I like to watch car shows on Velocity channel. Dr. SJ, not so much. It’s okay with me. It’s okay with her. To each his own, and if she (I confirmed her pronouns in advance of writing this post) isn’t interested in chasing classic cars, who am I to make her watch?
So why must guys want to watch a chick flick?
While the box office numbers following its release on Wednesday suggest the movie has found a decent audience — it placed third, behind the new “Star Wars” and the latest “Jumanji,” on opening day — that unconscious bias has seemed to trickle down to the casual male viewer as well, if Twitter is any indication. The New York Times critic Janet Maslin recently tweeted her surprise at the “active hostility about ‘Little Women’ from men I know, love and respect.”
She also described the movie’s “problem with men” as “very real.” Someone tweeted in response: “It’s not a ‘problem.’ We just don’t care.”
If there’s an audience for Louisa May Alcott’s classic, that’s great. It’s wonderful that it placed third in the box office, suggesting that there will be more producers and studios willing to put money behind movies like “Little Women.” More to the point, there will be movies made that interest women interested in stories based on classic literature. If this movie appeals to you, go see it. If this is the kind of movie that appeals to you, you will have the opportunity to see it. The market is working well. Hooray!
But what does that have to do with anyone who chooses not to see it?
In some ways, we live in a different, more progressive era where recent onscreen stories by and about women have been highly regarded: the Emmy-winning “Fleabag”; the crowd-pleasing “Hustlers,” which outdid expectations at the box office and could lead Jennifer Lopez to her first Oscar nomination; “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” about a romance between two women in 18th-century France, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at Cannes, this year. It’s not as if men have shunned these women-led stories.
I tried watching Fleabag, but couldn’t suffer through more than the first couple episodes. There was nothing about the world of a dysfunctional, pathetic person that interested me. You like it? That’s cool. It had nothing to do with the fact that the lead character was a woman, per se, but a person who made me cringe at every turn. This was a person I would back away from at a cocktail party, if she would ever be invited to a cocktail party I would attend, so there was no reason why I would want to spend my time watching her world when I could clean toilets instead.
Is this what was happening with “Little Women”?
There’s reason to believe this new “Little Women” has appeal beyond a predominantly female audience. Several male film critics have given enthusiastic reviews, and on Wednesday Ms. Maslin tweeted her belief that male opposition has receded now that the movie is out. “Men are loving it,” she wrote. “Even ones who said they wouldn’t go.”
Are they? That “several male film critics” like it neither proves, nor disproves, her point. Either way, it’s wonderful if guys are going to see the movie, even if they’re being dragged there on date night.
Yet that this concern even existed to begin with is disheartening. If many men haven’t wanted to give it a chance because they don’t think it’s meant for them, we still have a way to go in considering all kinds of narratives about women to be deserving of thoughtful attention.
This “concern” existed largely in the minds of a certain cohort of women, who imputed their concern about “narratives about women” to men. That men weren’t interested doesn’t mean they didn’t give it “thoughtful attention.” They gave it as much attention as it was worth, and reached a conclusion: they weren’t interested.
Make all the chick flicks you want, and if they make money, Hollywood will make more. Same with movies with car chases, spaceships and swords. No guy ever complained that women didn’t like “Fast & Furious” enough. Nobody needed female validation to enjoy a war movie.
That’s what “Little Women” is — a plea for women to be seen as human beings.
Fair enough. But that’s not what makes a guy want to go see a movie. Whining about it surely won’t make it more interesting.