Going into this film, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The title could be interpreted in several ways. What do they mean by mad? Is the woman not a feminist? If she isn’t, then who is? Put simply, I was intrigued.
The film opens with a man and a woman sitting across from each other at a table at an outdoor café. They are married. The woman, named Pilar, initiates the conversation with a direct request: she tells her husband she wants him to stop telling people he is a feminist. Why, you may ask? That is the question this 13-minute short film will address.
This entry titled, The Mad Woman and the Feminist, from Spanish director Sandra Gallego for the Miami Short Film Festival explores what it means to be a feminista in today’s world through open and honest dialogue between a husband and wife. The conversation understandably gets heated, demonstrating how differently men and women still view the world and their respective roles within it. In this review, I will be delving into their conversation, so if you are interested in seeing this film, just know this article contains SPOLIERS!
“Stop saying you’re a feminist in front of your friends.” Pilar opens this conversation with a note of seriousness that tells her husband, Iñaki, she isn’t messing around. Stunned, Iñaki replies, “but I am a feminist.” Pilar essentially tells him that when he says he is a feminist, it makes her feel ashamed, which elicits a confused response from him. Iñaki begins a passionate defense, explaining the importance of the movement to him personally, and ends with him declaring his support and pride in being a feminist. Pilar is visibly upset by this, and at first, it’s unclear as to why. Isn’t it a good thing that he’s proud of being a feminist? Doesn’t she want someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for gender equality? But the cracks in his defense begin to show as Pilar challenges his assertion that he is a feminist.
As Pilar drills Iñaki about his domestic duties and his responsibilities as a father, it becomes clear as to why she is upset that he calls himself a feminist. “What time is your daughter’s guitar lesson?” Pilar asks. “When was the last time you bought our children clothes?” “Who decides what’s for dinner?” “How many PTA meetings do you go to?” As Pilar drills him, Iñaki grows more and more frustrated, feeling attacked by this seemingly random outburst. “It’s what we decided!” He claims. “I make dinner all the time!” “I’m not good at hair or sewing!”
“Well,” Pilar says, “Learn.”
In a world where we are no longer afraid to have difficult conversations, we find ourselves in a growing divide between those who live in one reality and those who live in another. Whether it be feminism, racism, or an intersection of the two, we often find ourselves in an us against them mentality, where one side is completely flabbergasted that the other can’t seem to grasp what’s right in front of them. One person sees examples of bigger systems playing out in situations that seem as mundane as who picks up the kids for guitar lessons, the other person just sees a normal Monday and feels deeply hurt by the insinuation that the motives behind their actions aren’t completely pure.
This film is a perfect example of why conversations surrounding important topics are so damn hard. On the one hand, many of us relate to Pilar’s frustrations with her husband and his ignorance—on the other, is it completely fair to expect him to see the world through her point of view? The reason Pilar sees a patriarchal hand in everything is because she has to. Iñaki has had the privilege of being able to shape his world in a way that suits him, and how he wants to be perceived. If he wants people to perceive him as a feminist, all he really has to do is declare it. He’s able to create his own unique reality in a way that Pilar is not— while yes, he is a product of society and cannot escape his burden of toxic patriarchy and masculinity, he is in a unique position to wield some power over his situation. He too may feel trapped by the confines of gender roles, but it is still a position that holds power. As Pilar points out, they never really decided what their roles would be. And Iñaki, whether cognizant of it or not, took a role that granted him more freedom in the domestic sphere.
Iñaki’s frustrations are valid. It makes sense why he feels attacked. In his mind, the patriarchy is a thing of the past. It’s how their parents were raised. It’s outdated. Of course, he believes in equality for men and women. He has done his best to be a good person. He has done his best to be a good husband. A good partner. A good father. He wants to remain in his reality. In Iñaki’s reality, things are better now. sexism is ostensibly bad. Every decision he makes is of his own free will, and there is no puppet pulling the strings. He is good and moral and therefore, he can call himself a feminist.
What he fails to realize is that his reality is not the same as Pilar’s. He is living in his own bubble where he has the freedom to believe that he is a feminist, and he doesn’t really have to prove it. He can stay in his bubble as long as he wants. He can continue to live in his own world because his gender affords him privileges that allow him to remain ignorant. After all, Pilar will be there to pick up the slack.
What is interesting about The Mad Woman and the Feminist is that it doesn’t let Pilar off the hook either. Like so many women who live in a patriarchal society, Pilar feels it is her duty to handle the domestic chores she knows her husband will shirk. With every dish she cleans and every lesson she drives her kids to, Pilar grows more and more resentful towards her husband. Instead of opening up communication with him to address her frustration, she lets it build silently until it inevitably explodes. This results in her releasing years of frustrations against Iñaki all at once. By the time she confronts him, it seems like she has already given up on him. His failure to understand only angers her more and puts her in a headspace where they couldn’t mend the situation even if they wanted to.
At this point in the film, the tables start to turn on Pilar as Iñaki makes some good points that Pilar has not considered. Just as she feels trapped to perform her specific duties, Iñaki likewise feels gender pressure to perform in the way a man is supposed to perform. “Who took charge of the paperwork when we bought the house?” he asks. “Or your dad’s inheritance?” Although Iñaki genuinely tried to pick up some of the household responsibilities, such as tidying up the kitchen, Pilar’s critical response to his efforts and dismissal of him communicated that his efforts were worthless. She couldn’t let go of her role long enough to give Iñaki a chance to make mistakes and “find the best way” (her way that is), a way no doubt formed from years of trial and error that he wasn’t allowed to experience.
The performances of the two lead actors are incredibly compelling. I could feel the hurt, the pain, and the frustration jumping off the screen. Watching this film was like reliving difficult and uncomfortable conversations I’ve had with many male friends, boyfriends, and relatives. I could feel how badly Pilar wanted her husband to just understand her. I felt her frustration as time and time again he missed the point. When Iñaki got angry and pointed out all the roles that were forced upon him, when hurt and confusion manifested on his face, I remembered all the times I’d seen that very look on the faces of the men in my life. There comes a point where conversations like these take on another form; they become a beast that gets away from both people—you argue until you don’t even understand what you’re saying anymore. You argue until you feel as though you don’t even have a case.
As uncomfortable as these conversations are, this film demonstrates how important it is that we have them anyways. They will be emotional, they will be upsetting, they will be unpleasant. But if this film teaches us anything, it is that we must remember to have compassion for the people in our lives. We are all products of our society and victims of systems that we have put into place and continue to reinforce. Iñaki didn’t deliberately force his wife to take on the sole burden of running their household. But he also did not object when she took on more and more responsibilities alone. Pilar felt the pressure to handle everything in the domestic sphere because she felt that if she didn’t, it wouldn’t get done. But the truth is, if she had shirked those duties, Iñaki probably would have picked up the slack. The point is that they never really sat down and had a conversation about how they wanted to organize their familial roles.
The Mad Woman and the Feminist is an engrossing and thought-provoking film, and I will definitely keep Iñaki and Pilar in mind the next time I have this conversation.