*Editor’s note: well-deserved salty language ahead!
Last week, I watched “The Lost Daughter” on Netflix, which is based on a book by the sublime Elena Ferrante.
This wonderful film is an honest and searing take on motherhood and the baggage that comes with it. As someone who is single, never been married, and is not a mother in the traditional sense of the word—I don’t have children of my own—I’d love to analyze the concept of “mothering” and what that means in today’s world, but I’ll save that for a later time.
“The Lost Daughter” addresses more than the idea of “nobility” that is often attached to motherhood. The protagonist in the movie, Leda (played by the divine Olivia Colman), a 48-year-old mother of two daughters, shatters many myths and illusions that society places on women in terms of what they should do and how they should behave, and God forbid they act “differently” and behave contrarily, how they’re judged.
While almost all aspects of the film spoke to me, I gravitated particularly to how single women who travel alone are treated by society. There are multiple extraordinary sequences in the movie when Leda finds herself in situations where she bucks the trend of how women who are single are expected to behave and what she encounters as a result of her fierce independence.
Without any major spoilers, one of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Leda is sitting on a beach all by herself and a family moves into the same vicinity. One of the women approaches Leda and asks her to move someplace else because she wants to be able to sit her family together in one place. Leda refuses. The woman then whines about how her request is not such a big deal and Leda should do them a favor and just move.
At face value, this really doesn’t seem like a big deal, right?
Thing is, to Leda it is a big deal. She’s spent a lot of money to come on a holiday. She’s picked that spot to sit, relax, write, and sunbathe. When the other woman tells her that the beach is big enough that Leda can easily move, Leda refuses to budge. And that irks the woman and her family.
Never mind that the beach is big enough and that the woman could easily move herself and her family to another spot, although that doesn’t seem to occur to her. Leda is alone and so she is supposed to say yes. She shouldn’t be fussy, and she should “work together” with random strangers because the other woman is with her entire family and Leda is single and alone.
Suffice to say, when Leda refuses, she is called a cunt by one of the family members.
How predictable, no?
Sigh. If only I had a penny for every time I’ve been called a cunt, or some other healthy moniker, because I had the audacity to do something that society tells women who are alone they cannot do. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to move: from a table in a restaurant that I booked ahead of time to a spot on the beach to being asked to let someone else move up in the queue because they have older or younger people with them.
The ask is always super direct when it’s aimed at a single woman. And when the woman refuses, she is labelled a bitch. Or she is obviously frustrated AF and should get laid—fast. Or people claim, “Well, no wonder she’s still single…”
I’m at that point where I’ve heard it all and heard it many times. And nothing that random strangers toss at me has any impact anymore. Apart from maybe boredom. Can you blame me for not getting laid? We’re in a pandemic! I’m also bored with all the lazy insults. Can’t people get more creative? It’s 2022. How about something creative, like:
You will never succeed in life!
You’ll never buy that penthouse on the Upper East Side!
You’ll never sit inside a Bentley or a Maybach, much less own one!
I’d at least appreciate the effort.
Leda’s refusal to move from her spot on the beach reminded me of the time I traveled a few years back (back when we all traveled…sigh) from Shanghai to Lisbon. It was a long journey. I flew from Shanghai to Guangzhou, had a layover for eight hours, then flew from Guangzhou to Moscow, with a layover of another three hours, before I boarded my flight from Moscow to Lisbon. By the time I was in my final leg of the journey, I was exhausted.
But traveling such long distances with long layovers (these types of itineraries are often much cheaper, which is why I pick them sometimes) was not new to me. So, I try and make them as easy and as convenient as I can for myself. And one way to make my journeys relatively painless is to pick an aisle seat ahead of time and make sure that my seat is halfway between the front and rear bathrooms. I personally hate sitting close to the restrooms and have found that an aisle seat makes it so much easier to access them. And I like to stretch my legs on longer flights just to keep the blood circulating without disturbing the co-passengers next to me who are resting and watching movies.
Since I’m not new to this rodeo, I always—always—check in online and pick a seat ahead of time. There are many airlines that will allow you to pick a seat well ahead of your actual travel date. And while some airlines offer up their seats for free, others charge you a modest sum to be able to pick the seat of your choice.
This time was no different and I paid extra money to get the seat I wanted on my flight from Moscow to Lisbon.
Mere moments after the plane took off from Moscow, one of the flight attendants asked if I “would be so kind as to move to another seat” so a lady with a young child could sit with her husband, who was next to me.
I said no.
There was hear-a-pin-drop silence when I replied in the negative.
I could actually hear the judgement oozing from fellow passengers. How could I—a woman traveling alone—have the effrontery to say no to a woman traveling with a child, a woman who was also separated from her husband? How cruel! How unfriendly! She is why travelers get a bad name! Oh, the fucking judgement I got from the stewardess, the husband, the wife, and the passengers all around me.
Mind you, not one other passenger (which included many single, male travelers) offered to move to accommodate this family, but I was expected to move because…yep, you guessed it: I was a single woman traveling alone. Neither did the husband ask the person sitting on the window seat or the aisle seat next to his wife to move to the husband’s middle seat next to me. Because…drum roll please…both of them were men.
The stares and the muttering continued, unabated. Never mind that the seat I was “supposed to” move to was a middle seat located right next to the bathroom, on a seven-hour flight that I was on after being on the road for over 20 hours with no sleep.
Not to mention I f*cking paid extra for my aisle seat.
You’d think this story would end here, right? Yeah, so did I. But, no, it didn’t. The lady with the kid came back and said she’d pay me what I paid to book the aisle seat. I refused again.
She walked off in a huff muttering something about how “women are women’s worst enemies.” After that, I inserted my AirPods in my ears, closed my eyes, and pretended to sleep.
There are moments it still angers me when I think back to that day. When I think back to how I had to pretend to sleep so that people would leave me alone. But why? Why did I have to pretend to sleep just for wanting to sit in my own seat for which I paid extra money? Why was I made to feel guilty?
I know some of you may be thinking: “Well Roopa, the other woman had a kid…” I’m sorry about that. I genuinely sympathize and empathize with her, but honestly, what could I do? I’m not trying to be mean here, but if she knew she’d be traveling with her child, why didn’t she choose her seats ahead of time so her family could sit together? Airlines make it easy these days to plan ahead, right? Why, when I was dog-tired and didn’t want to move to a middle seat by the toilet, was I made to feel bad about sitting in my seat? So, no—I refused to move.
It has taken me a long time to get Zen about situations like these. Back then, I was no different from anyone else, and getting accolades and words of gratitude from strangers I would never meet again was important to me—because society told me it should be. But not anymore. Now I’m okay with all the hate and judgment that came my way. I no longer give a flying fuck. I’m okay with being called a cunt; I know my truth and my conscience is clear.
And slowly but surely, art is catching up to this reality. Apart from the beach sequence in “The Lost Daughter,” an unapologetic Leda refuses to put up with this BS double standard when she is in a movie theater watching a film and a few young hooligans create a ruckus. She walks out and complains to the manager, and amid much hooting and hollering, she stands her ground. In another scene, Leda eats alone at a bar. When an older guy walks up and shoots the breeze with her, she tolerates him for a bit before finally saying, “Is it okay if I finish my dinner now?”
At that moment, I screamed at the screen, “It’s okay by me, Leda. It’s more than okay by me!”