Let’s bypass the fact that this is my first blog post in months and get straight to it, shall we?
I’m sitting here on my bed in France with one window open on my laptop watching Crazy, Stupid, Love on Netflix, and the other one open writing this blog post. I, again, had not much to do tonight so I thought a movie might be a nice change from rewatching old Gilmore Girls episodes. I had previously added Crazy, Stupid, Love (which takes a lot longer to type than you would think, so I’m going to shorten it to CSL) to my list on Netflix, and remembered thinking it was good so I gave it another go.
The ultimate premise of this film is a middle aged man, played by
Michael Scott Steve Carrell, who gets divorced from his wife and finds himself at a loss, as you would. Then Ryan Gosling wanders into the bar and tempts him with the other life, the life he could have if he just changed his clothes, his looks, his personality, and several other things about himself. If he only did these small things, he could learn the art of luring seducing women and having sex whenever he wanted. The American dream, some might say.
But what’s truly troubling is how Jacob, Ryan Gosling’s character, teaches Cal, played by Steve Carrel, how to pick up women. We first go through the usual montage of Cal losing his significantly ugly but no doubt comfortable Dad runners, and exchanging them for stylish suits and “eight layers of clothes”, as Cal says. Step one: change your physical appearance? Dunzo hunzo.
Then comes the hard stuff. Jacob leads the way in showing Cal how to talk to women the correct way. To make a long story short, I’ll have Cal summarise what he learns from Jacob:
C- Yes, always. Without fail. You buy her a drink. Even if she doesn’t want one, you insist.
J- And do I talk about myself?
C- Never. Never talk about yourself, always her.
J- Because bar banter … ?
C- Boring. It’s boring. So you put the impetus on her. She has to be the interesting one. “Impress me. Impress me with how interesting you are”. It’s a big game. Game. Creepy, creepy little game you play.
J- That’s judgemental, isn’t it?
J- At the end of the night do I ask them to come home with me?
C- No, you tell them to come home. They have no choice in the matter. It is your choice and they are so overjoyed to have had the opportunity to make sweet, sweet love to you.
(emphasis my own).
Hmmm. Let that sink in for a few minutes. What perhaps is even the most worrying bit about this passage is that I’ve watched this film before, a few years ago, and I didn’t bat an eyelid at this exchange. It was true, wasn’t it? Women should be grateful that men pay us attention, because why else would we get dressed up and go out if not to find a man, any man, to let us have sex with him? What a very safe, consensual, sexy thing to include in a film. About dating and sex. That doesn’t at all scream rape to me.
In case you couldn’t tell from my tone, that was sarcasm. That passage is just one of the very, very problematic messages this movie sends. But I shall start with that one, as it is possibly the most obvious.
We all know that women and our rights have trouble being heard. Whether it’s bodily autonomy (Ireland, I’m looking at you), or simply the right to say “no”, (#NotAllMen!!!!!), our thoughts, wants and opinions are very often brushed aside as being not important, not intellectual and most crucially, not necessary. Ladies, if someone insists on buying you a drink, even though you said no, RUN. If he doesn’t take no for an answer regarding your beverage choice, I dread to think what will happen if you try say no to anything else. The following scene in the film shows Cal go up to said woman he is trying to impress, and insists on buying her a drink until she is forced to confess, to a complete and very pushy stranger, she is five years sober. No doubt she is proud of that achievement, but I’m sure she doesn’t want to divulge it to the random man who has plonked himself beside her and forced his company on her.
Let’s move on to the art of conversation, which is to always keep the woman at the center of it. Which, to me, isn’t the worst thing in the world they could do, but in the montage of Jacob successfully winning over countless women, putting women at the center of the conversation often leads the poor intellectual, educated and well-rounded alpha male to discuss simple and trivial things to make us feeble women feel special, vulnerable and self-conscious all at the same time. It’s really quite impressive. But of course, us women aren’t used to being the center of attention and end up thinking we are soooo boring to these superior males and end up asking “am I boring you?”, and thinking sex is the least they could do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with putting the focus on someone in a conversation, unless, that is, you’re deliberately trying to make them insecure enough to be grateful for the fact that you’re paying them attention. That’s not cool brah.
And then we get to the pièce de resistance, the end of the night, in which the women have aboslutely no say in. The women aren’t asked go home with this low-key rapist, but instead are told to, but do they even need to be told to because they’re just soooo grateful that you’re even listening to them?
CSL encourages one facet of sexual encounters that changes them from consensual, to rape. I’ve written about consent before, and in this instance, we see the assumed lack of consent alive and well. In Cal’s recounting of the main points, it is assumed that the women won’t want a drink and won’t want to go home with them. It is up to them to make them want to. PSA everybody: you should not have to convince someone to have sex with you. If you have to convince someone to have sex with you, to kiss you, or to do that weird thing you saw online once, it means that they don’t want to and you should probably stop trying. It’s called consent, not convince.
Later on in the film Jacob and Cal find out that Jacob’s girlfriend is actually Cal’s eldest daughter. Punching and fighting and “you can’t see him anymore” ensues. Cal is disgusted at his daughter being with this “womanizer”, from whom he learnt all his tricks. Yet Cal has no problem whatsoever with “putting the moves” on nine different women and having sex, and enjoying it, with them. But when he finds out that his daughter may have been one of Jacob’s prey, that shit not okay.
Sigh. Why do women have to be somehow related or connected to men in either a familial or romantic way, for them to be respected and for men to understand rape a little bit better? As soon as Cal finds out his daughter is with Jacob, Cal can instantly see just how wrong his actions toward women are. Because they are. They’re wrong. And disgusting. And illegal. Forcing women to engage with you, sexually or otherwise, is wrong. Yet Cal doesn’t mind when it lets him get what he wants; a nice lil orgasm AND a way to get back at his wife who cheated on him. Cal doesn’t say too much about the women he has sex with so his opinions about the women themselves are unclear, but when he sees that Hannah is with Jacob, all hell breaks loose. He tells her that “this guy is a lowlife, he is a womanizer”. His wife interrupts quickly with “that’s ironic”, to which Cal responds “excuse me?”, disgusted at having been put in the same category as Jacob. Cal isn’t the same as him, he isn’t disgusting, a womanizer, he only slept with those women because she did first! (Well, not women, but a man. David Lindhagen to be precise). It’s incredible that Cal does not see the similarity between himself and Jacob, especially when he says something so telling as “I know him. I have witnessed him in action. And you are not to see him anymore”. He doesn’t just know him, he’s lived him. He becomes Jacob when he goes to the bar. But he only can see the misogyny and the danger in these actions when he fears them being applied to his daughter. Because if a woman isn’t a daughter/sister/aunt/mother etc., respect doesn’t apply to them, oui?
There are some very, very questionable and down right dangerous messages that CSL projects. To all the young male teenagers who watch this film, do NOT do what the men in this film do. It’s not sexy, it’s not attractive, no woman wants to be forced a drink in her hand and then to have no choice in going home with you. Because that’s rape. If you find yourself having to convince someone to talk to you, that’s the first warning sign that this situation is not okay. Leave them alone. Go about your business, and let them theirs. Go read some information on consent, learn how to engage with members of society as a whole in a way that makes everyone feel safe, and don’t watch films like CSL that perpetuate messages of sexual coercion.