International Women’s Day and the Disposable Male
Western society has made a lot of headway since the inception of International Women’s Day over 100 years ago. However, the women’s movement has failed to evolve with the society that it has helped to change, and to adapt its priorities to the dynamic landscape of gender relations.
In the realm of film and television, activism has taken the form of contesting the negative portrayal of women as sex objects to be leered at, deadly women who lead the hero to their doom, and the image of unattainable perfection to which we should all aspire but can never achieve. And the evidence for this is undeniable.
It is, however, only half of the picture. Screen representations also tend to glorify harmful representations of men. According to evolutionary psychologist Karen Straughan, men are only valued in Western culture insofar as they are willing and able to sacrifice themselves for the good of the masses, for instance in war, and via the performance of back-breaking manual labour. Men are in other words disposable.
When we look at popular representations of men this assertion certainly holds true. Films such as Elysium The Matrix trilogy, The Dark Night Rises, the Die Hard franchise, and the latest instalment of Star Trek Into Darkness, narrativise and glorify male sacrifice and suffering.
The television ads that represent men as useless and stupid house-pets have also become too numerous to count.
My point is this: Events such as International women’s day relies on the outdated myth of patriarchy that would position all women as victims and all men as perpetrators, and which also obscure extremely sophisticated understandings of gender and sexuality that have evolved since its inception in the 1970s. Rather than perpetuating an unnecessary battle of the sexes, we should be using this knowledge to negotiate a better future for both women and men.