Equality of the sexes? Hardly.
Oh, sure, women have more opportunity than ever before. They can be doctors, soldiers and even "ax men" on the History channel. It's just a matter of time before a woman becomes president. But in matters of the heart, women have relinquished their power—or so says comedian/author/game show host Steve Harvey. They're too understanding of men and too free with their (ahem) favors. "Once a woman's into you, she'll put up with anything," a man says with bravado in this film, and too often it's true. Women allow men to walk all over them sometimes, and Harvey wants it to stop.
Or maybe he just wants you to buy his book … titled Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man … available for just $8.39 on Amazon!
Either way, Think Like a Man, the movie, features four women who elect to fix their relational woes through the use of Harvey's treatise. For them, it's self-help. For their threatened main squeezes, though, it's a declaration of war. What do you mean you don't like playing Mass Effect 3? What do you mean I can't sleep with you on the first date? Their perfect, pampered lives have been tipped over like sleeping cows … and they're bullish about setting things "right" again.
But how can they combat the witty, cogent and (dare they say) brilliant advice of Steve Harvey? Why, they'll need to get their hands on a book or two themselves and—
Wait. Is this a movie or a two-hour infomercial?
Even if it is a marketing ploy, Think Like a Man offers some worthwhile advice we need to consider here. Harvey's exhortation isn't to get women to act more like men: It's completely the opposite, in fact. The film's premise is simply that women should understand how men think (or how they don't think, as the case may be) in order to encourage/nudge them into a mutually fulfilling relationship.
For instance: Kristen is frustrated with boyfriend Jeremy's perpetual adolescence. He plays video games constantly and sees nothing wrong with the fact that he's never had a real job. Their shared apartment feels like a dorm room, plastered floor to ceiling with all the accoutrements of basement-bound geekdom. With the book's help, she pushes him to grow up a little. And while he fights it for a while, he eventually does grow up. And then he proposes.
For instance: Mya's frustrated with forever getting caught in sexual hookups. The solution? Harvey says it's to stop hooking up. Instead of having sex on the first date, he suggests making the date wait. The time period he suggests waiting is still far too lenient by Christian standards (we'll talk more about that later), but it's at least an improvement over first-date sex. "Men respect women who have standards," Harvey says. "Just get some."
On it goes. Candace wants to help her boyfriend stop doting on his mother and shower some deserved attention on her for once. For Lauren, the problem isn't so much with the men she dates as it is with her unrealistic standards. No man is perfect, Harvey cautions.
Obviously, several problems manifest themselves as this man vs. woman contest trundles on. But we see big hints that it's relationship—not sex, not manipulation, not gender warfare—that should triumph in the modern romance scene. Thus, a bed-hopping Don Juan falls in (true) love. A divorced dude begs his wife to take him back. Relationships are shown to be about compromise and grace—not power and control. As Bennett, the only man here who's happily married at the beginning and end of the film, says, "I'm not [going home early and] cooking 'cause I have to. I'm cooking 'cause I want to."
Think Like a Man shares superficial similarities with many of Tyler Perry's successful films: the large cast, the cookie-cutter characters, the amped-up relational dynamics, the sometimes harsh content. But while Perry's films can offer poignant thoughts on faith and Christianity, this flick settles for using religion as a semi-snarky punch line.
When divorcé Cedric tries to pick up a girl at a bar, the girl pushes him away by saying, "Jesus has my heart." Cedric counters, telling her that Jesus told him to ask her out. Later, smooth-mover Zeke successfully gets her phone number, cementing the fact that her "Jesus" line was simply a ready-made excuse.
When Lauren tells new beau Dominic that they shouldn't have sex on the first date, he says, "I understand. I'm Christian too"—but they wind up having sex anyway. When Cedric begs his wife to take him back, he says, "I want you and Jesus." Someone says honesty is overrated: "That's in the Bible. Old Testament."
Sex is a huge issue for Think Like a Man—perhaps to illustrate what men (in Steve Harvey's opinion) mainly think about. Couples passionately make out, sometimes taking off some of their clothes as they do so, sometimes ending up in bed afterward. Men praise other men for "gettin' some" on the first date. Gyrating his hips, someone expresses lust over Michael's mother. And Michael discovers Mom and "Deacon Jones" in their underwear.
In an animated sequence, women flash their breasts at the beach, couples grope each other on a bed and men surf the Internet for porn. (At the beach we see them from behind; while online, suggestive pictures fill the computer screen.) Flesh-and-blood women wear skimpy outfits. Guys ogle pictures of women's (clothed) bodies and breasts on phones. To celebrate Cedric's divorce, the men head to a strip club, talking about what they hope to see—in graphic terms. Characters talk about sex acts, sexual gameplay, sexual body parts and the places where sex happened. Wrapped condoms are seen.
Mya decides that she'll hold her boyfriend off for 90 days—a period of time these guys think is a lifetime or longer. She can't stick to her commitment, though, and changes the "trigger date" to when Zeke says "I love you." Which he does.
Lauren chides Candace for going without sex for a few years. She suggests that Candace find a real guy, "not a blow-up doll." Indeed, Candace's sexuality is sometimes questioned, and a relative tries to set her up with another woman. Lauren is also referred to as a "man," apparently because she likes control. Men frequently tease each other about being homosexual.
We don't quite see a cartoon character earn his manhood by getting a public circumcision after killing a wooly mammoth. It's insinuated that Cedric's former wife used to beat him, and we later see her literally drag him around in public.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kristen and Jeremy smoke marijuana, talking about how high they are and how many good conversations they had when they were younger and likewise impaired. They yammer on about how their old couch has absorbed cigarette burns and bong spills. Michael's friends, meanwhile, believe he might be high, but he isn't.
Characters regularly drink wine, champagne, beer and hard liquor, sometimes in shot form, sometimes straight from the bottle.
Think Like a Man may want to be a self-help catalyst for relational change. Modern relationships are unhealthy, it tells us. It's time to return to a more balanced, even old-fashioned way of looking at things.
I appreciate that. The film suggests that some traditional gender roles have been successful for a reason. It insists that love is more important than sex. And in its own way it encourages men to take more responsibility while asking women to be patient with their guys but insistent that they, as women, deserve to be treated with respect. That they deserve to be pursued.
But while past relational models are templates here for a healthier understanding of relationship, there's a failure to understand what was at the core of those models: an understanding that relationships should echo divine love. The compromise we see is a step in the right direction—if tripped up by sex, drugs and swearing—but it falls short of the selfless giving we're to embody. Staying abstinent for 90 days is arguably better than merely holding out for 90 minutes, but it gets nowhere near the beauty and importance of sex reserved for a committed, lifelong love within the protection of marriage.