Those of you who know me personally know that despite my feminist leanings and my best intentions, I am still a sucker for hollywood. In particular, I love romantic comedies and teen flicks, ( not to mention teen television and YA novels). When it come to these often patriarchal films, I am not a complete push over – and by that I mean I don’t just sit there and sop up the cheesy without thinking about it, and I certainly don’t take chauvinism lying down. But, I know that merely buying the ticket is a donation to the kind of media that promotes a male dominated asymmetrical gender dynamic.
That said, I saw No Strings Attached this weekend. For those of you who don’t know, this film stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Portman plays Emma, a strong-willed and determined female doctor, who has no need for relationships or love. In fact, she finds relationships taxing and complicated so she avoids them completely. Enter Adam (Kutcher), a fun-loving, sensitive male wannabe writer, who works as a producer for a teen show similar to Glee (sidenote: yeah, glee!). Adam and Emma enter into a “friends-with-benefits” scenario, which is basically a denial of their budding relationship. (Note: Normally, this is the point where I might say spoiler alert – but if you don’t know where this film is heading from the first scene than you aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us.) Ultimately, after much push and pull Emma realizes that she’s in love and gives in to her version of traditional heterosexual partnering.
The basic premise here is about reaffirming gender construction. This is the story of how the stoic woman learns to face her emotional core, a storyline I think we are seeing more and more often (Juno, Love and Other Drugs, The Ugly Truth, The Proposal…) and one that seems to be a backlash against the ideas of 2nd wave feminism. Before, Simone de Beauvoir women were (and still are) perceived as unreliable because they are “emotional” and so some 2nd wave feminists looked to strip away the understanding of woman as emotional and replace her with the super-woman, a career focused gal who could do anything a man could. (Note: I am italicizing woman and man here to emphasise that these terms are constructs – no one genuinely fits into these categories 100%). No Strings Attached, like the other films I’ve mentioned, features this less than emotional girl and portrays her lack of desire for a relationship as reactionary scar or wound, which is the result of either having to grow up too fast or deal with a great traumatic event earlier in her life. Emma is heroically emotion deficient because she is the rock for her mother and her sister. The confirmation that Emma, has these issues is a scene in the car driving to her sister’s wedding in which Emma’s mother explains to Emma being so brave since her father died was important but isn’t really necessary anymore. Following this chat and a similar conversation with her sister Emma takes a whirlwind dive into the emotional mess category. Blech.
The point is this film seems to say that women who choose work over relationships or women who don’t act emotional are just out of touch with the truth of their feelings; they are lying to themselves and all they need is the right guy – the sensitive guy – to help them see how relationships can make you happy. This is a backlash to that super-woman who acts like a man – the infamous feminazi. Films like this usually include a gender switcheroo - a sensitive man and a dominating woman – so in some ways they flatten the rigidity of gender categories but they still maintain dominate codes of the patriarchal system one strong stoic partner and emotional partner, i.e. a non-equal partnership of domination.
I am absolutely not saying that relationships don’t make people happy. They often do. Nor am I saying that a woman can’t walk around and say she doesn’t need or want a relationship and then change her mind. In fact, I know that an enactment of traditional male stoicism is not anything I want to be and I generally question why women would want to mimic this fallacy of the masculine construct because isn’t it the history of what men have done that caused the problem – our culture of domination? But that said I still find myself wondering why? Why, in the second decade of this new millennium am I seeing this story pattern? The answer seems obvious to me: if you can’t beat them join them. In other words, any pattern that reaffirms the heteronormative love match maintains the othering and subjugation of non-conformist behaviors , i.e homosexual relationships, single moms, asexuality etc. Sure, go ahead be a doctor – act emotionless – poo poo relationships, as long as it’s in theory, not practice. Because in the end we learn s that despite her hard exterior Emma is after all a girl – a gorgeous, tiny ,thin, emotional mess who acts jealous, hides in bushes, binge eats doughnuts and gets the guy. Puke. Puke. Puke.
Anyway – it was funny and man oh man, Portman and Kutcher are so very pretty.