The other day I saw “The Five-Year Engagement“. I thought it was really funny and I enjoyed it.
But, a few days later, I actually caught myself thinking about some aspects of the movie (not something I usually do with comedies) and I realized that the movie was full of annoying stereotypes. Sure, you’ll say, stereotypes are what makes movies funny! True, but not when they hit close to home.
If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, stop reading now.
Tom and Violet live in San Francisco and get engaged at the beginning of the movie. Tom is a chef at a fancy San Francisco restaurant, while Violet seems to be a PhD in psychology, awaiting an offer of unspecified type from UC Berkeley. Instead, she gets an offer from the University of Michigan to go do a postdoc; they move and it all but destroys their relationship.
Let’s put aside the fact that research in Violet’s group is presented as a total joke; in the light of that, it makes it hard to believe Violet when she says she’s worked so hard to get to the top of her field and that she would not want to quit now, that academia is her life… In my opinion, all academic life is, almost invariably, depicted very inaccurately in movies. But, that is a topic for another post, or perhaps a series, and is not what I want to talk about…
First, very stereotypically, going to Michigan is portrayed as the ultimate in LAAAAAAAME. I am really sick of seeing how life is worth living only in New York, LA, or San Francisco; move anywhere else and you might as well blow your brains out, ’cause your life is totally over. First, Tom can’t find a job except at a sandwich shop (’cause there are a total of 5 restaurants in Ann Arbor and there are presumably no other restaurants in the Detroit metro area, home to 4.2 M people. People are allowed to enjoy food only in coastal cities.) There is a scene where the whole crew at a restaurant gathers to laugh at Tom for having had a job in San Francisco and having left it to move “here”.
The people Tom and Violet meet are fat, bearded, ugly, and terribly dressed. One of Tom’s new friends is a male spouse of a University of Michigan faculty member; the guy complains about being a stay-at-home dad, talks about being emasculated by his position (within 10 seconds of meeting Tom at a party), and takes up knitting of the most hideous, misshapen sweaters known to humankind (apparently, that’s what people wear in Michigan. ‘Cause it’s that lame.)
But what got me the most is how downtrodden Tom became about leaving his fancy restaurant job in SF, moving to the seemingly ueber-lame Ann Arbor. He has unkempt facial hair, starts hunting deer with his hideous-sweater-sporting buddies and makes all-deer meals, looks like he doesn’t shower, and is generally just a pathetic mess. All this because his job at a sandwich shop (which by the way several people in the movie say they love) is such an unbearable step down from the fancy restaurant he worked at before. And let’s not forget all the snow, which we also know makes life unworthy of living.
This is what completely disgusts me: it’s totally OK to ask women to leave their careers and dreams to follow their partners, and nobody bats an eyelash. Violet’s sister lectures Violet how she, the sister, who by the way got knocked up accidentally by a total doofus, is now happy and fulfilled being a stay-at-home mom to the doofus’s two kids and has given up her aspirations to be a kinesiologist, and that’s totally the way to go. But when a man follows a woman’s career, then he invariably must turn into a useless, pathetic, smelly ballast. Forget about supporting your female partner, or showering and shaving for that matter. Passive-aggressive petulance FTW!
* end of spoiler*
This movie reminded me of an encounter at a conference that I had gone to a little while before I graduated with a PhD. A senior professor from another university asked what I planned on doing when I graduate, I said I wanted to be a professor, and he told me I should not do that, that I should let my husband find work, and I should stay home and take care of the kids. If looks could kill, that man would have been struck by lightning and pulverized on the spot. I don’t know what I said, it was to the effect that I didn’t do a PhD do be a housewife, but I was very visibly pissed, so much that he hastily excused himself and left.
In the coming years, I encountered several people who basically told me “Your poor husband!” when I informed them I was taking a faculty position and that my husband would be joining me (his staff job placement was part of my offer). Sure, my poor, poor husband; it totally sucks to have a job in your field waiting for you at the place where your spouse also has one.
I think my husband is probably the person with the highest job satisfaction that I know. He looooves his job. He does a combination of lab work and teaching, the job is not a high-stress one, and he can quit at 5 pm, come home, and not think about it till the next work day. I cannot imagine he could find another job that he would love quite as much. Implying that we would both be happier if he had to be the sole bread-winner, working in a very fast-paced industry, while I were at home with the kids, is completely ludicrous; such an arrangement would have destroyed us both.
News flash: not every man wants to be a corporate drone, and not every woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom. There are many men who are perfectly happy as stay-at-home parents or in jobs that are less high-powered than those of their female partners. Implying that men are incapable of being supportive of their spouse’s careers or the family in general without turning into a quivering, whiny pile of guilt-inducing crap is nothing but misandric patriarchal bullshit.
Good Grief. If they were going to pick a “middle of nowhere”, Ann Arbor isn’t a great choice (though it is a great school!). I mean, Detroit is *right there*. Not to mention that even our small town has some amazing restaurants because universities need some place to take visitors and students need someplace to take their parents. An aspiring chef could totally find work. (And actually we have friends who were in that situation with him as the trailing PhD boyfriend when she got a post-doc at Michigan, but he was able to find an industry think-tank job running SBIRs in the area without any problem.)
I hope the fictional dude got a job at Zingerman’s. That place is the bizbomb. Of course, it also has an extensive mail-order business so probably isn’t a bad job for a trained chef, particularly someone who does pastries.
Come to think of it, the last time I had escargot was in ann arbor.
As a Michigan grad whose husband followed me there for grad school and then followed through a postdoc and finally to a faculty job, I think this movie might make me smash my TV. Ann Arbor is literally one of the best places to live in the country (I’ve lived on both coasts – nice but so impressed with themselves) and it has amazing food. It used to make me crazy how much of our culture thinks of most of the country as ‘fly-over’ country and how often academics bought into that. Now I try and channel Prince and remember that the cold weather is what “keeps the bad people away”. He was referring to MN but if it keeps folks from taking a job in Michigan that works for me. More annoying is exactly this idea that it’s necessary for men to be the primary bread-winners and that when women are there is something wrong. Luckily I am married to someone secure enough in himself that this bs hasn’t gotten in the way in our lives but I am tired of the questions that make it seem like our relationship isn’t ‘quite right’ because our moves aren’t for his career. Ok, definitely a movie on the do-not-see list – good to know!