Cinematic Castration

Frankly, I did not intend to see the Barbie movie nor was I particularly interested in reading about it.  However, my wife sent me several articles criticizing the movie’s portrayal of men. Since this blog is devoted to issues surrounding modern masculinity I felt compelled to see the movie.  I do not intend to review the movie itself.  It is a well made film with decent acting and a high production value but that is not my issue. I want to focus on the hypocrisy of the writers in their double standard relating to stereotypical behaviors of both men and women. 

The women in Barbie Land, to some extent, do exhibit attitudes and beliefs that put women in non-liberated boxes but at the same time the women in Barbie Land hold positions of power – supreme court justices, president, noble prize winner, physicist – contradicting the Barbie vibe that women are vain air heads.  As one film critic writes, “However politically sharp, the gag is an unpleasant reminder of all the profoundly unfunny ways in which this world, with its visible and invisible hands, tries to control women, putting them into little boxes.”

The problem is that the men in the movie are only put in little boxes. In Barbie Land the leading man Ken and his cronies are useless and inept and have zero power or influence. The movie then shifts to the “real world” where women are powerless and the prevailing zeitgeist is patriarchy. The irony is that in this world the men hold all positions of power but they are still portrayed comically – especially in the depiction of the Mattel management team. Along with an insightful new female friend and her daughter Barbie returns to Barbie Land and finds it now taken over by a re-energized Ken and his minions. This is the part of the movie that I found most disturbing.  The takeover is defined entirely with toxic male stereotypes including over the top man caves and Ken’s outlandish outfit. Then there is a ridiculous scene of men fighting each other on the beach for no particular reason other than the trope that men need to be in some form of combat in order to self actualize. 

Of course the newly empowered Barbie returns and overcomes the Kens and forms a new Barbie Land replete with fully formed powerful women. However, the Kens remain in the shadow of male stereotypes with their only motivation being to unleash their sexual desires on the Barbies. Generally speaking I do enjoy good satire. This movie attempts that but in the process uses antiquated stereotypes to deliver its message. Yes, there is still progress to be made in order to achieve gender equality but women have achieved far more gains than the need to overcome Barbiehood.  Furthermore, satirizing old school male stereotypes might make good comedy for female audiences but at the same time it makes masculinity appear to be a negative force that must be tamed in order for women to succeed.  Neutering men is not the best way to achieve gender equality.

Dad For The First Time

The birth of one’s child ranks as one of the most significant events in our lives.  Despite the obvious joys of bringing a new life into the world of your family, the powerful emotions leading to and surrounding the arrival of your child, especially the first one, have the potential of wreaking havoc on a relationship and one’s sense of well being. One particular concern has been expressed to me by a number of men when their wives have become pregnant for the first time.  I have often heard a prospective father say that, “My wife is really into the whole baby thing yet even though I am excited my enthusiasm doesn’t come close to hers.  I am feeling guilty and wonder if there is something wrong with me?”

This question raises some key issues that are foundational for the change in identity from simply husband and wife to husband – father, wife – mother.  To begin with, we need to understand that a woman begins the transition to motherhood before a man.  Once she knows she is pregnant and her body begins to change, her sense of herself also changes.  The baby is totally dependent upon her for its very survival.  She must take good care of herself physically and as the baby grows there is a direct connection between the child and herself as the baby shifts position in her blossoming womb.  She has a number of months before the actual birth to help prepare her and process what is happening to her both physically and emotionally.

Men, on the other hand, are merely observers during the period of pregnancy.  They have no direct childcare responsibilities and are largely relegated to the role of bystander.  No matter how sensitive and responsive a husband is, he still cannot possibly completely empathize with his wife.  Unlike his partner, a man’s emotional transition to the role of father doesn’t really fully begin till the birth of his child.  When a man sees his child being born and holds his baby for the first time the flood of feelings brings an abrupt change in his identity.  Instantaneously he begins to assume the roles of protector and provider often overwhelmed by the sudden change.  Clearly, there is a huge disconnect about becoming a parent before the birth that if not paid attention to can lead to discord and distress. 

To make sure this does not happen with the resultant damage of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and unmet expectations particular attention must be paid to effective communication practices between husband and wife.  The ability to express oneself, be listened to, be validated and to reach consensus on issues requiring planning is basic to good relationships as a couple and as parents. 

In the case of a man’s confusion over his lack of synchronicity with his expectant wife, his ability to express to his wife about what he is experiencing without being stifled by guilt is directly related to his partner’s ability to hear him and acknowledge that what he is feeling is real and difficult for him.  Of course, good communication is a two way street.  A man must also be able to validate the very powerful feelings about motherhood that his wife is going through even though he is not able to share them during the pregnancy. Successful communication before the birth of your child will lay the necessary groundwork for a harmonious resolution to the many challenges of parenting that await you in the future.

Masculinity Gone Too Far

I often blog about the virtues of masculinity but it would be disingenuous of me to avoid instances where certain positive aspects of masculinity can lead to bad outcomes.  I am not speaking about the dark side of masculinity but to masculinity behavior that appears to be more normalized rather than toxic.  The prompt for this blog was a newspaper headline, “Ex-NFL player among 11 deaths caused by FLA., ALA. rip currents.”  Reading further I learned that in addition to the former quarterback, a firefighter and two fathers trying to save their children all drowned. 

It is certainly the best of masculinity that two fathers tried to save their children.  This desire to protect one’s family is worthy of praise.  However, when one reads more of the article we learn that all those who drowned ignored red flag warnings at the beaches indicating unsafe swimming conditions.  What is it that propels a man to defy a clear warning of danger and risk his life and the lives of his children?  Boldness and independence are traits of masculinity yet they can easily lead to excessive risk taking behaviors.  It is one of the essential ironies of masculine behavior that an apparent positive trait can easily prove to be so self-destructive.  The men who drowned drew the conclusion that the warnings were for the timid and that as a bold and independent man they could defy the red flags and hit the surf regardless of the warnings.  Boldness in the face of danger is a feature of  the Warrior archetype of  masculinity which can manifest itself as taking action even in the face of adversity.  However, in order to avoid a tragic mistake the Warrior  needs to be constrained by the King archetype which speaks to thoughtful planning and risk assessment.  I hope men heed the warning that their desire for adventure and risk needs to be modulated by thoughtful planning  in order to avoid unnecessary risk.