#She Speaks Up

Beef’s Amy Lau Is Proof That Women Are Not Permitted To Have It All

When I began watching ‘Beef’, that now-cult Netflix show that everyone is obsessing about, I was so sympathetic right from the start.

It begins with a blue-collar Asian man trying to return multiple items at a local hypermarket store only to be bullied out by the staff. He has a near accident with someone in a posh white SUV and the two thrillingly chase each other down a fancy suburb. It turns out the person in the SUV is a woman, and that’s meant to be a surprise.

That woman is me. That woman is a mum on the school run. That woman is a working girl racing to get home to give her family a hot dinner. That woman has a medical emergency involving her single and ageing mother. That woman is hurrying to make it to her nth job interview this month, only to lose it again to a 20-something in no hurry to make babies. That woman is all of us.

There are enough anecdotes in the 10-part series to demonstrate Amy Lau (brilliantly played by the American comedienne Ali Wong) is not allowed to express herself, leave alone be angry. The most innovative of them is her masturbating with a gun, emblematic of something sinister going on inside her.

Wong’s Lau is a rich, successful woman who lives in tony Calabasas in Los Angeles, she probably has Justin Beiber and the Kardashians as neighbours. She’s a self-made, working girl, who runs a plant nursery that’s about to get acquired by a retail hypermarket chain for several million dollars. She’s aching to sell it, only so she can be home with her family and not have to work again.

Except work is all she does right. She’s married to a model-handsome man, an artist who is still to make it big. They have a young daughter who can only be assuaged by candy, and whose teacher calls her “emotionally dysregulated”. Lau’s mother-in-law, played by the beautiful and well-coiffed Patti Yasutake, is mean and manipulative. Her husband, meanwhile, is predictably dating her secretary after stalking her online.

Lau makes a speech in Vegas stating she works her ass off but loves to be home every single night for dinner with her husband. Is she advocating the superwoman myth? Or is she being the acquiescent Asian wife like Indra Nooyi, the former chairman and CEO of Pepsico, whose mother famously told her she may be anything in the office, but she had to leave that behind once she got home to play wife.

Like the other uber-popular series, ‘White Lotus’, each episode of ‘Beef’ is an artwork with a long mysterious title. One of the episodes sees a rather unkempt woman seated staring emptily into space. The title reads, ‘Just Not All At The Same Time’, evoking feminist author Betty Friedan’s famous line, “You can have it all, just not at the same time”.

There’s also a laugh-out-loud scene when a housewife character confronts Lau and accuses her of having an affair. To which Lau replies the way a typical badass boss-girl would: she says she would love to have the time to get creative like her, “but shit, I’m always working”.

I love how this show is such an intimate study of anger, even the title ‘Beef’ is colloquial for something that annoys you. But while everyone is allowed their anger – Lau’s husband for being a stay-at-home father; Danny, the other lead, for being a struggling contractor; the little daughter, for just being a young spoilt girl; the mother-in-law for being penniless – our heroine is made to constantly suppress or apologise for showing emotion.

Women are not allowed to be angry. Men’s anger is acceptable as a macho thing. But women must be on their best behaviour always, their anger is derided, loathed or then infantilised. Angry women are understood to be bitter, dejected, or abandoned by the virtuous men in their lives. Angry women are called mad.

Feminist writers Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar study several female authors like Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Shelley in their game-changing The Madwoman in the Attic. They found that female characters in novels by male authors were either angels or monsters.

In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, was Miss Havisham a lonely, angry spinster or a feminist woman on a mission to empower a young woman? Lau’s upper-class ennui is not an enviable place to be, we soon learn. She becomes the symbol of a woman who smiles through life and her designer spectacles, only to live in a cold home she may have purchased but cannot enjoy.

Devoid of love, rest, pleasure or an opinion in life, anger can be so liberating. Anger is a call to action. Anger is letting go. Anger is healing. Anger is letting the world know you matter. Anger is here to stay.

Views expressed by the author are their own.

Suggested Reading: How Important Is Marriage To Urban Educated India?