The Homesman despite the title, is about women. Women are the center of the action, women drive the action forward, women are not only damsels in distress but heroic figures of grit and courage (sometimes in the same moment). The men are helpless bystanders or ambiguous allies.” - Sheila O'Malley on RogerEbert.com
The role of the female in a marriage is largely encapsulated as producing children and tending to the house. Female social status didn’t allow much opportunity for anything else, and views on marriage centered around having a family. Almost all women’s actions are the result of what men allow them.
Each of the crazy women in the film became that way because their domestic situations were ruined. A loss of sustenance, a loss of children, a loss of pride, these home situations were all the women had, and they were destroyed. That, in turn, destroyed them.
Mary Bee Cuddy, while respected by most of the people in her small town, knew she was looked down upon and sneered at for the fact she was a 31 year-old, self-sufficient woman with no husband or family.
The Homesman is about how terrible life was for women on the frontier. Yet Mary Bee is the only one willing to “man up” and take responsibility for transporting the crazy women to Iowa when all their husbands wouldn’t. When she rescues and recruits George, she does it with a gun in his face and a stern look on hers. She carries herself as a woman of means, someone to not be trifled with, who can hold her own against any man she comes across. For most of the film, the most manly man we see is Mary Bee. But then there’s a shift…
While The Homesman breaks away from Western tropes and stereotypes to follow a powerful, strong-willed woman, it maintains its honesty when Mary Bee finally takes her own life. Even this woman who goes against the portrait of an 1850s housewife was still being eaten away inside by her inability to find a husband, have children, and become a traditional woman. She never found a way to fulfill traditional roles and saw herself as useless, desperate enough to commit suicide.