Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hanna Rosin on men, women, and the continuing appeal of superheroes

In the movies the Dark Knight does not always save his lady, but in the Aurora theater the story unfolded differently. 

It may be impossible to overstate the significance of this observation about Nolan's films, that Batman can't always save the woman he loves.  But Rosin, famously the author of "The End of Men", the article and the book, takes some time to note that men being willing to die to protect the women they love still happens.  Rosin writes an article so short that I'm about to quote about two thirds of it.  She observes that the impulse men have to protect the women they love is more primal and more deep than codes of chivalry that would not look the same across all class strata. I might suggest here that this impulse may also be something that may not fit so neatly into a complementarian/egalitarian discourse. We don't know whether or not some of these men who gave their lives for their girlfriends or wives would self-identify as complementarian or egalitarian or consider those terms to mean anything.  When someone is firing a gun at someone you love what do those terms actually mean?

So, without further ado, here's a lengthy chunk from Rosin's article.

On the Today show interview, Jansen Young, the girlfriend Blunk saved, mentioned that Jonathan was thinking about re-enlisting in the Navy. She attributed that to his undying heroism, but it may also have to do with the fact that he, like a few guys in the theater, was working at Target and surely not making enough money to support one family, much less two. Young, meanwhile, had just finished getting her veterinarian degree, becoming the latest in an onslaught of women who have taken over that lucrative profession, which was not very long ago dominated by men.

None of these life details are meant to detract from the men's heroism. They are only meant to make it more poignant, and even beautiful. As I’ve traveled to different middle-class towns that are struggling after the recession to report my book The End of Men, I’ve found a strained and touching effort to redefine the roles of men. They are often not the breadwinners because in that slice of America, women are often financially better off than the men. They are often not the steady fathers because couples don’t get married all that much anymore, and the women, if they are working themselves, see the men as just another mouth to feed. But one thing I find consistently is the enduring need for men to think of themselves and women to think of them as the protectors.

Couples will often insist that the man is the head of the household even when he doesn’t seem to be checking any of the traditional boxes. When I ask how it’s possible that he should retain the title without any of the attending duties, I almost always get some version of the same answer: If anyone threatened us, he would rescue us. If someone broke into the house, I would call him. If anything happened to the children, if a fire, if a tornado, etc. Papers have described what happened in the theater as "chivalry." But it's not really that. Chivalry is a code of conduct connected to social propriety. Throwing your body in front of your girlfriend when people all around you are getting shot is an instinct that's basic, and deeper. It’s the same reason these Batman and Spider-Man franchises endure: Because whatever else is fading away, women still seem to want their superhero, and men still seem to want to be him.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Yes, I suspect that a man's instinct to protect a woman is deep and is rooted in biology. When a woman is pregnant or nursing, she is vulnerable in a way a man never is. Perhaps the male's greater upper-body strength was designed with this need in mind.

The problem is that people conflate "protector" with "authority over." Why? People who hire strong bodyguards are not saying they want to be under their authority.

I don't think the natural protection instinct should be used as a justification for putting men over women in their homes and churches. It simply doesn't logically follow.