I’m nervous about this article, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I, Jack Colman, may very well be a sexist pig. The epiphany occurred on Sunday night, while watching clips from the Golden Globes. I’d tuned in predominantly to find out how I should be doing my hair these days and to identify who in the audience didn’t clap during Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech, but it was Ryan Gosling’s acceptance of his award for Best Actor that caught my attention. He acknowledged that while he was out having fun making La La Land, his partner was at home looking after a daughter, an unborn baby and a dying brother. If she hadn’t taken all that on, he said, he wouldn’t be on stage at that moment. I thought to myself, “He’s a nice lad, that Gosling. I can understand why he’s loved by the majority of female homo sapiens.” Imagine my surprise, then, when a few moments later, I discovered an article in The Independent informing me that Gosling’s speech was in fact detestably sexist. I read through, slack-jawed with confusion, and found this: "I can’t help but feel that Eva Mendes, an award-winning actor in her own right, took one for the team and provided the emotional labour needed for Gosling to further his own career." I blinked. A voice in my head said, “Well duh!” That’s exactly what she did. Wait, what, hang on, is that sexism? I thought that’s what mature couples were supposed to do: work together for the good of the family unit. I read on: "…the decision to put her career on the back burner for the sake of her husband’s was hers," said the journalist, "but why did she have to make that decision to begin with?" I blinked twice. “Well she didn’t have to,” I thought, “but they do have a kid that needs taking care of, and that’s harder to do if both parents are away for work.” The journalist seemed to presume that the job was one Mendes got saddled with because Hollywood doesn’t offer female actors as many roles as it does men. Dare I say it, it didn’t seem unimaginable to me that maybe she actually preferred to raise her daughter and care for her brother herself, rather than hand them over to strangers while she went out to make some movie. Why should it be presumed to be a sacrifice? Then came the line that really twisted my guts: "…women are taught to be self-less and to care, and more often than not, feel an obligation to do so. It is something that is expected of women, and valorising it perpetuates this as an ideal that women have to live up to, and often make sacrifices for."
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. So Gosling was sexist because he’d dared to publicly show his appreciation for his wife, thereby "valorising" her? He’d had the gall to suggest that what she was doing (raising children and caring for the sick) deserved acknowledgement? If he’d not even mentioned her and just thanked the sound guy and the lad who brings the sandwiches, everything would have been fine? I spent a few moments mired in confusion, and then it hit me: maybe I’m sexist. Yes, that’s it, I must be sexist. Me, besotted with my wife, adoring of my three sisters, the worst mummy’s boy you can imagine, and a filthy sexist. Raised in rural and backward North Yorkshire, I’d simply failed to move with the times. I never stood a chance. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt that way. I was reminded of a situation a year or two before, riding a crowded commuter bus through Warsaw. A woman got on. She didn’t look old or disabled, tired, or even weighed down with bags, but I decided to get up and offer her my seat. She rolled her eyes at me and turned away. Had I been sexist in that moment? I presumed that by getting up for her I’d suggested that I was better able to stand than her, and therefore that she was weaker than me, and it was that implication that she required protection or preferential treatment from me that had offended her. Unless she just thought I was trying to chat her up.
Maybe I don’t have to be sexist. Can I not just be a bit of an idiot instead? Men, it’s no secret, don’t always understand the opposite sex. We frequently cause justified offence, some maliciously, some recklessly, some innocently, but a lot of us – not all, I’m sure, but a lot of us – are trying. Often, the best we can do is simply to show that we genuinely care for and appreciate the women in our lives. That’s what I saw Gosling attempting to do in his speech. Does he deserve to be vilified for it? Presumably many actresses have partners who are accustomed to the support role. If Meryl Streep had made a similar dedication to her husband, would anyone have bothered to comment? The saddest thing for me about the article, is the blatant inference that women who leave work in order to raise children should be pitied. For the love of God, they could have had careers – careers, I tell you! – but instead they’ve been cruelly forced to abandon them, degrading themselves with the menial task of raising a human being to adulthood. Why are we determined to view it as the worst option? Are there no full-time mums out there laughing as they watch us scurrying off to work and grovelling to our bosses? Is it not possible that somewhere on a dusty Hollywood set there is a male actor moping around wishing he was with his kids and that his wife was out signing autographs and raking in cash for the family? My wife gave up a prestigious career in favour of running her own business from home, purely so that she could be with her children when the time came. As a result of this lifestyle choice she occasionally experiences belittlement, mockery, feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. The culprits aren’t men; they’re other women. It’s women who tell her what a shame it is, what a waste. It’s women who let that flicker of snide supremacy cross their faces, who manage to smilingly hint at their own grander ambition. After all, whose words (if any) is Eva Mendes more likely to be offended by: her partner’s, or the woman who supposedly came to her defence?