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Tough Choices

Perhaps because I’ve been finding myself feeling more like an actual grownup than I usually do, I’ve been more highly aware than usual of shows and movies that do a good job of showing adults making difficult choices. Y’all know I’m quite fond of Covert Affairs, but I thought the show did an especially nice job in the finale when one character was given the opportunity to make a maneuver that would have landed her her husband’s job. Both of them surprised me: she told her husband about the opportunity, and instead of lambasting her, he told her she should taken it. She responded by deciding not to take the chance. The writers and actors pulled off an impressive feat in making the moment a threshold act, the thing that will save their marriage, or doom it, but a moment that is sweet no matter the outcome.That moment of sacrifice reminded me of one of the better bits of Mona Lisa Smile (which is such a great missed opportunity, given the terrific young cast, and which, full disclosure, I did some on-set work for), when Julia Stiles’ character turns down admission to Yale Law School in order to be a housewife. It’s an uncomfortable moment, and I think it’s intended to be. Even though another character has been through the dissolution of a disastrous early marriage, she’s decided she wants to be a housewife. We’re simultaneously meant to think she’s wrong, and headed for something very bad, and to question our own assumptions about the right decisions for women.It feels a bit odd for me that both of these examples are decisions where women step away from ambition in favor of family. I do have a hard time coming up with a situation where a man does a similar thing to his own career in favor of his family. Maybe they feel powerful because the balance of those choices still seems to land more heavily on women than men, and it’s a reflection of a continuing fear. But whatever the outcomes, disappointing or reinvigorating, I think it’s useful to see the simple difficulty of those decisions.

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