just a fantasy, picture in a magazine

I was watching "Before Sunset" today and thinking about male fantasies. Not just the typical "I never thought this would happen to me, with two cheerleaders, in an ice cream truck" kind of fantasies, but the kind that are articulated in a subtle way in the majority of films, TV, and literature, which have always been of course totally male-dominated arenas. The fantasy in "Before Sunset" is something along the lines of, "A self-involved leering geek meets a really smart socially conscious woman who flirtatiously pours her heart out to him for hours while he replies with banal small talk." Julie Delpy's character is a kind of muse who inspires men with her wit and openness, but it's hard to see whether she gets any inspiration in return.
...I'm guilty of this too. Most movies and books are written by men, most "really strong female characters" are written by men, and men tend to use their artistic license to create an idealized female character from time to time, someone to foil, transform, or otherwise reward the male subject, whether by helpful wisdom, charming eccentricity, or sheer babeliciousness. As hetero-male fantasists, we indulge the option to create that woman who we'd really like to meet and hang out with who would maybe save our soul in the process. So we get characters like Buffy, or Clarice Starling, or the Bride, or pretty much anyone Lucy Liu has ever played. Characters who may be loved by women and men alike, and whose only fault is that they may be just a little too awesome.
...So my question is, what is a typically female fantasy? If you watch enough softcore HBO specials, you might get the idea that most females fantasize about barbarians and whips and chains and wolf masks and stuff. The skeptic in me thinks this is just women internalizing the society-imposed passive/submissive role, which is not dissimilar from the male fantasy expressed in "Before Sunset," that is, You Won't Have To Do Too Much. The Fantasy Object will be so cool she will take care of all the conversation and sexual initiation for you. Basically, at heart, neither gender wants to work too hard, which is cool.
...Or I could be wrong. I mean, I really don't know. It's easy to find a few examples of female-authored fantasy figures in books or movies, and just as easy to find in them some embarrassing concession to the male gaze. Is it only possible for a woman to get to an authorship position if she embraces the female chauvinist pig within her? Or is Ethan Hawke REALLY the ultimate babe that every modern woman secretly dreams about and it's just my problem that I can't see it?
(....this is the part where the blogger arrogantly poses a big open-ended question, with the blind presumption that the blog has some sort of readership, and that readership will feel so stimulated by the blogger's deep thoughts that they will have no recourse but to respond.)


ganda said...

brain about to explode...must...post...comment!

jane austen's mr. darcy is probably the archetypal female fantasy -- a man who admits he's wrong, who can (eventually) look past the tough facade to see and save the vulnerable nougat center.

but that seems to be what the modern man wants now too, according to your theory. so what does that mean?

dm said...

well, i'm illiterate, so i don't know about mr. darcy, but there's the article at the guardian
which seems to think that the darcy fantasy is in fact women setting themselves up for trouble. which is cool. obviously most fantasies set you up for trouble. it's just that male's are disproportionately described in our media. if the female fantasy is that the asshole they're obsessed with really has a soft nougat center, that seems no less silly than the male fantasy. it was my fantasy that women had a "smarter" fantasy to go with all the complaining about male fantasies. like there are all those girls who like sad bastard singer-songwriters, who are, granted, musicians, but are also more akin to the overly open, heart-on-sleeve type exemplified by Mr. Hawke in Before Sunset, which i believe scientific experimentation will prove out to be NOT a female fantasy. ooh! some bad grammar there. anyway, i guess i have to go watch Bridget Jones now to further this study....i'm not clear if you say that the modern man also wants to have to get through a hard facade? because while some element of mystery and unattainableness is definitely a part of it, at heart we don't want to work too hard (speaking for all the boys). it's the female fetishization of the bad-boy exterior that would lead some to the conclusion that woman are the craaaaaaazy ones.

kristen said...

women are just as passive in their longings as guys, i think. speaking for myself... the fantasy that's indoctrinated in us (b/c i'd hate to think this kind of shit just comes naturally) is, indeed, a variation on mr. darcy. some kind of aloof shy guy who, beneath all his stilted awkwardness, is desperately and painfully in love with us.

actually, now that i write it out, this just seems sad. it says we're gluttons for punishment, that we're determined to believe that the men who are rude to us are actually in love with us. maybe this explains why that book "he's just not that into you" was such a sensation, because it's so contrary to what we usually think about men. this is a bitter pill to swallow, because literature tells us that total bastards (mr. rochester in Jane Eyre is another great example) are just self-protective.

i suppose the truth is that the guy who really likes you is the sorry sap who's picking up your dry cleaning. this is also well-covered in women's literature and movies. this is the guy who is Really the One, because after you're done chasing the Haughty One, the sort of cute short one (in the movies, they're always short; or chubby; or bald; or with eccentric eyewear) will bring you kleenex and ice cream.

so maybe the female infatuation fantasy is the bad boy, and the female comfort fantasy is a neutered male who acts just like your best girlfriends.

female fantasies, hmm. they are all so anti-feminist and having so little to do with actual happiness, i shudder to even address this question in full, though i certainly think about it a lot.

kristen said...

oh, and to build upon the passivity thing - yeah, we are just hoping to be our lovely and funny and intelligent selves, and some earnest fellow is supposed to come along, engage in some witty banter, and then prostrate himself publicly in proof of his ardor.

which is also kind of like mr. darcy, whose big proclamation is "i must express how ardently i admire and love you." and no, i haven't seen the colin firth A&E adaptation 40 times.

i think the cool thing about romance is that it is very idealistic; both sides wish to be their awesome native selves, without pretense, and aspire to be loved for exactly who they are.

the BAD thing about romance, in a real-world setting, is that it ends up being more about game-playing than self-expression. so who knows what side of this negotiation Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy represent. i remember being bored by the first movie, and i haven't seen the 2nd.

some guy friends told me once that the 1st movie is the ultimate male fantasy: a guy meets a girl who's so cool he doesn't even want to have sex with her. because he SEES HER BRAIN. whoa.

bri said...

I haven't ever had much of a Mr. Darcy or Mr.-Anybody-Else fantasy. In fact, all of my teen years were taken up with fantasies similar to your own, I imagine, dom - all Winona-in-Heathers, all the time. So I may not actually qualify for this study.

To top it off, I have been married/vaguely monogomous for so long now that my fantasies are sort of skewed. But there does seem to be something to this thread the previous posters started about a person who is willing to prostrate himself, humiliate himself, or otherwise be ridiculous-in-love-with-you in front of other people. Case in point - I DESPISE the commercial where the guy says he would marry her all over again in front of all these people (in Rome, are we?) and then suddenly her parents are there and he's proposing all over again with an even bigger diamond than the first time. And yet, I get teary. I hate it and yet I cry. *I* want to be re-proposed to in front of my parents (and are we to presume the other clapping people are friends and family or random Italians?) and random Italians in Rome. *I* want him to say "I Forever D0" even if it was sort of implied with that 'til death do we part thing.

Bottom line - in my seemingly-rapidly-approaching middle age, I want someone who can magically assure me that they are never going to leave or die and that they will do ANYTHING to prove their constant, unwavering, undying love for me no matter how much of a pain I may be.

And I can be a pretty major pain.

And I will be in LA btwn Xmas and New Year's. Will you?

dm said...

who is the archetypal neutered fantasy character, Kristen? cos Ethan Hawke is definitely neutered in that he's dull, but I don't think he's there for the benefit of the female audience.

dm said...

bri, you bring up this "commitment" thing which i think is a typically female fantasy...one that despicable commercial seems directly engineered for...that's kind of what I was fishing for. it definitely gets to the heart of some basic male/female disconnect. (males being the ones who fantasize about distance and anonymity, ahem)
....i had another thought about that but it now escapes me. probably for the better.
....i will probably be in LA around that time. let's hang out!

kristen said...

neutered males, hmm...

If you see "In Her Shoes" - the guy Toni Collette ends up with is the Neutered Male (N.M.) because he's shorter than her, very earnestly devoted, and totally okay with being her 2nd choice after she has an affair with their much more traditionally handsome boss. I think this is what a lot of women want. The adorable steady devoted type.

espressodog said...

Ok, I have been busy saving that world and just now peeked in on this fascinating conversation.

I think the ultimate female fantasy is Julie Delpy. Our fantasy is that we are all that poised, witty, sexually confident, etc. If we were then the choice of men would be . . . irrelevant . . . no not irrelevant, the choices would be better. We would be able to handle the bad boy without all the baggage and self loathing. What I think men miss in most chick flicks is that the transformation is rarely about the man and almost entirely about the women. .

dm said...

ok, we acknowledge that julie delpy seems great, but my original point is that in a subtle way she is a crafted male fantasy (in "Before Sunset," anyway) because the particular way in which she makes herself the sexually available fantasy object is so witty, poised, intelligent, etc....this woman does not actually hang around that guy for a whole day except in the movies.
...."choices," hm.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Isn't everyone's over-riding fantasy that they get what they want? I don't think there is a common male or female fantasy, although most straight males commonly fantasize about the girl who got away. Doesn't matter who she is, or what she looked like.
In my case she was two inches taller and had a 32 DD chest. We had a short physical relationship and then she told me she didn't want to talk about it. Meanwhile, every now and then I have a very intense usually non-sexual dream about this girl. I think I am in love for about an hour until I see a picture of her and realize that isn't the girl I dreamt about, or have these desperate feelings for. In my own head lives my fantasy girl, she ain't real.
I think all of us simply need reconcilliation with our past love or whatever relationships. When we come to terms with our past decisions then we allow our present relationships to satisfy us.
We need social revolution people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dm said...

fascinating. who are you?