The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

There’s a hole in the cage! – Brief notes about a revolution in the air

with 35 comments


There’s something going on with the men in movies.

You know that cage where they’ve kept men for so long, with nothing to breathe but the tired clichés about the strong protector, the hero, the victorious womanizer? I’m sure you’re familiar with the place. Almost every male movie star you can think of has been locked up there for years.

Well, now someone has made a hole in the wall! It’s true! You surely must have noticed?

Fresh air is coming through. I can feel it. It’s not like a hurricane, rather like a breeze and I wouldn’t say that the passage is free for all yet. But if you’re hungering for freedom, if you’re looking for adventure and new perspectives, you can make your way through it and get away from the tight grip of the stereotypes.

In the last couple of years I’ve seen Ryan Gosling portraying men whose first priority is to be close to and take care of their babies, despite the efforts from the babies’ mothers to keep the father away (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines). I’ve seen Mark Duplass being vulnerable and insecure in every movie he’s been in. Recently I saw Mads Mikkelsen challenging the women-only culture in the preschool system in The Hunt.

Violent, testosteronious men, like the ones in Bullhead, Rust and Bones and Tyrannosaur, aren’t looked up to, aren’t considered manly, impressive or powerful anymore. They’re rather regarded as people in urgent need of help for their mental illness.

Our ideals aren’t what they used to be. The man who women want to be with and who men want to be is someone who leads a complete life, someone who is in touch with his feelings and can communicate them. George Clooney may look silly when he runs, but he knows other things that are more important: how to connect with your children and have comfort ice cream with them when that’s what they need.

Why it matters
When I look at what I’ve written so far in this post, thoughts of doubt come up in my mind.

Why do I care so much about how men are portrayed in movies? They’re already overrepresented as it is. Shouldn’t my focus be on women? They if any know what it’s like to be locked into a cage.

However I don’t think you can separate it. A revolt against the old view on what masculinity means will also affect women. We’re moving away from outdated stereotypes that feed racism, ageism and sexism towards something new, a world yet-to-come, where everyone is free to be whoever they want to, regardless of gender. And we’re in this together.

Someone has scratched a hole in the cage wall so let’s help out making it wider and permanent:

Keep bitching. If you think the movie is full of tired clichés and a ridiculously outdated view on men and women, say so in your review, even if it feels as if you’ve said it a gazillion of times! You never know who’s listening.

Keep exploring, keep questioning, but also remember to encourage and spread the word about filmmakers who dare to seek out new ways to look at masculinity and femininity in movies.  Again: you never know who’s listening.

Inch by inch, movie by movie, we’re moving forward towards a future when labels such as “masculinity” and “femininity” have lost their meaning or at least become a lot blurrier. There will be openings where we can slip in and out as we want to. The cage won’t be a prison, just a place where we go to play for fun sometimes.

There’s a revolution in the air.


This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “masculinity”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):
Except Fear
Flmr Filmblogg
Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den?
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

photo credit: sandcastlematt via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

June 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Filmspanarna

35 Responses

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  1. Great to see that you took George Clooney in The Descendants as an example. It´s not just the way he runs that´s groundbreaking in moviemasculinity, it´s also the fact that he didn´t change shoes before he ran off. He had more important things to do than bother about looks. As trivial as this might seem it´s also refreshing. “Ordinary men” on film isn´t boring and masculinity is so much more than muscles. I too can smell the revolution. 🙂


    June 5, 2013 at 9:02 am

    • Haha, I didn’t think about his shoes. Slippers, right? And I agree with that. “Ordinary” men are a great deal more interesting to see than cartoonish stereotypes.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm

  2. I am not sure that there’s a great revolution going on, but there has definitively been some changes. Gender seems more varied and not so fixed as earlier. Interesting article. Thanks!


    June 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

    • Thank you David! Maybe I’m overoptimistic, but I really want to believe that there is a revolution going on and that things only will keep improving from here. Basically it depends a lot on us, on what images and ideals we convey to our children.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm

  3. Interesting piece Jessica. I think people are starting to accept that the ‘rules’ aren’t quite as rigid anymore and most filmgoers are a lot more open minded. (Most of) The world is changing and there is a smaller gender gap than there used to be. We’re seeing more and more women in stronger roles too, I feel.

    • It’s improving, even though I can get very impatient from time to time regarding the lack of women in leading roles in movies. A recent study showed that the amount even had decreased in recent years! Still: just complaining doesn’t help a lot. We need to spread the word about the good examples, encouraging others to see those films. We vote with our ticket fees for what kind of women we want to see more of in movies. That’s just how things work.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:43 pm

  4. This theme sure turned out to be even more interesting than I thought. If the revolution you speak of means more diversity among men and females on the screen I am all for it. I’m also annoyed when characters on screen are built on stereotypes.

    What male characters do I want? I want it all, the violent male, the sexy male, the domesticated male, the intellectual and nerdy male, the loser, the winner, the over achiever, the president, the “little” people and the new one I didn’t even knew existed…

    I am also supporting your call for us consumers to be critical. Film is too important, not to care about it! Maybe you don’t need to be bitching all the time, but I love the debate and the different view points, and in those discussions one important part of watching movies lies to me.


    June 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    • It was much more interesting – and difficult – than I first thought it would be. Because once I started to think about “masculinity” I also started to revolt against it, because it takes for granted that men are in a certain way and women in a different way, and this is something that I don’t agree with (apart from obvious physical differences).

      I agree with you that diversity is what we want – for women and for men. I don’t want certain features to be labelled “feminine” or “masculine”, such as weakness being typically female and aggression being typically masculine. We’re all human. That’s what matters.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm

  5. I started to smile when I read the first line. That smile grew and grew as I continued through the post. It echoes so much of what I have felt – especially in this last year (is it almost a year – time flies!). I have been trying to write more, but the words just will not come, so I will just say thank you, thank you, thank you for writing so clearly what you have done.


    June 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re so kind. Actually I think you’ve conveyed a lot of this in your own writing. When you write about your daughter and family life, what I see in front of me is an example of the modern man and father, so far away from what we used to see in movies. Things are really improving and you’re a living example of it.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:38 pm

  6. Very interesting. Movies seem to be inching away from some pigeon holes while crawling into others. My wife and I were just discussing how Hollywood practically never depicts a happily married couple in there films. I would say a good 90% to 95% of characters who qualify are divorced or in a troubled marriage. Not saying all should be Ward and June Cleaver, but its really stunning if you examine it.

    I say that because they seem to place themselves in these corners themselves. The treatment of masculinity, female roles, depictions of marriage. Variety shouldn’t be that hard to accomplish.


    June 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    • Indeed that is rare too. I think it’s because storytelling like news is based on conflicts. You can’t top the news with “All planes were on time today”. And it’s hard to make a movie about a happily married couple. There are exceptions though. Unless you’ve already seen it, I suggest strongly that you watch Mike Leigh’s Another Year. The conflict here is not between the husband and wife, but rather in their relationship to some less fortunate friends of theirs.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      • Oh I absolutely LOVE Another Year! It’s such a great film. You just sit back and watch this couple navigate through their relationships with their kids, family friend, etc. Such a good film!


        June 6, 2013 at 10:42 pm

        • It’s great! And very unusual in it’s lack of extraordinary people or events. It reminds of a documentary in how close to life it is. The film world needs more Mike Leighses.


          June 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm

  7. I definitely agree with the main premise about the necessity of focus on removing the bonds of gender expectation from men, not only empowering women. Feminism has brought things a long way but real equality can’t be achieved until men have more gender freedom as well (i.e. there can’t be equal pay so long as men are expected to be the breadwinner by default). I’m not sure I see the revolution in film as much though. There are examples but truly critical approaches to masculinity still seem pretty rare.


    June 5, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    • It boils down to the old question if the glass is half empty or half full. I guess I’ve got a fairly optimistic view on those things. It could also be that we’re a little ahead on those things in Scandinavia, which makes me forget about how locked into cage traditions people are in some parts of U.S.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:33 pm

  8. Jessica, I love the phrase a “hole in the cage” when you talk about depictions of men in cinema. It’s fitting because there are serious glimmers of hope, but there’s still a long way to go. I hope these trends continue, particularly in big-budget productions. The examples you mention are definitely a start.

    Dan Heaton

    June 5, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    • Yes, it’s too early to say that the walls are gone, because they aren’t. But I think the hole is big enough to fill me with optimism about the future.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm

  9. Good post as always. Equality means destroying the cage for everyone, not just a select group! We can only keep our fingers crossed that this development will continue — movies with as wide a variety of male and female characters as there are individuals on the planet.

    Btw, it feels like the recent piece by Nina Björk in DN ties in quite nicely with your point…


    June 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    • Thank you! I saw that piece of writing as a response to the latest burst of Danish misogyny and I couldn’t agree more with its stance.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm

  10. This reminded me a lot of a Kerouac piece about James Dean, Marlon Brando, and (of all people) Elvis, also a piece about re-defining masculinity. And to clarify, that’s the only real reason I draw the parallel- that it was also a piece about the changing definition of masculinity.


    June 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

    • I didn’t know about this text; thanks for linking it. It’s very interesting. Indeed it’s about redefining masculinity, something I think we’ll do over and over again in many iterations until we maybe one day will find that the concept “masculinity” doesn’t serve us anymore since we’ve broken the walls and we’re all free to be all-out human.


      June 6, 2013 at 10:27 pm

  11. This is so great! I’m definitely sharing it on my social networks. Awesome piece, Jessica. Here’s to hoping the movies continue showing us characters that feel real.


    June 6, 2013 at 8:32 am

  12. Thanks Jessica! I totally agree with everything. It’s like you’ve unraveled, enhanced and spelled out my thoughts. Especially agree that you shouldn’t ignore our (the men’s) cage just cause the women’s cage is uglier. It’s like ignoring shop lifting ’cause there are crazy people with their finger on the big red nuke button. (couldn’t come up with a better metaphor :S )

    Johan Benjaminsson

    June 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

    • Thank you Johan, both for your kind comment and for the mentioning on the podcast. Judging from your debate in the commenting field on the theme of masculinity, we’re definitely on the same page!


      June 12, 2013 at 10:52 pm

  13. […] childrens’ clothing (and baby clothes too). Just recently Jessica at The Velvet Café wrote a post about some gender stereotypes being broken down in current cinema – male stereotypes, and […]

  14. Would you put Michael Fassbender in that mix? (e.g., ‘Hunger’, ‘Fish Tank’, ‘Shame’)


    June 11, 2013 at 8:26 am

    • I haven’t seen Hunger. In Fish Tank he’s creepy and in Shame he’s sad and miserable, a struggling addict. Both are excellent acting performances. Tbh I’m not quite sure of what you’re getting at.


      June 12, 2013 at 10:51 pm

  15. Great post Jessica. I do see a cognitive shift going on and I’m all for the stereotypes to be dropped. It’s about bloody time.

    Mark Walker

    June 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    • Thank you Mark! It’s about time, and it WILL take some more time before we’re where we want to be. And we can’t just wai and hope it happens. We need to keep being vocal about it, people like you and me, not giving up on the fight.


      June 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm

  16. Yes, agree, and I gotta say that the podcasts I listen to and the blogs I read actually are whining when whining is due. Good post. Oh, and if you haven’t seen this episode of SVT:s Kobra it could be worth a watch (in Swedish):


    June 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    • Thank you for the kind words! I haven’t seen that episode, but it certainly looks interesting. I really need to check it out.


      June 12, 2013 at 10:59 pm

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