- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

Freud posed the ultimate question for the 20th century: "What Do Women Want?" Mel Gibson answers it in his new movie, "What Women Want." Women want men to read their minds.

When his hair dryer falls in the bathtub, Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson), an aging, womanizing bachelor, is shocked into clairvoyance. He can now hear the thoughts of every women he encounters. Whether at work, over cocktails, listening to jazz in a quiet club, or making love, he discovers that a woman is only happy when he performs in perfect harmony with what she's thinking she wants. Of course, this magical talent isn't perfect for women. He can steal her brilliant ideas, make his lust feel like love and betray every confidence he overhears her thinking.

Hence, post-modern men and women lock in an unsettling paradox. Only men with mind reading abilities can survive in a post-feminist society, where women want to domesticate men without stripping them of their seductive masculinity. It's a losing formula. A man will as men always do use everything it takes to seduce la femme even if he has to be zapped by a hair dryer to do it.

It's a morality tale for our time. Women are achieving all kinds of recognition for excellence in public policy (look at George W.'s Cabinet appointments), in law (two women sit on the U.S. Supreme Court), in sports (they're so good men actually enjoy watching women play) and the media (they're all over the place). But that's only half of the equation.

Young women know they can seek a profession of their choice, what they don't know is whether they can count on a satisfying life with a man. At holiday parties, where different generations gathered, I was struck by the number of single women above the age of 30 who complained about the lack of men in their lives. These were successful working women who had lived with men, or had married and divorced at different stages in their lives, but now found it difficult to meet a man willing to make the kinds of compromises required in a mature (read committed) relationship.

The older they are, the fewer the possibilities. Younger women are worried (if not obsessed) about their biological clocks and resent the fact that men have no such constrictions. Older men, in the original, elegant, medieval formulation variously attributed to Hugh Hefner or Elvis Presley, see no reason to buy a cow when they can milk through the fence.

Men and women in college, as well as young adults working on their careers, agreed in my holiday survey that post-modern men and women start out with identical aspirations in prosperous America. Both want to have their cake and eat it, too, but as they get older, only men seem to get that cake, icing and all.

The feminist movement has become marginalized. NOW is regressive, fighting dated political battles, "whoring for the Democratic Party," as Camille Paglia puts it, fund-raising by stereotyping conservatives as enemies of women. (There's a good analysis to be made why single women voted for Al Gore and married women voted for George W., but that's for another day.)

NOW aside, ambitious women see little standing in the way of their careers, their goals limited only by the amount of time they're willing to invest in their jobs. Most women prefer not to make the sacrifices of emotional life necessary if they want to rise and stay at the top.

These are generalizations, of course, but they're rooted in fundamental differences between men and women, even if it's not politically correct to say so. Women who express this notion can't expect to be idealized as role models, but they're out there in abundance.

A scene which should be played for irony (but isn't) in Mel Gibson's movie is a Nike commercial portraying women running alone. They want the personal freedom to conquer the open spaces on the footpaths of life. The commercial suggests that running alone is the ultimate high in a woman's life. Yet the maker of the commercial knows that though the feminist clich is a way to sell expensive running shoes, that's not really what women want. That's what women are settling for. You don't have to read women's minds to confirm that.


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