“Every woman has the exact love life she wants,” says Nick, the brooding male escort in the film (and the Elizabeth Young book) The Wedding Date. This quote seems to get as much treatment by the movie critics as the whole rest of the film. The statement is described as everything from misogynistic and Republican to condescending, disturbing and maudlin. According to several reviewers, over 90% of those who watched the film in theatres were women. Most of them either loved it or loathed it, though even a lot of its fans gave it only a 6 or 7 out of ten, as if they were embarrassed by it. This timidity, and a block of 1-out-of-10 ratings by outraged viewers who mostly ranted that the plot didn’t make sense, reduced the average IMDb rating for the film to 5.3. Ninety percent of the (mostly-male) film critics panned it.
I loved it, but then I’m a sucker for romances. I also loved these films (IMDb average ratings in brackets):
These films have the following in common, besides being romances: (1) The leading protagonist is an adult female, (2) Action and plot is secondary to character and relationship, and there is no dependence on violence for drama, and (3) They were written (or at least co-written) by women.
Lots of romances, some of them quite good, are written by men, and they almost invariably get better reviews. The average rating of all movies on IMDb is 6.9. For some reason implausible plots don’t seem to be as much an issue when the main protagonist of the film is a male, or when the story was written by a male. Take a look at IMDb’s top 50 romance films of all time and you’ll look in vain for a single film written by a woman in the last half-century. While this is largely due to the long-standing patriarchy in Hollywood, it is also due to an inherent bias among movie-goers against what are disparagingly called “chick-flicks”.
In most of the above films, the males are a little two-dimensional, and this clearly riles a lot of critics and reviewers. (No matter than in 90% of mainstream movies, the female characters are one-dimensional.) The point of romances is to explore the feelings and relationships of the main characters. A film doesn’t have enough bandwidth to richly develop a lot of characters, so by necessity some of the characters need to be left underdeveloped. That doesn’t mean they are stereotypes: It is left up to the imagination of the viewer to fill in the details as they wish. (Remember when moviegoers were actually required to use their imagination?)
As I mentioned in my article last month on the bias against women’s literature, part of the value many women reportedly get from fiction is “guidance” (men instead read mostly for “excitement”). While the majority of men separate their reading and movie-viewing into ‘information’ (non-fiction) and ‘entertainment’ (fiction), many women look for and find both in a single vehicle, and one such vehicle is romance fiction. When I watch these films, I find they inform me about how women think and what women want, and they also teach me about how people deal with unhappiness, with problems, with loneliness and tragedy and self-doubt. Dealing with these things is extremely difficult, women appreciate that, and good romance writers understand the rules of story and fable. Accordingly, romances invariably have a happy ending, because the protagonists have earned it — the moral encourages women to keep fighting the good fight, to accept and understand but not despair.
Why don’t most men get this? I think it’s because to them, a film is almost a purely visual feast. The action, the special effects, the female eye-candy are all there to sate the hunger for retinal-visceral stimulus, the addiction to adrenaline. They find the plot holes distracting and unsettling — the plot is the continuity vehicle that sustains and justifies their gorging on non-stop visual overload. And they entirely miss the aural and body language messages of the film. This is far too subtle for them. They aren’t paying attention to the tone of voice, the eye language, the facial expressions and body contortions that convey so much. They aren’t listening to the words. No wonder they find films like this so unsatisfying. They learn nothing.
I have never been a Debra Messing fan, but I found her performance in The Wedding Date riveting. She displays far more breadth of emotion here than her stereotype TV sitcom role allowed. She imbues her character with depth, sensitivity, and fragility, and delivers every line with nuance and power. I was just blown away. If we could just get more roles like this, written and directed and performed by women with such talent, we might even be able to save Hollywood from its long decline into banality and irrelevance.
But women’s voices, wisdom and ideas are not just suppressed and unheard in the movies. They are under-represented and under-appreciated in business and in politics, where most decisions are made. This is a tragedy because most women seem to understand, better than most men, the difficulty of changing things, that things are the way they are for a reason, that acceptance is a sign of wisdom, not laziness or cowardice, and that most issues in life are complex. Because of that appreciation, they would almost undoubtedly be better decision-makers than men in both business and politics. Their decisions would be better balanced and nuanced than the decisions that are being made now in corporate head offices, legislatures, courts of final appeal, back rooms and war rooms by a mostly-male cast.
The paradox is that, perhaps because women understand that most decisions made by upper echelons of hierarchies are doomed to failure (because such decisions attempt to apply simple or complicated solutions to complex problems), women tend not to aspire to such decision-making authority (and many women who do, seem to emulate predominant male worldviews and thinking styles).
Women know no one is really in control of complex systems, so they are less likely to aspire to positions of control, power and authority in such systems. They know wars don’t solve anything and usually make situations worse. They know centralization breeds bureaucracy, dysfunction and waste. They know small is beautiful, and more effective. They know growth is not sustainable. They know edicts don’t work, and that the only way you change minds is by showing people a better way. They know how important it is to listen, and to pay attention to non-verbal messages if you want to really communicate. They appreciate the value of conversation, of consensus, of presence.
How do they come to know this, when so many men remain ignorant of it? Perhaps they are, either biologically or by education, more ‘sensually acute’ and grounded, and hence less prone to be distracted by abstraction, and therefore live a more ‘real’ life in the real world, here, now. Perhaps they have learned from history that power corrupts and idealism leads to demagogy, and that therefore it makes sense to be realistic, modest and practical rather than ideological, aggressive, and ambitious.
Or perhaps they have just observed that, in the long run and despite all appearances and mythologies, real enduring change comes from open, honest one-on-one exchange of ideas and information, and not from anything else. That is what we see in romance films — small changes, modest important learnings, and making the world just a tiny bit better by payingattention, being real, working hard, and doing what you can.
Followed by happy endings.
I give that approach a 10 out of 10.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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