Much has been written about Brokeback Mountain and the reasons that a large number of heterosexual men might criticize it or decide against seeing such a movie. There is a contingent that argues homophobia guides many of these men who avoid seeing Brokeback Mountain. While this may be a partial explanation, I would argue that a larger construct is at play. This argument has its origin in the notions surrounding the label ‘chick flick’. That term has always troubled me and I’ve often wondered who coined the phrase and when it was adopted as a valid explanation of male movie watching preferences, let alone descriptive of some inherent male characteristics.
Underlying the term ‘chick flick’ is the insinuation that men prefer to avoid emotions and relationship movies that are considered primarily appealing to women. Supporting this contention is the widely held belief that numerous men prefer that women refrain from initiating discussions about emotions and feelings. The question is why? Some might argue that there is an innate male struggle with intimacy. In order to fully understand this phenomenon one has to search for a more fundamental truth. If one were to simply accept this notion, one might wonder why any man would ever get married or settle down with a wife and children. Doing so would obviously be contrary to this relationship and emotion averse paradigm. To unearth the questionable attributions that belie this rationale, one needs to look no further than any group of unmarried heterosexual male friends. Routinely, as these men marry, they begin a process that appears contrary to the group mantra of male independence and detachment. Slowly, over time, the entire group ends up married and often without any real discussion of the process or its motivation. If one were to fill in the unspoken blanks, one might conclude that these men, while denying their interest in emotions and relationships, have a real and powerful predisposition for that which they routinely ridicule...emotions and relationships. That would be an easy answer but one lacking sufficient review. The essential question is what motivations lie beneath these apparent contradiction...or more importantly, why can't these simplistic attributions be applied across the board?
If one were to assume that men as a group are relationship and emotion averse, one must also hypothesize that women, in their desire to have a relationship, reconcile to select men regardless of obtaining a satisfactory emotional connection. What else could account for the prevalence of marriage given this purported divide? At the same time many religious types (where most ministers and preachers are men) sing the praises of family and fidelity while readily affiliating with this group of ‘chick flick’ naysayer’s. How can these disconnects be explained? It can’t if one subscribes to the fundamentals of honesty. Pushing on, it might be worthwhile to explore if this ‘chick flick’ phenomenon actually explains what is lacking in many heterosexual relationships. This would mean that women, in the absence of a satisfactory emotional connection, find movies an outlet to experience the level of intimacy and vulnerability they cannot obtain with their spouse. Whatever your conclusion, the commentary on the unspoken mechanics of the institution of marriage is unmistakable. If you pursue this argument, it begins to unravel the societal dilemma that remains the silent ‘gorilla in the room’. Spoken in unmitigated terminology, a misogynistic hierarchy is still alive and well.
The marriage of George and Laura Bush exemplifies this assertion. George Bush, with low popularity, serves as the leader of the country. He’s an avowed evangelical with a dubious self-confessed ‘moral’ past but he routinely promotes the notion of a conventional family which includes his clear opposition to gay marriage and abortion. His wife, Laura, highly popular, with an arguably preferential moral history, who favors choice, sits powerless and secondary to the political positions her husband champions. In essence, her husband seeks authority to determine what defines a marriage and what his wife does with her body. The conventional explanation of the ‘chick flick’ theory fails miserably to expose the subplot of this dynamic. He and many men are not averse to movies with subject matter that centers on emotions and relationships due to some inherent male trait rendering them uncomfortable or unable to experience intimacy. Rather, it’s about understanding that giving priority to emotions and relationships would undermine the ability to exert power over others and satisfy their more fundamental desire…obtaining unchallenged male authority.
To further examine this theory, one might also look at the disconnect that exists between the prevalence of infidelity in men and the predominance of men in positions of religious authority. It’s not difficult to observe the frequency of indiscretions and infidelities amongst primarily male cleric and clergy. The fact that numerous scandals involve men in positions of political authority and religious deference is not by accident. Regardless, these men remain in charge of both institutions despite consistent demonstrations of failed stewardship. The objective and the spoils of politics and religion are thus synonymous…unchallenged male authority couched in moral platitudes and obtuse rhetoric.
Coming back to Brokeback Mountain, I would propose that the ‘chick flick’ aspersion, offered by a number of men, simply demonstrates a more heinous incidence of male insincerity and deceit. Only when men and women decide to dismantle the flawed constructs that typify these types of heterosexual relationships will there be any serious illumination of the misguided motivations that perpetuate such vernacular. Many men want power and authority and the clearest obstacle to that objective is acceding ambition to emotions or relationships. Therefore by allowing women the pleasures of a ‘click flick’ seems a small price to pay for the real prize…the uncontested pursuit of power and position while still retaining a more or less on demand access to female genitalia.
With Brokeback Mountain, one man ‘submitting’ to another man is not only absolutely anathema to the ascribed structure…it undermines the entire construct. To further demonstrate that it’s also not simply about homophobia in the context of homosexual sex, but more about a societal hierarchy, one need only look at many men's fascination with two women engaged in sex…lesbianism…although they rarely verbalize it as such. For these men, two women together does not threaten the model but two men together most certainly does. The ‘fag hag’ phenomenon, whereby a heterosexual woman finds a relationship with a gay man more fulfilling of her emotional needs despite the absence of sexual contact, offers additional support to this argument. Succinctly, homosexual relationships threaten the entrenched heterosexual societal hierarchy of this powerful group of men.
Brokeback Mountain can be allowed to assuage female emotional connections as a ‘chick flick’ but it cannot emerge as social commentary such that it exposes and threatens the status quo. Homosexuality, in and of itself, is not the issue. This subtle distinction is the essence of the issue. An ironic yet poignant aside is that in this movie, the women characters experience these same unfulfilling relationships and lack of emotional connection. Nonetheless, many women viewers, whose husbands remain detached and at home, praise the movie as they find a kinship with the two male characters and their real, yet unachievable love. Sadly, it unintentionally and counterintuitively serves to bolster the assertion that unchallenged male authority approaches a fully accepted and ingrained status.
Framing this struggle in moralistic doctrine is merely a continuation of the practices employed by religious institutions for centuries whereby that which threatens the established order must be condemned. Its no surprise that a growing alliance to oppose homosexuals is being forged between religious institutions and political movements…both seeking the same outcome…power and control that is beyond question or criticism and clearly seated in the heterosexual male. The employment of this 'chick flick' ideology is akin to the wolf in sheep’s clothing. For these men to retain dominance, Alpha must defeat Lambda.