Crazy Stupid Masculinity Norms

“Your wife cheated on you because you lost sight of who you are as a man.” That is what Jacob (Ryan Gosling) tells Carl (Steve Carell) in the movie Crazy Stupid Love. Carl is a sensitive middle-aged man who loves his wife and spending time with his kids. One day his wife asks him for a divorce after cheating on him. He is completely depressed until he meets Jacob, who offers to help him rediscover his manhood by teaching him the basic rules of being a “real man.” These rules include being independent, assertive, and getting with many women. As a result of their friendship, Carl starts to embody all these manhood rules, while Jacob learns that there are other important things in life such as real love.

Jacob telling Carl he needs to embody manhood to regain his wife

Modern Masculinity is Paradoxical

As Jessica Bennett explains in her article “In ‘Mansome,’ Morgan Spurlock Takes on Modern Masculinity” on The Daily Beast, masculinity is expanding and embracing many new traits such as personal care and sensitivity. Bennett talks about how masculinity is changing by presenting the new movie Mansome that portrays masculinity traits that have become popular in the past years. Kevin Alexander Boon in his article titled Heroes, Metanarratives, and the Paradox od Masculinity in Contemporary Western Culture that in their strive to be successful, modern men face a paradox that offers them only two alternatives: to reject traditional gender norms of masculine behavior, risking being considered less than a man by society; or to embody both traditional and modern practices which is a very difficult goal and will most likely result in failure. According to Julia Scelfo and her article Men & Depression: Facing Darkness on Newsweek, men’s failure to fulfill the contradictory expectations of society results in depression and a high rate of suicide. Men are nearly four times more likely to die committing suicide than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Masculinity Traditional Themes

Communications Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood explains that according to James A. Doyle and his book The Male Experience, masculinity has five main traits including Don’t Be a Female, Be Successful, Be Aggressive, Be Sexual, and Be Self-Reliant. In other words, according to Doyle, masculinity is based on becoming the opposite of femininity, being a winner and a provider, dominating situations with confidence, being very interested in sex, and being independent. In Crazy Stupid Love, when Jacob tries to get Carl to regain his manhood, he teaches him how to embody all these traits. One of the funniest scenes is when Jacob teaches Carl to Be Sexual. Carl tells Jacob that he has only been with one woman, his ex-wife, his whole life. Jacob answers that “real men” have many sexual partners and then teaches Carl tricks to get with many women.  The trailer of the movie shows how Jacob tries to teach Carl to embrace traditional masculinity traits.

Carl after turning into the “real man” Jacob wants him to be

Contradictory Expectations

Wood explains that today’s definition of masculinity involves a sixth trait: “Embody and transcend traditional views of masculinty.” This trait refers to the fact that contemporary men are expected to embrace traditional masculine practices and non-traditional masculine practices at the same time. In my opinion, the end of Crazy Stupid Love is a good example of this value. Jacob has been portrayed throughout the movie as the traditional “real man” and Carl embodies the modern man who is emotional and spends time at home playing with his kids. As a result of their friendship both change their practices and values towards the opposite of how they were which makes them argue and breaks their friendship. However, at the end of the movie, both characters understand each other motives to change their identities and end up solving their problems. I think that the end of the movie shows how modern men suffer inconsistent pressures from society that sometimes confuses them about their identities and roles.

What Can We Do?

Even though we live in a society that tends to favor men and masculine values, it is important that we realize that contemporary cultural views also challenge men by imposing contradictory expectations on them. Since we know that such opposing expectations can lead to terrible consequences such as depression or suicide, we need to be supportive of men who struggle to develop their gender identity. However, we need to also realize that masculinity having multiple roles is something positive that could lead to the replacement of masculinity norms that are oppressive with egalitarian non-traditional values. For this reason we all need to encourage individuals to adopt masculine roles, either traditional  or non-traditional, that result in fuller lives for everyone.

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7 Responses to Crazy Stupid Masculinity Norms

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  6. Wayne Malcolm says:

    I have seen this movie and while watching it I definitely noticed how Ryan Goslings character Jacob was portrayed as what a man should be in life where as Carl, Steve Carell’s character was the complete opposite of our societies norm for men. The main example being that his wife cheated on him. Going off of James A. Doyle’s five traits of a masculine man there are two that other men may say he did not have leading her to cheat, those two possibly being that he was not aggressive enough and not as sexual as he should have been. Since I am a male I know for a fact that Doyle’s five traits for masculine men are characteristics that young males are always trying to achieve.

  7. Kerry Cullinan says:

    I believe that this movie was a perfect example for Woods idea about men needing to embody & transcend traditional views of masculinity. The idea that men have to constantly be sexual but yet display a desire to connect with one individual can be very frustrating. This movie proves that this is what society expects and desires. When Steve Carell’s charachter Cal changes to what he believes makes him more of a “man” to society but still showing that he has emotions, his wife wants him back. As a society, we have made this an expectation that is practically impossible to follow. This may be why individuals find it so hard to find a partner, because we have too many unrealistic expectations.
    I have also seen this on the Longwood campus with my boyfriend and his teammates. Whenever they are all hanging out as a group, they talk about women in innappropriate terms, try and make it seem that they are all extremely sexual, as well as calling each other names, such as gay, whenever one of them does something that seems remotely feminine. Afterwards, when they were alone, they would always apologize to any girl that was in the room and mention how they don’t really believe in any of that stuff. They just always feel a need to participate so that the other guys won’t think less of them. It is hard to see them struggling with trying to embody and transcend the traditional views of masculinity. It really don’t find it to be a natural way of life. We are asking an individual to achieve two completely different personalities.

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