Five Friends and Look Us in the Eye explore stereotypes of older women and of male friendships. Both films address these under-discussed topics in unique and compelling ways. Offering insight into the ways in which gender stereotypes limit the lives of older women and the entire life course experience of men, these films peer into the limitless reality that lies beyond that lies beyond these stereotypes.
Five Friends (70 min.), produced by Hank Mandel and Erik Santiago, and directed by Erik Santiago, is a much-needed documentary about close male friendships. The film follows of Mandel, an older man with friends from different backgrounds and of different ages. Mandel's friendship experience, and what he refers to as "intimacy," challenges the stereotypes of male friendship in the United States. Five Friends encourages the viewer to wonder about the barriers of male friendships and how these barriers influence how men interact in their relationships and how they view themselves in the world. It considers male friendship with compassion is at the center, as opposed to competitiveness and aggression. The film explores the narrative of men's lives and competitive work that results in competitive friendships. Maintaining a "facade of strength and independence rather than admitting need," makes it challenging or impossible to engage in intimate connections openly.1 If, as the film suggests, social connections are a basic human need, when men are denied this form of close bonding they are in turn denied a part of their humanity.
Five Friends could be useful in undergraduate or graduate level courses on masculinity, violence, and gender. In addition to questioning male closeness and analyzing male friendships that honor the whole life of the individual, Five Friends provides an accessible gateway to understanding how men interact with one another, with women, and with society at large. The film could be viewed in reference to the works of John Cacioppo on social connection and health, and Jerome Tognoli on masculinity and friendship.2
Look Us in the Eye: The Old Women's Project (25 min.), produced and directed by Jennifer Abod, is a timely documentary that takes a profound look into the lives of old women activists in the United States. In 1985, Barbara MacDonald spoke at a National Women Studies Association (NWSA) plenary and asked, "Has it never occurred to you as you build feminist theory that ageism is a central feminist issue?"3 This film is a fine nod to the life's work of the late MacDonald, pioneer of feminist studies on aging. It is aimed at young women, as Cynthia Rich and Janice Keaffaber provide a glimpse into the lives of old women in a world that values youth and youthful beauty. They remind the viewer of a most basic truth-- that old women are the future of young women. The film makes it clear that old women are at the center of every woman's issue. Old women are victims of domestic violence and sexual violence. They are caretakers and employees. They are lesbian and transgender. Using humor, anecdotes, and pictures, this film explores the fight of old women to be acknowledged as valuable people by younger people, by policy makers, and by the feminist community.
Look Us in the Eye could be useful in introductory units on gender stereotypes, ageism, feminist and social activism, and aging. It is a catalyst to exploring how the gendered life course is limiting and in fact dangerous to the quality and potential of our lives.4 In more advanced or graduate-level courses, the film could lead to discussions on how the impact of ageism and sexism over the course of one's life accumulates in old age, or one could include research or readings on violence against old women, social policy in old age, property rights of women and widows, and global trends of the vulnerabilities of old women. Readings from Barbara Macdonald and Cynthia Rich, and Toni Calasanti and Kathleen Slevin on gender, ageism and aging would pair well with this film.5
1 Jerome Tognoli, "Male Friendship and Intimacy across the Life Span," Family Relations 29, no. 3 (1980): 273-79.
2 Cacioppo, John T., and William Patrick. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. Print. Tognoli, Jerome. "Male Friendship and Intimacy across the Life Span." Family Relations. 2.3 (1980): 273-279. Print.
3 Barbara MacDonald, "Outside the Sisterhood: Ageism in Women's Studies," National Women's Studies Association, Plenary Session on Common Causes: Uncommon Coalitions, Seattle, June 22, 1985.
4 "Gendered life course" is a phrase typically used to suggest the different life paths of individuals due to social constructions of gender. For example, older women tend to have worked fewer paid hours over a lifetime, saved less money for retirement, own less property than men, and are therefore in more vulnerable positions upon reaching old age. All of these life choices, policy and social expectations create a life course that is gendered.
5 Macdonald, Barbara, and Cynthia Rich. Look Me in the Eye: Old Women Aging and Ageism. Midway: Spinsters Ink Books, 2001. Print. Calasanti, Toni, and Kathleen F. Slevin (Eds.) 2006. Age Matters: Re-Aligning Feminist Thinking. Routledge. Calasanti, Toni, and Kathleen F. Slevin. 2001. Gender, Social Inequalities, and Aging. Gender Lens Series. Walnut Hills, CA: Alta Mira Press.
Rebecca Richman (RichmanRebeccaR@gmail.com) holds an MA in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University. Her research and social justice work focuses on gender disparities in old age and the protection and strengthening of human rights for older persons.