Male Emotions in The Place Beyond the Pines

by | April 24, 2013
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

placebeyondpinesby A. Lynn. This piece was originally posted at her blog A Nerdy Feminist and is cross-posted with permission.

This weekend, I saw The Place Beyond the Pines, a drama starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendez. I will try to make my point without spoiling anything.

I’ll be honest, I went for the Gos, but I was pulled in by the story. A movie really has to be compelling to make 2.5 hours fly by, and fortunately it was. The trailer billed the film as “An exhilarating epic of fathers, sons, and consequences.” It’s very male-centric (which is fine for some movies to be, I just wish that MOST of them weren’t…) but nevertheless, it got me thinking about how sexism in our culture routinely hurts men and boys.

Let me be clear, I believe the root of all sexism in our society is tied to misogyny, and that women suffer far more negative consequences. But that doesn’t mean that men make it out unscathed.

What I’m talking about in particular is the expression of emotions. There is a scene where Bradley Cooper’s character is seeing a psychiatrist about something traumatic and he literally cannot speak the words about what he’s really feeling. She has to pull it out of him…he’s repressed and stifled. And beyond that–the movie is peppered with men lashing out by using violence and anger as their only way of processing deeply felt pain. Almost all of the men in the movie behave in this way. When presented with a challenge, or when something hurts them, their reaction is a lot of isolation and stoicism until things explode with rage and violence.

This depiction is very in line with how we teach boys to express their emotions; or rather don’t teach them. Above all else, men and boys aren’t supposed to be “weak.” We tie the expression of emotions to femininity and women to weakness. Crying, especially, is associated with women and is positioned as totally off limits for men. It’s highly discouraged even in young boys, despite the fact that crying can also be a totally healthy, cathartic, and safe act. Other safe, healthy expressions of emotion like journaling, therapy, talking about your feelings, etc. are similarly coded as “girly.” When men do these things they’re subject to merciless bullying and are called misogynistic slurs like “pussy” or “bitch.”

The only outward emotional expressions that we truly code as masculine are the ones which are tied to anger, power, strength, and yes, violence.

Also in the film, the main characters are very isolated from other people generally, and male role models in particular. I think in this way, the movie does carry a cautionary tale about fathers and sons, much like that line from the trailer states. It’s a reminder that while the “lone wolf” character might look like a bad ass on the surface, things can be much more troublesome and complicated underneath. People, even men, are social creatures and they’re not meant to be so isolated.

The film doesn’t necessarily confront any of these issues head on, and teach a fully revealed lesson about the suppression of emotion or the dangers of isolation. But I interpret the film as a tale about the possible disastrous consequences of living without healthy, emotional outlets and support. Just another reminder of the ways that our misogynistic culture disservices all people.

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