Good Girls’ Beth: A Housewife with Agency
Good Girls’ Beth: A Housewife with Agency
As soon as I saw that Netflix’s new series, Good Girls, starred Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Parks and Recreation’s Retta and Arrested Development’s Mae Whitman, I knew that I would enjoy it. To me these women are TV royalty, and here they did not disappoint.
I watched the entire 10 episodes in one day which, if you’re anything like me, is not actually that impressive, but it was definitely worth avoiding day light and human interaction for this show. A simple outline of the premise is that three women - two sisters and their best friend - all desperately need money due to various family situations, and because of this they decide to rob the grocery store where one of the sisters, Annie, works. In fact, the very first scene shows them in balaclavas committing the act before it flashes back to three weeks earlier. If you’re anything like me - you hate spoilers, but to get down to why I believe this series is worth discussing, I’m gonna have to get past the basics, therefore if you are super paranoid about learning too much, stop now – go watch the series and come back. I promise it will be worth it.
Now onto the main reason I felt the need to write about Good Girls: it is all about strong women who take action after becoming tired of being underestimated or controlled by the men in their lives. Beth needs money to pay off the debts her husband has created, Annie must find money to pay for a lawyer to fight her ex who wants custody of their androgynous daughter Sadie, and Ruby (whose needs are always rightfully prioritised) needs money to pay for her daughter’s cancer treatments. These women are desperate but instead of wallowing in hopelessness, they take control. Now I’m not condoning criminal activity at all, but the women in this show are pretty badass. Though they end up in threatening situations they manage to work their way out of it without depending on some prince charming to save them. These women are trying to be their own, and their families’, saviours. So often strong female characters are only there to play second fiddle to a male protagonist, but here it is all about the women – and I love it!
To me, the most interesting and powerful character of the show is Beth, the older sister portrayed by Christina Hendricks, who starts the show as a kept housewife and ends it as the ambitious leader of their criminal ‘gang’. In the first episode she learns that not only is her husband cheating on her with his secretary, but that he has also put their family into financial ruin. She predictably kicks him out, but instead of deciding to seek revenge on the other woman - a far too common plotline of other shows - she gives some money to the secretary in question so that she can follow her Hollywood dream. Though she does put ‘the other woman’ down a little, she tells her that she blames her husband and that they ‘both deserve more than a liar in a pig suit. Me more than you but still.’ – (her husband is a car salesman who wears a pig costume in his commercials). This is the first of many occasions where Beth shows her deep frustration with the way men behave and expect to be let off the hook.
In the first episode alone, we see the personal damage that toxic masculinity has caused Beth. Alongside this trauma, we see her deep inner strength as she refuses to be underestimated or taken advantage of. There is a powerful scene in which she comes to the defence of Annie, whose boss is attempting to rape her. At gun point the boss tells her not to be upset and that they were ‘just having a little bit of fun’ to which Beth responds, ‘When a lady screams ‘stop’ it is usually because she is not having the time of her life’. This interaction can be seen as nod to the various female led movements such as No Means No and Me Too, as women fight to have their consent respected and voices heard. The language used by the boss is similar to that heard so disgustingly often in cases where men attempt to justify assault, he later claims ‘she (Annie) likes it rough’ and that her dress sense is purposefully provocative. The boss character serves as a symbol for the more violent side of misogyny, something which his unattractiveness and underlying cowardliness adds to.
Alongside the criticism of the more apparent misogynist behaviour, Good Girls also tackles the perception of the suburban mother as a weak and dependant figure. When Beth’s husband discovers her involvement in criminal activity, he assumes that she has naively been taken advantage of and needs him as protection, her agency and intelligence is completely undermined. Beth has chances throughout the series to leave crime and return to being the doting wife and mother people see her as, but she refuses to go back to a life of dependency and putting other people’s needs before her own. She becomes disillusioned with the lifestyle she once led and this can be seen in the way she interacts with the women who are still in that position. At one point in the series the girls attempt to recruit unknowing housewives into a secret shopper scheme which is in fact just a front for them to ‘wash’ fake money by buying expensive products with it and then returning them for real cash. During the recruitment process Beth grows frustrated by the women’s hesitations as they ‘need to check with their husbands’. In a push to make them strive for independence she gives an impassioned speech: ‘This is not about your husband or your kids. I get it, you feel like you’ve got to put everyone in front of you, but you don’t.’ Part of this suburban societal structure has led these women to see themselves as secondary; they have become subservient to their husbands and families. Beth ends her speech with a phrase that I find incredibly empowering, ‘When women support other women incredible things can happen,’ but which, heartbreakingly, doesn’t get through to these women; enthusiasm is only reached with a promise of ‘the shopper of the year gets a new corvette’. Only a tangible material reward motivates them - the promise of financial independence and a job of one’s own seems unimportant. Seeing her past-self in these meek women motivates Beth to keep hold of the freedom that she has found through taking charge of her own destiny. It is this emphasis on this specific kind of agency that I find so powerful, it elevates what would just be an enjoyable series about unexpected criminals to something truly thought-provoking.
All three protagonists are worthy of praise in the strength of their characterisations; they are complex female characters that any audience can appreciate and learn from. But to find out more about Annie and Ruby you’ll just have to watch for yourself, I can’t recommend it enough!