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Masculinity and History in Logan, in International Women’s Day, and in Munchkin

Three events this week made me rethink the past, present, and future of gender roles. The movie Logan draws deep in the past of gender roles, echoing them and updating them (just a bit) for the 21st century. Debates about the wage gap on International Women’s Day make me struggle with the present of gender. Playing Munchkin with some adorable children makes me feel optimistic about the future — of gender and of a better world generally.

Rethinking the Tragic Past of Masculine Violence…

Tuesday, I watched Logan, the new movie in the X-Men franchise on $5 Tuesday at the DECC. It was by no means a great movie; for example, it fails the Bechdel test. But it is the first Western I have voluntarily watched in my adult life (all the Westerns I have seen, I have seen as a child or assigned in courses). Logan works through allusions to other Western movies (especially Shane), rethinking and redeploying their tropes.

The Western, in Shane and in Logan, offers a model of masculinity that I find troubling. Logan, Wolverine, is the best at what he does, but what he does, he admits, isn’t very nice — it’s killing, and Logan kills many, many men in this movie. But Logan (and Shane) are not proud of this, and they die doing what they are good at, making their lives tragic.

Logan looks back on a sixty-year-old movie, a tragic story of a loner who dies doing the right thing, and then Logan tells us the 21st century story of another man who dies doing the right thing. In this, Logan is so sad, my friend cried. The small children who are saved, perhaps, by Logan’s sacrifice will build a better future than Wolverine could build himself. I left the movie sad for Wolverine but hopeful for the future.

The Recalcitrance of Sexism in the Present…

That hopefulness crashed and burned the next day. I spent a portion of Wednesday in bed, sick, and a portion of it responding to a sharp, intelligent, thoroughly lost colleague who was insistent (on social media) that the gender-based wage gap is a myth. Websites like these (1, 2, 3) appear to make lucid, data-driven claims that make wage discrimination dissolve in a smoke of free choice. For example, men in general tend to aim to acquire higher paying careers, and work more hours in them than women do… At the end of the day, women tend to earn less than men do because of the choices they make, be it career choices or how much they choose to work within the careers they take. “This isn’t sexism, it’s just common sense,” says Sommers.

I went on to argue, based on historical data, that the trend has worked the other way. It’s not that women aim to acquire lower paying careers. When women become 51 percent of the labor force in a profession, the salary for that profession has tended to drop. Historical studies of the careers that become feminized (from librarianship in 1910 to bank tellers in the 1960s to technical writers in the 1990s) demonstrate that as women enter, salaries plummet.

We went back and forth, back and forth, and part of me realized that this was an argument that could never be resolved. My claims are based on historical data and his were based on economic data. Economic data tells my friend that if women flooded into chemical engineering, the wage gap would diminish. History tells me that if women flooded into chemical engineering, the salary of chemical engineers would drop.

The other part of me realized that the argument was stalemated the moment it started. After all, when someone posts to social media about the “myth” of the wage gap on International Women’s Day, their mind is made up.

The argument ended with my interlocutors trying to distance themselves from the consequences of their opinions.

“But please, keep telling us how you are on the moral high ground and we are tools of the patriarchy.”

I didn’t know how to answer. After all, dudes, you aren’t tools of the patriarchy. You are white males denying the reality of the wage gap. You are the patriarchy.

If Logan gave me hope, gave me a sense that in the 21st century, we can revisit the past and rewrite the future of gender and masculinity, Wednesday helped me lose that hope.

Playing Munchkin with the Future

On Saturday, my hope was restored. I volunteered to run a board game event at my favorite comic and game shop, Collector’s Connection. (I like teaching people to play games, and I like Tim Broman, minority co-owner of the shop.) We played Munchkin Cthulhu, and I had so much fun.

A family came in:

  • a young dad with an enthusiasm for games and Cthulhu (after all, he knew that the ultimate challenge in the game was the Chibithulhu),
  • a mom who beamed as the game taught her children math and strategy,
  • and three kids, all under ten.

Munchkin is a funny game, with lots of linguistic play and puns, but it can be cruel. Several times, I have watched tables of Munchkin players let the competitiveness of a game carry over into real life. It’s hard to watch “screwing people over” in a game ruin friendships. It’s also hard, too, to watch people use “it’s just a game” to justify competitively “screwing people over.” At heart, I want the world to be more humane and collaborative than most board games allow.

And so, when a child draws a curse card, and her brother offers to use one of his cards to protect her from the curse, I melt inside. When the middle child draws a card making her a cultist, but their sibling offers a wishing ring of protection to reverse the effects, I see a window into a better future. So much selflessness and cooperation.

These are the kids who will grow up and build a world in which men don’t have to be violent heroes (like the children at the end of Logan will build a better future). In their world, no one will be valued less than anyone else (in wages or any other measure). In the world these kids build, drawing a curse isn’t something you need to face alone. In the world these kids will build, winning won’t be a matter of personal choice, but of working together.

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