Traditions and Thoughts

Gypsy, the musical by Arthur Laurents, provides a core example of the film industry’s use of stereotypes regarding gender and identity. The musical portrays the character Rose, played in the 1992 television film adaptation by Bette Midler as a business-centric, a pushy “stage-mother” who controls her children’s careers. Gypsy establishes a dependency relationship between Rose and her two children–Louise and June–and uses them as pawns to fulfill her desire of always being a star. While watching the musical, I didn’t resonate with many of the characters, but as I was reflecting, I could sense a bit of Louise within me.

Louise, played by Cynthia Gibb, is a shy little girl who her mother casts as is a boy in a vaudeville act with her sister June. Mama Rose doesn’t believe in Louise becoming much of a star and torments Louise for not being as good an actor as June. Yet, as Louise evolves into a young adult, her main goal is to fulfill her mother’s desire of performing on stage. I see a bit of me in Louise when she continuously sides with her mom, even though Rose put so much pressure on her growing up.  I am brought up in a modern South Asian family where my mom did not have as many opportunities growing up, and I would do anything to fulfill her wishes. June pisses me off because she can’t appreciate her mom’s harshness and resilience in getting their act booked, even if it wasn’t June’s passion.

Louise craved the satisfaction of fulfilling her mother’s dreams, and she did just that when she became a stripper. As a young girl, Louise wore cowboy clothes and draped herself in clothes that presented her as a young man. She echoed a shy young actor who didn’t enjoy speaking out because she was hiding her true self. As Louise grew older, she evolved into a stripper, which was such a big change in personality. Instantly having the added title of stripper, wearing lingerie, and dancing for the pleasure of others made her more famous than she would have been on the Vaudeville stage. It amazes me that men always put women on a pedestal when they remove their clothes and dance. Rose forced Louise’s hand into becoming a stripper, and once she did, she was proud of her. It was insane to see how Rose could give up the hope of Louise becoming a star and allow her daughter to become a stripper to progress her career. But in the end, Louise was content. Gypsy promotes the stereotype that being a successful a woman means having to flaunt one’s sexuality.

On the other hand, Rose’s other daughter June (played by Jennifer Rae Beck) shines like a bright star and does not care about Rose’s wishes for her. In “If Momma was Married,” June, sings: “If momma was married, we’d live in a house/ As private as private can be.”  No matter how much Rose works for her daughters, she will always fail in giving her daughters a stable life. Imagining that “if momma was married,” the girls hints that if Rose had a husband, they would be able to fulfill all their desires. This reinforces another stereotype: children must have a dominant male figure in their life to be successful and rich. June and Louise are so young, but they are already dreaming of growing up rich versus poor.

Louise’s eyes twinkle as she fantasizes about her mom being married and her being able to live with various pets, almost as if she yearns for her childhood innocence to come back. When Louise talks about having a family filled with animals, a father, and a mother, the film’s director creates an illusion through Louise’s smile, suggesting that she would be more happy in that life than her current one. Although Louise resents her childhood as a child actor because she was never the one that Rose believed in, she still sided with her mom over June, who only wishes that her mother would leave her alone. The audience can hear the anger building up in June because as her voice rises, almost as if she is passionate to show the world how badly her mother treated her. Though the two sisters have completely different perceptions of their mother, they hold each other’s hands to show agreement in their desire to see Rose to be remarried. While June has a negative reason behind getting her mom married because she wants to get rid of Rose, Louise can’t wait, almost as if she’s a baby getting a brand-new toy.

Women are always portrayed in a harsh light and are expected as pleasers in society. Gypsy proves how they stereotype women and portray them as submissive and willing to stoop to low levels to establish their crediblity. As a woman, especially as a South Asian woman, I find it difficult to locate a middle ground where I am not only fulfilling the wishes of my mom but finding something that I love doing. As women we have expectations from both society and family, we must unite to find a way to break the stereotype and create equality amongst all genders.