top of page

Man, I Feel Like a Woman: An Ode to Poor Things

Anyone who spent time on the Internet in the past year knows that much was said about ‘girlhood.’  But what about womanhood?

Best Picture Oscar nominee Poor Things is like Barbie’s rebellious older sister. If Barbie is synonymous with pink, Poor Things is purple—a little darker and a lot more mature, unafraid to delve into its protagonist’s sexual and political awakenings, going beyond Barbie’s arguably surface-level feminism.  

Image Credit: People Magazine

In her Golden Globes acceptance speech for playing the lead role of Bella Baxter, Emma Stone said, “I see this [film] as a rom-com, in the sense that Bella falls in [love with] life itself, rather than a person. She accepts the good and the bad in equal measure—all of it is important.” At its core, Poor Things is a love story between a woman and the world around her. When the film begins, Bella is a grown woman with an infant’s brain, the result of surgeon Godwin Baxter’s (Willem Dafoe) effort to save her life after a suicide attempt by switching her brain with that of her unborn child. As a result, the film is almost as much of a bildungsroman, as Lady Bird (2017) or The Edge of Seventeen (2016). With her curiosity about the world outside “God’s” (as she calls Baxter) house reaching a fever pitch, Bella runs off with sleazy lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) to travel around Europe. This is where Bella’s journey to fully realized womanhood begins, signified by the film’s switch from black-and-white cinematography to color after Bella has sex for the first time. During her travels, Bella discovers and subsequently debates philosophy, economic inequality, socialism, and her sexuality, ultimately making up her  mind about who she wants to be and the world in which she wants to live. The film concludes with Bella as a fiercely independent woman steadfast in her confidence and sense of self.

One scene in particular that speaks to the theme of womanhood is a dance sequence while Bella is in Lisbon, the first city she visits after leaving God. Bella giddily dances to the music in a way entirely her own, unaware and uncaring that her jerky and sudden movements are not in sync with everyone else’s calm, graceful style. Wedderburn quickly joins her, desperately trying to make Bella’s movements look like a planned bit or some new dance craze. But Bella still does not care—she takes the lead and breaks free of Wedderburn’s hold; she will not stop being unapologetically herself. In the movie’s third act, Bella becomes a sex worker in Paris because she wants money, lodging, and she enjoys “furious jumping.” When Wedderburn has a breakdown about Bella’s new profession, she simply abandons him. Even in today’s world, men—whether in business, politics, or family—often tell women to constantly conform. What if, in response, we could all be more like Bella—unafraid to deviate from the norm, to (literally) march (or even better, dance!) to the beat of our own drum? This is why Poor Things  is really a “womanhood” film, as opposed to a “girlhood” film. Becoming a woman is not just about figuring out who you are—it’s about not being afraid to spit in the face of who society wants you to be.

Image Credit: Conde Nast

In a few words, Poor Things is empowering and refreshing. Even in 2024, seeing a woman be unapologetic about her sexuality, her beliefs, her intelligence, and her right to take up space in the world feels like an act of rebellion. In the film, Bella says “When men help me find my way, it does not entitle them as makers of me. I make me, and I create and become myself.” This is what the journey from girlhood to womanhood means—making yourself. Creating and becoming yourself, on your own terms, independent of the desires and edicts of men. If girlhood is learning to recognize society’s constraints on women, womanhood is learning how to completely disregard them. Bella’s journey is our journey, a quest to find ourselves and find the confidence to be ourselves. We have the power to create wild and wondrous lives for ourselves, to live on our own terms, to be free in our sexuality and philosophies, and to call our own shots. In the words of Bella, “Someday I will come back home, but I will decide what home will be.”



Grace Copps is a sophomore in the College planning to study Government with minors in Journalism and Justice and Peace Studies.  She is Co-Executive Editor for the INDY.


bottom of page