Self-reliance. Wit. Intelligence. Bravery. Just a few words to describe Enola of Netflix’s recently released film Enola Holmes. We follow this dynamic character as she tries to uncover the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. She is Sherlock Holmes’s younger sister but is dead set on finding her mother with or without his support. While the story line was engaging, I found the reversal of feminine characteristics and gender norms to be the most unforgettable components. We begin with consistent messages of Enola asserting her self-reliance, confident that she can take care of herself even without her mother’s supervision. She rejects the idea of going to a traditional women’s finishing school steadfastly believing she has learned everything she needs to find her way in the world. Her ability to be alone is central to her namesake, which is something that we learn within the first few minutes of the film.
We also find that Enola has learned skills that are not common for ladies of her time. Her mother taught her how to fight and protect herself. I personally spent some time living on my own in Boston, central to feeling safe was the Krav Maga training I studied. It’s very rare to see female characters that are not super heroes, spies, or assassins to know self-defense. It’s so critical that we normalize women learning how to protect themselves.
Her mother also encouraged her to read every book in their home. She wanted Enola to think for herself and sharpen her intellect. Enola is described as being clever much more than being beautiful. To watch a film that isn’t consistently reinforcing her attractiveness is such a breath of fresh air. I remember in my own life that while attending a party for my uncle’s birthday, I was blown away by the number of guests that felt they needed to mention to my father how attractive his daughters were. There were very few questions posed about what we were able to achieve both intellectually and professionally. Films like these can change that norm.
What I took away most from the film was the reversal of gender roles. Many times, throughout the film we see Enola take on a protector and savior role. One particular scene, without spoiling the movie, brought me to tears. I was in shock by how rarely I’ve seen a female protagonist, that doesn’t have super human powers, put herself at risk to protect a man. Typically the man has to sacrifice himself. But this isn’t true to life. How many women would take the brave step to save their family or friends? That’s not to say that it makes the other narrative less valid. Instead, we need more of both so that young girls can recognize moments when they can be brave, assert their intellect, and rely on themselves.