2011  Love Stories: Women, Men, & Romance. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.
Notes: DVD, 86 minutes
Reviewed 3 Sep 2012 by:
Jack David Eller <email@example.com>
Community College of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Women - Social conditions
Husband and wife
Domestic relations - United States
Men - Attitudes
ABSTRACT: This older film, recently re-released, gives us a double perspective on gender, love, marriage, and romance, looking back at people in the 1980s who themselves are looking back on their parents and grandparents. Everyone is freer than before, but are they any happier?
It is all too apparent that families, marriages, even genders have changed in recent American history; already in 1945 sociologists Ernest Burgess and Harvey Locke had noted a 'deinstitutionalization' of marriage, leading to a 'companionate' marriage in which love and personal compatibility--and ultimately personal happiness or satisfaction--were central. And while many people bemoan the 'collapse' of 'traditional marriage,' few are ready to abandon their individual interests and their quest for 'love.' Even fewer have any real notion of what 'institutionalized' marriage or gender roles were actually like.
"Love Stories: Women, Men, & Romance" is a fascinating investigation of this subject in two ways. Not only does it look at gender and love in the early 1900s, but because the film is a re-release of a project done in the late 1980s, it allows us to look back almost thirty years and observe the people in the film looking back on their own parents and predecessors. Thus, there is a sort of double time removal that gives the film, and the study of marriage and romance, an unusually layered feel.
The action opens with women discussing their childhood expectations of love and marriage (the cliche male hero, lovey-dovey, riding off into sunset, etc.). The narrator adds, "Today that dream seems elusive. We live in a world of individual choices, in a landscape where the dream may not fit.... Was it simpler before?" The documentary then moves sequentially through its three subjects, with a part on women, another on men, and a third on romance.
Part one focuses on women, reminding us of the Victorian view of romance in the new urban and industrial setting, which was no place for a woman; "polite non-sexual romance" ideally kept the worlds of the two sexes separate, woman at home, man out in the "industrial jungle." A woman who worked outside the home was "shocking," but this was WASP upper class dream; for the lower classes, the Victorian ideal did not make sense, since among urban immigrants and the poor, there was little romance or love and plenty of hard work, including wage labor, for women. Older women in the film recall that women had no rights and no goals earlier in the century. There was also no such thing as divorce, although domestic abuse was common.
This was also the era before safe effective birth control or abortion; even receiving sex information through the mail was illegal, and women reasonably feared unwanted pregnancy. Restrictions on women reached down to their hair (which could not be cut short) and their habits. By the 1920s, however, images of women freed from traditional limitations were available in the movies and elsewhere, as seen in old black-and-white clips of the 'woman of tomorrow.'
It is well known that women worked in 'male' jobs during World War II. But the 1950s brought new marriage expectations: a woman was to be a perfect wife and mother, protected from any sense of badness in the world. Naturally, the daughters of the 1950s were raised themselves to be mothers and to be taken care of, but many of them expressed a fracturing of the dream in young adulthood--or never entirely believing it in the first place. For many women of that generation, marriages did not last or at least did not keep their traditional form. The 1960s feminist movement cemented women's commitment to freedom and equaltiy. However, the sexism and chauvinism of the era suggested that men were as restricted by traditions and assumptions as women were. Once women began working and earning their own money, some asked what a husband was for and why they needed one. But liberation has its price: now there are few role models and rules, while there are more expectations and demands on women. But one younger woman interviewed in the film says that if she had ended up living the life that she was raised for, that her mother lived, she would have been unhappy, even a little dead inside.
The second part turns to men, as no discussion of gender, marriage, or romance can exclude them. Women's liberation has been hard for, and on, some men, as indicated by a 1984 Boston article titled, "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" The men featured in the film recognize that they have to make concessions to relate to the modern woman. Men too face a changing world, like the decline of old-fashioned male jobs and rise of new workplaces where women not only work but thrive, perhaps even rule. The interviews with adult men show them struggling with changed gender roles and reminiscing about the power their fathers enjoyed. Further, since the 1950s, new possibilities have emerged for men as they have for women, including new roles and lifestyles like the beatnik and the playboy. The interviewed men seem much more diverse--and confused--in their attitudes and reactions than the women. As the narrator opines, "It is not as acceptable for men to change roles, even though some men as, as it was for women." "Have men changed in the ways that women want?" The men interviewed in the movie seem to be trying to figure out women, while women are trying to get on with their own lives.
The third part studies romance, or what passes for romance in the modern world. Single liberated men and women talk about the difficulty of finding someone to share their life with, although most members of both sexes still seem to aspire to such a state. For many of them (of us), clubs and bars are the sites of meeting and romance; in the quaint days of the 1980s, dating services were another option, and the film notes that both sexes turned more 'strategic' in their pursuit of love. Finding a mate had become more of a business or a project. Imagine if the film were made today, with the internet and 'hooking up,' etc.
In the old days, so the film concludes, a woman got married, learned her husband's habits, and learned to live with them. "Now men face the loss of old prerogatives as women struggle to control their own fates." Do people still want to get married, or even have a long-term relationship? One woman says she wants to be who she is and then find a relationship, not vice versa. Love seems more elusive than ever, maybe even less real. But people still seem to want someone to hold, to be close to, to love. Don't they?
It would be interesting to consider this documentary in relation to Jeanne-Claude Kaufmann's The Curious History of Love, recently reviewed in ARD.
Level/Use: Suitable for high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of gender, anthropology of kinship, and American studies, as well as for general audiences.
Burgess, Ernest, and Harvey Locke 1945 The Family: From Institution to Companionship. New York: American Book Company.