The Trickle Down Of Unconscious Male Bias

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.

19 thoughts on “The Trickle Down Of Unconscious Male Bias

  1. Richard Kopf


    I strenuously object to your use of the phrase “date night.” For me, this phrase encompasses all that is wrong in America.

    I very much doubt that Dr. S.J. and you have “date nights.” Maybe “expensive French cuisine nights” but never “date night.” If Joan and I went on a “date night” one of us would end up dead.

    All the best.


    PS. As for “Little Women,” what’s so appealing about being small of stature? Oh, sorry. I forgot.

  2. Corey

    “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”

    This has become the go to line in these sorts of conversations. Always along the line of “well my husband/boyfriend/a man i respect acts problematically”. If thats the case then deal with your personal life, don’t project onto all other men.

    Also, actively hostile to the movie? Is she implying these men she knows trying to stop people from seeing the movie or something? Again, sounds like a personal problem, being shouted into the void.

    1. Sonetka

      I must move in gentler social circles than these critics because I’ve never heard any men denigrating the movie or anyone who wants to see it — they’re just not very aware of it in the way that I don’t have much awareness of Fast & Furious movies. Oddly enough, I remember reading articles in 1994 which had the same complaint about the Winona Ryder “Little Women” — that not enough men were going to see it. And similarly, I’m pretty sure that it’s because the book didn’t feature much in their childhoods and they didn’t have much reason to be interested. If people really want to get men to these movies, my suggestion would be to get Alcott on the school syllabus so that if she’s to their taste, they have a chance to discover it early (unlike my father, who’d never read a word of her before my sister and I begged him to take us to the 1994 movie — and afterwards read Little Women and a lot of her other stuff as well because he enjoyed it so much).

      1. SHG Post author

        I read Alcott, Austen, the Brontes and others, and they were wonderful. No one should graduate high school without reading these classics.

  3. Skink

    I don’t want to see it because it’s linked to the Civil War. Everyone knows the Civil War was racist and women were taken hostage and forced into domestic slavery, often oversees. It also tells the story of a time in history that didn’t really happen the way they say.

    Either that or I haven’t felt the need to be locked in a dark room with a few hundred other assholes in more than 20 years.

  4. Kathleen Casey

    Once back in the day I mentioned to one of my brothers I planned on watching Gone With The Wind on the tube again. He snarked Why do you want to watch that tear jerker!!? I laughed. A dysfunctional love triangle. Implausible. I saw his point of view. But it’s also a story about survival. Thriving. What’s not to love about Clark Gable anyway. From my point of view.

    A little later in the day my husband wanted a date night at the Middleport drive-in. A double feature starting with Runaway Bride. He said later he liked it. I couldn’t remember because I fell asleep. It was boring. On the other hand it was a trip going hunting with him and his buds. They liked having me along. Seemed to. Poker didn’t interest me though. He liked his poker nights with his other buds. Fine by me. He was a free agent.

    That to me is the key. Aren’t we all free agents? At least in matters of taste? Some women are too stupid to see that.

  5. Milwaukee

    A few years ago, when I was actively dating one woman exclusively, we had a movie issue*. I wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy. She didn’t. We agreed to see it, but somehow missed twice, and saw her movie instead. Then she and her girlfriend suggested double date DVD at home with dinner. They picked 10 movies and said “we picked these that we’ll watch with you, you guys narrow it down to one.” We did. 30 minutes into the show they begged us to watch a different movie. Both couples broke up shortly thereafter. Heck, back with Blockbusters, my ex would go one week and get movies she wanted to see and I was expected to go the next week and get a movie she wanted to see. I saw the Terminator movies after the divorce.

    *We obviously had other issues. I liked canoeing and she had never been. I took her and she tried to steer from the front. No bueno.

  6. Fubar

    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.

  7. Patrick Maupin

    Dear Ms. Maslin:

    I can see how it is upsetting that there are still men around who were old enough to miss the pernicious feminization of elementary school. Don’t worry, though; we can’t all last too much longer.

    I would close with “Hugs and kisses” but apparently, that could lead to trouble, so with your consent, I will merely offer my regards.


  8. KP

    “It’s not a ‘problem.’ We just don’t care.” fact, we just don’t care if it is a problem!

    ” Don’t worry, though; we can’t all last too much longer.”
    I’m going to last as long as I can just to outrage them!

    Fubar, who is that woman in the grubby pullover struggling to run two words together?? Is that an example of the females who want us to watch chick flicks?

    1. Fubar

      Fubar, who is that woman in the grubby pullover struggling to run two words together??

      According to the video title, Philomena Cunk.

      I have heard there are modern technological marvels called “search engines”, and “Wikipedia”, which can provide far more information.

      Is that an example of the females who want us to watch chick flicks?

      I only reported* Philomena’s review of “A Good Day to Die Hard”. She said Willis’ film was “brilliant”, “amazing”, and “incredible”.

      * Except I did use the reply button to answer these questions, which may soften our gracious host’s heart sufficiently to forgive my answers.

  9. B. McLeod

    More bow-to-the-hat-on-the-pole.

    If a movie serves the ideology, the fanatics want everyone to have to watch it. Given the power, they would prop our eyes open like “Clockwork Orange” and force us to watch their damned programming.

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