Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Films for Women to Understand Men Better

O.K., that’s an odd title, I know.  But women are always recommending books and films to men so that we will learn to understand them better. This is fine because, let’s face it guys, most of us are pretty lousy at understanding women. I say this as a man who grew up in a large family where males were very much outnumbered by females–all very strong,  mostly feminist, women, led by my mother who was a force of nature.  I am now married and have 2 daughters–no sons. So, I still live in a female dominated household–and yet, I still need help understanding  women. So I don’t mind all the help or the pointers. Bring ’em on, ladies, and thank-you very much,  indeed.

But it seems to me that most women also have trouble understanding men. Yet they seldom ask for help in understanding us.  And since we’re men,  we don’t usually offer. We think we are self-explanatory. We aren’t.

So, for girls and women who would like to understand men (at least, straight men in U.S. culture) better, but are too embarrassed to ask,  I offer the following two films as a combined “Beginner’s Guide to the (Straight) U.S. Male.”  No, films that help you understand men are not the same as films that men naturally like.  If a woman just tries to watch what men watch:  Top Gun, James Bond films, martial arts movies, True Lies, movies about sports, Die Hard, Ocean’s 11, etc., she MIGHT  learn much about men. But, like an anthropologist in a new culture,  she might draw all the wrong conclusions.  What men like to watch doesn’t necessarily (or easily) tell  you much about us.

But two films are better-than-average guides:  Beautiful Girls and City Slickers.  Beautiful Girls (Miramax, 1996), directed by Ted Demme and starring Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Annabeth Gish, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, and a very young Natalie Portman will help you understand men in their 20s trying to grow up.  High school is over, we may or may not have been able  to go to college, but life has not turned out the way we hoped.  We still dream of doing great things–and of being a hero to a beautiful girl–usually an unattainable one.  Often we miss how great the beautiful (and brilliant, etc.) women are who are actually flesh and blood realities in our lives because of the dream girl, the fantasy.  So,  a key scene in the film, not to be missed, has Rosie O’Donnell attempt to wake up Hutton and Dillon (her good friends) by taking them to a convenient store and showing them  centerfolds from a skin magazine and proceding to explain how fake they are:  real (non-enhanced) breasts that size don’t float like that and aren’t attached to waists that slim. If you want big boobs, they usually come with larger waists. Smaller waists usually mean smaller mammary glands, too. Then she tells them the facts of life they have never learned: Breasts are designed to be chewed on by babies.  Wake up, guys, you both are about to lose the great women in your lives because you think the fantasy is real. (They get it, but,  being guys,  they can’t help razzing Rosie. After she walks away,  they loudly compliment her tits and ass. 🙂 )  Eventually, MOST of the men in the film wake up and do the right thing by their women.  We men do grow up, face reality, accept reality, and appreciate the real life beautiful women who, for some reason, love us.  It just takes some of us awhile to get there–but come on, women friends, give us  a break. You already knew that girls mature earlier than boys. 

City Slickers (Castlerock,  1991), directed  by Ron Underwood and starring Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Patricia Wettig, Jack Palance, Helen Slater, Noble Willingham, David Paymer and Bill Henderson is about men facing middle age.  Yes, this hilarious comedy is about the infamous mid-life crisis:  You have not achieved all you set out to and now it looks like you never will.  But how do you deal with it and what will be your legacy?  A key scene here for women seeking to understand men is during the cattle drive when each of the men tells the others at what point he knew he was a man.  Women don’t easily grasp this.  Biology tells  girls when they are women with or without any formal rites of passage. Boys don’t have such a clear symbol and our culture no longer has formal, agreed upon rites of passage. (Thus, teenaged males are so destructive or self-destructive as they seek their own rite of passage: learning to drink or smoke, running with a gang, drag racing, sexual  intercourse,  etc.)

Both films have plenty of comedy. These are not documentaries.  But an observant, intelligent woman could learn much about men from these films. And since she is going to deal with men most of her life (even  if she chooses lifelong singleness or  is lesbian), the knowledge should be quite useful.

July 6, 2009 - Posted by | arts, films, gender


  1. While I have seen only one of these films, I can understand why you think that “City Slickers” would have some good insights on how men think. I have always thought this movie to be very funny, but have never thought of it in the way you describe until now.

    How’s that for short?

    Comment by Georgianna | July 6, 2009

  2. Good, Georgianna. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 6, 2009

  3. I’m trying to rack my brain. I’ve seen several other films that do a good job of this, but I can’t seem to remember any of them.

    Side note: I made the mistake of telling my wife the ending of A Walk To Remember was dumb.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | July 7, 2009

  4. OUCH. My condolences.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 7, 2009

  5. I was deeply moved the first two times I saw Walk to Remember, but I thought it was pretty corny the third time around. In my third viewing, when the Shane West character said “I’m in two places at once,” I thought, “Man, how many more minutes is there to this movie?” Even him staying up all night to build Jamie the telescope ceased to have its moving effect on me. I’ll be sure not to tell women that, though!

    I’ll have to see City Slickers, since I didn’t watch it all the way through. I was a kid, so I didn’t understand things like mid-life crises (not that I’m in mid-life now, but I understand it better). If Patricia Wettig is in it, then I’ll have to see it, since I’m becoming a Brothers and Sisters fanatic. Plus, I kind of like Walker: Texas Ranger, so Noble Willingham will be fun to watch.

    Comment by James Pate | July 7, 2009

  6. I think that women understand men a whole lot better than vice versa, My mother told me so…:-)

    Comment by Paul | July 7, 2009

  7. They do, Paul, on average. But they still often need more help getting us than they want to let. Precisely BECAUSE they understand us better than we understand them, they often think they need no help in understanding us. If they can see a film or two that helps, where’s the harm?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 8, 2009

  8. I agree Michael…

    Comment by Paul | July 8, 2009

  9. OMG if one more guy tells me that “City Slickers” is their favorite movie I’m going to barf. I guess…I mean the mid-life crisis thing and everything…but isn’t it a bit immature? I think of “City Slickers” as an overly sentimentalized…almost like a guy’s version of “Sex and the City”. I dunno. There are better films. Watch “8/12” or “Wall Street”. Actually, the “Sopranos” made me understand the average male better than anything. It made me realize how terribly delicate the male ego is.

    Comment by ax2grind | December 11, 2009

  10. Never heard of 8/12. Hate Wall Street and absolutely hate The Sopranos.

    Yeah, City Slickers is a bit immature. It is a comedy, after all. But I never said it was my favorite movie. Just a good movie explaining the male mind.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | December 11, 2009

  11. Yeah, if you want to understand men start with the word ‘immature’. Even smart men liked Beavis and Butthead, because they secretly know that male development is arrested at Junior High. For life.

    Beautiful Girls – what a great film!

    Comment by The Charismanglican | December 12, 2009

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