The other day a friend recommended we should see ‘Nowhere Special’, a Northern Irish, Romanian and Italian co-production inspired by true events. Three things around the issue of masculinity stood out for me from this beautiful movie.
For those who have not seen it, here is what the movie is about. In a nutshell, John, a 35-year-old window cleaner, has dedicated his life to bringing up his 3-year-old son. When John finds out he has a terminal illness, he attempts to find a new family for Michael to shield him from his inevitable death.
The pressures of toxic masculinity
At one point, while talking to his son, John mentions the challenges he faced growing up while in foster care. He confesses the pressures of not being able to show weakness to his friends. Any signs of weakness would have cost him dearly. This sadly illustrates the pressures we men put on each other to portray strength, pressures which enforce the dominant way of doing masculinity (I covered this in a previous post here) and don’t allow us to be ourselves.
For many of us, the pressure to feel and project a sense of strength is rather high. Be it mental, physical or emotional, we struggle to show or receive vulnerability, especially when it comes to other men. Research shows that some men find it easier to open up about their feelings to a woman than to a man. Is that because we are afraid to lose face in front of other men? Interestingly, one of the people John confesses some of his frustrations with is a female.
Despite his upbringing, John shows signs of maturity as he’s able to show a range of emotions in different scenes, from anger to sadness and emotional pain while talking about the adoption process with the social workers. And this takes me to the second point that stood out to me.
Men can be caring and still be masculine
Throughout the movie, John is a caring and loving father. Traits that many wouldn’t associate with masculinity or fatherhood. He also doesn’t show any signs of bitterness towards his partner who left him soon after giving birth.
The process of finding a family for Michael is excruciating and has its own challenges. Despite all this and having only a few months to live, John shows relentless love and care towards his son balanced with firmness when necessary. And this care and love is reciprocated. At one point Michael pulls the blanket over his father while sleeping on the sofa
It was great to see a different and healthier type of masculinity displayed on the big screens. It was fantastic to see a story where a man cares for his child, reads bedtime stories or has fun baking a cake together from scratch on his 35th birthday. This makes me wonder how many men are confident enough to show off their baking skills at home with their children? This takes us back to the previous point about what we perceive to be part of the spectrum of masculinity.
Class made no difference
Another nuance that I found interesting has to do with class. John is from a working-class background and that brings with it a nice challenge. He’s able to display all these beautiful sides of masculinity that we tend to forget men, especially of his background, are capable of.
John’s beautiful and caring masculinity is in stark contrast to some other men throughout the movie with different social economic backgrounds. Some men part of the families John visits as possible matches for adoption show polar opposite forms of masculinity. What I see in them is insecure, egotistic and at times arrogant traits.
The tale of masculinity can be rewritten and I’m encouraged by this movie that we men can do better than these rudimentary forms of manhood.
Ultimately, I believe that somehow the answer is in the multitude of intersections between “strong” and “caring” forms of masculinity, and not in an either-or approach.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: IMBD “Nowhere Special” Movie Press Photos