegemonies would lead to a social transformation. Indeed, the evident tension between the professors point of view and the Wellesleys administration is an example of how the political and ethnical parameters of teaching from feminists standpoint can be opposed by the old – schooled management.

The film Mona Lisa Smile is a superficial challenge to the status quo with the female professor and lecturer. Katherine Watson represents the feminist pedagogy in a pluralistic way, because she always claims that being a good wife is not the only means in the way to becoming a successful woman. Undeniably, feminist pedagogy principle is to acknowledge the difference in the ways that enhance individual opportunities and do not restrain them. The film highlights the objectives of womens education by depicting the picture of 1950s social structure of the society, and arises the important question about inequality of social gender that exists in some part of the world until present days. The film empowers females, conveying a message of independence of young women. Mona Lisa Smile also allows us to examine the ways in which popular culture is ruled by stereotypes and is represented as dominant. This society construction characterized in the film shows the real life experiences of some people. Indeed, it is significant to review the popular culture in terms of analyzing the film, as woman is the central character of it.

Besides, the school is a good background for changes. The traditional schools ideology of Wellesley College about womens role in the society has strongly affected the future intentions of their female students. Therefore, Watsons opposing ideology intended to prepare girls for future lives and possibilities and all these actions took place at college.

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I highly recommend watching the film as it touches the sensitive issues related to social pressure, feminism, gender roles, and inequality. Feminism is a strong ideology and it is vividly observed in Watsons teaching. Hence, it can be claimed that the film is feminist. Moreover, gender inequality in the movie is portrayed in different ways. Katherine as a woman is independent and single. She breaks barriers in her personal and professional life.

The main actions of the film take place in post – war period and the stereotypes about the womens role in the society appeared because of major historical changes. In the post – war period women lost their economic independence and were placed in the situations where they needed a man for fulfilling the simplest needs. Moreover, women were taught to suppress their wishes and desires, and to concentrate on pleasing the men needs. Therefore, the movie vividly shows the consequences that occur when people rule their lives by stereotypes. The students at Wellesley College became not more than gratification to men.

Katherine Watson was among people who did not follow the idea of living in a man ruled society. Her progressive teaching was in methods she used. Watson pushed her students to experience the life instead of reading about live in their books. However, as every opponent to the theory of many, she faced the opposition from students and their parent who were the governors of the college.

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The character of the opponents of Watsons ideology plays a fundamental role in the film. For example, the prime antagonist of the professors feminist position is the character of Betty Warren. She is a student at Wellesley College and her mother is a member of its administration. The fundamentality of Bettys character is in the parallels, which can be drown between the ideology of feminists represented by Watson and the social oppression represented by Warren. The mother of Betty Warren, a member of colleges administration represents a government and the state policy at the period of 1950. She oppresses her daughter and makes her pursue the dream of becoming a perfect wife and mother. At the beginning of the film, Betty hates Katherine because of her challenging ideas and her forward thinking. However, Betty Warren is a regular woman who is ruled by stereotypes instilled in the society of that time. Betty makes public attacks toward Katherine and her teaching. However, soon she realizes that she is a woman and her goal is not only to become a wife, the social pressure toward her released.

Though the majority of students scrutinize the ideology of Professor Katherine, she managed to change the lives of many girls at her college insisting on their entering to universities. Even the most suspicious women who believed in feminist ideology then became successful and realized individuals.

The film includes an array of vital components of gender roles in the last decades of the twentieth century. The popular advertisement of that time when women were taking care of homes and children triggered major social changes .The movie Mona Lisa Smile is also a decent example of the difficulties the women face in their life when she has to make a choice between a career and family. The film represents the pass from the patriarchate to feminism and the social changes that took place during that time.

The inspirational movie explores the life through feminism, marriage, and education. The character of Katherine became a forerunner of the new modernist ideology at the end of a traditional era. Mona Lisa Smile became a great reminder of how the society looked when the women did not have a voice. Moreover, it has become a good example of the changes that happened within the decades in the social structure and vividly emphasizes the changes in social structure between the 50s and present times.

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