Photo: Courtesy of Focus.
Let me just start by saying that I know the double standard is as old as time itself. In fact, I'm pretty sure that during the stone age, villagers sat around the wheel-carving station gossiping about which cavewomen opened their loincloths more than others while cavemen came home from the brothel to prehistoric high-fives. I'm not going to act like I just discovered that young guys think it's cool to sleep around.
But, as a 26-year-old woman who tends to notice things occasionally (when I'm not face-deep in multiple forms of technology or snap-chatting my brains out — LOL #millennials), the male-as-the-commitment-phobe-who-wants-everyone-to-know-he's-casually-sleeping-around phenomenon (yes, that's the scientific term) has been slapping me in the face. That Awkward Moment, the new bro perspective rom-com starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller has been getting a lot of flack from movie critics for perpetuating the stereotype that male promiscuity is directly correlated to street cred. And, sure, there's no denying that the flick could be construed as a wee bit offensive. But, I really don't think it's the movie's fault — in fact, I think it's (sadly) a completely accurate portrayal of mid-20s
men boys in New York City.
Let me give you a bit of background. Awkward Moment follows three best bros — Jason (Efron), Daniel (Teller), and Mikey (Jordan) — who make a pact to stay single at all costs in solidarity with Mikey, who's just been left by his wife. Jason, as the ultimate casual sex Svengali, attempts to counsel the other two on how to strategically sleep with the entire female population of Manhattan without ever having to cross into more serious territory. His tactics include keeping a "roster" of do-able babes and knowing when to make trades and acquisitions should the maximum number of sexual encounters be reached with any one girl.
As can be expected, any chivalrous — or even decent — behavior towards these women is mocked, while actions like leaving one conquest to go do it doggy style with another elicits fist bumps and admiration. Naturally, the pact doesn't go as planned, and the guys all find themselves falling for a girl on their roster — and, attempting to hide it from the others out of shame and embarrassment.
Efron's character, who's the hookup ring leader of the crew, ends up doing some pretty terrible things — including, but not limited to, ditching a girl at her dad's funeral. Meanwhile, poor Mikey isn't allowed but one night of mourning after his wife leaves him for another man. Feelings are for Bridget Jones; the only way for a real man to get over a divorce is a one-night-stand.
Photo: Courtesy of Focus.
Now, I should confess something: I actually kind of liked the movie. I'm a big fan of all three actors (Teller in particular) and a lot of the jokes made me chuckle. The sexual stereotyping or double standards didn't even cross my mind until I started reading the movie's early reviews last week. At first I started to panic that I wasn't as progressive or feminist as I originally thought (liberal guilt!). Why was everyone else so much more shocked and disturbed by this movie than I was? But, then I realized: I wasn't shocked by this movie because I'm living in it.
Not literally, of course — I don't live have a spacious East Village loft that's mysteriously decorated entirely by the West Elm catalogue or have a job that allows me to spend almost every waking second in my neighborhood bar. Rather, I'm surrounded by late-20s
men boys who, like the characters in Awkward Moment, have been trained to believe that marriage — or its equivalent — means an end to your manhood and that casual sex and relationships make you cool. Guys who delay commitment are seen as inherently more badass than those who don't; as a result, they all want to be seen as delaying commitment even if they're actually coming home to the same girl night after night.
Years of amateur observation and mental note-taking have led me to the conclusion that dozens of my male friends end up leading a double life of sorts — they're head-over-heels in love behind closed doors, yet act detached and blasé around even their closest friends. There's (almost) no shame in girlfriends sharing with each other their desires to move in or get married, but a man coming clean to his bros about true love? Over his dead body.
As I watch my friends get engaged and tie the knot, I see the remaining singletons feel more and more pride about not giving in to lifelong commitment. They sit in the pews every Saturday in June and give each other fist bumps for not being the poor sap up at the alter, regardless of how many times they've promised their own girlfriends that an engagement was "not far off."
Now, I'm of course not saying that marriage is the only way to legitimize a relationship or that every man should couple off, settle down, and then subsequently run through the streets with a megaphone professing his undying love. I'm simply asking why all of our boyfriends, blind dates, and one-night stands think they have to act like this. Have we all made commitment that terrifying?
In interviews, That Awkward Moment's Tom Gormican has often described the movie as "art imitating life." He based the plotlines on his own experiences living in New York City. Gormican isn't necessarily trying to show us how guys should act; instead, he's showing us how they do act. Whether you come away from it feeling disgusted or envious is a reflection of your own outlook on relationships. So, how do we remedy our fixation on sex-as-cool-factor and commitment-as-death?
I have no idea. If I did I would be out in the world freeing all the young men from their sexual stereotypes and helping them out of their bro-induced insecurities instead of writing this complaint. Or, at the very least, I wouldn't be struggling through the exact same noncommittal behavior that aggravates the (poor, poor) women of That Awkward Moment. So instead, I ask you, dear reader: Is this phenomenon Hollywood's fault for perpetuating stereotypes or does the problem run way deeper? Or, maybe I'm just a totally delusional romantic and a lifetime of casual sex really is that awesome. George Clooney, this is where you chime in.