I have always hated the film Mrs Doubtfire as I thought it was creepy. As a teenager, I never understood how a useless father who lost custody of his children in the divorce due to his useless, incompetent and lazy parenting. Hell, even the editors at Wikipedia – who are not known for their feminist analysis – get that this a film about a pathetic man:
His wife, Miranda (Sally Field), considers him irresponsible and immature, and their marriage is on the rocks. When Daniel throws Chris a birthday party despite his bad report card, Miranda loses her temper and asks for a divorce. At their first custody hearing, the judge provisionally grants Miranda custody of the children, as Daniel has neither a suitable residence nor a steady job.
The entire premise of the film is that the character of Daniel Hillard, played by Robin Williams, is a dickhead. This isn’t a loveable film about a man supporting his ex-partner and children. This is a man who had a temper tantrum at being held accountable for his piss-poor fathering and instead of taking responsibility for the consequences of his behaviour, he chose to lie to his children and ex-partner by dressing up as a female housekeeper. The idea that his ex-partner Miranda is too stupid to notice that her new “housekeeper” is, in fact, her ex-husband in drag demonstrates a remarkable lack of belief in women’s intelligence.
My analysis as a teenager wasn’t feminist. It was just disbelief that a useless father could miraculously become a better one overnight. You don’t need to be a feminist to look at the fathers of all your friends – who have little to no contact and commit financial abuse of their children by their refusal to pay maintenance – to understand that whitewashing a man’s laziness helps no one. The ending of the film is all about evil women and nasty judges punishing men for being useless and the children being devastated at their father being removed from their lives. Miranda got full custody of the children because the father REPEATEDLY lied to her, the children and the judge. Having a steady job and a permanent address does not undo years of piss-poor parenting and lies. The premise of the film is that children are men’s possessions and it doesn’t matter how shit a parent they are, the children will be harmed by being parented properly by their mother. The fact that evidence points out the exact opposite of this is always ignored, even with an abusive father, because father’s rights are always more important than the health and wellbeing of the children involved.
I haven’t seen Mrs Doubtfire in years and it wasn’t until I saw this shared on Facebook that I realized the subtext of the film that I had been missing for years:
Angela Lee: I was just telling Jitana that Mrs. Doubtfire was a tribute to domestic violence and stalking. Yup, one of the most famous comedies in fact romanticizes IPV stalking. Women are always the joke.
I hadn’t even realized that this film was about stalking and intimate partner violence. I had always focused on the relationship with the children. The stalking of the mother and the wearing down of her boundaries is classic abusive behaviour. Being “jealous” of Miranda’s relationship with a new man isn’t the behaviour of a good man – it’s the behaviour of an abusive man who believes his ex-wife is also his possession. Daniel has no right to interfere with his ex-wife’s new relationships. He has no right to stalk her and he has no right to manipulate her. Lying to Miranda and the children about who he is isn’t a funny movie plot. It’s the creepy behaviour of a classically abusive man.
We need to stop pretending these kinds of films are just a bit of fun. They reinforce male ownership of children, stalking as appropriate behaviour for men and rewarding men for not being assholes. Children aren’t rewards. And, a lifetime of piss-poor parenting and irresponsible behaviour cannot be overcome by lying to your children.