Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles – Women: 5 Stars
The three women in the Help each display a lot of bravery and a lot of heart. Skeeter is the sort of woman who follows her instincts and stays true to herself, even when it means forging a tough and lonely road. Skeeter isn't simply ruffling feathers by chasing a career instead of finding a husband, she’s also rebelling against racial inequality. This means pitting herself against friends from her childhood and at times, even her family. When it comes down to it, Skeeter is even willing to sacrifice her chance at finding love to stand by her ideals.
Aibileen and Minnie are taking on far greater risks than Skeeter. They’re not concerned about social ostracization, but imprisonment, poverty, physical violence and possibly even death. The film glosses over some of the dangers that these women face in speaking out against their white employers, but even with the sugar-coating, the fear that they experience is enough to put the audience on notice that what they are up against is far more serious than harsh words.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 5 Stars
The Help casts two middle-aged African-American women as its heroes, and turns the pretty, well-dressed white women of Jackson into vicious, ugly souls. Aibileen and Minnie are practical, caring, hard-working people that audiences can easily relate to and fall in love with. The Black women in Jackson don’t spend much time focusing on something as petty and irrelevant beauty, because they’re still struggling against something as petty and irrelevant as racism.
The film’s other hero, Skeeter, is still cast as a thin, pretty white woman. She’s subject to the same insecurities about her appearance and finding a husband as white women are today. But Skeeter has something the other white women in Jackson don’t have. She has a sense of purpose, a gift with words and the ambition to be more than just another housewife barking orders at her maid and failing to care for her own children. Skeeter’s boldness and heart, if nothing else, set her apart from her lovely counterparts.
Plot: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
Aibileen is one of the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. She’s worked her entire life raising other people’s children, teaching them to love themselves when their own parents are neglectful or cruel. She puts her life and her livelihood on the line to reveal some of the heartbreak she’s found in white women’s homes, and to expose the pain that plagues the lives of Black women in Jackson, Mississippi.
Minnie displays the same sense of courage in sharing her stories with Skeeter, but also finds subtle ways of standing up for herself in person, without hiding behind her “anonymous” words in Skeeter’s book. Her small acts of rebellion, however, don’t come without a price. She ends up without work and at the mercy of an abusive husband. But in time, she finds the strength to work herself free of that bond as well.
Finally, Skeeter has the heart and the creativity to see the unique value in the lives of the Black women around her. She wins over Aibileen, Minnie and the rest of the maids with her steady determination and sincerity. She ultimately wins over her publisher, and even her mother, by creating a heartfelt collection of stories that helps Jackson and the rest of the world start seeing these invisible women as more than just “the Help,” but as real women with hearts and talents that ought to be celebrated.
Character Development: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
Each of the women in the Help undergoes a steady change that enriches them by the end of the film. Aibileen is a practical woman who does her job well and with little complaint. She doesn’t intend to create waves and aims to protect what little she’s established for herself. Yet a series of small influences collect and weigh on her, until she agrees to take on the responsibility of speaking the truth. By the end of the film, Aibileen is strong enough to confront the women that have abused her face to face, and walk away strong, determined, and without fear of retribution.
Minnie, on the other hand, has always had the propensity to speak out of turn, but still fell victim to a different sort of abuse at home. Unfortunately, the Help doesn’t explore the psychology that keeps Minnie under Leroy’s thumb, nor does it truly explain the sudden surge of strength that convinces her to leave him. It’s clear however, that Minnie has found a sense of security and belonging by the end of the film. And it’s possible that her experiences with Aibileen, Skeeter and the Foote family have given her just enough of a taste of justice to make her crave more.
Skeeter’s change isn’t as stark as the others, but she does grow further away from the influences of Southern society and more into herself as the film progresses. It’s unfortunate that Skeeter never really confronts the vile women that she used to count among her friends. She never admits that she disagrees with their viewpoints. She simply slips further and further away, hiding her true feelings until the book exposes them. She never even shares the depth of her views with her emerging beau, Stewart. As a result, her transformation is almost entirely internal. But even in its subtlety, it leaves a small impact.
Love: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Skeeter’s romance with Stewart is little more than a side story, without much emotion or investment. It's encouraging to see that Skeeter isn’t painted as so fiercely ambitious that she shuns the idea of personal relationships. To the contrary, the film depicts a well-rounded woman who is confident in some areas, and insecure in others. Skeeter longs to find love as much as anyone else, but under the circumstances, in the time and place where she was raised, the sort of men that can appreciate her gifts and talents are in short supply. It’s comforting to see that Skeeter isn’t ruined over her imperfect love affair. When Stewart turns out to be less than everything he appeared to be, she cries for a little bit, then moves on.
Friendship: 5 Stars
Most of the friendships in the Help are very real and inspiring. Aibileen and Minnie have seen each other through a number of tough times, spanning the death of a son, a frightening period of unemployment, and an abusive husband. They trust each other with their hopes and fears and joys and sorrows, and everything in between. Aibileen and Minnie also form a close bond with Skeeter, despite the racial divide, by learning to be honest and sincere with one another.
In addition, Minnie’s relationship with her new employer, Celia, can hardly be described as anything but friendship. The two women learn to trust and care for each other despite their divergent social statuses, and see each other through some fairly difficult times. Throughout the film, the only female friendships that might be described as petty or trite, are those of the hateful and superficial white women who still cling to the privileges of racial segregation.
Gender Roles - Men: 2.5 Stars
There are very few men in the Help, and most of them play stereotypical roles of fathers and husbands of the time period. A few of them are a bit more progressive than the others, - for example, Skeeter’s boyfriend Stewart and Celia’s husband Johnny. But even these men are only a small part of the narrative. The Help is, by and large a story about the women in Jackson, Mississippi, and their particular fight for social justice.
Violence Against Women: 2 Stars
The Help paints an overly simplistic view of domestic violence. Minnie is clearly trapped in abusive relationship with her husband Leroy, but there’s little discussion about her concern for her children, her ability to support herself, or other obstacles that prevent her from walking away. And when Minnie does decide to leave Leroy, it’s painted as a simple decision rather than a violent or life-altering struggle.
Of course, Minnie’s relationship with Leroy is a side story. It isn’t meant to take up much time or energy. Leroy himself is never even seen on camera. But just the same, the brief mention of such a difficult subject, without much explanation, could contribute to perpetuating the myth that domestic violence is something that women choose, rather than a larger social problem.
Family: 2 Star
When the film begins, Skeeter has a fairly typical relationship with her mother. Her mother wants her to date and get married, and has little interest in her studies or her career. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Skeeter and her mother have a deeper bond. That perhaps Skeeter inherited some of her mettle from her mother after all. And by the end of the film, Skeeter’s mother comes to embrace and encourage her daughter’s talents, recognizing that Skeeter’s courage and heart are far more impressive than the petty ideals she once tried to push on her.