By Cathy Schiffer, LCSW
The 2021 Netflix Limited Series “Maid” casts light on the struggles of a young mother attempting to flee the domestically violent relationship between her and her boyfriend, the father of her child. Alex is a young, intelligent, beautiful woman who is the mother of a 3-year-old child. She loves her daughter; however, when Alex flees her home to escape dangerous circumstances, she is forced to make troublesome choices to provide for her child. This film highlights issues in our society surrounding fixed gender roles that exploit unequal power between genders, a biased legal system, and a bureaucratic system of social services designed to aid the vulnerable population. These issues can inadvertently set in motion a pattern of blame or judgment whereby victims of domestic violence often feel ostracized, alone and isolated.
Alex enters social services reluctantly, fearing that she will be judged or seen as “…white trash.” When Alex admits that she has nowhere to stay, she learns she cannot obtain subsidized housing without employment. When Alex seeks daycare for her child to become employed, she is informed that she cannot get approved for daycare without a job. The worker asks her, “are you strung out?” without any evidence that she is using drugs. Alex is in crisis, overwhelmed and vulnerable, and realizes there are many problems within the system designed to help.
Alex denies that she has been abused because she does not understand abuse. She assumes that because her boyfriend did not physically injure her, she was not abused. However, intimidation, cursing, screaming, blaming, throwing items, and punching walls are abuse. It is quite common for domestic violence victims not to realize that abuse takes numerous forms, including emotional, financial, controlling threats and intimation that exploits and demeans a woman’s sense of self.
Alex’s mother appears to be struggling with a significant mood disorder. She is portrayed in a manic state. Without any other option, Alex allows her mother to babysit her daughter to go to a job interview; however, she realizes that she needs to remind her mother of the “rules,” as she has become the parent to her mother. When she returns to pick up her daughter later than expected, her mother is furious about Alex’s tardiness. She blames Alex for being selfish and accuses her of flirting with her boyfriend. She makes overtly crude sexual remarks to her daughter that have no basis in reality. The conversation between them is tough to watch as one can only see this as the devastating emotional abuse of a mentally ill mother towards her daughter. One is left with the impression that this was often commonplace throughout Alex’s childhood. Alex does not know what a healthy relationship is because she has not ever had one. The evidence of neglect and emotional abuse has impacted Alex’s ability to protect herself. She likely feels this is all she deserves.
When judgments occur, Alex remains stoic, unemotional, and frozen as in a traumatic state. In a dire situation, Alex requests the aid of her father, but he also refuses her his home and states that she reminds him of her mother. Alex is shaken and hurt; however, she does not communicate her feelings and instead distances herself from him, a protective measure to prevent further harm. It seems it is a pattern in Alex’s life not to be heard or valued, and she has coped with that, in part, by the development of her creativity and fantasy life. She writes poetry and pretends to be living another person’s life. She fantasizes about having a safe home, being loved, and having her daughter.
Alex shows amazing strength when she leaves her boyfriend. He makes repeated attempts to pull her back into the relationship by being kind. When he realizes that he cannot dissuade her from leaving, he attempts to gaslight her, making statements like “you are hurting my feelings,” “I let you hang out with my friends,” and “I feed you,” and “you have no one.” He views her as property, something to be possessed and owned. Her actions likely threaten his internalized stereotypical gender role of provider and authority, as he believes his inability to control her is an insult to his manhood. He also has been traumatized with life and is self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Alex remains absolute as she leaves him but not without consequences in the legal system who see her unable to provide for her child.
“Maid” is a limited series that depicts the realities of one woman’s attempt to leave an abusive relationship and separate oneself from the fixed and unyielding social role expectations and judgments that can perpetuate the ongoing cycle of abuse and dysfunctional relationships. Alex is repeatedly met with numerous obstacles to gaining independence and financial freedom. She is human and makes foolish choices, but it seems to come from youth, limited experiences, and no one to support or guide her. She has many positive attributes, such as her creativity, her sensitivity, and her drive. For any woman who knows domestic violence, Alex is an example of the lack of self-love that is often seen with abuse victims. However, it was the profound love of a child that motivated and drove her to escape. She did not leave for herself; she left for the well-being of her child. Perhaps, with support and guidance, she can learn to love and value herself.
If you or someone you know is struggling with similar circumstances or any form of family violence, please do not hesitate to reach out to Jewish Family Service at 972 437-9950 x340.
Jewish Family Service provides crisis intervention and safety planning, counseling, and support groups for the victim of family violence, as well as, when appropriate, professional help for the abuser. Learn more at https://jfsdallas.org/services/family-violence/.