This article - Crazy Stupid Masculinity Norms - appeared on Marta Pinyol Davi's eponymous blog about Interpersonal & Gender Communication back in May, but I never got around the sharing it. The post offers an astute analysis of the masculine gender issues embedded in the relationship of Jacob (Ryan Gosling) and Carl (Steve Carell) in the movie Crazy Stupid Love.
Carl is a sensitive middle-aged man who loves his wife and spending time with his kids. One day his wife asks him for a divorce after cheating on him. He is completely depressed until he meets Jacob, who offers to help him rediscover his manhood by teaching him the basic rules of being a “real man.” These rules include being independent, assertive, and getting with many women. As a result of their friendship, Carl starts to embody all these manhood rules, while Jacob learns that there are other important things in life such as real love.
As the movie progresses, each man changes to become more like the other, reflecting a cultural drift toward men being expected to embody traditional masculine values while also embracing the new sensitive, softer version of manhood seen in stay-at-home dads and the like.
Here is how Davi sees it:
Wood explains that today’s definition of masculinity involves a sixth trait: “Embody and transcend traditional views of masculinty.” This trait refers to the fact that contemporary men are expected to embrace traditional masculine practices and non-traditional masculine practices at the same time. In my opinion, the end of Crazy Stupid Love is a good example of this value. Jacob has been portrayed throughout the movie as the traditional “real man” and Carl embodies the modern man who is emotional and spends time at home playing with his kids. As a result of their friendship both change their practices and values towards the opposite of how they were which makes them argue and breaks their friendship. However, at the end of the movie, both characters understand each other motives to change their identities and end up solving their problems. I think that the end of the movie shows how modern men suffer inconsistent pressures from society that sometimes confuses them about their identities and roles.
It 's worth a few minutes of your time to go read the whole article.
I like the conclusion's recognition of the conflicting and contradictory expectations men face these days - and how challenging it can be for men to navigate the mine field of expectations. Allowing that there is not one right way to be a man would be a huge step toward easing the pressures on men to figure it all out yesterday (because, you know, one of the expectations for traditional men is always knowing who they are and how to be, as if we are given a manual at birth).
Of course, there is a whole other side to this issue that concerns me - I am seeing a lot of open, sensitive, egalitarian young men who are comfortable with their emotions and not in the least sexist or homophobic, AND they lack motivation, direction, and have probably never spent a day of their lives working with a shovel or an ax. It's the sensitive new age guy (SNAG) of the 1980s all over again. But that is another post.