One Day At A Time Gets What It's Like To Explain Sexism To Your Grandma

Photo: Michael Yarish / Netflix.
Explaining the ins-and-outs of a sexist "micro-aggression" to your septuagenarian grandmother is a challenge few would willingly take on. (To the brave among you: a salute.)

And yet, One Day at a Time attempts to do just that in it's second episode, "Bobos and Mamitas." The Netflix reboot of the 1970s sitcom classic, which premiered on January 6, does a great job of tackling complex and important issues with lighthearted flair.

But if you're only going to watch one scene (and you shouldn't, because the show is great) let it be the one in which 14-year-old Elena (Isabella Gomez) explains sexism to her Cuban-American family. Some context: Penelope Alverez (Justina Machado), an Afghanistan war veteran and single mom, works as a nurse in the office of goofy general practitioner Dr. Berkowitz. During a staff meeting, she proposes implementing a strategy to improve workflow in the office, and is completely shut down by her dudebro male nurse colleague, who continuously interrupts and talks over her. Frustrated, Penelope returns home to vent to daughter Elena, and mother Lydia (Rita Moreno) about her day.

"Well, that's just sexist!" Elena exclaims.

"No," Penelope replies. "He's not smacking me on the ass and going 'Oye mamita!'"

"Oh, that makes me miss your abuello," Lydia sighs.

There are three definitions of sexism at play here: The first, embraced by most millennial women, is one which, in the words of Elena, "men assert their power through micro-aggressions and mansplaining." The second, embodied by Penelope, who tells Elena that if she wants to see "real sexism" she should try being a woman in the army, is one in which women strive to make men forget that they are women. "You know how I dealt with that bobo?" she asks her daughter. "By being a better soldier than him. And eventually that's how they saw me, not as a woman at all."

That's when Lydia interjects. "I would prefer to die. Yo no entiendo como these men and women all want to be the same!"

I am not Cuban. But I do have two very glamorous Moroccan grandmothers who would react in a similar fashion. To them, sexism is open hostility: It's a man vocally dismissing you because you are a woman — no subtlety there. They're used to it, but that doesn't mean they've accepted it.

My maternal grandmother once told me to "use it to your advantage," which is basically a version of what Lydia tells Elena. "You will never win men over by confronting them," she says. "You flirt with them, you hypnotize them. And then you do whatever the hell you want. And then they will they think they are the boss, but really, you are the boss."

My answer, on the other hand, probably echoed Elena's: "Why can't they just know you're the boss?"
Photo: Michael Yarish / Netflix.
When I asked Justina Machado and executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett about their thoughts on the scene, they burst out laughing.

"That's just a real conversation with me and my mom," Calderon Kellett explained. "My mom's like, 'Wear your outfit y así,' and my daughter, who doesn't give an anything about anything and is just like, 'What? Boys and girls are different? What are you talking about?' They don't even open doors for each other anymore because that's seen as sexist. Like, what's happening?"

"That's just weird," Machado answered. “I love that my boyfriend opens my door."

The two agree that they like a little bit of chivalry. "We just don't like the talking down to, and the mansplaining, and the I'm better than you," Machado clarifies.

Both of these women are seemingly of the Penelope generation. But as for Lydia, Machado says that "one of the things that Latina women of the older generation always say, which cracks me up, is: 'He thinks he's in charge. But you're really the one in charge. But just let him say whatever.'"

"I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' It's this whole thing of like, he thinks he's in charge, but I've got the upper hand, and that's a big old-school Latina thing.”

As someone who falls between Penelope and Elena, and who grew up with not one, but two Lydias, all I can say is: You do you.
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