A new male perspective?

A friend tipped me off to this article. Cherry Potter of The Guardian, website companion to the British newspaper, reports that the Oscar results this year indicate “a new phase in gender relations”. It’s not that women are more evenly represented among nominees – they’re not. The overwhelming majority of writers, directors and producers – decision makers – are still men. Even the ones writing the female characters Potter feels were enjoyable this year.

It’s that “…the Oscar nominations reveal some fascinating changes in how men see themselves.”

Take Million Dollar Baby… In other words the film is really about a sad old man who has spent his entire life in a kind of emotional paralysis, and the price he has paid has been his most intimate relationships. This theme not only connects with generations of Eastwood-style “what you see is what you get” tough guys completely isolated by the narrow strictures of traditional masculinity, but also with their daughters’ emotional needs for a real relationship with their fathers.

She also discusses Sideways :

The real focus is the men who are unhappy and deeply confused, particularly about how to relate to women.

And so on. The article is short, well-written, and well worth a read. Now, onto Potter’s diagnosis of all this.

Hollywood has, of course, always made films about men battling with difficult emotions. But, typically, male vulnerability has been caused by the kind of wound that men obtain through some form of heroic sacrifice whether driven by courage or hubris or both. Non-heroic failure, as portrayed in Sideways, has not been the most popular subject in the land of the American dream.

What I detect in these recent films, made by men about men, is a new kind of struggle to understand the fallout resulting from men’s failure to acknowledge their need for intimacy.

The fact that these films are being made now and that they have achieved success in the Oscar nominations may even suggest that we are entering a new stage in gender relations – the “male emotional awakening” phase. This can only be good news for strong, feisty women and, of course, for men.

I have to say, I managed to miss all of the movies she mentions, as I almost always do when it comes to Oscar contenders. But I find her interpretation pretty interesting. What if men are starting to ask the real questions? This would be more than a step forward in gender relations – with enough follow through, it could lead to a renaissance in human thinking. After all, every individual needs to face the real enemy sooner of later: the self.

For years, women have blamed men for a world in which inequality was enforced by law as well as social training. And with examples such as women in the U.S. winning the right to vote some sixty years after black men finally got their chance, it’s hard to call that reasoning invalid. But have men created this mess all on their own? If they had, women would have revolted en masse years ago. And who taught men to think poorly of women? Did their fathers whisk them away to an island training camp to indoctrinate them in the ways of misogyny? Or were mothers present and accounted for through the whole upbringing of each generation involved?

Some women – enough women – participate in the game instead of trying to stop it. They probably fear they would fail in an honest competition to get a job and survive in the world, and therefore prefer to accept that alone, they are shadows, but if they can attach themselves to men, they can live it up vicariously. These women are as much to blame as any man, and to blame men alone for the problem is short-sighted. Maybe in the 60’s, when feminists had yet to realize just how many women would cave at the first offer of marriage, they had an excuse to think men had caused all the problems. But now, forty some years later, the female participation seems obvious.

It’s human nature to seek out a group to blame for your problems, because otherwise you might have to take a long hard look at yourself and realize you’ve failed in your own eyes. Potter’s comments on the 90’s masculinity crisis got me wondering if the current trend away from women independent of men in film and TV is simply another backlash against feminism. Maybe this is where we get female characters who seem tough as brick on the outside, but can so easily turn into simpering puddles of need: it’s a male fantasy.

I may be wrong, but I believe men desperately need to be needed – even more so than women do. Think about it. We’ve constructed societies in which women have been legally prohibited from owning property, from earning a living, from getting an education. From serving in the military. All of these agendas serve to make women completely independent on men. In such a context, marrying is akin to prostitution – but the men in power found this solution preferable to having to compete for women who weren’t desperate to cling to them. What does that suggest to you? To me, it suggests that a majority of men are so afraid of obseletion, of no longer being needed, that they would scramble to create a society of imbalance. (Noblesse oblige is a similar concept: you deny any form of accomplishment to a lower class, then feel really super good about yourself when you take them on as butlers and take the time to teach them proper English.)

In this context, it would all start to make sense. The ideal goal of feminism was for women to be freed from needing men, so that they could sincerely want men, if they were so inclined. The risk for men in this deal, of course, was that men would lose their advantage as potential mates to women, potential colleagues and employers and employees, etc. In every facet of society, if women stop needing men for survival, who knows what hell might break loose? That was the backlash.

But what about the advantage of knowing that if someone loves you, it’s because they really dig you, and not because you were the best deal on the shelf that week? Do people – men and women – really prefer empty masquerades of relationships? Is the fear of loneliness that powerful?

Seems to me being isolated by lies in a relationship is even worse than honestly being on your own.

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