Charlize Theron’s new movie Tully strives and excels at portraying motherhood without the staging and artificial, golden glow of the Hollywood lens. While this is a movie celebrating women and attempting to create room for reality, it also points out a major blindspot in the entertainment industry as a whole: women have been taught to relate experiences through a man’s perspective, but men haven’t been asked to do the same.
Co-stars Ron Livingston and Mark Duplass talked about how they can empathize in a scene when they don’t have direct experience with whatever they’re portraying. This is a huge part of an actor’s job. Whether they understand the situation personally, they need to find a way to relate to it and empathize with it. The scene she refers to is one where Theron’s character’s boobs become hard and painful when lactating. “My assumption is that when women see guys get hit in the balls, they have some understanding of what’s going on,” answers Livingston. “The hardening, lactating boobs thing, it’s like, ‘Oh that’s a thing?’ Nobody told me that was a thing.” This is a prime example of how little we talk about women’s experiences publicly.
If you think of it in terms of learning a language, women have been learning about men’s experiences since birth. We are as conversationally fluent as you can be without being a “native speaker.” That wasn’t something we necessarily chose to do. It was a requirement. No, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the excruciating pain experienced when a man is hit in the balls, but when I see it on screen, the experience has been presented to me so many times that I have a functional understanding. Men are only just now being asked to relate in the same way. Before, it was seen as optional. With more and more films, television series, and music being released from an unabashedly female perspective, men are playing catch up because up until this point, the entertainment industry has only asked men to know a few basic phrases to get by.
Livingston expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with Screen Rant, saying, “I think the truth is that there’s a lot of a mother’s experience that traditionally dads have been taught to just sort of take for granted.” His character, Theron’s husband in the film, is largely oblivious to what she is experiencing. Instead, he waits to be asked for help, assuming that until then, help isn’t needed. His concept is something that our culture has deemed permissible since time immemorial. It is only more recently that men have been asked to consider women in a larger context and not just in relation to themselves.
It is encouraging to see that there are men who want to understand. They aren’t disinterested by the prospect of a movie centered around uniquely female experiences. This is, in part, the legacy of the #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Women’s March. Women are forcing the conversation. Hopefully, with more films like Tully and more women getting opportunities behind the camera as directors, writers, and producers, we will see a greater “fluency” regarding women’s stories and experiences.
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