There are two types of cowgirl narratives: Ones with plucky girls whose horses are a symbolic extension of their inner strength (see: Brave, National Velvet) and ones where girls feel unsure in the world and connect with horses who are also healing from some kind of trauma. We talk a lot about how horses help girls with wild hearts, but how is healing a horse like healing a woman?
The story of racehorse Secretariat has been told many times, many ways. In 2010 Disney released their own star-studded telling of the horse's rise to glory with the help of his determined owner, Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane). Everyone knows this film as a story about a horse's Triple Crown win. But really, it's as much a story about Chenery's struggle with challenging gender norms both personally and professionally. The horse Secretariat was her means to achieving success in a sexist industry.
Welcome to Family Drama! For the next eight weeks, we'll be guest blogging on Bitch about the portrayals of families on TV and in movies. We'll delve into what makes fictional families functional (or not), different types of familial arrangements in media, relationships between family members, and a ton of other issues.
Our background is that we're siblings whose family has often been defined as "dysfunctional." This label is a simple umbrella term that covers the myriad problems of abuses, rotating caregivers, and ever-present instability we've faced. When we were young, no one ever dissected or defined that term for us. As adults, we've had to unpack it for ourselves.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in his directorial debut, Don Jon, which centers on the life of a "porn addict" Jersey guido named Jon Martello.Though plenty of people will likely flock to a film that centers on two sexy stars and a porn addiction, Don Jon attempts to deconstruct the ways in which rigid notions of masculinity and femininity are damaging.
It's not that Silver Linings Playbook fails at what it's trying to do, exactly. It's easy to see why the film racked up Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Jennifer Lawrence. But a movie that includes mental illness, family function and dysfunction, football, romance, and sparkly dance costumes is biting off a bit more than it can chew.
Over the last two months, I've written more than 20,000 words (!) about male primary caregivers in popular culture. I hope I've illustrated that while the rise in non-stereotypical portrayals of men is in some ways a step forward, it's also often just another means by which the mainstream media reinforces gender norms — often at women's expense.
When I started this series, I thought the increase in narratives about single and stay-at-home fathers reflected a genuine sociological phenomenon, because more men than women lost jobs in the recession and became stay-at-home dads as a result. However, I soon discovered that while the number of men who take care of their kids full-time has doubled over the last 12 years, it's still just 176,000 people, or 0.8% of the population, according to Philip N. Cohen's interrogation of the stats. (This rises when dads who work part-time are included, but only to 2.8%.) Plus, men are returning to work more quickly than women, making this much-discussed "trend" little more than a blip. What's more, as Bryce Calvert pointed out in her Forbes column, it was only ever a partial victory considering that being a stay-at-home parent wasn't a choice for many of these men, just as it isn't a choice for many women.
While I ended my last post by snarkily suggesting that pop culture's fascination with fathers might give way to an interest in motherhood, the truth is a lot of messages about moms are already encoded in these male-centric narratives.
With its over the top premise and mining of dementia for "comedy", I could never get into Raising Hope, but there's one thing I do appreciate about the sitcom: it's one of very few successful shows to feature a working-class single dad.
It centers on Jimmy Chance (Garret Dillahunt), who is 25 when he finds out that a former one-night stand has become a serial killer, been sentenced to death, and left him with sole custody of their baby girl, Hope. As he still lives at home, his haphazard family helps him out as best they can.
Similarly, in Ugly Betty, sisters Betty and Hilda Suarez both lived at home, where their dad Ignacio acted as a surrogate father to Hilda's adolescent son Justin, helping to take care of him both practically (including cooking and housework) and emotionally. These shows highlight the fact that for many working-class single parents, a support system which provides affordable childcare is essential. They also illustrate that single parents may have to move in (or never move out) from the family home for financial reasons, a fact rarely explored in discussions (or statistics) about homelessness.
I'd read conflicting accounts of What to Expect When You're Expecting: while Bitch's own Andi and Kelsey previously pointed out many of its flaws, Bitchflicks called it an "unexpected gem". Having watched it, I understand the conflicting feminist opinions: the movie's so tonally inconsistent and stuffed full of characters, it's open to a range of interpretations. There's a lot to hate about it, from its heteronormativity (gay people and single people have babies too!) to its racial troping (a minor character calls Latino couple Holly and Alex "spicy"; Vic (Chris Rock) and his wife have more children than everyone else, and they're all named after professional athletes...). A subplot pitting Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) against her younger, more glamorous stepmother Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), who is also pregnant, felt hackneyed: why not subvert the idea that women are all jealous of models by having them support each other, instead?
But the film has some surprisingly realistic moments, especially compared to traditional romantic comedies where pregnancy and labor are portrayed as a breeze. After Rosie (Anna Kendrick) becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she had Marco (Chace Crawford), who she's barely started dating, become a cozy couple. But then she miscarries, is sunk into depression, and their too-much too-soon relationship falls apart; all of which felt surprising and pretty revolutionary for a big-budget (alleged) comedy.
There are lots of films where single men act as surrogate fathers, from the John Wayne flick 3 Godfathers to Annie, Curly Sue, Fred Claus, About a Boy, Role Models, Happythankyoumoreplease [yep], Kindergarten Cop, Big Daddy, and (kinda) True Grit. It's also a common trope on TV, in shows where the non-dad "dad" is related to the children in question, like Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Party of Five, Full House, or Gilmore Girls, and also where a lone man rescues a needy stranger (and himself in the process), as in Punky Brewster.
In the 2005 Disney movie The Pacifier, Vin Diesel plays Shane Wolfe, a Navy Seal–turned–temporary child minder. After failing to protect a government scientist working on a top-secret program that prevents other countries from deploying nuclear weapons, he's sent to protect the man's family as they've experienced some attempted break-ins, presumably in search of the secret program (which Wolfe needs to find before they do). After the scientist's widow leaves for Switzerland to open a newly discovered safety-deposit box belonging to her husband and the hopelessly negligent nanny quits, Wolfe is left in sole control of five children aged from baby to teenager. Hijinks ensue.