In the Wife of Bath's Tale, from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a knight who has committed rape is given a quest to save his life. He must find the answer to "What do women really want?" He spends a year and a day trying to find out. Eventually an old crone who forces him to marry her (but is actually a beautiful fairy in disguise) tells him that he can have her as an ugly old woman but faithful or beautiful and unfaithful. When he refuses to chose, but allows her to chose, he gets both, learning that what women really want is to make decisions of their own.
I thought of that story Sunday as I sat amid a huge audience of women in their 20s attending He's Just Not That Into You. The film pretends to teach women what men really are saying when they such things as "I'll call you." But what the film actually does is perpetuate those very stereotypes that women have come to accept:
- The not-so hot guys are the ones you should rely on.
- The really cute guys--who are married or in a committed relationship--are often liars and cheats. The blonde hunk, played by Bradley Cooper with a winning smile and persona, cheats on his wife, confesses to her his infidelity and then continues that infidelity while saying he wants to work it out with his wife. AND he lies about not having quit smoking, a sin the film--and wife--sees as equal to the infidelity. At the end, though, he gets his comeupance by being alone, just like the girl he cheated with and his ex-wife. [The film undercuts this high moral viewpoint toward telling the truth by having a multi-married woman say how much better she is than any of her three husbands--she was never caught.]
- Cooper's best friend, Ben Afflick, is in a seven year committed relationship with Jennifer Aniston but refuses to marry her. He's sensitive, caring, does the dishes, but just doesn't want to do the vows. After she finally realizes that a committed relationship is better than no relationship, he gives her ring and gets on his knees to beg her to marry him. A collective sigh went up from all the romantic souls in the audience. After all, just as Sex in the City showed, what women really want is to have a man sweep them off their feet and marry them.
What do women really want? It appears Hollywood thinks it is to let men make their decisions and determine the roles to play in their lives.