Sunday, January 04, 2009

Revolutionary Road - and Our Masculinity

In watching Revolutionary Road yesterday I saw Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, a 1950's suburban couple, in a strange way - related to masculinity and femininity. For me there was a clear feminist lesson in what I saw- though I doubt that many others necessarily saw things similarly.

Our male lead was in various ways a "stereotypic male". The female lead was similarly a "typical young wife/woman". They were the suburban couple - he working in the City and she at home with the children. They saw themselves as being "different". Kate Winslet's character in particular tried to be different, in her plan for getting out of suburbia. Her dreams were quashed by "reality" and her husband's decisions related to it.

Bringing the characters 54 years forward to today would clearly have significant changes. The wife would not be trapped in a world of the suburban home. Instead she would probably be trapped in a world where she was working full-time, doing 80+% of the work around the house, and being the one to care for most of the children's needs. She would have moved from the trap of the home to the trap of having No life for herself.

Looking at Leonardo DiCaprio as a "man" is illuminating to me. He had his father/provider/decisionmaker role at home. He had a totally superficial tie with the three fellow workers who worked near him. He was "friends" but barely so with his one male neighbor/friend. He didn't want to have the life his father had, but when the chips came down, he made similar decisions trapping himself.

I think that the movie indirectly shows how women have gone through a lot of changes with the modern feminist movement from the 1960's through the present.

I see far less change in the men! Far, far too many of us men (including me) know lots of people, but have few, if any, really deep friendships. We still often speak and dictate to others but Don't listen beyond the instrumental modes of "success" and similar.

We've been forced to cope with feminism and how it's affected the women around us, but really haven't been forced or chosen to confront the deeper issues of connecting within ourselves and then beyond ourselves to the "total" worlds around us.

Yes, there are plenty of exceptions and qualifications I could make to this. I'm not sure how deep they are though.

We still have physical or verbal violence as a prime mode of coping with our failures. We learn as little boys to manipulate the physical world(s) around us. We often don't learn to relate to boys and girls as caring, feeling individuals.

It is hard for us to move forward as men! We often seem stuck in our worlds of "freedom without responsibility" as boys and sometimes as men. We "do our own thing" alone or with our buddies, not constrained significantly by others. Increasingly this world is limited for many boysin the drive to "be successful" in athletics, school and sometimes other areas.

As we get older, similar to in Revolutionary Road, we get trapped in our "shoulds" and "musts" and "being responsible". Where we break out of such worlds often we move back towards the "world without responsibility" . We may pay child support, but where we have the kids every other week we are only in a limited way bonded with them.

We often lack a deep bonding to others. In some cases we bond deeply within one or a few others, but often we don't bond with the "larger world" - the world of our children's schools, their classmates, as well as the birthdays of all around us, the emotional needs of our friends and neighbors and so much more.

Feminism in some ways has played a cruel joke on women telling them that they "can have it all" - when the constraints of working, taking care of children, being in a primary relationship and running the household are overwhelming.

Feminism seems to often have taught us as men that we need to "self-actualize" often ignoring the needs and desires of those around us. Where we act responsibly and with compassion we often have things like sports to entertain us, but often find it harder to have close relationships with others.

We have a lot of work to do! Thanks!

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