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Grown Ups (review)

Heartless Shameless Ugliness

Is it too overblown to suggest that what passes for the modern American mainstream comedy has finally descended into the downright sociopathic? The relentless cruelty of this ugly, rancid movie requires a shocking lack of empathy for one’s fellow humans if one is going to laugh at it — it is alleged to be a comedy, after all — until the moment when the film expects you to be able to turn your humanity back on for the would-be heartwarming bits… or at least that you will be able to fake it, like a sociopath does. Or like Grown Ups does.

The nightmare of Grown Ups is that it really does think it has something wise and wonderful to offer nostalgic Generation Xers: a warm glow of long ago summer days before videogames, when we played outside all day and had to be dragged in once the streetlights came on, a lost innocence concerned with nothing more than skipping stones and splashing in the pool and, I dunno, eating bologna sandwiches and catching fireflies and stuff. Sure, it’s a lovely portrait. But Ted Bundy was charming too. And if we’re to take this lovely portrait at face value, then we must also accept that the five men doing all the reminiscing are as pointlessly, shamelessly vicious as they are depicted to be, and that the spitefully venomous perspective of the film itself on these men is also an honest reflection of what director Dennis Dugan (You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and screenwriters Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf believe their audience will identitfy with.

These five guys, who haven’t seen one another in years, reunite for the funeral of their youth basketball coach, and none of them have actually grown up, merely gotten older and, it seems, infinitely more malicious. The characters — played by a rogues gallery of juvenile idiots: Sandler (Funny People, Bedtime Stories), Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Barnyard), Chris Rock (Death at a Funeral, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa), David Spade (The Benchwarmers, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star), and Rob Schneider (You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Click) — don’t think they’re malicious, of course, and neither does the film: they’re just regular guys getting together to catch up and chat about the old days. These are, we’re meant to accept, ordinary guys with lives that everyone will see their own in. Their kids are terrible brats (they appear not to realize this is at least partly their fault). And their wives run the gamut from emasculating to embarrassing, but are never less than way out of their league — Sandler is married to Salma Hayek (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Lonely Hearts)? James is married to Maria Bello (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Jane Austen Book Club)? — except for Schneider’s, played by the much older Joyce Van Patten (Marley & Me), because clearly endless hilarity is to be found in a man who finds an older woman attractive enough to actually marry.

Grown Ups purports to have been “written,” but it plays as if the guys are merely sitting in the back of the classroom of life, smirking and lobbing spitballs and meanspirited quips at everything about adult life that confounds their adolescent mindset. I’m sure I’ve joked before about how I wanted to cry, a movie was so bad, but I actually was driven to the verge of tears — of horror and frustration and despair — by the nonstop barrage of callous indifference to and detachment from anything remotely resembling human sympathy here. Anyone who deviates in the slightest way from a narrow range of preceived notions about what we’re all “supposed” to be is open to ridicule: men who aren’t “masculine” “enough” and women who aren’t “feminine” “enough” just about covers it, though anyone who dares to act as if they don’t appreciate the boundaries they’re supposed to adhere to comes in for a lashing of scorn and derision, too. Variations on those crude, merciless “jokes” will be repeated, again and again.

And then… and then, after all that, we’re intended to take lessons about kindness and understanding from Grown Ups? After Adam Sandler has sneered his way through this hatefest, he’s gonna tell us what the right thing to do is?

Not only does Grown Ups have no heart, it has no shame.

UK
DVD/streaming

Amazon UK DVD
US/Canada release date: Jun 25 2010 | UK release date: Aug 27 2010

MPAA: rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity
BBFC: rated 15

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • Craig

    I want to punch Rob Schneider, every time I see his picture or name.

  • Nina

    I figured it was gonna be pretty much a bad Peter Pan rip off. Crikey, where are MEN in current American movies?

  • AJP

    I want to punch Rob Schneider, every time I see his picture or name.

    I think this applies to all of the adult males who appear in this film.

  • ryan

    This is terrifically written review. It’s passionate and principled. It’s reviewers like you who make me interested in film.

    Re: Policing gender roles and punishing ‘deviants.’ It’s a Hollywood tradition. And it’s back in vogue like never before if the blockbuster films of 2010 are any guide (and they are).

    The A-Team movie was anti-immigrant, jingoistic, sexist, sociopathic and so stupid it beggared belief (gay people didn’t even exist in it’s self-referential universe, even as punch lines). The multiplexes are filled with this toxic garbage at the moment.

    Sorry to bring politics into this, but I think ‘Grown Up’s’ is political too. It’s so entiltled and amoral that it could only have sprung from the kind of complacent arrested development it thinks its lampooning.

    Adam Sandler donated $2100 to Republican Rudy Giuliani’s failed presidential campaign. Like Rudy, Sandler’s notion of what a woman is has never been particularly insightful (I mean, just look at those Rudy drag videos on Youtube for 10 seconds, if you can stomach it).

    Sandler made his donation to anti-gay Giuliani just before his gay-wedding ‘comedy’ “I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry” (why, even the title is a laugh riot) opened. Irony much?

    These entitled halfwits are sitting on the top of the totem making ‘heartwarming’ films about why that’s inevitable and right. If you want to see a bit of real drama, call them on it sometime.

  • http://wildandbad.com C David Dent

    I want to punch Rob Schneider, every time I see his picture or name.

    I think that’s the plot of his next movie.

  • e

    I’ve been trying to understand for years why the Sandler bloc of family films seems to do so well. I think he can be good at the funny and the dramatic, but instead, just once a year, he gets his friends together and makes a (probably…relatively) cheapo film, and it turns a profit.

    I suspect each film is written exactly like this: “Grown Ups purports to have been “written,” but it plays as if the guys are merely sitting in the back of the classroom of life, smirking and lobbing spitballs and meanspirited quips at everything about adult life”.

    I think, subconsciously, people must respond to knowing the film is just a movie some good “friends” of theirs made, no context, no message, and it asks nothing of them to view it.

  • MaryAnn

    the Sandler bloc of family films

    It astonishes me that this is meant to be a “family film,” but I think it probably is.

  • Michael

    I wonder if part of the problem is that this stuff is written by Sandler, who–from my admittedly limited observance of his life–has never had to grow up.

    The A-Team movie was anti-immigrant, jingoistic, sexist, sociopathic and so stupid it beggared belief (gay people didn’t even exist in it’s self-referential universe, even as punch lines).

    Er…wait. You’re calling it anti-gay because gay people weren’t mentioned or laughed at (in other words, because they weren’t featured in the movie)? The movie didn’t have any bakers or aluminum siding salesmen either (or jokes made about them, from what I recall). Does that make it anti-baker/aluminum siding?

    I also missed any anti-immigrant stance it may have taken, unless you’re referring to the corrupt police in Mexico. They’re corrupt police. Those are everywhere. If you’re latching onto their ethnicity (despite the fact that they’re not immigrants–unless you assume they must be trying to get into the U.S. because they’re Latino) as the reason for their corruption, well that’s your own issue.

    The rest I won’t argue with. It was gloriously stupid.

  • MaryAnn

    I’d argue that *The A-Team* was dumb, but not stupid. By which I mean that it didn’t actively (or even inactively) engage any deep or meaningful issues, but it also didn’t require that one turn a blind eye to anything, either. I don’t see that film as homophobic or anti-anything.

    But any discussion of that film should happen over there.

    I wonder if part of the problem is that this stuff is written by Sandler, who–from my admittedly limited observance of his life–has never had to grow up.

    That may well be true. But it doesn’t explain why Sandler is so popular. Why does there seem to be an entire generation of men who didn’t grow up? Why is Sandler able to find a sypathetic audience?

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Coming up next from Adam Sandler Productions, it’s the Dexter Morgan Family Hour.

    I kid, of course, but then again I’m not sure by how much. Reality should tend to imitate yesterday’s satire nowadays…

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Correction: Reality does tend to imitate yesterday’s satire nowadays…

    Damn Freudian slip…

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    “Why does there seem to be an entire generation of men who didn’t grow up?”

    I’ll take a few stabs at that.

    Nobody wanted us to.

    Overly permissive parenting by people too busy to raise us.

    Growing up is seen as boring.

    Our culture wants us to be immature and implusive otherwise we wouldn’t believe ads and politicians. A lot of commercial and political advertising is designed to circumvent logical thought, and I wonder if an accidental by-product of that is the undermining of logical thought.

    Since most of what our culture throws at us is dumbed down, we never feel the need to smarten up.

  • Michael

    Or there’s a lot of men who just don’t want to grow up, are drawn kicking and screaming into adulthood, and secretly (or not so secretly) yearn to be Sandleresque. These sorts of movies give them validation.

  • Lady Tenar

    Yeah, but the question is, why don’t they want to? I think the answer has a lot to do with women and feminist backlash. Popular masculinity has always been defined in terms of femininity. It’s whatever isn’t feminine. It’s about differentiating oneself from the inferior sex. (Note: I’m saying popular masculinity not all masculinity.) Men used to be able to do that by, you know, having careers, responsibilities (besides child-rearing), being the undisputed head of the household and dominant in the workforce etc. Now women can, and frequently do, do all these things, and men have to adapt accordingly, to deal with women as equals in the workplace and at home, to learn to cook a dinner or change a diaper etc. This is what growing up means now for men. A certain percentage of guys is going to freak out. In order to define themselves as manly men, they have to recede into this perennial adolescence, in which a kind of puerile, hermetically sealed “brotherhood” is valued above all other relationships and women remain these vaguely threatening Others whose primary purpose is to be alternately ogled and ridiculed. And gay people? Let’s not even think about them. *shudder* Or you’re gay. Basically, some guys can only define themselves as guys by creating this all-male world in which piggish, regressive machismo still rules.

    And I just pulled that straight out of my ass. I’m sure there’s a better way to say it and other reasons as well but that’s my two cents.

  • Lady Tenar

    And by the way, I’m not implying that women have actually achieved equality in the workplace or even the home in a lot of cases but we’re a lot closer than we were 40-50 years ago, and the X-ers and Millenials, who primarily form this demographic, are the first generations to grow up in a post-feminist world.

  • Alma

    Sigh. Thank you MaryAnn, for this review, which was so passionate and eloquent. The part where you said you were driven to tears by this movie was really validating for me, being that I am driven to tears of anger and shame quite often by the regressiveness of our society’s values and those we see in film now in particular, and often wonder if I am the only one who feels this way.

  • Kate

    This review was fantastic.

    MaryAnn, I remember you once posted that you were planning on compiling a collection of your best reviews into a book. If you ever get the time for such a time-consuming project, reviews such as this one, the one on Knocked Up and the entire Apatow oeuvre, and all manner of films about failed modern-day masculinity should definitely be a separate chapter.

    Brava again.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    The generation of men who didn’t want to grow up–you hit the nail on the head. That’s why this tripe is popular. It’s a large segment of the population who is content to heckle from the sidelines, but gods forbid anyone ask them to DO anything or make something of themselves. Their response will be to sit even *further* back and make post-ironic jokes about *that*.

    I don’t agree that it’s the fault of feminism or any other kind of “ism”, it’s probably more to do with having a rootless society. Nobody wonders or cares about heritage, ancestry or tradition. Nothing means anything, and everything is a big joke. Pour on sappy artificial sentiment and repeat. Our tradition, to quote Avatar, is “blue jeans and light beer”. I would add to that anything that the advertising machine shoves down our throats.

    Men don’t have any idea what it means to be men. We don’t have equality between the sexes, but the answer is not androgynizing or homogenizing everything, that doesn’t help. It doesn’t work either–the current void in true masculinity gets filled with gangsta rappers, jock superstars that behave like animals (and get away with it), and heckling schlubs like this. Where is the recognition of ideal men of action, principle, wisdom, or tradition? Like George Washington, or Winston Churchill, or even further back ideal images like Beowulf (of the poem, not that Zemeckis disaster)?

    We tell kids “you can be anything you choose to be!”, then criticize everything outside the corporate norm and leave them wondering who the hell they are. Their reaction is to be snarky rejects, or identify themselves with the latest faddish clique like vamps, goths, punkers, skaters, jocks, mallrats, or whatever artificial culture they can find. One commentor above noticed the overpermissive parenting–I argue it’s also overprotective. We expect nothing of our young people, except to ‘stay out of trouble’ and don’t do anything risky, but outside that ‘everything is OK’, meanwhile go watch TV and don’t bother me I can’t be troubled with paying attention to you.

    Its a sad state of affairs, and there’s no end in sight.

  • Overflight

    Not to discount the previous posters’ opinions and defend this piece of crap, but I never enjoyed this sort of “this generation is doomed” sentiment. Hell, if you look back it’s the same thing that’s been said about every single generation since the dawn of time. Plus, just because something is “the mainstream view” if you will, that doesn’t mean every single person living in that environment will subscribe to it. People are more complex than you think and react to the world around them in many different ways.

    Plus, I don’t believe that there is a “regressiveness” in society’s values. People today have more rights than ever before. While you might argue that sexism, racism et al are still as prevalent as ever, we have reached what I like to call “the age of hypocrisy” where such ideals are still prevalent yet are not as institutionalized and/or accepted as they once were. You can also discuss the question of maturity but that is something that society must learn to live with. In the Middle Ages very young children were supposed to act as full fledged adults. Would you have us return to that? If you do, what for? Maybe it’s an inevitable result of people having a longer lifespan than ever before plus all the material comfort we enjoy in modern life. It’s all part of the natural evolution of society.

    Also, personally citing this movie as a decline of values is kind of exaggerated. Has any sort of box office result been released yet? I have the feeling it won’t make much money.

  • Lady Tenar

    I don’t agree that it’s the fault of feminism or any other kind of “ism”

    Whoa, whoa, who said anything about blaming feminism? I blamed feminist backlash. Very different. And I never said that was the whole story, just that it was an element.

    We don’t have equality between the sexes, but the answer is not androgynizing or homogenizing everything, that doesn’t help.

    Um, well all I ever mentioned was things like men participating in domestic work and childcare, and respecting women at the workplace. If that constitutes “androgynizing” everything, well, then I guess that is what I want…

    Look, I get what you mean about everything turning into a big joke. I think there’s something to that. Things like sincerity and earnestness and civic-mindedness have become very uncool and the result is a popular culture dominated by a lot of mean-spirited snark. But I think the cultural rootlessness you’re describing is more or a result than a cause of that. Since caring about the things like heritage, ancestry, and tradition would of course demonstrate sincerity and earnestness. Also, keep in mind that that does not so much represent the American experience but the experience of that part of America that does not have any identity with a racial, ethnic, or religious minority. And that’s a shrinking demographic. Which is maybe why I completely lose you when you say that the solution to all this is lionizing George Washington to boys. I think we had stage already in this culture, and I’m glad it’s over.

    I think what you’re describing probably has more to do with the sort of post-Watergate, post-Vietnam cynicism that has set in the past few decades. We’ve had a lot of evidence in recent history that idealism is for chumps and it’s too easy for a lot of people to succumb to that attitude.

    But while that may account for the attitude of a lot of mainstream culture, I don’t think you can discount the gender stuff here. After all, we’re talking about men that don’t grow up. And I’ll stand by what I said about this immature, hostile frat boy culture being largely a result of fear of women and fear of women’s equality. In Dudeland you are safe from self-criticism and self-reflection that comes with growing up. In Dudeland what makes you a jerk to women, makes you a hero to other Dudes. Your wife or girlfriend pissed at you because you sit on your ass watching football while she’s cleaning up after dinner? Your female boss getting you down because she’s just so authoritative? Come to Dudeland, where the only women are spinning around polls, on the pages of lad mags, or the subjects of jokes in which they turn into pizzas after sex. Right where they should be, and you don’t need to actually deal with them as human beings. For the first time in history, men are actually (sort of) being asked to see women as actual people and deal with them accordingly. Some of them just can’t do it. They’re Dudes.

    One commentor above noticed the overpermissive parenting–I argue it’s also overprotective. We expect nothing of our young people, except to ‘stay out of trouble’ and don’t do anything risky

    As opposed to what? Isn’t that what parents have always told their kids?

  • Lady Tenar

    whoops, italicized instead of blockquoted a few of those…

  • Erik Goodwyn

    This is not “the first time in history” that men were asked to think of women in mature terms. It’s the first time in *recent* history. The assertion that men have dominated everything and marginalized women in all cultures is not supported by evidence *outside* of Western Judeo-Christian (and before that Greco-Roman) societies. For example, a look at the Sagas of the Icelanders, many of which were written before the 13th century, will show a society in which women are strong, assertive and potent forces in those “primitive” societies. Ancient germanic society had gender roles, yes, but there is no evidence that anyone thought of male roles as “better” than the feminine roles. That’s a case of placing modern value systems, which doesn’t value either, upon an ancient one where it doesn’t belong.

    Also, I think the rootlessness comes first because of the disintigration of the familial/tribal unit that has occurred in the last few centuries. Modern society has atomized down to isolated nuclear families with no tradition or real culture, which leaves us feeling like nothing matters and it’s all a big joke–hence it’s easy to poke fun at sincerity. Without roots, we have no identity.

    Guys in “Dudeland” are indeed terrified of women. That’s why they act like animals. But the solution is what? I offer that they should work on making themselves mature, strong, wise and fair minded. That they become *men*. Then they can approach women as equals and not as snarky frat-boys. I should think women would welcome that. Having ideals to strive for is just the beginning, the real work needs to be from fathers, who have become all but irrelevant today.

    Notice that the big hits this summer, and for many summers before, have been about the plight of fatherless boys? Star Wars, Iron Man, Robin Hood, I got more. It’s a pervasive issue that fathers don’t earnestly engage in teaching boys how to progress into men and what that actually means.

  • Lady Tenar

    ______________________________________________________

    The assertion that men have dominated everything and marginalized women in all cultures is not supported by evidence *outside* of Western Judeo-Christian (and before that Greco-Roman) societies.

    Really? There’s nothing evidence of the subjugation of women in Eastern, non-Judeo-Christian cultures? Not in the history (or present) of China, or India, or Japan, or Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran, or the Congo, or Liberia, or do you want me to go on?

    I’m sorry, the cliche of painting Eastern cultures as egalitarian and enlightened, as opposed to big, bad Western cultures falls apart pretty quickly. People everywhere are fucked up when it comes to gender and pretty much always have been.

    For example, a look at the Sagas of the Icelanders, many of which were written before the 13th century, will show a society in which women are strong, assertive and potent forces in those “primitive” societies. Ancient germanic society had gender roles, yes, but there is no evidence that anyone thought of male roles as “better” than the feminine roles.

    Examples of strong female characters exist in the mythologies and literatures of many cultures, including Judeo-Christian ones. But some how it’s never meant that in day-to-day life, women weren’t basically second-class citizens. As for there being “no evidence that anyone thought of the male roles as ‘better’”, sorry I don’t buy separate but equal. Gender roles in all societies, again, including those Judeo-Christian ones, have pretty much always been justified in this way (see “complementarianism”), but some how, the male role still always seemed to include all the power. There was never a Golden Age for women anywhere.

    And anyway, whatever the role of 13th century Icelandic women was in their society, I don’t think it has a whole lot to do with the history of American culture, which is what we’re talking about.

    Modern society has atomized down to isolated nuclear families with no tradition or real culture, which leaves us feeling like nothing matters and it’s all a big joke–hence it’s easy to poke fun at sincerity. Without roots, we have no identity.

    Once again, I’d like to point out that I really think that that’s modern, white, ethnically “neutral, non-recently immigrated American society. But I’ll give you that that aspect of American society is still culturally dominant in many ways.

    I offer that they should work on making themselves mature, strong, wise and fair minded. That they become *men*.

    Well, I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. I just don’t happen to think that that will happen by teaching boys to idolize George Washington. Or at any rate, maybe we should start teaching them to look up to women as role models too.

  • Accounting Ninja

    It really smacks of the No True Scotsman Fallacy.

    “No Real Man would behave this way! We need to get back to raising our boys to be Real Men like the men of yore…etc.”

    But what is Real Man? What makes George Washington one, or why would more fathers’ presence equate to this elusive teaching of Real Manhood?

    Whenever I hear something like this, I sense gender essentialism, or the belief that there is Real Masculinity and Real Femininity and never the twain shall meet and they are forever different and separate. But equal! ….Apparently.

    The comment about “androgynization” is another clue. Recognizing the roles of Masculine/Feminine as the straight jackets they are doesn’t mean feminists advocate for some beige-colored samey-same world. This feminist (me) believes a lot of the conventional wisdom about gender is BS, that many *humans* actually exhibit traits of both genders but certain traits are socially praised/condemned depending on the sex of the person expressing them. So it becomes a self-fullfulling prophecy that Men behave X while Women behave Y, because each gender has been carefully trained/praised/guided into these roles and THIS is what most people refuse to see. They see these gender roles as INATE. They are not.

    My feminist vision is not ONLY that the feminine not be denigrated, but that there be no inate masculine/feminine but only HUMAN traits. Traits that anyone, regardless of their sex/gender, can feel free to express without fear of social reprisal.

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Ugh. Here we go.
    Lady Tenar:
    1. I was referring more to indigenous cultures in Europe only.
    2. Hammer-nail syndrome. If women are shown being treated harshly, it’s unquestionable evidence of maltreatment, but if women are shown valued, goddesses worshipped, and praises sung, then that’s just a cover up.
    3. Power, power, power. This is anachronistic. Modern American culture is obsessed with power. But why is being in leadership positions “better” than other roles? Where is that written? And even so, queens and important wives were very influential on who went to war with whom.
    4. Where is the evidence from these downtrodden women *themselves* that they were so miserable? Or are we (again) imposing our view that they are so mistreated and that they’re just too ignorant to see it?

    I do not deny gender inequality exists. I just think it’s a more modern phenomenon than most people do. And my example of Washington was just an example. The point is that we need good ideals and good models, that’s all. And if we don’t have them, young men will grab up whatever they can find, no matter how unworthy.

    Accounting Ninja: I agree with you that the feminine should never be denigrated, whether expressed in men OR women. But without any definition of femininity, which you seem to deny as “essentialism”, then what exactly does it *mean* to value the feminine?

    So the question becomes, how can we define The Feminine, and the Masculine, in such a way that is not just silly pop-culture nonsense? I think one way is through exploration of ancient symbolism and cultures, as evenly as we can, though you dismiss this as “days of yore”, apparently those terrible dark ages before we became so clever and enlightened.

    Clearly you think that my suggestion that we explore the thoughtful, strong and subtle expressions of Masculinity as fallacious. So what’s your alternative?

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Oh, and I agree that what I’m talking about applies mostly to white middle-class etc America, rather than ethnic minorities. I want minorities to be treated fairly, but what worries me is that in our fervor to do so, we encourage them to atomize and become vanilla generic America as the trade off, rather than preserve their great traditions.

    And yes, we should absolutely teach young men to idolize strong, wise, powerful women. Most ancient polytheistic cultures did this through their stories of goddesses and female nature spirits and ancestors. Freya (a Norse goddess), for example, was highly sexual but never yielding, a war goddess who shared the fallen warriors with Odin, and a mighty sorceress. If she didn’t want to do something *nobody* could make her EVER. There is evidence that she was worshipped by men and women alike in pre-Christian Europe. Her worship was suppressed by pesky monks during the conversion whose sexist agenda was stated time and again by the monks themselves.

    This is relevant to us today because many of the white-bland-middle America people you speak of are descendants from this pre-Christian culture…I’m just sayin.

    And I don’t care what you all say, Washington was way cool. :)

  • Lady Tenar

    1. I was referring more to indigenous cultures in Europe only.

    I kind of doubt that life in those cultures was a big gender equality party either and nothing you’ve said has really convinced me otherwise. Pretty much every agricultural society has had sharply defined gender roles and, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make that a good thing. When you divide the entire realm of human experience and emotion in half and say “Men get this half, women get this half” you’re cheating both men and women. But historically, the consequences have always been worse for women.

    2. Hammer-nail syndrome. If women are shown being treated harshly, it’s unquestionable evidence of maltreatment, but if women are shown valued, goddesses worshipped, and praises sung, then that’s just a cover up.

    Guess what, goddesses are still objects. Reverence for “the feminine” can be found in a lot of cultures, including, like I said Judeo-Christian ones. In traditional Orthodox Judaism (which is how my grandmother was raised), it is traditional for a man to say a prayer singing the praises of “a righteous woman” to his wife. Women are considered “closer to God.” So close to God, I guess, that we can’t become rabbis or read Torah in the synagogue (because we’re just so virtuous, you know, we don’t need to study like men do). So yeah, it is a cover-up. Revering an essentialized “femininity” may sound good from the outside but, practically speaking, it usually means there are pretty major restrictions on women to keep them within that definition, and pretty huge social consequences for women who stray from it.

    3.Power, power, power. This is anachronistic. Modern American culture is obsessed with power. But why is being in leadership positions “better” than other roles? Where is that written? And even so, queens and important wives were very influential on who went to war with whom.

    It’s not written because it’s common fucking sense. It is better to have control over what goes on with your society, your community, your family, and even your own body. It is better to be able to do this without having to do it indirectly through someone else who can do it directly simply because they’ve got the right genitalia. You can romanticize the traditional, supportive role of women all you want but if you were given the choice between being the king who makes the rules according to his beliefs and interests, and the queen who tries her best to influence the king so that just maybe the rules will reflect her own beliefs and interests, I’m guessing you would choose the former.

    4. Where is the evidence from these downtrodden women *themselves* that they were so miserable? Or are we (again) imposing our view that they are so mistreated and that they’re just too ignorant to see it?

    Um, everywhere. I’m not doing the research for you, I have other shit that I should be doing right now as it is.

    So what’s your alternative?

    How about resolving to do better than we’ve ever done before instead of getting stuck in a highly romanticized view of history. How about looking to the future instead of the past?

  • MaryAnn

    If women are shown being treated harshly, it’s unquestionable evidence of maltreatment, but if women are shown valued, goddesses worshipped, and praises sung, then that’s just a cover up.

    I’ll just point out that the Catholic Church worships the mother of Christ as a near-goddess, but that this does not translate into the Catholic Church having a general good attitude toward women. Goddess worship does not necessarily mean a given culture treats women well or values them as people. Sometimes — in fact, probably most times — it means that it values only those women who can be placed on pedestals. And as long as they can stay on that pedestal. Try suggesting to a run-of-the-mill Catholic that Mary’s perpetual virginity is a metaphor, and watch how they freak out.

    I do not deny gender inequality exists. I just think it’s a more modern phenomenon than most people do.

    I think gender inequality is different than it once was, Erik. The home, the hearth, used to be the center of society. It’s where both children were raised and where a living was made. This is not true anymore. In all of the recorded history we have, women have never been considered the equals of men — whether it was in regards to voting, property ownership, fitness to testify against a man in a court of law, and so on, even if rare individual women did, once in a while, attain a measure of power and respect. But when ordinary men and women both lived their lives mostly within the confines of the home (or the farm), women had a more equal role in the general society of a culture. But as soon as men started leaving the home to go to work and the centers of everyday power moved from the home to the factory, the office, etc — and as soon as larger power moved from the village square or the central fire to the boardroom, the mayor’s house, the Oval Office — whatever small amounts of power women were allotted was denigated.

    This whole big idea of Laddism or Dudeland, wherein men are apparently terrified of women, is something that an honest feminism would do away with. It would not place unreasonable demands on anyone, be they male or female, and certainly would not place certain expectations on people on the simple basis of what naughty bits they have between their legs. Some people — male and female alike — are better suited to taking care of children than others. Some people — male and female alike — are better suited to leading a nation in peace or in war. Maybe all these can’t-grow-up guys are, in their own way, rebelling against the unreasonable expectations placed upon them by our increasingly gender-divided society. And that’s okay. But I would expect at least some of them to, by this point, recognize that if they joined with feminists, we could jointly fix the problem.

    Lots of women are total idiots driven, apparently, by the genderized dictates of our culture, but at least a few women are smart enough to see the problem, articulate the problem, and try to work toward a solution. Where are the smart, aware men who are able to do the same?

  • Lady Tenar

    lol. I think Washington is cool in his way too, but he’s also a pretty flawed role model. I prefer Franklin and Jefferson, personally (although they were pretty damn flawed too.)

    Re Freya: If anyone can prove to me that worship of Freya actually gave women more power over their own lives in day-to-day living than in any other society I’ll shut up. But so far, nobody ever has. The Celts had some awesome goddesses too but I have a hard time believing that any people that spent that much damn time fighting each other and other people was a haven for women.

  • Lady Tenar

    Also, good point, MAJ, about the change in the role of women because the change in the role of the home. It’s true. In pre-industrial American society, when most people farmed, women were economically necessary. You needed their work in the home to run the farm. It’s a lot harder to discount people that play an essential role in basic subsistence. When we shifted to an industrial economy instead of agrarian one, women lost that influence and things definitely got worse for them in a lot of ways.

    But even before that, if men were so inclined to become something besides a farmer, like a lawyer, or a minister, or a crafstman, their gender was not an impediment. Not so for women. Women didn’t have much access to education. They could not vote. They could not do a lot of things that men could do. There role was still in no way equal.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    “Lots of women are total idiots driven, apparently, by the genderized dictates of our culture, but at least a few women are smart enough to see the problem, articulate the problem, and try to work toward a solution. Where are the smart, aware men who are able to do the same?”

    Mary Ann, in my limited experience, the men you are asking about are married to women leaders instead of becoming leaders themselves. The men I’ve known who truly adopted feminism usually go through a process of backing away from male privilege instead of chasing it, so never struck me as the type to chase after a public role. I have known them to spread the word more privately, as personal advice.

    Yes, there are men who run for office as Democrats who officially endorse feminism, but they invariably enjoy the perks of male privilege (Bill Clinton being the prime example of this duelism, being feminist enough to marry Hillary but not enough to keep it in his pants).

  • Erik Goodwyn

    (sigh). Lady Tenar: You define “equal” as “identical”. We must agree to disagree here. Women should have the right to be different from men if they want, and same for men, just as much as they should be allowed to pursue aggressive power striving if that’s what they really want. Ancient society was not perfect, but as MJ points out, the gender power divide got much worse once we moved into the industrial age–I’d like to add that when men moved into the city every day to work, they left behind their sons who in previous times were working *with* their fathers all day and learning implicitly how to mature into men. Fatherless society is not good for men or women.

    Regarding “objects”–there’s no winning against this kind of reasoning. If its valued, its valued. The rest is forced assumption. Everyone “objectifies” everyone else on a certain level, women aren’t innocent here!

    Why is running a household “supportive”? Men who hunted and farmed “supported” the household that was run by the woman traditionally. Labeling one as “supportive” and the other as “supported” is arbitrary. It was a team effort, irreducible.

    Celtic women were sometimes chieftans, druids, and shamanesses. My point is simply that we shouldn’t just explode concepts of femininity and masculinity and leave a vacuum because it’s “fair”. Each culture should work hard to define what these things are for them so our children aren’t lost.

    The values of aggression, power striving, hunting, courage, were traditionally mapped as “masculine” because they were typically expressed in men *on average*. Values of nurturing, intuition, emotional intelligence, and all that–same for women. Rather than keep shouting “gender doesn’t exist!” perhaps we should spend more time teaching children to nurture these ideas and let them decide how to express them in themselves. Value systems are not entirely conjured up with “culture”, much of it comes from within. Ask any 2 year old–they’ve got a mind of their own and aren’t afraid to tell you “NO!”

    I agree with everything you’re saying except this part I would add simply: why assume that women *wanted* this, just because modern women do? It is not “common fucking sense”. If they didn’t care, shouldn’t we allow them that freedom? Icelandic women couldn’t be lawyers, but neither could they be tried–their husbands bore the brunt of any legal claims. Is that “fair”? Well, maybe it’s just *different*.

    In any case, the point is that I’m still waiting on a useable definition of masculinity and femininity. Stating “there is none” isn’t going to work for our young people.

  • http://bluejaysway.wordpress.com/ Bluejay

    Oh, and I agree that what I’m talking about applies mostly to white middle-class etc America, rather than ethnic minorities. I want minorities to be treated fairly, but what worries me is that in our fervor to do so, we encourage them to atomize and become vanilla generic America as the trade off, rather than preserve their great traditions.

    Speaking as an ethnic minority here: I’d just like to suggest that all traditions should be scrutinized, rather than automatically revered as “great.” Minority cultures aren’t exempt from sexism and other narrow views sheltering under the protection of “tradition.”

    If I followed certain traditional attitudes of my “home” culture, I’d raise my daughter to be an unquestioningly obedient girl, and make my wife keep having babies until she produces a son to carry on my family name (because of course my daughter would take the name of her husband, because of course she’d be straight and would eventually marry).

    I’m happy to shed some of my “great” traditions and subscribe to more progressive values shared by, yes, many middle-class white Americans. You folks ain’t all bad. :-)

  • Erik Goodwyn

    Point taken.

  • Lady Tenar

    You define “equal” as “identical”

    Sorry, but what? All I’ve said is that I want the whole of human experience to be open to everybody, regardless of their gender, instead of divided up so that nobody can ever get more than half (and that woman can’t get any of the half that involves having agency in their own lives which is what’s usually happened.) I just want individual difference valued above perceived gender difference. What part of that calls for everybody cropping their hair and wearing beige overalls and calling each other comrade?

    When I brought up “supportive roles” I was doing so in contrast to leadership roles, which you brought up to make the point that leadership roles were not necessarily better roles. That is true in the sense that an individual person in a leadership role is not necessarily better than a person in a non-leadership role. But having the possibility of taking a leadership role is most definitely better than not having that possibility because of your gender. Women should have that choice just as men do, and, historically, they have not, no matter how many goddesses their cultures worshipped. And I think that’s much worse than “not perfect.”

    Regarding “objects”–there’s no winning against this kind of reasoning. If its valued, its valued.

    Well, clearly it’s not that simple is it? Multiple examples, such as the Catholic Church, and Orthodox Judaism, have been offered to you of cultures and traditions which have strong elements of worship of the feminine and yet still have some pretty regressive attitudes towards actual, flesh-and-blood women. So what exactly is being valued? Actual women, in all their individuality and variation and imperfection, or some idealized notion of what women should be, which is usually pretty limiting, and pretty brutal on women who can’t or don’t want to fit into it?

    Everyone “objectifies” everyone else on a certain level, women aren’t innocent here!

    No, we’re certainly not. Women are not angels. But when we objectify men, we don’t have an entire culture to back us up. Men do. See all of MAJ’s posts on the Male Gaze, although that’s a whole new can of worms.

    Rather than keep shouting “gender doesn’t exist!” perhaps we should spend more time teaching children to nurture these ideas and let them decide how to express them in themselves.

    Yes, exactly. Regardless of their sex. We should teach children that all those qualities–courage, aggression, nurturance, intuition etc.–are commendable qualities, or at any rate, natural and necessary aspects of the human psyche, and help them put whatever native qualities they as individuals happen to have to the best use for the good of society and their own personal happiness. No need to code any of them as “masculine” or “feminine.” I don’t think we need to teach kids to be “good men” or “good women”, we can just teach them to be good people. Why would that not work for kids? That’s how I was brought up, to be a good person not a good woman in particular. I have many qualities that would be traditionally described as feminine and as many that would traditionally be described as masculine. And yet I in no way feel that I’m androgynous, and I’m not in some huge identity crisis over it.

    why assume that women *wanted* this, just because modern women do? It is not “common fucking sense”. If they didn’t care, shouldn’t we allow them that freedom?

    Most people don’t question their society’s norms but that doesn’t mean that women didn’t reap the consequences of being essentially powerless over their own lives (unless they were lucky enough to be able to influence a man in their lives to their benefit). People often become complicit in their own subjugation, that’s what hegemony is. But some women DID want things to be different. Mary Wollstonecraft comes to mind. And Abigail Adams, since you seem to be into the early republic. :-) And Jane Austen’s writing is full of thinly veiled frustration, even rage, at the kind of bullshit women had to put up with. This is long before there was an organized women’s movement.

    Icelandic women couldn’t be lawyers, but neither could they be tried–their husbands bore the brunt of any legal claims. Is that “fair”? Well, maybe it’s just *different*.

    No, that’s not fair. Not holding women responsible for whatever wrongs they commit is not fair to anyone–to the men that took it on the chin for them, or to women for assuming that they are not rational beings capable of moral responsibility just like men. It’s treating women as less than full human beings. A similar thing was true in Victorian English law (it was a plot point in “Oliver Twist”) and I think we’ve pretty much agreed that the 19th century was a pretty shitty time for women. With rights come responsibilities and when people don’t have one, they usually don’t have the other. Getting equal opportunity to do right means you also get blamed when you do wrong. So, yeah, it’s not just “different.” It’s worse. I’m not such a relativist that I can’t say that.

  • Caleb

    “Where are the smart, aware men who are able to do the same?”

    Is this a challenge or a legitimate question? There is a lack of objectivity in either premise.

  • pimpin

    I thought the movie was mildly funny, but it certainly was a bit mean spirited. I can definitely see how it would have hurt and offended older women. My 17 year old girlfriend and her friend who watched it with me both thought it was HILARIOUS though. What does that tell you about the current generation?

  • MaryAnn

    I can definitely see how it would have hurt and offended older women.

    Maybe you should try to understand why all sorts of people find this movie offensive.

    Icelandic women couldn’t be lawyers, but neither could they be tried–their husbands bore the brunt of any legal claims. Is that “fair”? Well, maybe it’s just *different*.

    Okay, it’s just “different.” Not better or worse — just different.

    So, Erik, I suggest you try thinking about how “different” it would be if *men* had no legal rights as persons, but were “protected” by “benevolent” women who held total legal power over them and were expected to “protect” their men. Do you think you would enjoy this? Would you consider it fair?

    Or would you rather be treated like a human being, rather than a pet?

  • Knightgee

    Oh, and I agree that what I’m talking about applies mostly to white middle-class etc America, rather than ethnic minorities. I want minorities to be treated fairly, but what worries me is that in our fervor to do so, we encourage them to atomize and become vanilla generic America as the trade off, rather than preserve their great traditions.

    Going to have to agree with Bluejay that there are certain traditions in my minority culture I could do without, though I do appreciate the larger point you were making about not whitewashing and assimilating minorities until they are just psuedo-whites. It definitely runs on risky ground, because it wouldn’t be the first time white people have helped push our culture in the “right” direction for our own good, only to seat us with their own negative cultural baggage.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    If I followed certain traditional attitudes of my “home” culture, I’d raise my daughter to be an unquestioningly obedient girl, and make my wife keep having babies until she produces a son to carry on my family name (because of course my daughter would take the name of her husband, because of course she’d be straight and would eventually marry).

    I’m happy to shed some of my “great” traditions and subscribe to more progressive values shared by, yes, many middle-class white Americans. You folks ain’t all bad. :-)

    It’s not always that simple, Bluejay.

    My paternal relatives came from a culture that is very conservative when it comes to women’s rights as well yet that did not prevent my father–a naturalized citizen who spent most of his premarital life around said culture–from encouraging both my mother and my sister to seek out and pursue a college education.

    Indeed, he was more supportive of my Polish-American mother’s right to pursue a higher education than my maternal grandparents. When my maternal grandparents discovered that they had only enough money to send one of their three children to college, they chose to send the oldest boy–a boy who ultimately dropped out–and chose to ignore my mother’s ambitions in this area–forcing her to work her way through college even though she was more academically ambitious–and ultimately more academically successful–than her two brothers.

    If that wasn’t enough, I couldn’t help noticing in junior high a profound difference in the way my father treated my sister and the way many of the white non-Hispanic female students in my classes were treated by their male relatives. My father encouraged all four of us (myself, my two brothers and my sister) to divide up the household chores equally–and he refused to stick my sister with all the domestic tasks just because she was a girl. The Anglo female students, however, frequently spoke of having to wait on their father and brothers hand and foot just because they were girls and such behavior was expected of them.

    Granted, this last part took part in the South–which is traditionally more conservative than the North. Then again, my mother was living in the North at the time she was forced to work her way through college.

    That said, I will admit that the last time I was in Mexico and dating a Mexican citizen, it became repeatedly obvious to me that not all Mexicans in that country were as progressive toward women as my father was. Then again neither were a lot of Americans.

    Indeed, one of the saddest events I ever encountered occurred when I attended a novena for a young Latina girl who had been recently killed by her own stepfather in order to punish the child’s mother for her infidelity. For what it’s worth, the stepfather–who subsequently killed himself after he killed the girl–was a WASP.