Gender and Emotion: Wedding Crashers

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Wedding Crashers is one of the most popular comedies to hit theaters in at least a decade. A combination of two important genres – bromance and romantic comedy – the film can provide insight into how men and women show emotion. The tendency of films is to exaggerate all aspects of relationships, mostly for dramatic effect. This is true in Wedding Crashers, and because of that, it is more of a critique on the way society views male and female emotion rather than being an accurate depiction of emotional showings. The film’s depictions do not perfectly align with what the course has taught on gendered emotion, but it can be a useful tool for critically analyzing and discussing some of society’s assumptions about how men and women operate in this regard.

The film does present a complex picture of the male experience of emotion. John Beckwith, played in the film by Owen Wilson, is the prototypical sensitive male. In his attempts to woo Claire Cleary, he shows a wide range of emotional sensitivities. He is shown as being highly supportive of her as she discusses her relationship with her new fiancé, Sack Lodge. He is not quick to anger, but rather, prefers a more muted and sensible emotional arrangement. On the other end of the spectrum is Lodge, a character who, even during his own wedding, displays the macho bravado that is typical of men in movies. Somewhere in between lies Jeremy Grey, who initially rejects concepts of love for cheap and meaningless entanglement. Later, however, Grey comes around and becomes something of a hopeless romantic. Likewise, Grey is shown as being very heated in his relationship with Beckwith. He is prone to temper tantrums if he does not get his way, and his emotions in that particular relationship are very shallow.

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One the female side, Claire Cleary is the primary portrayal of female emotion. She is shown as emotionally needy in some respects. Even though she is in a relationship, that relationship is not healthy, and she is not receiving the sort of attention or love that she wants. The entire premise behind the movie has to do with her desire to seek love outside of her relationship, a sign that she might not be the most emotionally stable person. Likewise, she is shown, at least at the original wedding, as being a woman who has the ability to display a deep range of meaningful emotions, but is reticent to do so, even in giving a speech for her sister. Gloria Cleary is painted as the infantile sister who is incapable of dealing responsibly in a mature way. She is prone to hissy fits, similar to Grey’s fits with Beckwith. Her entire visage can be contrasted with that of her sister, as she is foil to her sister’s evolved, yet needy emotional state.

Necessarily, in order to create contrast, filmmakers have to simplify characters, especially in comedies where deep character exploration is not the goal. While the characters, taken together, did provide a full picture of what male and female emotion tends to look like, the individual characters themselves left something to be desired. There exists no emotionally stable woman in the film, which is something of a disservice. Even mother Cleary is shown as being somewhat unstable, as she seeks lust outside of her marriage to Secretary Cleary. The depictions of male emotion are somewhat more representative. The film did a good job of showing the different places where males can fall on the spectrum, from emotionally mature to shows of masculinity to something in-between with Grey. Likewise, the male characters were less monolithic and more prone to change than the female characters. While this probably was a disservice to the female characters, it was more representative of the human emotional experience.

The psychology suggests that while there are very few differences in emotion between men and women, societal rules puts constraints on how those emotions can be expressed. Women are more likely to be attentive to the cognitive cues of their environment, and this was depicted in the film. Much of the emotional struggle for Claire is environmental. Likewise, men are said to be more attentive to the physiological cues associated with their own individual arousal. Jeremy Grey, who gets himself into a difficult situation despite the consequences, is mostly responding to his own physiological needs. In addition, the film provides a perfect example of how societal constraints can change the way emotions are displayed. Take, for example, the case of Sack Lodge punching Beckwith in a show of masculine anger. This is appropriate for a male in the situation, but it would be inappropriate for a woman to display that sort of anger according to society’s arbitrary rules. Women, it seems, are expected to be “softer” in emotional tone. There is, however, one break from this norm, as the older grandmother has no problem showing highly inappropriate emotions, including firing guns at people and making reckless comments. She operates outside of the bounds of gendered emotional expectations, however, given her advanced age.

Ultimately, this film, given its popularity, has the ability to shape the views of its viewers on issues of gender and emotion. Films like this could influence, more than anything else, the societal expectations on how emotions are to be shared by men and women. Ultimately, people are constrained by the rules and constructs that society puts into place. Those roles are shaped in large part by popular media, and when movies like Wedding Crashers bluntly assert that one set of emotional responses is proper for women and another set is proper for men, society will tend to run with that. To the more evolved viewer, these movies could serve as an opportunity to critically analyze the way society treats gendered emotion, and these films could be a launching point for societal critique on our current expectations.

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