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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Kwon

Freedom of Choice

Subduing the superiority battle between female occupations

By Olivia Kwon

June 27, 2022

My mother has been a stay-at-home mom for as long as I can recall.

As a means of enforcing a brief period of quality time each week, my mother would invite me up to her bedroom every Saturday night to watch a movie with her. With a frivolous scroll, she selected the majority of the films. Together, we predicted complex stories of the films before watching them, only to be surprised or disappointed by the resolution that presented itself. These times with her perfectly captured the strength of our mother-daughter relationship. I didn't start to perceive my mother differently, though, until we watched a particular movie.

The central theme of the 2003 American film Mona Lisa Smile, directed by Mike Newell and starring Julia Roberts, is a woman's ability to determine her own future. On one of our "mother-daughter movie nights," my mom chose this film consciously and deliberately for the first time.

The movie centers on Katherine Watson, a young, liberal-minded professor who accepts a position in the Wellesley Women's College art history department. Watson sets out to defy convention and create a new way of thinking for her students after being horrified to learn that even her most talented students think she is only giving them time till marriage. Mona Lisa Smile skillfully illustrates the connections between what society perceives a woman's position in life to be through the use of a range of characters and conflicting societal attitudes that are depicted throughout the plot. In today’s world, as feminism begins to receive more and more support around the globe, the concept of a woman educating herself and obtaining a stable career has become more important. My peers and I became inspired to fight gender slavery by some of their mothers who came in to speak about their experience working in a male-dominated field. Although this boosted my confidence and motivated me to try new things later on in my school life, it simultaneously implanted an idea into my head that women were only "powerful" and "inspiring" if they worked on or challenged the same things as men.

Watching Mona Lisa Smile changed my perspective not only on women but also on my own mother. Although I have looked up to her since I was a young girl, I realized I have always subconsciously degraded her for not working as my father, remarking her as "unmotivated" and "inactive" outside of the house.

It was there on that Saturday night when I understood that being a mother was a job of its own and held significant value to the beholder. Regardless of how far our society has progressed with feminism, those who continue to refuse to participate in newly accepted roles and activities among females do not lose their worth or respect as women. A woman that is a caretaker of her children is not any less inspiring than a woman that works in an office, and vice versa. Being a woman is not about winning the race towards the greater end of the gender spectrum—it’s about freedom of choice. I’ve learned to cherish what my mother has done for me a lot more than I used to, and I continue to feel grateful for the job she entrusts into her own hands.

About the Author

Hi! My name is Olivia and I live in Hong Kong. I recently graduated from the Fay School and will be a freshman this year at the Hotchkiss School. Although I have just recently started to immerse myself in feminism, I feel passionate about sharing my perspective on feminism through stories and personal experiences. I attended the Girls in Sports Leadership Summit at Cushing Academy last spring and was a member of Fay’s Q&A program, a student-led group formed to discuss gender norms. I plan on joining further gender equality and feminist groups at Hotchkiss, and I am happy to be writing for The F Word Blog.

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