I admit it. I love awards shows, and I’m more than ready to close out February with the Academy Awards, even without a host. Back in January I looked forward to the Golden Globes Andy Samberg, Sandra Oh promise of a non-political show to help me chill out. It’s not like we don’t have enough political chaos to shift through during our regular news cycles—
Their reversal of audience shout-outs from personal jabs to soft compliments was refreshing. And, the show, as all of the awards shows go, was slowly paced enough so you could be reading mail or doing social media catch up while watching for the highlights, and of course, checking out the fashion or who was with whom, etc…….
But then, Glenn Close won the award for best actress in a drama for “The Wife.” In that instant, things got very real, very quickly. Her remarks were relevant to the times we are in—#Me-Too, #Times-up, and the more subtle issue she highlighted—“sublimating oneself for her man” was so on point that I was transfixed.
Glenn Close was at her best as an actress in this movie—brilliantly playing a woman, and helpmate to her successful author husband who wins a Pulitzer-type prize for his writing.
In short, the perfect wife. Nothing short of supportive in all things for her hubby.
I will not be a spoiler for either the movie or the book of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, written in 2003 and hailed as an acerbically funny and intelligent portrait of deception (Entertainment Weekly). But the story of the long marriage of Joan and Joe Castlemen is strained by a secret they have kept for decades. It reaches a crescendo when Joan, finally confronts the sacrifices she’s made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted.
That should be enough of a hook to get you to read the book and see the movie.
Close went on to win Best Actress at the SAG awards and was a nominee for Best Actress at the Oscars as well. Perhaps because the Golden Globes award surprised her a bit; she seemed so unguarded and human in her acceptance speech. She made a stunning comment that brought the room to attention. She reported that her mother, in her 80’s, confessed to her daughter that she never felt that she had accomplished much of anything. Glenn said she thought of her mother when she took the role, and how she had seen her mother sublimate herself to her father throughout their married life. She then went on to challenge the audience to accept the reality that women have the right to find personal fulfillment and should be allowed to go for it. And, they needed to believe it themselves.
Yes, and of course! But, like institutional racism and cultural bias, these things are not universally understood as socially acceptable alongside more acceptable roles of nurturer, lover, etc.
Glenn used an interesting term to describe her mother’s reality. She said her mother “sublimated” to her father. In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism in which socially unacceptable impulses are transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse.”
Well doesn’t that say it all! Think of all the women who give up on a path, or role or profession in order to stay on a track that maybe more traditional merely because they don’t see other women making it by going a different way. Or, they get so beaten down by the barriers that they stop trying.
This is our challenge—changing the acceptable paths, widening the horizons, and showing them with passion and enthusiasm. And showing them to our daughters, sisters, mothers, and our sons.
We have to be vigilant about not allowing ourselves to be subjugated or made submissive. But we also need to make sure we don’t internalize the acceptable limits and sublimate our own personal fulfillment. A subtle difference, so two different battle lines. Be wary of subjugation by others and allowing yourself to sublimate your own path.
And, Glenn, thanks for shining the light.
*This essay first appeared in Ms. Career Girl in March, 2019.