What Is A "SMILF"? The Showtime Series Pushes Back Against Labels Assigned To Women By Men
You've probably heard of a "DILF." You've definitely heard of a "MILF" (cause like, patriarchy, but also because Fergie reclaimed the term). But what is a "SMILF," and why is that the title of Showtime's new dramedy, premiering Nov. 5?
Contrary to what some might think, the "S" and "M" don't stand for "soccer mom." In the case of the show, SMILF is an acronym for "Single Mom I'd Like to F*ck". The eye-catching title is an appropriate one for the show, which follows South Boston native and single mother Bridgette Bird (Frankie Shaw) as she struggles to provide for her son, co-parent with her ex, and get back on the dating scene. Single moms have sexual desires and romantic dreams just like everyone else, and SMILF sets out to prove that.
But SMILF isn't merely a fictional creation. According to Showtime, the show is adaptation of Frankie Shaw's semi-autobiographical 2015 short film, which premiered at Sundance and won the Jury Prize. The show, and the original film, were based on Shaw's experiences as a single mom herself. The relationship between the fictional Bridgette and her baby-daddy, Rafi (Miguel Gomez) is particularly similar to the co-parenting relationship Shaw shares with her son Isaac's father, actor Mark Webber. Shaw shared with Variety:
“It’s not a typical baby-mama and baby-daddy relationship,” Shaw explains of Bridgette and Rafi’s blended family. “My real relationship with my son’s dad is similar in a way—we’re like siblings and we are super tight. He’s one of my closest friends. We feel like our best and worst selves to each other, and there is so much love there.”
Shaw also shared with Variety that her show aims to be feminist, and that the title SMILF is meant in part to be a tongue-in-check commentary on the way men put labels on women. She said:
“It’s supposed to be a little bit of an ironic thing, because ‘MILF’ is a term that men use to categorize women,” [Shaw] continues. “But this woman is nothing like the stereotype of that term that men put on women.” Shaw wants to “reclaim a label” by telling the narrative from Bridgette’s P.O.V., thus subverting the male gaze.
And this feminist mission extends to those working behind the camera as well as those in front of it. As Variety reports, most episodes of the new series were directed by women, with either Shaw or Leslye Headland at the helm. And most episodes of the show were also written by the all-female team of Shaw, Emily Goldwyn and Jess Dweck. In a time where the number female film directors are actually on the decline — the San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film's surveys show that women directors comprised only nine percent of directors at the helm of the 250 highest grossing domestic films in 2015 and only seven percent in 201 6 — placing women in charge of the creative direction of stories about women feels all the more significant and necessary.
Shaw even consciously fought against stereotypes regarding co-parenting and jealous women. Rather than have Bridgette vying with Rafi's new girlfriend, Nelson Rose Taylor (Samara Weaving) for Rafi's affections, Shaw chose to have their conflicts revolve around co-parenting instead. Shaw tells Variety:
“I really was avoiding the jealous girlfriend trope,” Shaw says. “It’s about what it’s like to share your child with someone else and what happens when those two women come together.”
Shaw's female characters do justice to the emotional complexity of women, and are not merely stereotypes of single mothers or bitchy new girlfriends. We need more shows like SMILF, shows that seek to portray mothers as complex humans rather than one-dimensional nurturers, shows that put women behind the camera, and shows that seek to challenge the patriarchy and mock the male gaze.
Now, women have a new show that features a realistic female experience, and real life SMILFs can embrace the term as their own— not one thrust upon them by men.