So I’m currently working on tech for the musical that the theater department is putting on called “On The Town”. On The Town is a story of three men who are in the Navy who get 24 hours of leave in NYC. The three have three different goals–one wants to see ALL the sights, one, all the women, and one wants to find the perfect girl to spend 24 hours with. All three men develop romances with three women and their goal is basically to hook up as much as possible within the 24 hours. One of the women regretfully has to abandon her respective partner because her work demands it of her–he, however, pursues her and chaos ensues. I have two big problems with the show which Martin and Kazyak and Bordo has helped me to flesh out.
The first is that the main women in the show throw themselves into heterosexual flings with the men in as little as seconds after they meet. The play ensures that the characters in these flings fall madly in love with each other so that by the end of the show they don’t know what life would be like without each other. So, in this way the play makes heterosexual romance exceptional and transformative, as Martin and Kazyak point out in their article. The director has chosen to put in glimpses of homosexual romance, but these are not at all as glorified as the main plots, and thus Martin and Kazyak’s thesis stands.
The other is that the women are all, essentially, “obsessed with men”–as one of the women classifies herself. All of the women rapidly commit to men who constantly flip between their aggressive sexual and gentlemanly identities, solely because they are men who do this. There is no reference to the men being physically attractive, only that they put on these masculine disguises. This gives a message that these are the type of men that women are supposed to fall for. On the other hand, it is repeated over and over that the women in the show are physically attractive or have mastered some sort of feminine art (ie. cooking or sex). These messages only serve to privilege masculinity in romantic relationships along with socializing female viewers to be attracted to masculinity, as we have seen from various readings, is a dangerous social construct. Femininity, contrasted with masculinity here, is weak-willed and bends easily to the will of men. Interestingly, one of the main women breaks out of this feminine mold and is the more aggressive sexual and social partner in the relationship. So the play is not without its feminist aspects (progressive for a play from the 1940s?–MAYBE), however this aggressive woman is seen as abnormal and all other women in the cast are passive and have their actions controlled by men.
Perhaps to contrast a little bit to all of this, I’d like to focus on one of the newest Disney movies, Frozen. In Frozen, the main female characters have agency free of male control, falling in love with masculinity at first sight is frowned upon by most characters and fully realized to be wrong in the end, there is depiction of a happy family with gay fathers, and the main male character gets clear consent before he and one of the female leads kiss. I could go on. However, Frozen still does not challenge the traditional depiction of heterosexual romance in Disney films. I can’t wait for a Disney film which has gay characters as the leads. It will do even more good things for today’s children. Frozen is a good step, but we need to go further.