The Help (2011): Racism and Gender Studies

The Help (2011) Illustration by https://ieatfreesk.live/product_details/23434636.html

by Roma Kyo Kae Saniro
Dosen Universitas Andalas

JurnalPost.com – Various literary works addressing racism, mainly through the lens of skin color between black and white, can be found in the long history of America. The depiction of this racism is evident in the narrative of the film “The Help” (2011). “The Help” is a period drama film written and directed by Tate Taylor. This cinematic creation is adapted from the novel of the same title written by Kathryn Stockett in 2009. The ensemble cast includes renowned names such as Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, and Sissy Spacek. The central narrative revolves around the character Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a young Caucasian woman with aspirations to become a journalist.

The film’s plot primarily focuses on Skeeter’s interactions with two African-American domestic workers, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson. It delves into the turbulent Civil Rights Movement era 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan enters the scene to craft a narrative about the lives of “the help” based on her impactful experiences with her caretaker and the inhumane lives of these domestic workers. This writing becomes an endeavor to pursue journalistic and literary integrity.

This written account takes the form of a book that encapsulates various experiences of “the help” of black domestic workers of that time. Despite many caregivers or domestic workers facing discrimination from white society, who were often their employers, there were still some benevolent white employers. However, such instances were rare. Through this book, Eugenia writes about these experiences through interviews with “the help” in her area. Initially challenging, as many domestic workers were skeptical of Eugenia’s intentions, the participation of Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson encouraged others to join.

During that period, the “the help” concept referred to African-American domestic workers, commonly referred to as “help” in the United States. This specific terminology became the foundation for various journalistic records, literary works, and cinematic productions addressing social and political issues related to domestic work during that period. “The Help” successfully brings to the screen the complex social dynamics of that time.

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In American society during the 1960s, racial solid segregation and differential treatment between white and black groups were prevalent. Black domestic workers, often the backbone of white families, were frequently regarded as “help” or servants with limited roles and rights. “The Help” not only depicts the relationship between white employers and black domestic workers but also highlights the inequality and injustice faced by African-American domestic workers. The film successfully opens the eyes of the audience to the harsh reality faced by these caregivers, including unfair racial treatment and the limitations of their rights and opportunities.

Through a compelling narrative and complex characters, “The Help” illustrates the importance of eliminating discrimination and the civil rights struggle during that era. The film gives a voice to those often unheard in society, sparking discussions and a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by African-American domestic workers in the 1960s in the United States.

Beyond the racism black characters face, an intriguing aspect of the film is the dominance of female characters who serve as “the help” during that period. This indirectly indicates the portrayal of the double burden experienced by women in specific roles, as they are obligated to work for their families, both husbands and children. This becomes even more evident when one of the female characters working as “the help” faces domestic violence. This results in various discriminations against the black female character.

Gender dominance, as portrayed in the film “The Help,” serves as an example of the existence of gender inequality and discrimination in the workplace. Despite providing opportunities for women to engage in public work, there are certain limitations and expectations that influence their career choices. In the film’s context, professions related to household and childcare have generally been recognized as “women’s work.”

Traditional expectations continuously permeate societal perspectives on jobs considered “appropriate” for women, symbolizing a significant obstacle in achieving gender equality in the workforce. Roles associated with household duties continue to be linked to women as their primary responsibility despite their increased participation in the workforce. In “The Help,” the portrayal of jobs such as childcare, cooking, and other household tasks underscores the idea that women should primarily fill these positions. Gender-based stereotypes contribute to the prevalence of women in sectors considered “conventional” or adhering to specific gender norms.

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Despite women’s efforts to carve a space in the workforce, constraints on career choices persist. Their options are often limited to jobs that align with gender-based stereotypes, sacrificing opportunities to pursue careers more in line with their talents and personal interests. The importance of women’s financial contributions to family responsibilities implies that, despite their involvement in the workforce, women continue to face dual demands. They must juggle their responsibilities at home while striving for financial independence. This highlights women’s challenges in breaking free from traditional expectations regarding gender roles and responsibilities.

In this context, gender dominance explains how job structures and societal expectations can manifest as a form of discrimination against women. Changing attitudes and achieving balance in gender roles represent integral aspects of efforts to realize gender equality in various life domains.

In conclusion, the film “The Help” provides a glimpse into the challenging reality experienced by black domestic workers during the 1960s in the United States, revealing the racial and gender obstacles they encountered. Limitations in career choices, compliance with traditional expectations, and the double burden faced by women taking on the role of “help” all serve as manifestations of racial and gender dominance.

This film is crucial in enlightening viewers about the intricacies of inequality and discrimination domestic workers face. Despite efforts to create opportunities in the workforce, these constraints continually hinder women’s choices in their professional lives, clearly depicting the challenges they face in confronting gender stereotypes. A piece of advice for all individuals is to continuously advocate for gender equality and challenge stereotypes that limit women’s career paths. By promoting education and facilitating open dialogue on these issues, we can dismantle barriers to discrimination. Additionally, it is crucial to initiate changes in corporate policies and society to foster an environment that nurtures growth without regard to gender. Thus, we can progress towards a culture that embraces inclusivity and equality for all its members.

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