“Joy”: A Surprising Christmas Present Long Overdue

Christmas came and went. It’s funny to think that just a week ago I was scrambling to get last minute gifts and make sure everything at work was good to go before heading up North to spend some quality time with my family. It was a great break, a break I needed. Relaxing and full of fun, laughter, and food I got some much needed rest and found pleasure in the simple things – a board game with my Mom or bother by the fire, glass of wine in a hot tub, walk along the bluffs embankment above the beach, and movies with friends and family.

It’s hard to really say which I enjoyed more. But for the purpose of this post I’d like to give a shout out to the new movie “Joy” starring Jennifer Lawrence. To claim I enjoyed the film would be an understatement. It was smart, funny, and brilliantly written and portrayed by all the actors and actresses involved. I found myself glued to the movie screen; so much so that I didn’t notice the girl in front of me scrolling through her Instagram account or when my friend had to lean over to tell her to shut off her phone because it was distracting. This was brand new news to me once the credits started rolling.

Why did I love this film so much?

Because it is the first movie I have seen in a long time that centered solely on the accomplishments of a female self-made millionaire in the age of new inventions and pioneering men in the booming tech industries of the 1990s. While many laud the accomplishments of a growing group of influential women that have sprung up in the past few decades – from Benazir Bhutto to Christiane Amanpour and Oprah Winfrey to Beyoncé – very little screen time has been devoted to this bunch. They are talked about in magazines and news articles and presented with community and national awards for their business prowess and charitable deeds. These are not small tributes. They are important. But when it comes to the movies their story is left out or pushed to the sidelines to make room for another type of story.

Instead, films are devoted to the accomplishments of real and fictional male characters that despite all odds and tribulations come out on top; usually primarily due to their brilliance and sheer obsessive need to prevail. Their accomplishments change the industry they are in or even save the world. Such is the story of the Great White Male Genius in which invention and ingenuity is solely associated with this group. The list is long and growing, including recent additions like: Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs (2015) and Jobs (2013); Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2014); Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2014); Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010); Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011) and Sherlock Holmes (2009;, and let us not forget Iron Man himself, Tony Stark, in movies from 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015. It’s a type of movie I have seen time and time again. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy them, and who wouldn’t?! But it’s the only type of film that seems to gain significant traction in the film industry with worldwide viewership when it comes to presenting a character that is strong, brilliant, and self-made.

And then we have “Joy”. It’s the perfect title for this film. Based on the life of Joy Mangano, “Joy” follows the obstacles, instant success, and potential shakedowns by family, friends, and business partners our lead character must endure before solidifying her business empire and becoming her own woman. We first meet Joy as a young girl, full of potential and a desire to create and build things. She receives encouragement from her grandmother, who helps open the film by telling her:

“Listen to me, I’ll tell you what’s gonna come of you. You are going to grow up and be a strong, smart young woman. Go to school. Meet a fine young man. Have beautiful children of your own. And you are going to build wonderful things. And that is what’s going to happen to you.”

It’s an empowering message for any young girl. “You are going to build wonderful things.” This one sentence encapsulates not only the spirit of the film but the message we fail to promote to all the young girls and women throughout the world. Joy is not someone’s sidekick or assistant. She does not meekly go forth into the world, keeping her mouth shut and eyes cast downward. She doesn’t apologize for every move or word out of her mouth. She is resilient, self-sufficient, and when it comes time for her to finally rise up she doesn’t shirk the challenge.

As a young girl growing up I never really thought about becoming a businesswoman. A writer, traveler, teacher, and even a policymaker or lawyer sure; but never an entrepreneur. It’s not an industry usually associated with women. I can’t remember a single female entrepreneur or inventor who was talked about, filmed, and presented through the TV or film industry I could have held up as a role model for inspiration. Neither am I shocked. Currently, women only account for 4.2% of CEO positions in S&P 500 Companies. Now that’s a big leap from the late 1990s when there was only 1 woman CEO out of the whole bunch. And as Joy shows, there is subtle and not-so-subtle sexism when it comes to female entrepreneurs; from an underlying belief that women are not ruthless or competent enough as leaders in business to being considered “too bitchy” if they don’t constantly smile and give platitudes to their peers and bosses so that they are viewed as “likable”.

I would like to see more movies that embrace the narrative of “Joy” and maybe, just maybe, the real world will become more accepting of and proactive in promoting female entrepreneurs.

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