Caroline Aaron, who plays Shirley Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, recently reflected on the life and career trajectories of the women in the show, sharing that the characters are true feminists of their time.
The series spans from the 1950s into the 1960s, when women simply didn’t have careers and whose primary function was to care for the family. While Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle) and daughter Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) begin the series in the traditional role of the ’50s wife and mother, they emerge from the stereotype and transform into a modern version of their former selves – Midge embracing the role of a modern woman almost instantly when she finds herself single.
“When you think about the two moms, Rose is decorative,” Aaron told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “I mean that her role is evolving into something else. But originally, her role was to be arm candy. And she is training her daughter to be the same way.”
Shirley is ahead of her time on ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’
Aaron views the women in the series as seeds of the feminist movement, especially her character Shirley Maisel. “Shirley knows everything about this business,” Aaron said. “She deals with the bank. I mean, as wacky as she is about money and stuff like that, she’s not excluded from that part of the family, and she insists on being in charge when she wants to be in charge.”
“She does not surrender, she does not back up,” she added. While Shirley could be considered to be ahead of her time, she is still rooted in tradition, like making sure her son is married. She is so determined to see her son re-married, she even sets him up with a newly single pregnant woman. Aaron believes Shirley just wants her son to be happy.
“I think she really believes you get on the Ark two by two,” Aaron said.
“And if he’s just one, then you know, his happiness is her entire goal,” she added. “You know that expression, you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child? She sees him stumble and fall. And she has stumbled and fallen. So there’s no separation as far as she’s concerned in terms of his happiness. But I think that she is that wonderful combination of she will stand her ground, and she also thinks that the home and the family is a territory that she’s an expert at.”
Caroline Aaron recalled her earlier work reflects this series
Aaron reflected on how her character and many of the women in the Mrs. Maisel series are precedents for the modern woman. “I was just thinking about this,” she said.
“Many, many years ago, at an audition for one of the revivals of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, I remember asking the director, ‘How are you auditioning for this? These characters are like vocabulary words by now.’ I know there was a time when Fiddler on the Roof, the ink was wet on the page, but not by the time it got handed down to me.”
“And he said ‘I want to portray the women in Fiddler like they were the precedents for Golda Meir and women like that,'” she recalled. “They were the beginning. He was talking about the matchmaker, and he said she was an early entrepreneur. That’s what she was. Because if women couldn’t survive without men, they had to figure out a way to survive.”
Shirley is the precedent for women that came after her
Aaron thinks of Shirley in the same way. “Is that she is the precedent for women that came after her,” she said. “Because the 50s are that transition between women being home and hearth and women wanting to be in the world.”
“I remember when I was growing up in the ’60s in the south, a really good friend of my mother’s came up to me and she said, ‘I’m going to give you the best piece of advice,'” she recalled. “She said, never be a volunteer. She’s a very brave woman. Her husband was a doctor, so they didn’t need money per se. And so, in order to keep herself occupied and engaged, she volunteered for many, many things. And after a lifetime of volunteering, she felt that she didn’t really have any imprint in the world, and she never wanted me to volunteer. That was so interesting, it just stuck.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.