WHEN CULTURE ONLY INTERESTS WOMEN, PATRIARCHY WINS

A couple of months ago, El Confidencial published an interview with former film director and screenwriter Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón (https://www.elconfidencial.com/cultura/2018-06-15/manuel-gutierrez-aragon-ojo-cielo-libro_1577791/). The occasion was the publication of his new novel El ojo del cielo, which focuses on four women in his native Cantabria’s Valle del Pas. I saw the interview by mid-July before taking my summer break but some pressing matter prevented me from reading it. Its title, however, “La cultura ya sólo interesa a las mujeres”, has kept nagging me these past weeks.

I got the impression from that title that Gutiérrez Aragón was showing his bitterness about how his very manly work is only appreciated by us women, those inferior creatures. It turns out, reading the interview as I should have done, that he’s expressing the opposite belief: regrettably, men are no longer interested in culture and, so, it’s thanks to women’s generous dedication that culture survives. Blame the journalist (Marta Medina) for distorting the interviewee’s words, hoping to catch more clicks on the link.

Gutiérrez Aragón (Torrelavega, 1942) has an illustrious career as film director and screenwriter, spanning the four decades between 1969 and 2007. He announced his retirement from cinema in 2008, winning the following year the prestigious Premio Herralde with his novel La vida antes de marzo. The new one, El ojo del cielo, is his fourth title. As an artist devoted to cinema, Gutiérrez Aragón has been the winner of an impressive list of major awards, among them a Festival of Berlin’s Silver Bear for Camada negra (1977), two Festival of San Sebastián’s Conchas de Oro for Demonios en el jardín (1982) and La mitad del cielo (1986), and a Goya to the Best Adapted Screenplay for Jarrapellejos (1988). He has a Medalla de Oro de la Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España and the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes (both 2012). Why is all this information worth transmitting? A simple reason: if he feels pessimistic about the present and the future of culture because of its low allure for men, we need to listen, for he is a man of culture, and no doubt about it.

In the interview, Gutiérrez Aragón acknowledges that the great dreams of the Transition generation are gone, and that the youngest generation (the ones we call Millennials) must feel very frustrated. He’s very critical of directors like J.A. Bayona and Alejandro Amenábar and of their anglophone fantasy films, and quite bitter with a film business environment that would deny the likes of Ingmar Bergman any chance to direct. Even if winning the lottery allowed Gutiérrez Aragon to make a new film, this would mean nothing, he says, as nobody really cares for culture. Except women. “Right now,” he explains, “theatre, cinema and the novel are dominated by feminine consumption. I don’t think women have a particularly feminine and exclusive outlook; rather, they are keeping the flame of culture alive, women care about reading and going to the cinema. They are the ones in the book clubs, the ones you see on the seats”. Well, thanks for noticing!!

Another article in El Confidencial, “Todos los museos vacíos de España” (https://www.elconfidencial.com/cultura/2018-08-05/museos-vacios-espana-plan-desarrollo-publicos_1601237/) presents the average visitor as a woman in her forties. She alone is maintaining most Spanish museums open while, above all, male teenagers, families with young children and senior citizens above 65 (unless they visit as part of a group) stay away from them. I recently saw the excellent exhibition on Auschwitz in Madrid (open until 7 October) and I did notice that there were some pairs of teen girl friends visiting but not of teen boys. Of course, this was no place to see families with young children and, so, there were few but I would say that there was a majority of women, many on their own. Most men were accompanied by a woman friend or partner.

This is a common pattern whenever I attend any cultural activity: all are full of ageing ladies like yours truly, and conspicuously empty of young men. I will also stress that whenever I see two or three men together you can bet they are gay, which shows that the ones fast losing interest in culture are not all men but, specifically, heterosexual men. If you push me a little, it will come out: the individuals with little interest in culture are the patriarchal men who, realising that they cannot control it and that their opinions are not revered, reject culture as the territory of women and gay men. Hardly a new idea, but there it is.

In contrast, back in the 1980s when I was a young girl, I doubt that any secondary school lacked a pair of male heterosexual friends who knew everything about culture, and often used a snobbish approach to flirting with the less enlightened pretty girls. You could see that these guys were not really interested in culture since they would not discuss it with the better learned girls, pretty or otherwise. It seems that as more and more girls started exploring culture on their own, the patriarchal male snobs stopped seeing the point of erudition. There is, by the way, a delicious mockery of the type in this wonderful film, Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017). Interestingly, odious Kyle is played by Timothée Chalamet, who did a great job of playing the only truly cultured teen boy of recent fiction (novel and cinema): Elio in Call Me by Your Name. His story with Oliver, a young learned scholar in his twenties, is set in the 1980s. You can tell that today Elio would face a very hard time in high school, not so much for his sexual choices as for his truly amazing thirst for knowledge.

Culture, of course, comes in many manifestations and teen boys play a major role in many of its aspects, such as sports (including e-sports), music, comic and illustration, videogames, design, and so on. I assume that some teen boys still feel the urge to write Literature in any of its levels and genres, paint and sculpt, play classical music, sing opera, dance ballet… and all the many aspects of fine culture. I will also assume that increasing homophobia and misogyny are making it harder than ever for heterosexual teen boys to pursue careers which require great erudition in one aspect of high culture, unless their families, of course, are equally erudite. Despite Billy Eliot (2000), every time I attend my nieces’ dance festivals I see two boys for every forty girls, and you can tell which one asked his parents to register him for ballet school and which one did not (and was possibly forced by his mum).

I think I’ll blame in particular the obtuse masculinist sub-culture we import from the United States for the current terrifying transformation of European young men into active snubbers of culture, which is worse than being ignorant for no fault of your own. Constant bullying into patriarchal illiteracy is fast undermining young men’s contact with ambitious creativity and fast spreading the idea that learning can only appeal to women and gay men–never mind that some gays are also patriarchal and that not at all are highly sensitive, as the stereotype goes. The same applies to women: not all are eager to visit museums or jump at the chance of going to the theatre. I would say that the ones more interested in culture are a sub-set in each social class, with, perhaps, the main group in the upper working-class and the middle-class but not really in the upper classes. Just an educated guess.

A reader reacted to Gutiérrez Aragón’s comments complaining against political correctness and its imposition of a general mediocrity; despite the neutral nick, you can easily see that this is a man complaining against the production of culture by women, which is telling because Aragón refers specifically to women’s consumption, not production, of culture. Women have always been, one way or another, great consumers of culture, even when they were allowed to approach it only in small numbers. What is happening, then, is not really that women are flooding the territory of culture but that men are withdrawing at a ridiculous fast pace that will leave them stranded in the tiniest possible corner.

The Japanese universities that have fraudulently limited female students’ presence in their Schools of Medicine, with a 20-30% cap, (https://www.ft.com/content/54e98c1e-9c54-11e8-9702-5946bae86e6d) have been protecting, obviously, men’s entitlement to this area of knowledge. In the School of Humanities where I work, in contrast, young men have withdrawn willingly, leaving culture in the hands of their female peers in an 80%-20% proportion, or worse (for them, not for the young women). Funnily, many universities are running campaigns to increase the presence of female graduates above 20% in degrees like Engineering but nobody is telling young men that they should be interested in culture and in the Humanities. And they should, if only because a truly thriving culture must integrate a diversity of voices, and the male ones are also needed–without the patriarchal discourse. This is not mere political correctness but an active anti-patriarchal stance and plain logic: diversity cannot be built on a hierarchical basis, and this is what patriarchy is about, maintaining power-hungry hierarchy and privileging just a few.

The problem is that we are importing, also from the United States, a paralyzing model of male behaviour. Gutiérrez Aragón himself declares that, although he has written about women in some of his screenplays, he would not have focused on us if he had started his new novel after the #metoo campaign. The point of the campaign, however, is to out the harassers secretly dominating all areas of public life, including culture, not to gag all men into silence. You might like to see John Oliver’s interview with Professor Anita Hill (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHiAls8loz4), the woman who was so appallingly ill-treated back in 1991, when she outed U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as a sexual predator. When Oliver tells her that many men are positively afraid of making a mistake which women might use against them, she coolly replies that only harassers should be afraid. The #metoo campaign has its dangers but the men who feel harassed by it should start considering how harassment has curtailed women’s lives, also in the domain of culture.

I bring this topic here up because there are many U.S. men claiming that the only solution for the #metoo ‘problem’ is a total separation of the gender spheres, not at all what is needed. This sounds, rather, like a poor excuse to retrench into ultra-patriarchal circles and end up creating new mutually exclusive cultures. They already exist, of course. As I have already written here, you don’t see middle-aged women queuing to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster or yelling with excitement at gamers’ conventions. But we all know this is not a problem because we are not wanted there anyway. The problem is the opposite: the increasing absence of (young) men in the kind of culture appealing to values which are not male-centred and patriarchal.

The article about the empty Spanish museums mentions a programme by the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid to attract male visitors: children visiting with their schools are given free tickets to visit the museum again with their father (not their mother!). I know what you are all thinking: most little girls will propose the plan to their fathers and charm them into accepting it; fewer little boys will try and even fewer will succeed. You can imagine their fathers. The day this Valladolid museum is crowded with father-son pairs will bring a victory for culture and a loss for patriarchy. This may sound odd, but, then, these are odd days in the anti-patriarchal frontline.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

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