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What Big Little Lies Can Teach Us About Female Empowerment

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.” –
Muriel Rukeyser

 

Did you watch the recent HBO series, Big Little Lies? I did, and I’m still reeling from the crazy-emotional finale.

 

I love how this show portrays women. Many shows in the past have reduced women’s roles to stereotypes. There’s the “mom” type, the “best friend” type, the “slutty” type. So on the rare occasions when we see deep, nuanced, explorations of women and the relationships between them, it’s well worth watching.

 

The women of Big Little Lies are complicated. There’s not one “bitchy” type: they’re all bitchy sometimes, just like all of us. There’s not a cliché “best friend,” someone whose sole responsibility is to provide support and encouragement to the prettier, blonder protagonist. And unlike the one-dimensionally sexual Samantha of Sex and the City, they all have their moments of being overtly sexual, contrasted with the lack of desire that comes with mundane, everyday life with the same person.

During the first six episodes, the focus is squarely on the big and little lies that exist deep within the life each woman is living. Other than Jane, each has built a life that looks gorgeous on the outside (the beachfront property, the perfect blowouts, the cappuccinos after dropping off the kids at school). And each of the women is lying, either to herself, her spouse, or her friends.

 

At first, the friendships are real but fractured. There are competing factions of women, and there’s plenty of cattiness.

 

But during episode 7, something remarkable happens. Each woman finally starts to tell the truth about her life. Celeste finally reveals the truth about her marriage to her friends. Madeline comes clean to Jane about her affair. Renata shows her vulnerability and apologizes for being vile to Jane. And as she finally realizes the truth about the identity of her rapist, Jane communicates it, wordlessly and intuitively, to her closest friends.

 

Bonnie witnesses the beating that’s being inflicted on Celeste and acts on impulse to protect her, and we sense that this is not the first time Bonnie has witnessed such a thing.

 

This is the power of transparency: the events that transpire transform this group of women into a sisterhood. The scenes that follow, showing the women on the beach with their children, solidify our impression that the fractures between these women are healed.

 

By telling the truth about her complicated, flawed, imperfect self, each of these women “splits open” her life…but also, finally makes room for real, authentic friendship and sisterhood. And we sense that, strengthened and supported by this sisterhood, the women are finally empowered to create and live the life of their choosing.

 

As for whether this actually happens? Well, I’m hoping for a Season 2….

 

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