The recent movie by this name is at first glance an innocuous bit of feel-good fluff, and many of the reviews that accompanied its opening in 2015 pretty much told us that. Maybe there’s more to it, however.
Robert DeNiro plays a retired widower who becomes a senior citizen intern for an internet start-up run by Ann Hathaway’s CEO character. The movie is about their relationship, as his role quickly morphs from bored sinecure to servant mentor. His age makes him satisfied with his limited role, and that role makes him not a threat to the CEO. Instead, he is instrumentally supportive of her as she navigates the challenges of wife, mother, and entrepreneur; the latter role brought to a point of conflict owing to the rapid expansion of her business.
In some ways the movie is quite conventionally politically correct concerning perceived glass ceilings and the like. But in a more subtle way, it tells us something else about feminism. Not third-wave feminism or radical-feminism or any other hyphenated subcategory, but rather the whole experiment in toying with the category of sex.
Feminism is advocacy of women as against men. It assumes, and sometimes openly declares, that women live in oppression under men. Its goal is to advance interests of women, of course, but it assumes that the means of doing so is to throw off shackles imposed by men.
The operating premise of feminism is sameness between the sexes. This is thought necessary to the project. Imagine trying to advance women’s interests vis-a-vis men’s, without first equating those interests with men’s. It would be a much more complicated project. Perhaps too complicated to succeed. If men and women are deemed the same with regard to physical abilities, aptitudes, and desires, then the battle lines can be neatly drawn and political and cultural pressure more easily brought to bear.
This insistence upon sameness has had ill effects far outweighing any benefit. For one thing, the project requires sameness with regard to sexual activity. First we pretended male and female sexuality was the same, and then came to believe it in defiance of reality. An epidemic of heartbreak and loneliness ensued, not to mention bloodshed unknown to any previous era of history, leaving survivors with guilt, depression, and disaffection. Erotic love between man and woman has been a victim, and all too often what is experienced now, in its place, is a shadow of that former estate. We’ve commented on some of these unintended but all-too-real consequences of feminism, here and here.
Back to the movie. Though the outer veneer is the usual political correctness, the inner significance is subversive of that vacuous conformity. What the story-line does is question that very sameness between sexes that lies at the heart of conventional feminism. Watch closely. Hathaway’s character falls asleep in the car driven by DeNiro’s. We’re shown that she does so because she feels safe and secure in his presence. She wants emotional security, not just a place in the boardroom. DeNiro’s character stands for the differences between men and women. Quite literally, as when he advocates to his buddies that they carry a handkerchief. Not for themselves, but for them; the ladies. Quaint but antiquated chauvinistic male superiority? Or a nostalgic look back to a time when men and women recognized their real differences, and embraced them, finding the whole in the incomplete parts, as symbolized in marriage?
There’s a subtle but telling scene in which Hathaway’s character is internally muddling through this dichotomy between her uniquely feminine interests, and her desire for career success, as she looks at hers and her husband’s black and white toothbrushes next to each other in a cup by the sink; the black and white towels side-by-side on the rack, both speaking to her of male and female as opposites.
Something is gained, certainly, by career-minded women not being stunted in their desire to advance. But that gain is far, far outweighed by a cost that we can’t or won’t count. The chief cost is the hard and harsh realities of a world in which the inescapable and essential differences between the sexes are blurred. Our blues and pinks have become a splotchy purple.