In the limitless fantasy world of entertainment, people have often complained about the messages being sent. Many of us have said - and very rightfully so - that women are taught by the entertainment business that they have to be beautiful to be of value. I do wonder where the world is going, with the seemingly ever-growing expectations placed on women to be thin, and ageless, and a very particular type of gorgeous with little room for variation.
But given that I am a man, I want to take a moment to speak from my point of view - the only point of view that I think I am really entitled to - about the expectations from men. Because in my opinion, where women are held to dangerously high physical standards, men are held to emotional ones.
My favorite examples are in Hollywood, where the male protagonist is predominantly the “tough guy”. Strength - great. Cleverness - sure. Technical abilities - why not. Empathy? Sure, if you consider a cyborg called The Terminator giving a ten-year-old boy five (so hard that it hurts) - empathy.
The early protagonists were at least human: cowboys, suave “gentlemen” (who for some reason couldn’t stop being suave), soldiers, and the like. Rambo comes to mind, for me, even though that was a later installation. But the part where his old army commander describes him as virtually immune to weakness, and trained to “ignore pain”, always sticks with me. In any case, by the late 70s, being human gradually started to become passé with characters like Superman. Eventually, some male characters lost all semblance of humanity and became machines, in movies like RoboCop and Terminator.
That’s a lot to live up to for the ten-year-olds who go to watch these movies. As men and boys, we live in a world where you have to be careful if you’re going to let somebody know you’re having a hard time, dealing with pain, fear, or a complete loss about what to do.
In the 1978 movie, Superman flies up to catch Lois as she falls off a tall building, with a classic line: “Easy, Miss. I’ve got you,” (notice the suaveness). Lois replies aghast with, “You’ve got me?! Who’s got you?!?” There seems to be this working assumption that men - at least the ones of value - always have the situation completely under control, and without any help (or gravity), no matter what. It’s a miracle.
I’m going to go out on a limb here: I certainly cannot speak for every man. But I am pretty confident when I say that all of us - men and women alike - like to feel supported and held. I am not saying that men want to be treated like boys all the time; I just mean that it’s nice to know that if I fall, someone will catch me (as opposed to throwing me out, or letting me know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable). In my experience, it is that support when I falter that enables me to be strong the rest of the time. Otherwise, I’m basically acting.
For all of us, I believe - men and women alike - the knowledge that it’s ok not to be perfect, and that someone will always have your back no matter what, is one of the most empowering things to know.
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