Opinion: There's nothing courageous about Sean Penn's toxic masculinity
In her first regular column for Soho House, Hanna Flint claps back at the actor's recent comment in the press, and shares her view on the Tinder documentary that everyone is talking about
Monday 7 February 2022 By Hanna Flint
On Sean Penn
I’ve been thinking a lot about Judith Butler this week. Actually, most weeks I think about Judith Butler, the seminal feminist scholar and author of Gender Troubles, because there’s always a ridiculous debate playing out online and in headlines about what it means to be a man or a woman, masculine or feminine, and our Judy doesn’t subscribe to that binary way of thinking. Neither do I, so you can imagine the involuntary 360 eye roll that occurred when I discovered the reason why Sean Penn’s name was trending.
In an interview with The Independent to promote his new film, Flag Day, with daughter and co-star, Dylan, the actor was asked to clarify previous comments he’d made about men in American culture who he believed had ‘become wildly feminised’. Of course, he doubled down. ‘I think that men have, in my view, become quite feminised. I have these very strong women in my life who do not take masculinity as a sign of oppression toward them,’ he argued.
Personally, as a Strong Woman™, I think the majority of us don’t see masculinity in general as being a threat. The threat is the men who use its more toxic, archaic characteristics to continue the patriarchal, frequently misogynistic stranglehold over men, women and people alike. And what even is masculinity and femininity if not performative constructs arbitrarily designed by social powers to attribute gender and keep people in their so-called places? But go off, I guess, Sean.
Reader, he did: ‘There are a lot of, I think, cowardly genes that lead to people surrendering their jeans and putting on a skirt.’
The same actor who won an Oscar® for playing gay activist Harvey Milk, who spent his entire 2009 awards campaign flying the rainbow flag, and told HuffPost at the time, ‘No human should [judge] teenage boys who are going to hang themselves [because] they reach out for an identity that they can't have,’ believes that men who wear skirts have a genetic predisposition to cowardice.
Someone please invent the time machine and send Sean Penn back to 216 BC so he can call Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca a coward for not wearing jeans right before successfully executing a pincer movement against the Romans. Better yet, send him to Scotland so he can put all those kilt-wearing recreants in their place.
But Penn’s statement is not simply homophobic, it’s also completely sexist to equate cowardice with femininity. As though history isn’t overflowing with women, as well as men, who have shown courage in the face of adversity while wearing a tunic, dress or skirt. Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Hedy Lamarr, me that time I braved a winter night out in Newcastle wearing a minidress, heels and no tights. Not a cowardly gene or pair of jeans in sight.
If Penn’s inane, scientifically confounding comments on masculinity wasn’t enough, we’ve also people complaining that the Green M&M, which has been redesigned to wearing trainers instead of heels, is no longer f**kable, and Minnie Mouse has become a ball-breaker because Stella McCartney designed her a temporary, polka-dot pantsuit to wear during Women’s History Month. Look, if you want to pleasure yourself with some animated cartoon characters, you should probably just refresh your Hentai browsing history.
Otherwise, can everyone get a grip? This is all just hypocritical discourse that fails to grapple with the reality that gender is a stage and we’re merely the players. What costumes we choose to wear for this life-long performativity is up to you. Have fun with it.
On The Tinder Swindler
Netflix has released a new documentary this week about the infamous Simon Leviev, the Israeli con artist who posed as a billionaire on dating apps to scam female targets. It’s a gob-smacking, riveting turn of events that details just how he was able to convince these women into going broke to lend him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Leviev is certainly an awful person who played on women’s romantic fantasies to lure them into his money trap, but I have to admit if someone offered to take me on a private jet to another country on our first date, I would assume they were looking to score themselves a new sex slave. I’ve seen as many thrillers as rom-coms to consider myself a cynical romantic, and while my dad did once stop an armed bank robbery, I doubt he has the very particular set of skills to rescue me from a sex trafficking ring.
Don’t cross borders on the first date, people.
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