male bashing?

Erik Wecks, writing in Wired, has a point when he describes the dominant male stereotype in the story Brave:

Brave is Bad Story-Telling for Boys and Girls

I wouldn’t say it’s any worse story-telling than much of what’s out there for kids, but I will agree that the side (male) characters are stereotypes, which in writing classes they call “cartoons.” One isn’t supposed to make real live humans into cartoons. Oh, wait, Brave is a cartoon! Doesn’t that give the movie permission to make its characters into, well, cartoons?

All joking not quite aside, I suppose that one reason I wan’t left with Mr. Wecks’ negative impression is that I found the stereotype to be somewhat familiar: men whose ineptness leaves women (the main characters in this movie) to sweep up after them, men who act from pride, men: warlike, ill-mannered, and uncouth. Aside from the ill-mannered and uncouth part (which had more to do with the setting of the film in medieval Scotland), I didn’t notice the other characteristics as being that far-fetched. I will admit that this comes from recent, personal experience: not all men are like that, but some are, and they were represented here, as were the loving father, the faithful horse, the controlling mother, and — front and center — the rebellious girl.

It’s like my friend’s accusation of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris as misogynistic because the fiancée and her mother were so despicable (which I don’t deny, though I don’t find the director misogynistic). Those rich, high society women exist, and they were represented — mocked with hyperbole — by Mr. Allen. I saw the majority of the male characters in Brave similarly, through a mocking eye. They were cautionary representations: Look what we teeter on the edge of — war and single-minded blindness — when we know we are right and we don’t hear anyone else’s perspective. The queen fell into that chasm, too, until she was literally transformed by the actions of her daughter. The open mind of the young girl (open to things one can’t understand with reason) won out over authority, brute strength, and unjust rules.

One of the author’s objections is that the queen speaks for the king, theoretically because he is incapable of ruling. To counter that perspective, I would return to the setting of the film: in medieval times, women had to act behind the scenes, as the mother figure does in the story (“filling the mouth” of her spouse because he is not good at public speaking). She keeps up appearances and asserts her will in the only way she can, through her husband. I would have to see the movie again to look for the male bashing the author refers to, but I saw the queen as contributing to the welfare of the kingdom as she saw it (wrongly, by the way), not undermining the authority of her husband. She was a strong partner in a genuinely loving family.

I see the gender seesaw that the author describes. It provides the main conflict in the story, trite though it may be: an adolescent being forced by tradition to marry one of the unattractive boys of the other clans takes charge of her own destiny. The author says this is bad story-telling, but this shit happened, and still happens today in many cultures. Women were, and are a commodity. How can we take our power? By fighting back, and to take power, someone has to give some up. Ready, boys? We can’t take a seat in Congress without one of y’all giving one up. The gender seesaw continues, at least until it rests in greater equilibrium.

Mr. Wecks makes one very good point in his objections to Brave: academically, our boys are falling behind in a growing achievement gap with girls. I do agree with his advice, that we talk to our children (boys and girls, Mr. Wecks) about media representations of gender:

“When any of us lift ourselves up at the expense of an outsider, we only hurt ourselves. As men we need to speak up like Chris Routly did when he recognized the gender seesaw in a Huggies ad. However, it is equally important that we speak up to our sons about how comic books or video games tend to hyper-sexualize women and give them an identity only in reference to men. Humanity first, gender second.”

I don’t deny the effect of media on boys’ self-image, perhaps as damaging as it is to girls. But I don’t think Brave is the worst offender. I don’t think it gives boys permission or desire to become uncouth doofuses — quite the contrary. First impression: it was a flawed but touching mother-daughter story with a great horse (Angus, as masculine a name as they get) and a bit of magic. The men provided the conflict and the comic relief. Again, oh so familiar (I jest only in part) … but it’s not about the boys this time around. Thankfully, there was no Prince Charming to rescue our princess. She rescued herself, making mistakes along the way.

Perhaps I will change my perspective when I see it again through Mr. Wecks’ lens … I’m not in a hurry to ruin my first impression, though.

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4 thoughts on “male bashing?

  1. So I am really late in finding this. I love your critique of my article at GeekDad. I think you bring a great perspective to the conversation. The only thing I would add is that I was partly frustrated by the film because those stereotypes are so real in society and the film did little to critique them but instead reenforced them. I would love to have seen at least one of the men show the kind of creativity or rebelliousness or wisdom given to the female characters in the film. This would provide an alternative with which the boys in the film could identify. Then I could have watched the film in peace but when the men act in such a uniform fashion, I felt labeled. Great commentary on my post! Next time feel free to post this in the GeekDad comments as well, it was excellent.

    • Thanks, Mr. Wecks. I wish all Hollywood could show a greater diversity in filmmaking instead of relying on stereotypes. Alas, we have a long way to go (just count the number of sexy females in tight dresses and high heels on film, compared to the number seen on the streets of the U.S.). I agree with your critique on that point, and appreciate you taking the time to respond to mine. Boys need good role models, too!

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