Gender-Role Expectations as seen in Casablanca and Mrs. Doubtfire:
Discussion and Analysis
Gender-role expectations are the labels put on individuals whom identify with a particular gender. Many of the expectations are formed from real observations and social roles; however, these stereotypes can be both foundational as well as detrimental to relationships. Men may desire women who are “feminine” and “good homemakers.” Women may desire men who are rugged and good with tools. The effects of these expectations can be seen in the two films, Casablanca, by Michael Curtiz, and Mrs. Doubtfire, by Chris Columbus. While these two movies don’t primarily focus on the effects of gender-role expectations, they do make comment on a few of those expectations and just how they can affect a relationship, in both negative and positive ways.
Gender-role expectations may seem like an open-and-closed discussion. The expectations seem to come from historical roles that men and women filled, and although many men and women now seek to escape those roles, the expectations are still present. The reason this is not an open-and-closed discussion is because of the impact these expectations have on a relationship. These expectations, whether an individual identifies with them or not, can cause a tremendous amount of personal conflict as well as conflict between the individual and his/her significant other. Be that as it may, these gender-role expectations can also influence on a man or woman seek out a potential partner, whether we like it or not. It becomes a sort of paradox. These expectations bring couples together and break them apart. Two great movies that comment on this issue are Casablanca and Mrs. Doubtfire.
Casablanca, set in the World War 2 era, takes a much a different approach. The film isn’t as contemporary as Mrs. Doubtfire, and gender-role stereotypes were much stricter, but the relationships showcased in the film make comment on gender-role expectations and how they can both create and destroy a relationship. The most relevant and interesting of these relationships is between Rick and Ilsa. They meet quite fortuitously, and the infatuation and romance that comes with new love begins to pick up speed. They plan to make a life together, but Ilsa decides to leave Rick without any explanation. It turns out she was married to another man, and still she had an affair. Both Rick and Ilsa are examples of broken down gender-role expectations. Ilsa, instead of falling into Rick’s arms and becoming the subservient lover and wife, walks away, a stereotype generally associated with the man. Rick is left heartbroken and cynical of love, a stereotype of women. The gender-roles reversed, and both characters (and their relationship) are destroyed by these expectations. However, later in the film, Ilsa returns to Rick’s establishment, coincidentally, but she seems to develop new feelings for him. Perhaps she is drawn to his success, his fulfillment of his gender-role expectations as a man. It brings them back together. Ilsa fulfills her gender-role expectation as she is without a job and accompanies her suitor, whether Rick or her present husband, Victor. However, she again breaks away from this expectation of loyal wife where there is no love, and she suggests they run away together. Rick decides to sacrifice his love for her safety, once again regaining his gender-role as powerful and controlled. The film ends like other romantic dramas, and although the two lead characters don’t end up together, the commentary on gender-role expectations resonates with us.
Gender-role expectations are a part of the human race, if only because of social pressure placed on us throughout history. These expectations, however, do not have to define us or our relationships. As seen in the films, Casablanca and Mrs. Doubtfire, gender-role expectations can both build and destroy a relationship. The important lesson behind these films is to understand that gender-role expectations do exist and will influence a relationship. Using this understanding, relationships can be built using strong communication and appreciation for the individual instead of the gender-role or expectation.