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From Domestic Violence to Freedom in Maid

By Doly Mallet

In Latin American culture, we are used to seeing stories about a poor maid who works almost like a slave in a wealthy house owned by bad people. In the end, she finds Prince Charming precisely within that environment, and she becomes rich, powerful, and loved. A formula learned by fairy tales such as Cinderella. The message is basically "be good, and a hard worker (especially in housekeeping issues, not in an office), and your prize will be a man who takes care of you."

Maid (Netflix, 2021) is not a telenovela. On the contrary, it is based on the memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive (2019) by Stephanie Land, portrayed on TV by a wonderful Margaret Qualley, who, no doubt, deserves nominations during the upcoming awards season.

We see how the main character, Alex, leaves her abusive boyfriend, moves–along with their two-year-old daughter–into a shelter for domestic abuse victims, and gets a job cleaning houses to survive. Sometimes it is incredibly tiring to follow her journey, because this is life, not a sugar-coated Hollywood story. Every episode shows how many doors get slammed shut in her face; then, a window opens, and we can breathe a little. But guess what? That window closes too, and she has to get up and keep going.

The main topic of Maid is domestic violence. Still, when we hear that concept, we usually think of a super aggressive husband, a "Jekyll and Hyde" figure that transforms himself into a monster and terrorizes the woman leaving her with bruises, scars, and blood. However, there are many shades of grey in the concept that haven't been explored. In this particular story, the boyfriend is Sean (Nick Robinson), a nice guy who actually loves her girlfriend and his daughter. He works to bring home the bacon, just trying to be a good partner. But he is an alcoholic, and because of this, he loses his temper easily. He hasn't hit Alex or two-year-old Molly yet, but he screams, yells, breaks things, punches the wall, and that is also abuse, emotional abuse. Difficult to prove, though, difficult for others to believe, difficult for the victim to defend herself.

We meet Alex's parents, and we learn that she is repeating family patterns which she needs to solve to heal. Her father seems to be a good person who remarried and has a great new life, but Alex doesn't trust him. Her mom (Andie McDowell, Qualley's mother) is an emotional disaster, falling for guys that are only using her. Alex is not only taking care of her daughter and herself, but she is also taking care of her mother.


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We will also find a knight in shining armor through the main character’s ups and downs. However, here the moral of the story is not, "be good, and you will find a nice man who will take care of you." The lesson is "be good, and learn how to protect yourself, how to earn respect, how to be independent and responsible," which is much a bigger prize than your average prince charming. Maid is a feminist story because we learn through Alex's experience to listen first to ourselves, before any other voice. We learn how to fight for our greater good: our own identity, our freedom. We learn to climb our own mountain alone and become stronger in the process.

It also confronts us with questions that are hard to answer: "Why suffer, if I can just choose the easy path and go back to my comfort zone?" This story is for brave people, who know the value of empathy and therefore do not judge a victim by saying things like "he didn't hit you, it could be so much worse, he is nice, he loves you, it was a mistake, why don't you go back to him?" Or, "this other guy is helping you; he likes you, he will give you everything, stop complaining and accept his advances instead of continuing to struggle." Fortunately, Alex only listens to her voice and not society's advice, which is there to prevent discomfort and pain, but also to halt personal growth.

Maid addresses the topic of domestic violence, much like TheMorning Show or I May Destroy You center on sexual abuse. They show other aspects of the problem: not the extreme, not the monsters, not the black and white, but the "nice guys" that are “not that bad" and therefore, "maybe the victims are exaggerating." There are many, many colors in the world of abuse (sexual or violent). Are you ready to see them?


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